We are all geeks for one thing or another. Personally, I was, first and foremost a music geek. Well before I ever punched my first chit, I was blaring ridiculous and wonderful music from my walkman while I picked weeds for extra cash. At first I was limited to the cassettes my parents owned (see Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Harry Connick Jr. et al). One day I was with a friend and his brother played a mix tape his girlfriend had given him. Typical fare from the time on the whole (fairly forgettable) but then a song like no other came on. My friend's brother quickly pushed the FF button, as he found the song annoying, but I remembered enough to find it on the archaic internet that then existed. "Particle Man" would be my entrance into a beautiful world of strange and wonderful music.
With this list I will recount a bit of TMBG history, share some of my personal favorite TMBG bits 'n' pieces and hopefully, all those other TMBG fans out there will join in and add their falderal.
All quotes from wiki will be in italics (no need for me to recap what has already been written).
Sit back, enjoy and please join in as we delve into the sublime and startling world of They Must Be Giants!
Linnell and Flansburgh first met as teenagers growing up in Lincoln, Massachusetts. They began writing songs together while attending Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School but didn't form a band at that time. The two attended separate colleges after high school (Flansburgh attended Pratt Institute), and Linnell joined The Mundanes, a New Wave group from Rhode Island. The two reunited in 1981 after moving to Brooklyn (to the same apartment building on the same day) to continue their career. At their first concert, They Might Be Giants performed under the name El Grupo De Rock and Roll, because the show was a Sandinista rally in Central Park, and all of the audience members spoke Spanish. Soon discarding this title, the band assumed the name of a 1971 film They Might Be Giants (starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward), which is in turn taken from a Don Quixote passage about how Quixote mistook windmills for evil giants. According to Dave Wilson, in his book Rock Formations, the name They Might Be Giants had been used and subsequently discarded by a friend of the band who had a ventriloquism act. The name was then adopted by the band, who had been searching for a suitable name.
At one point, Linnell broke his wrist in a biking accident and Flansburgh's apartment was burgled, forcing them to take a break from performing. During this hiatus, they began recording their songs onto an answering machine, and then advertising the phone number in local newspapers such as The Village Voice, using the moniker "Dial-A-Song". They also released a demo cassette, which earned them a review in People magazine. The review caught the attention of Bar/None Records, who signed They Might Be Giants to a recording deal. Dial-A-Song consisted of an answering machine with a tape of the band playing various songs. The machine played one track at a time, ranging from demos and uncompleted work to fake advertisements the band had created. Based in Brooklyn, NY, Dial-A-Song was often difficult to access due to the popularity of the service and the dubious quality of the machines used. In reference to this, one of Dial-A-Song's many slogans over the years was the tongue-in-cheek "Always Busy, Often Broken". The number (718)-387-6962, was a local Brooklyn number and was charged accordingly, but the band advertised it with the line: "Free when you call from work". At one point in 1988, the Dial-A-Song answering machine picked up a conversation between two people, who played the Dial-A-Song, then questioned how they made money out of it. An excerpt from the conversation has been included as a hidden track on the EP for (She Was A) Hotel Detective. Longtime listeners to Dial-A-Song have counted at least 500 distinct songs and variations recorded by They Might Be Giants, making them one of the most prolific rock bands in history in terms of published material.
A nice personal note: when I was 14 I would call this several times a week until I was reprimanded. I thought at the time that if I used the phone in my parents room, the call would be coded to them and not me. I remember the first time I called I heard the song "Ant". Brings me back.
The much exalted premier album: They Might Be Giants!
The duo released their self-titled debut album in 1986, which became a college radio hit. The video for "Don't Let's Start", filmed in the New York State Pavilion built for the 1964 New York World's Fair in Queens, became a hit on MTV in 1987, earning them a broader following.
This one is simply classic to me, although my first listen came long after I'd heard "Flood". The number of classics on these early albums is just remarkable. This one is no exception. When you really realize how clever, funny and introspective the lyrics are (and certainly dark), you really can gain a great appreciation for the work they put into there youthful and almost childlike sound.
Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head Number Three Don't Let's Start Nothing's Gonna Change my Clothes (a particular favorite of a smelly pre-teen) She's an Angel Youth Culture Killed My Dog Rhythm Section Want Ad
In 1988, they released their second album, Lincoln, named after the duo's hometown. It featured the song "Ana Ng" which reached No. 11 on the US Modern Rock chart.
