Parting Words: On Childhood
(Soundbite of "If I Had $1,000,000")
Mr. ED ROBERTSON (Musician): If I had a million dollars, if I had a million dollars, well, I'd buy you a fur coat, but not a real fur coat, that's cruel.
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
This song is by the band Barenaked Ladies. If you even walked past a radio in the '90s you probably heard it. Over the years the band's biggest hits have all been quirky, bouncy, playful. It's no surprise then that their new record, their first written for children is one big party. On this Father's Day, let's get a taste of their new album, "Snacktime."
(Soundbite of "Crazy ABC's")
Mr. ROBERTSON: "A" is for aisle, B is bdellium, C is for czar, and if you see him would you mind telling him...
Mr. STEVEN PAGE (Musician): Okay, hang on a second. You have aisle?
Mr. ROBERTSON: Yeah, aisle, like a theater.
Mr. PAGE: All right. Okay, and then bdellium?
Mr. ROBERTSON: Bdellium, it's a - it's a gum-like tree resin. Starts with a silent B.
Mr. PAGE: And then czar.
Mr. ROBERTSON: Yeah, it's like a Russian czar. You know, everybody knows apple, ball, and cat. I wanted to get into to some, you know, some stranger words.
Mr. PAGE: Right, I see what you're doing.
SEABROOK: Two members of Barenaked Ladies join me now from NPR studio in Culver City, California. We have Steven Page and Kevin Hearn. Welcome to the show.
Mr. PAGE: How are you?
Mr. KEVIN HEARN (Musician): Hi.
SEABROOK: The song we're listening to now called "Crazy ABC's" and Steven Page, I understand you co-wrote this one? And let me just point out P is for pneumonia, pterodactyl, and psychosis?
Mr. PAGE: That's right. We figured enough - if you're gonna actually stoop so low as to what another alphabet song or whatever, you may as well mess with it as best you can. And you know, one of the things that we do and we've always done in the band, this is our 20th anniversary, you know, when Ed and I started the group, a lot of what we did was that banter.
And that banter here in "Crazy ABC's." It was the same kind of thing we do in "If I Had a $1,000,000" and often do in the shows.
SEABROOK: That's Ed Robertson who sings and plays guitar with you guys.
Mr. PAGE: And who forgot to put a word for the letter "I" in the song which we didn't realize till after we recorded it. We went back and stuck it in, rewrote some of the lyrics to stick it in and didn't realize he put it in the wrong order. Now it goes A, B, C, D, E, F, G, I, H, J, K, L, M, N, O, P.
SEABROOK: Yeah, it goes G is for gnarly.
Mr. PAGE: Yeah.
SEABROOK: I is for irk and H is hour.
Mr. HEARN: That's "Crazy ABC's."
Mr. PAGE: That's stupid ABC's.
SEABROOK: But is it important to you to make music that won't drive parents crazy too?
Mr. HEARN: Absolutely. We wanted to make a record that parents would enjoy listening to and wouldn't get tired of.
Mr. PAGE: You know I have lots of memories of being in my car on long road trips with my - I have three boys, and listening to the same songs over and over again and being thankful for the ones that I loved. And really when it came to listening to "The Crazy Frog" album, I wanted to tear my hair out.
SEABROOK: What - is that The Wiggles?
Mr. PAGE: No, "The Crazy Frog" was this British phenomenon, it started as, I think it was actually Swedish. It started as a ring tone. And there were, like, all kind of little web videos and so on for it. It became kind of a phenomenon in Europe and I guess it crossed over here a little bit a couple years ago and it's really awful stuff, but fun.
SEABROOK: Well I'll tell you, my daughter now says, Mommy, I want popcorn song. I want popcorn song.
Mr. PAGE: Yay.
SEABROOK: So let's play her the popcorn song.
(Soundbite of song, "Popcorn")
BARENAKED LADIES (Musicians): Mama puts the popcorn kernels in the pot. She turned up the heat, now the pot is getting hot. And when those popcorn kernels start to pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop...
SEABROOK: This sounds like popcorn popping.
Mr. HEARN: It is. That's my childhood choir joining us, singing on that one.
Mr. PAGE: It's actually the same kids that you sang with as a child.
Mr. HEARN: Yeah, they didn't grow up.
SEABROOK: And of course it's part of a trilogy of pieces on this album, "The Canadian Snack Time Trilogy." You know, we have popcorn too, here in America.
