They Might Be Giants - the Band Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

They Might Be Giants - the Band

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They might be giants! (Boy)
They might be giants!
They might be rain,
They might be heat,
They might be frying up a stalk of wheat...

Born in the new wave musical turmoil of the 1980s, They Might Be Giants is a distinctive, alternative music group from America consisting of John Sidney Linnell (1959) and John Conant Flansburgh (1960), two creative musicians interested in putting out 'thinking man's' rock. In effect, this means they use synthesisers, accordions, Autoharps, tubas, glockenspiels, saxophones and anything else1 necessary to make great sounding music. On the whole, their songs are humorous, or sometimes strange, but always quite intelligent. They also do music for children, television and movies, but more about this later in the Entry. They have sold over four million albums.

The Two Johns

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
Who watches over you
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
Not to put too fine a point on it
Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
Make a little birdhouse in your soul

The 'Two Johns' or 'John and John' are both from Lincoln, Massachusetts, went to school together, and have played music with each other ever since. They moved to New York City and lived in the same apartment building in Brooklyn. However, they didn't officially form They Might Be Giants until 1982, when they began performing together around New York.

Linnell is the lead singer and plays, amongst other things, accordion, keyboards, clarinet and saxophone. He was also in a jazz band called The Bags, and then a new wave band called The Mundanes.

Flansburgh, also called 'Flans' or 'Flansy', mostly plays guitar and sings. Though he does play other instruments, he is left-handed, so they usually have to be compatible with him. Flans handles most of the business aspects of the group. He is the one who wears glasses.

Flansburgh has also been in many other bands like Mono Puff, The Blackouts and Hello the Band. He was in an off-Broadway musical titled People Are Wrong. In addition to all this, he has directed music videos for other groups like Ben Folds Five and Soul Coughing.

An unusual name for a band, they named themselves after a 1971 movie of the same name, which starred George C Scott. This was also a Broadway play before being made into a movie.

Of course, TMBG also features other musicians, such as drummers and bass players. Currently, the other members are Marty Beller, Dan Miller and Danny Weinkauf. Linnel and Flans didn't recruit additional musicians until the mid-1990s.

A documentary was made about TMBG called Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns.


25 hours a day, 6 days a week.
Free when you call from work.
Always busy, often broken.

Important to their early fan base - after a broken wrist prevented touring - was their Dial-A-Song. Nothing more than an answering machine with a song on tape, Dial-A-Song allowed TMBG to satisfy their fans with new music difficult to otherwise provide. The Dial-A-Song line is still open and the number is 718-387-6962, which goes to Brooklyn, New York City. The Dial-A-Song is very difficult to actually get through to, and it is often out of order, anyway. Also, in 2005 TMBG started a monthly Podcast, and if you sign up on their website, you can get free MP3 downloads.

The Music Videos

TMBG have made a fair number of music videos over the years. Some of them, like 'Doctor Worm' and 'Bastard Wants to Hit Me' are animated, others like 'They'll Need a Crane' basically just show them performing the song. 'Doctor Worm' and 'Why Does the Sun Shine?' were made for the Nickelodeon channel. Probably the best would be 'Birdhouse in Your Soul'. This has Linnell singing from a balcony, people riding bicycles around the building and dancing, dressed uniformly in jeans, plaid shirts, black Converse All-Star shoes, and large photographs of eyes covering their own.

TV/Movie Music

You're not the boss of me, now
You're not the boss of me now and you're not so big
Life is unfair...

TMBG have provided music in a lot of places, such as the theme song, 'Boss of Me'2, and incidental music for the sitcom Malcom in the Middle. They wrote 'Dr Evil' for the Austin Powers sequel, The Spy Who Shagged Me, and provided the music for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. They also wrote songs for Disney's television series like Higgleytown Heros and Micky Mouse Clubhouse along with the Peter Pan movie sequel. Other television music includes songs for Courage the Cowardly Dog and Dexter's Laboratory. They are doing the music for the upcoming movie Coraline, based on the Neil Gaiman book. They have even done music for television advertisements.

In 2004 they teamed up with 'The Brothers Chaps' - Matt and Mike Chapman, creators of the successful cartoon website On the website there are a number of 'Puppet Stuff' videos featuring Homestar singing in jam sessions with the band. TMBG also composed the song 'Experimental Film' for the Brothers Chaps to be used in a cartoon of the same name, and they composed the music for the song 'Different Town'.

The Fans

Fans are fanatical at times, but usually friendly. While most fans of a group would kill for free MP3s of album tracks of their heroes, Giantheads - the name of TMBG's fervent fans - sees it not only as ripping the Johns off, but as a form of sacrilege. Diehard fans protested when TMBG recruited a band to record and perform with. Many fans will travel hundreds of miles for a live show. However, due to the dangerous nature of rock concerts and the concert goers, children are barred from the regular shows, although the band often will perform two different shows - one being especially for children, to satisfy the band's younger fandom.