Fun Ana Ng factoid:
In 1990, Throttle magazine interviewed They Might Be Giants and clarified the meaning of the song "Ana Ng": John Flansburgh said, "Ng is a Vietnamese name. The song is about someone who's thinking about a person on the exact opposite side of the world. John looked at a globe and figured out that if Ana Ng is in Vietnam and the person is on the other side of the world, then it must be written by someone in Peru."
Lincoln actually came much later for me - I could never find it on CD so I waited to buy Then: The Early Years to actually listen to it. Man, am I glad I found it - it still has some of the most vibrant, heartbreaking and beautiful songs of theirs.
Ana Ng Purple Toupee Where Your Eyes Don't Go Santa's Beard They'll Need a Crane (I don't want the world, I just want your half) Kiss Me, Son of God (containing the iconic line "I built a little empire out of some crazy garbage called the blood of the exploited working class" - I honestly think sometimes if you had only read their lyrics, you may think they were a punk band a la Black Flag)
The stream of people gets wider, then it becomes a river...FLOOD!! (Or, Why is the World in Love Again?)
In 1989, They Might Be Giants signed with Elektra Records, and released their third album Flood the following year. Flood earned them a platinum album, largely thanks to the success of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" which reached number three on the US Modern Rock chart, as well as "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)".
Flood was a game changer in my life. My brothers were popular kids in high school and I was borderline. I had friends from all walks of life but never really found a close group to bond to. When I heard Flood, my first venture into TMBG, I knew exactly what type of person I wanted to be: the type of person that finds this type of music fun and enlightening. This album informed my musical taste for years to come.
As John said: "There's only one thing that I know how to do well and I've always been told that you only should do what you know how to do well and that's be you. Be what you're like. Be like yourself."
Birdhouse Istanbul (the song that many heard first) Dead Particle Man We Want a Rock (everybody want prosthetic foreheads on their real heads, right?) Someone Keeps Moving My Chair Letterbox Whistling in the Dark Women & Men They Might Be Giants
There has been a spacecraft sighted! Miscellaneous T:
In 1991, Bar/None Records released the B-sides compilation Miscellaneous T. The title referred to the section of the record store where TMBG releases were often found as well as to the overall eclectic nature of the tracks. Though consisting of previously released material (save for the "Purple Toupee" b-sides, which were not available publicly), it gave new fans a chance to hear the Johns' earlier non-album work without having to hunt down the individual EPs.
I found this item at a random "Strawberries" in my home town. Very glad I did. Nightgown remains one of my favorite songs. Man, whatever happened to B-sides - they used to be awesome...
Hey, Mr. DJ Nightgown of the Sullen Moon It's Not My Birthday For Science When it Rains it Snows We're the Replacements
Now that I am older and very much a fan of the Replacements, I realize how funny the "hey, where's Tommy? Someone find Tommy!" line is...
In early 1992, They Might Be Giants released Apollo 18. The heavy space theme coincided with TMBG being named Musical Ambassadors for International Space Year. Singles from the album included "The Statue Got Me High", "I Palindrome I" and "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)". Apollo 18 was also notable for being one of the first albums to take advantage of the CD player's shuffle feature. The song "Fingertips" actually comprised 21 separate tracks — short snippets that not only acted together to make the song, but that when played in random order would be interspersed between the album's full-length songs. Due to mastering errors, the UK and Australian versions of Apollo 18 contained "Fingertips" as one track.
I have to admit, this one remains my favorite TMBG album. It was more mature musically and lyrically and I was also growing into maturity when it came into my life. Oh who am I kidding, it's just as goofy and fun as the rest of 'em, it's just that I for some reason took this one to heart. SPIDER: HE IS OUR HERO!!!
Dig My Grave I Palindrome I Mammal The Statue Got me High The Guitar Dinner Bell Narrow Your Eyes Which Describes How You're Feeling Turn Around See the Constellation
(it took a lot for me to not just list them all...)
John Henry was released in 1994. Influenced by their more conventional lineup, this album marked a departure from their previous releases with more of a guitar-heavy sound. It was released to mixed reviews amongst fans and critics alike.
I'm disappointed by the above description - John Henry is an amazing album - I dare say it may be their last amazing album (the others are great but this is the last amazing).