Mr. PAGE: Yeah, but a lot of people don't realize that it was - originated in Canada. During the Canadian invasion of 1964, where the great Canadian group of peoples came down to the United States, a lot of people don't realize that they snuck in with them their mentor, scientist Orville Redenbacher who hails from Saskatchewan.
(Soundbite of "The Popcorn Song")
BARENAKED LADIES: Popcorn.
SEABROOK: There's a reference to the Beatles in one of your songs, in the "Allergies." The part where they go ah-ah-ah-choo.
Mr. HEARN: Right.
SEABROOK: But there's another reference to something and I can't quite put my finger on it. Can we just play the beginning of track 12.
Mr. HEARN: No.
Mr. PAGE: Okay.
SEABROOK: Oh please.
(Soundbite of "Drawing")
Unidentified Male: Oh the blueberry pancake flying in the sky, I can see it. I can see it. Oh the castle in the cloud and it's floating by, can you see it? Can you see it?
SEABROOK: Okay, stop. Okay, stop. That's all I needed now. Okay, between several people we came up with "The Heat Is On."
Mr. PAGE: Yes.
Mr. HEARNS: You got it.
SEABROOK: By Glenn Frey, oh, okay, that was the right one. Okay.
Mr. PAGE: You had to have seen us in the studio, like, what song is this? What is this? It's - whatever it is it's staying. Is it "Neutron Dance?" And we realized, no, it's "Beverly Hills Cop" soundtrack though. Yeah, it was "Heat Is On."
SEABROOK: So you guys knew, you actually knew the riff and then went back to try and figure out what it was.
Mr. PAGE: Yeah, well.
SEABROOK: So was it intentional to sprinkle in these sort of musical references to adult music?
Mr. HEARN: Each song sort of became its own little journey. And that one sort of took a turn into the '80s.
Mr. PAGE: The thing is for us is that we love all those kind of pop culture references and we know that kids aren't always gonna get it, but you can't play down to kids all the time. You want them to hear you're having fun. And making a kids record I think we were a lot less self conscious about those kinds of choices that would be on - on a regular record. You know, about the kinds of references we'd make or the limits to pastiche.
SEABROOK: So we talked a lot here about why these are good kid songs, what makes a really bad kid song? Like a horrible one?
Mr. PAGE: I think things that are - that try really hard to teach moral lessons to children. Those kind of finger-wagging or condescending songs. Songs that treat kids as stupid. And it - a lot of it is just in the performance too, that kind of hey kids, how are you? Eat your vegetables and brush your teeth three times a day, let's get some exercise. That stuff makes me crazy.
And I look at records that I grew up with that have moral messages. Things like "Free Be You and Me" or "The Point" or, you know, a lot of Sesame Street material. The thing about School House Rock which was all purpose-built music, but it has a lightness and a sense of humor and a sense of heart to it that's not just about, you know, teaching somebody something.
SEABROOK: You've been touring with this CD and how have kids responded?
Mr. HEARN: They throw things at us.
SEABROOK: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Mr. HEARN: No, it's been really great.
SEABROOK: Steven Page and Kevin Hearn are two members of the band Barenaked Ladies. They've just released their first CD for kids, it's called "Snacktime." Thanks to you both.
Mr. PAGE: Thank you.
Mr. HEARN: Nice talking to you.
SEABROOK: There's more from the album at NPR.org. Look for the music section. And one final Father's Day treat, my favorite song on the album, "Pollywog in a Bog."
(Soundbite of song, "Pollywog in a Bog")
Unidentified Male: In a puddle by the trail, flips its tiny tail just like a great big whale but smaller than a snail. It's pollywog in a bog, swims under soggy logs, one day he'll be a real frog, pollywog in a bog. Oh. Oh. Oh. Overhead a cedar tree gives the shade he needs, munching while he feeds on lily pads and weeds. Knows not where he's from or how his life had begun, he's not the only one.
SEABROOK: Parting words tonight from scholar and author Greta Hoffman Nemeroff. She wrote, children bring us a sense of intimacy which cannot be replicated in adult relationships. Being attentive to physical comfort, hurt feelings, the ability to play with total concentration and joy, the nakedness of childhood preoccupations helps us to keep in touch with our self, with the child imprisoned within each adult.
(Soundbite of song, "Pollywog in a Bog")
Unidentified Man: Ribbit, ribbit, a tadpole exhibit, it's a transformation no one can inhibit, amphibian change may seem strange, take them gills and the tail and they all rearrange.
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