The Albums

A lot of albums these days have ten or less songs on them, and that pisses us off. This new album of ours has nineteen songs. That's why ours is better.
- John Linnell, talking about Flood.

They Might Be Giants (1986)

TMBG's self-titled initial offering has such tunes as '(She Was A) Hotel Detective', 'She's an Angel', 'Chess Piece Face' and 'Youth Culture Killed my Dog', among 15 others. 'She's an Angel' is an interesting offering, as it describes both the difficulties in having relationships with transcendent, theological beings, and the wonder of racing those tiny Shriner's cars.

Lincoln (1988)

Their sophomore release contains such crowd favourites as 'Purple Toupee', 'Ana Ng', and 'Kiss Me, Son of God'. 'Ana Ng' is one of the band's most analysed songs, with theories that it is a belated protest against the Vietnam War, while 'Kiss Me, Son of God' is a treatise on how annoying it is to have people mistake you for Jesus.

Flood (1990)

This is the album most TMBG fans probably heard first (and probably their best, it went Platinum in the US), as its release corresponded with a moderately-high profile feature on the children's cartoon show Tiny Toon Adventures. The two songs featured were 'Istanbul, Not Constantinople', a cover of the 1953 Neil Simon song, and 'Particle Man', a song with both philosophy and, according to the cartoon, wrestling in its heritage. Other notable songs include 'Birdhouse in Your Soul', an attempt by a night-light to gain more attention for itself, and 'Dead', a reflection on both reincarnation, and the importance of properly stocking items in a supermarket.

Apollo 18 (1992)

This album contains few of the songs frequently associated with TMBG's live show. In fact, while this album contains some good songs, it's not the most memorable of the lot. 'I Palindrome I' is a sort of what-goes-around-comes-around type song, 'Mammal' is about how great it is to be warm blooded, and 'She's Actual Size' is about a woman whose height is an optical illusion.

John Henry (1994)

The title refers to the story of John Henry, who could smash rocks better than any machine, but who died of exhaustion at the end of one such competition. This is the first album where TMBG used a studio band instead of a drum machine. They obviously liked the experience, since they've done it that way ever since. 'Extra Savoir-Faire' is about having more street smarts than anyone else, and 'Meet James Ensor' is about Belgium's famous painter.

Factory Showroom (1996)

The second album with the full band, this one was more experimental, and is better for it. Key tracks include 'Metal Detector', 'XTC vs. Adam Ant', about a fictional competition between two new wave icons over radio dominance, 'James K Polk', an educational song about the eleventh president of the USA and 'Till My Head Falls Off', about losing your memory and mind. 'S-E-X-X-Y' is notable because it's TMBG's first song, ever, about sex.

Giants Jubilee and Mightathon (1997)

These were available on the double album, Then: The Earlier Years which also contains Lincoln and They Might Be Giants. Mightathon gives you 'I'll Sink Manhattan', the instrumental 'Lady is A Tramp' and school children singing the previously released song 'Particle Man'. Giants Jubilee provides 'Greek #3', sung in that language, 'The Famous Polka' and 'For Science'.

Mink Car (2001)

Released on 11 September, 2001, this contains the title track, along with 'Mr Xcitment With Doughty' and the forever-true 'Older'. This song says that you are older than you've ever been, and now you're even older. Also, it informs you that this day will soon be at an end, and now it's even sooner. A much different version of this album was released in the UK, with many of the original tracks removed.

No! (2002)

This is their first album for children, though it can appeal to adults, too. It includes whimsical little songs like 'John Lee Supertaster', about a person who has a super sense of taste, 'Lazy Head and Sleepybones', about two tired people who never get along and 'In the Middle, in the Middle', advising children on how to cross streets in safety.

The Spine (2004)

Their impressive tenth studio album, featuring 'Experimental Film', 'Prevenge', 'Bastard Wants to Hit Me' and 'Stalk of Wheat'.

Here Come the ABCs (2005)

TMBG were hired by Disney to make this educational album for children, about the alphabet. A DVD is also available, featuring the songs with animated music videos. A couple of the best songs are 'The Alphabet of Nations', 'E Eats Everything' and 'Flying V'. An upcoming album and DVD is a sequel, about math, titled Here Come the 123s.


Also available from EMusic is the first MP3-only album ever by a major label band, Long Tall Weekend, containing some fan favourites from the live show, such as 'Older'. They have also released EPs and various live and compilation albums, such as a collection of the best stuff used for Dial-A-Song over the years. Bed Bed Bed is a children's book illustrated, by Marcel Dzama, to the lyrics of the songs 'Bed Bed Bed Bed Bed', 'Happy Doesn't Have an Ending', 'Idlewild' and 'Impossible'. These songs were also realeased together on an EP.

1This includes the singing saw, a Theremin and the original Edison wax cylinder recording device.2For which they won a Grammy.

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