This was also about the time I started to listen to other music intensely. After John Henry I began to hear bands like the Pixies and Built to Spill and Pavement and I started to weave my way towards that hipster core but this one is still so vivid in my mind.
Subliminal Sleeping in the Flowers Unrelated Thing I Should Be Allowed to Think No One Knows My Plan Dirt Bike (truly one of the greatest) Destination Moon The End of the Tour
Why do you suspiciously change the subject and break my concentration? FACTORY SHOWROOM AND SEVERE TIRE DAMAGE!!
Their next album, Factory Showroom, was released in 1996 to little fanfare. The band had moved away from the feel of John Henry, and Factory Showroom includes the more diverse sounds of their earlier albums, despite the inclusion of two guitarists, the second being Eric Schermerhorn who provided several guitar solos. They left Elektra after the duo refused to do a publicity show, amongst other exposure-related disputes. In 1998, they released a mostly-live album Severe Tire Damage from which came the single "Doctor Worm", a studio recording. Around this same time period, Danny Weinkauf (bass) and Dan Miller (guitar) were recruited for their recording and touring band. Both had previously been members of the bands Lincoln and Candy Butchers (Previous opening acts for TMBG). Weinkauf and Miller have continued to work with the band to the present day.
I mix these two in my mind because I heard them virtually together. one is live and one is a studio album obviously. I remember listening to FS on my walkman while I was getting ready to do my thang during Speech and Debate tournaments. There was a girl I had a crush on and listening to S-E-X-X-Y was just too much for this young man...but anyway...it's a terrific album but I'm afraid it's the beginning of the end of my devoted attention to the Johns.
Till My Head Falls off How Can I Sing Like a Girl? Exquisite Dead Guy Metal Detector New York City (a cover by the way) Spiraling Shape The Bells are Ringing They Got Lost
Some fun stories about this one:
1. I bought a metal detector because of that song. 2. I performed James K. Polk on the guitar in front of several history classes at my high school AND that song helped my answer a question on my AP US History exam (in 1844 the democrats were split..) 3. The performance of Till My Head Falls Off below is from a short lived show on CC called Viva Variety (staring a wonderful batch of folks from The State like Thomas Lennon and Michael Ian Black). It was my favorite show in all the world and when they had TMBG on I was ECSTATIC! The show was cancelled shortly after. I will ever be looking for a magnetic Whaley Bar!
From Severe Tire Damage the real stand out is Dr. Worm. Here are the lyrics for the uninitiated:
"They call me Dr. Worm. Good morning. How are you? I'm Dr. Worm. I'm interested in things. I'm not a real doctor, But I am a real worm; I am an actual worm. I live like a worm.
I like to play the drums. I think I'm getting good, But I can handle criticism. I'll show you what I know, And you can tell me if you think I'm getting better on the drums. I'll leave the front un-locked 'cause I can't Hear the doorbell
When I get into it I can't tell if you are Watching me twirling the stick. When I give the signal, my friend Rabbi Vole will pay the solo
Some day somebody else besides me will Call me by my stage name, they will Call me Dr Worm. Good Morning how are you, I'm Dr Worm I'm interested in things. I'm not a real doctor, But I am a real worm; I am an actual worm. I live like a worm.
I like to play the drums. I think I'm getting good, But I can handle criticism. I'll show you what I know, And you can tell me if you think I'm getting better on the drums. I'm not a real doctor, But they call me Dr. Worm."
From here on out I'll quit the album by album because I'm not an expert on the albums after these (although I've heard them all and really do like them). Here is the rest of the official studio discography:
Long Tall Weekend (1999; digital release) Mink Car (2001) No! (2002) The Spine (2004) Here Come the ABCs (2005) Venue Songs (2005) The Else (2007) Here Come the 123s (2008) Here Comes Science (2009) Join Us (2011) Nanobots (2013)
It's not an insignificant amount of music for sure!
My favorite recent album is "Album Raises New and Troubling Questions" which contains these classics:
In a syrupy voice, the awful waffle walker tries to butter you up.
Not that they were ever gone, but after focusing mostly on children's albums, homestar runner videos and b-sides, They might be giants proved to all of us that they could still rock our socks off in 2011 with The Else. This return to a rougher more energetic sound was more in line with what they had been doing at live shows for years and it was fantastic to see it reflected in their album work.