Amy and I were very excited last fall to learn that a new sea lion exhibit would be coming to our local zoo, Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ USA in the spring. We also recalled a fascinating experience early in our relationship when we travelled together to San Francisco and saw hundreds of the playful sea mammals rolling over each other on Pier 39 and barking non-stop (and even nudging each other off the pier). This was a memory that would be a huge help in writing this song.
Late last fall (around Thanksgiving 2012) was a very creative time for Amy and me to write songs as gifts and teaching tools for our then one-year-old daughter. So we talked about the children’s songs that Amy knew and that a few of them taught kids to count down, such as “Five Little Freckled Frogs,” where one frog at a time jumps into the pool until there are no freckled frogs left. So I proposed writing a song about the sea lions with counting down.
A question that always came to mind for me about sea lions is how you can tell a sea lion from a seal. So I did a little research on the difference and came up learning that sea lions’ ears are external and can be seen. Seals’ ears, however, are “tucked away inside” for more efficient swimming, as the seals live almost entirely in the ocean and swim greater distances than sea lions, so seals need more aquadynamic bodies and heads, which means internal ears.
Combining my new learning about sea lions and seals with the knowledge that countdown songs are helpful for the youngest children who are learning their numbers resulted in the five verses that make up the bulk of the song.
My original idea was to have a spoken section after the verses to explain the reasons for the difference between sea lions and seals. The original demo of the song (just voice and acoustic guitar) was recorded with the spoken part. After Amy and I listened back, we decided to try a bridge part that is sung instead of spoken. We re-wrote the lyrics accordingly and added a final verse with all five sea lions back on the pear and then they all roll off into the water for one more swim together. I re-recorded the demo, this time with vocals, electric guitar and keyboards. When Meg and Judy joined the group, they added their parts to the demo in preparation for us to take the song into the studio.
Our First Single
Five Sea Lions is the first song we ever recorded in the studio as a band. It’s also the first song that each band member had learned upon starting to work with the group. We released this as our first-ever single on June 1, 2013 in anticipation of our performance at the Turtle Back Zoo’s 50th Anniversary weekend celebration a week later. The song artwork was illustrated by Emily Clapham from the UK, who I was lucky to find by searching for the work of various children’s illustrators.
Amy taught me some very clever hand motions to tell the story of the lyrics and get the kids and their grown-ups in the audience actively moving along with the song. These gestures include showing how many sea lions are rolling on the pier, a rolling motion, touching your ears, a swimming motion and the countdown after a sea lion swims away. You can see the dance move in the upper-left hand of this acoustic treatment of the song that I had uploaded to YouTube.
“Five Sea Lions” is on the Parents’ Choice Approved album “Everyone’s Invited!”
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