Amy was familiar with this traditional kids’ song, previously popularized by Raffi, while co-teaching at a nursery school. She had taught me how the song went. In pulling the band together, “Down by the Bay” struck me as a number that would be a lot of fun when performed at a punk tempo with overdriven guitars. I made a demo at home and taught the band this song, which became a popular set closer for us at the end of a concert.
We had some great times in the family when I performed “Down by the Bay” for my daughter and nieces at my brother’s place and we gave all the grown-ups a turn to make up their own rhymes at the end of each verse, such as “Did you ever see an owl drying on a towel?” Amy and I proceeded to make up our own rhymes for our arrangement of the song, which made it onto the record.
In the Studio
Ross came up with a very clever vocal harmony where he imitates a trombone sliding down from one note to another as he sings the words “Down by the bay…” I also enjoy how the bandmembers’ vocal rhymes are artfully combined with special effects in spots. For me a highlight of the song is the moment when Judy asks “Have you ever seen a whale / shopping for a sale,” which our producer Dave transforms into a PA announcement in a department store, complete with chime bell and the slightly distorted sound that comes through a store sound system.
Amy and I were walking out of a building with our then one-year-old daughter one cloudy night. She was looking up at the sky as a cloud drifted away revealing the moon. She got so excited and pointed. “Moooo!” she called the moon at the time. This moment gave Amy and me the song idea around the concept of the moon playing peek-a-boo with a child.
We had a strong feeling about this song’s potential and were determined to take our time and get it right. We composed a draft and I made a demo recording. We approached fellow Children’s Music Network member Katherine Dines for a professional critique of the song. Her feedback was very valuable; she encouraged us to make the song more conversational, more descriptive about the colors, shapes and sizes of the moon and the way it makes us feel. We went through two rounds of re-writes and critiques to really take the lyrics to their potential.
In the Studio
The harmony vocals from Meg Beattie really add a dreamy quality to the track. We had worked out her part in my home studio and then entered Snowdome Studios looking to capture that same feeling. The soft keyboard parts and light drumming mix well with the acoustic guitar to add to that dreamy quality. We reached out to children’s book illustrator Hannah Tuohy to lovingly illustrate a playful encounter between the moon and a child.
When my daughter was about 1 year old we had a family gathering at my aunt’s house. My daughter was in a high chair looking down through the glass table at her big cousin’s antics below the table. Amy and I remarked that it was as if our daughter were watching her cousin through a class bottom boat. The song idea would remain in our minds for some time.
This song mostly needed research into the glass bottom boat ride experience to be able to write something of value. Most of my searches led me to the Silver Springs glass bottom boat ride in Ocala Florida and getting to know what kinds of animals call those waters their home. The research helped us write a first draft that I was ready to present for critique to fellow Children’s Music Network member Monty Harper, who writes great songs for kids on scientific subjects. He preferred the approach I took in the original second verse over how I handled the first verse. This resulted in a complete re-writing of the first verse and some modifications to the chorus to help the whole song flow.
We were very surprised to hear from two different eye doctors that our then-one-year-old daughter would need to start wearing glasses at such an early age. Of course we wanted her to have every advantage when it came to learning through visual means, so we agreed to order glasses. Still, we wondered how a one-year-old was going to keep her glasses on for any great length of time.
Jason and I both felt a need for a song that spoke to the benefits a kid can get from wearing glasses and to reframe the way kids who need to wear glasses may feel about themselves. We talked about the many abilities our daughter would have with her new glasses on the car ride to pick up her first pair. We completed the first verse and chorus on that trip alone.
We took our time completing the song, trying out many alternatives for a 2nd and 3rd verse that could measure up to the strength of the first verse and chorus. We also tried a bridge section that had lots of words and was difficult to work out a melody that fit in with the rest of the song. Our ultimate decision was to eliminate excess words wherever we could in the bridge and let the simple message come through.
In the Studio
This is one of those songs that had the benefit of a few live performances in the fall of 2013 before Jason and the band went into the studio to record it. Twice, we got comments on our e-mailing list sign-up sheet from parents that they especially liked this song. The arrangement went through some minor changes to make it work for the record, with some clever suggestions from Judy, the bassist, on where to hold certain chords longer to emphasize transitions between sections of the song going in and out of the guitar solo.
I’ve been playing guitar for kids since I was a teenager. I often let them line up neatly and strum the guitar after the performance. Usually one kid drops the pick in the sound hole of the guitar, causing me to have to turn the guitar upside down and shake out the pick. When I later played for my own nieces and daughter, there was a new concern – they would put everything in their mouths, so I felt the need for a song that teaches “Don’t put the pick in your mouth.” I felt like this song just wrote itself.
Amy and I brainstormed other things you shouldn’t do with a pick, and just allowed ourselves to be ridiculous about it. We had some great laughs coming up with the rhymes in the pre-chorus that set up each chorus and its advice about where not to put the pick.
In the Studio
This is the only song on the album to feature Amy’s spoken voice. In my music for grown-ups, Amy lends her spoken-voice talents on “Quit While You’re Ahead,” a blues tune about gambling to play the cocktail waitress making her rounds through the casino. The Pick Song, when released as a single in the summer of 2013, featured artwork by Montclair’s comic book artist Rick Man. He created a character known as “Pick Man,” whose triangular upper body fits the role of a superhero and guitar pick quite nicely. Rick was the perfect guy to do this artwork because not only does he draw comic books, but he’s a talented guitarist/singer/songwriter in his own right.