1996 They Might Be Giants is some of my favorite They Might Be Giants. Not solely based off the studio album released that year, Factory Showroom featured here, but rather because this was arguably the height of my TMBG listening days, and simply put, I ingested all that I could handle. Flood was the obvious opener, my first exposure a few years prior, followed by ’94’s John Henry, then a slight detour to 86’s self titled and 92’s Apollo 18, then finally pausing on 96’s Factory Showroom. This was a massive storm of newly discovered music to consume in a short amount of time (remember, this was before the internet and digital downloads, kids). The following year would bring a game-changing double compact disc comp with, Then: The Early Years, and the rest is both a blur, and history. Sadly, I’d fall out of love with the Giants a short handful of years later, but they’ll always hold the deed to a bit of real estate in my heart.
Rummaging through my old high school CDs is both a chore and a mini adventure. Several years ago I’d gotten rid of 90% of my (near 1000) compact discs and paralleled my record collecting with digital hording. So after copying the CDs, out they went… save for a select few (100 or so… ok, maybe 200). Flood was my first introduction to the mighty Giants, and is as good now as it was back in 1994, which I imagine was as good as it was in 1990 upon its initial release. I’m not really going anywhere with this save to say that this album will spin in some form today… be it record, compact disc, or by 160gb hard disc.
So goes the chorus to this luxurious alt rock staple from 1989. The behemoths of the quirky clever, They Might Be Giants solidified their firm stance in the conscious of modern day audio entrepreneurs with Ana Ng, the first single off their 2nd album, Lincoln.
It’s understandable that TMBG are an acquired taste, but respect must be given to the longevity of their determined, recorded output. With 16 studio albums under their belt, and absolutely no sign of slowing down, the two Johns will, in my opinion, and when the final dust has calmly settled, be revered as pioneers within the global scope of modern day recorded sound. AKA, I dig ’em.
The Avatars of They, before they were so known, switched from a quirky, two-piece, drum machine-heavy outfit to a full-fledged live ensemble with their fifth full length, 1994’s John Henry. One of only two TMBG CDs owned by yours truly back in High School, John Henry was on par with the critically, and fan, acclaimed Flood, their 1990 offering, for reasons, upon initial spinning, that are glaringly apparent.
Released on vinyl for the first time (on Asbestos Records), John Henry was one of the last remaining “need to own on vinyl” albums on my “never released on vinyl” wishlist. Thankfully, opportunity, and an understanding SO, allowed for this double LP to (finally) come home.
So much personal grief has been filtered through these 20 tracks, with specific, loathing, heartbroken attention diligently paid to A Self Called Nowhere. It’s exceptionally difficult to listen to this lamenting track and not picture the narrowing walls of my basement bedroom, all the while desperately (and at times violently) seeking any form of alleviation from the inevitable pains of one’s first breakup. A Self Called Nowhere was my internal theme for far too many weeks, and it helped to push me through an experience that callused my nerves like the fallout of first relationships are rightfully meant to do.
Aside from bouncing around inside my head all morning, the visually vibrant storytelling of 1988’s For Science by the Johns (Flansburgh & Linnell of They Might Be Giants) serves up catchy ridiculousness and uproarious nonsense as it forces a beaming smile with a genuine and creative quickness that few other late 80s alternative acts could match.
The song clocks in at only 1:19, but manages to setup an entire, otherworldly environment in which a Newscaster announces discovery of a Venus spacecraft. Like they do, a member of the military, in this case Lt. Anne Moore, calls for volunteers to meet with the intergalactic creatures, and does it with a smoking hot selling point: Have no fear. Have no fear. You will be killed right away. After this, a Male Lead offers his body, and his heart to the Girl from Venus for, you guessed it, science. This gentlemanly gesture seems to have worked since Lt. Moore proclaims: He’s so brave. He’s so brave. He’ll be her love slave forever. And with that, all is once again right with the universe.
For Science appears on the 12” Maxi-Single, (She Was A) Hotel Detective released by Bar None Records so yeah, it has that going for it.
1993 was a good year for a lot of good reasons. Mainly, it saw this two-track holiday offering by the two Johns (Flansburgh and Linell) of They Might Be Giants. Featuring O Tannenbaum and the b-side Christmas Cards, this nifty little stocking stuffer comes on mistletoe green vinyl, and bridges that perfect gap between early 90s college rock and classic holiday warm and fuzzy music.
