Behind the Meaning of the Kids’ Song “Down By the Bay” by Raffi

Everyone enjoys a little nonsense.

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From parents to kids, the idea of, say, a bear combing his hair or a spider sipping cider is smile-inducing. What’s more, when performed by the classic songwriter and singer, Raffi, the exercise is made that much more enjoyable.

Here, we will dive into the beloved kid’s song “Down By the Bay.”


The traditional kids’ song, “Down By the Bay,” was made famous by the legendary children’s song artist Raffi, though it was not originally written by him. The song appears on Raffi’s 1976 album, Singable Songs for the Very Young.

In an interview with Vulture Newsletter, Raffi talked about the song as being “an old, old song,” adding that it “may have been a World War I song” and that it “came from England.”

But there is also a Greek folk song called “Bay” or “Seaside” that exists with the same melody. Because it’s so old, the origin of the song is likely uncertain.

More Recently

In more recent years, however, it has gained in popularity, thanks to Raffi, in part, and because it is just a fun nonsense tune to sing around the campfire. It was popular in the Scouting Movement in the U.K. in recent decades.

It is also sometimes known as “Down by the Sea” and the chorus of the tune was used by the folk band, Fiddler’s Dram, in their song “Johnny John.”

The Lyrics

The song usually begins and subsists like this:

Down by the bay,
Where the watermelons grow,
Back to my home,
I dare not go,
For if I do,
My mother will say:

…And then this is where the fun really begins.

The remaining line, or lines, starts, “Did/(Have) you ever see(n) a _____ _____ing a _____?” With the first and last blank rhyming.

So, Raffi might sing:

  • “Did you ever see a moose kissing a goose?” (or “goose kissing a moose”)
  • “Did you ever see a whale with a polka dot tail?”
  • “Did you ever see a fly wearing a tie?”
  • “Did you ever see a bear combing his hair?”

Or still more, like:

  • “Did you ever see a llama eating pajamas?”
  • “Did you ever see a goat rowing a boat?”
  • “Did you ever see a dragon pulling a wagon?”
  • “Did you ever see a fox putting on socks?”
  • “Did you ever see a fish doing hula on a dish?”
  • “Did you ever see a parrot eating a carrot?”

And each of the rhyming lines is followed by the ending refrain: “Down by the bay?

And the song is often ended with the line: “Did you ever have a time when you couldn’t make a rhyme?

In Raffi’s Words

We caught up with the legendary songwriter and performer to ask him about the song in his own words.

American Songwriter: Do you remember sitting down to play “Down by the Bay” for the first time, what compelled you to do so?

Raffi: It was likely in the mid-1970s as prep for my gig at a nursery school for a small group of kids. After hearing a recording of this traditional song, I adapted the music a bit and wrote new rhymes for fun and laughter.

AS: How did the song’s arrangement come together for you, what are you most proud of regarding your interpretation?

Raffi: I kept the instrumentation simple, with just acoustic guitar and electric bass. This allowed the charm of the kids’ voices to be heard. The kids’ singing in unison with my vocal had a delightful energy. And the up-tempo rhythm and spirited playing seemed to suit this zany old song. 

AS: What’s been the reception for the song, one of your fan favorites?

Raffi: Surprisingly, “Down By The Bay” is often singled out as a fan fave, right up there with “Baby Beluga” and “Bananaphone.” When I sing it in concert with the audience joining in the chorus and doing the rhymes with me, it’s always a lot of fun. 

AS: What do you love most about the track today?

Raffi: The original 1976 recording on my Singable Songs For The Very Young album was done very simply. That it turned out to become so well-loved speaks to the benefits of restraint and the power of simplicity. And oh yes, the rhymes—A moose kissing a goose? A whale with a polka dot tail? Llamas eating their pajamas? Still make me smile.    

Final Thoughts

Sometimes nonsense can be the best teacher. Kids learn what’s not normal in a given scenario—yes, a moose doesn’t often kiss a goose! Therefore, kids learn what’s not right in order to learn what’s accurate.

And down by the bay where the water meets the land—who knows what could happen with those two worlds colliding? Any number of surreal oddness, to be sure. And that’s what the song is about, in essence.

Humor is a great way to teach lessons and with all these fun, silly rhymes, the lesson is learned. There’s normal life and then there’s goofy, fun Raffi song life.

Photo courtesy Waldmania PR

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