Although released in 1993 (wow, that’s now 20 years ago!), both songs harbor that “timeless Christmas” vibe, and if you’re like me and enjoy the cheese-filled, gluttonous, help me forget about my everyday life kind of distraction, They Might Be Giants have a neatly wrapped 45 with your name on it. It’s under the tree next to the zeppelin and the Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle.
Okay, either I’m extremely daft, or my short-term memory is completely shot! I’ve had this (ahem) “Limited Edition 4 Track 12” Featuring Daddy-O Remix + Colour ‘Flood’ Poster” (phew) of the gonna-break-your-head-it’s-so-damned-catchy single, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by a personal favorite, They Might Be Giants for more years than I’m willing to admit. Fact.
Okay? So what, you ask. Well, upon perusing my collecting looking for something to catch my ear, I noticed this nice little sticker indicating how this 12” originally came with a poster. Remember when posters were a thing? Shamefully, I do too. Anywho, not thinking much about it, I nabbed it and offered a whimsical yet vaguely hopeful gander to confirm what I already knew… there would be no poster. Imagine my jaw-dropping surprise when, there was, in fact, a “Colour ‘Flood’ Poster!” It was almost like rediscovering a thumb! Okay, maybe not that monumental, but now all I have to do is convince my GF that our apartment needs, no, DESERVES a Colour ‘Flood’ Poster. My money says the poster will stay right where it is.
Great! Now I’m on a They Might Be Giants fix!
On a side note, if you play the beginning of Flood at 45rpm, the intro sounds like something straight out of Munchkin Land. Just sayin’.
There is nothing more patriotic than a green record in the shape of the continental United States. John Linnell, of They Might Be Giants fame, showcases his solo abilities on this two-track appetizer from his full-length album by the same name. Actually, side two’s Louisiana is an unreleased track from the album and is only offered on this “Go America!” record, so if you needed any incentive to seek out this record, there you go.
Told from the perspective of a hospital bed-ridden patient, Montana is a catchy little song about said patient’s electric realization that the shape of Montana resembles that of a leg. I love the esteemed talents of the two Johns and their innate ability to write catchy, whimsical songs about seemingly banal subjects. I mean, we all have these little thoughts throughout our day, like, how I wonder if the birds in the tree outside my porch are secretly planning an all-encompassing war against the squirrel that knocked over their bird bell, but I don’t ever think to write a song about it! Kudos to John Linnell for taking the mundane and making it extraordinary.
Leave it to my clever girlfriend to figure out that Louisiana is a song about the annoying humidity engulfing the stale air within the imaginary walls that make up the state of Louisiana. Referring to (the life-sucking demon that is) humidity as a blanket, John Linnell pleads for a break in the weather and asks that Louisiana, the state, to remove its hands from around his neck so he can breathe more clearly. A song about humidity… again, who looks to uncomfortable weather as a subject for a song?
If I’ve learned something from this green-tinted record in the shape of the contiguous United States, it’s that ANYTHING can be the subject of a song and also, I have no Earthly desire to step foot into the hellish wave of demon-heat known as Louisiana.
Bar/None, one of the best singles to emerge from 1987, They Might Be Giants’ Don’t Let’s Start is a mindnumbingly-catchy little diddy that, when coupled with its amazing video that frequented the vid-screens of MTV, saw TMBG shooting harmonized-lighting into the ear-holes of everyone outside the confined NYC arena.
The Don’t Let’s Start single/EP/whatever-you-call-it contains the genre-bending favorite, The Famous Polka. If ever there was a fast-paced, accordion heavy, punk-polka anthem, it would be The Famous Polka (a personal favorite of The Prudent Groove).
Before the Band of Dans, before the TMBG-ified big-band-sound, there were two Johns, Linnell & Flansburgh. Stripped down compared to their more recent work (anything past 1994), Don’t Let’s Start showcases the clever wit of these two mad-genius John boys. The following lyric captures the whimsically-savvy, yet devotedly-bleak outlook of TMBG, and is arguably the best line the band has ever written:
No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful
Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful
I’m contemplating having the above phrase inscribed onto my epitaph. It’s a phrase that needs to be chanted from the mouths of babes for a solid 15 minutes at least once a day. That’ll learn ’em to see beauty!