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They Might Be Giants is one of my favorite “novelty” bands, right up there with The Bonzo Dog Band. TMBG is made up of two Johns, Flansburgh and Linnell, that grew up together in Lincoln, MA. They attended Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, whose alumni also include Mike Gordon of Phish and comedian Paula Poundstone (not to mention my brothers-in-law).
They went their separate ways after HS, but reunited in Brooklyn post grad and began making music again. Their creative shows and clever marketing brought them to the attention of the Hoboken, NJ based indie label Bar/None (home to Yo La Tengo and The Feelies) who gave them a recording contract and released their first two albums – They Might Be Giants and Lincoln.
Those two albums and their third, Flood, produced a bunch of their best songs including “Don’t Let’s Start”, “Purple Toupee”, “They’ll Need a Crane”, “Santa’s Beard” (which my bandmates and I have played at holiday parties), “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and “Particle Man.”
My choice for the SotW is “Ana Ng.”
This song is way too much fun for a bunch of reasons. The lyrics tell the story of a guy who’s thinking about that one person that was put on this earth just for him – except that she lives on the other side of the world in Viet Nam.
My apartment looks upside down from there
Water spirals the wrong way out the sink
And her voice is a backwards record
It’s like a whirlpool, and it never ends
Then there’s the way TMBG tie in their obsession with the NY World’s Fair (the site upon which they filmed the video for their first single “Don’t Let’s Start”) with the global theme of the song and the connection to Disney’s “It’s a Small World” that debuted at said Fair.
All alone at the ’64 World’s Fair
Eighty dolls yelling “Small girl after all”
Who was at the DuPont Pavilion?
Why was the bench still warm? Who had been there?
But for me, one of the best reasons this song is so special is the playful vowel sound phonetics of the chorus:
Ana Ng and I are getting old
If you know this song you know exactly what I’m saying. If you’re hearing it for the first time you’ll pick up on it immediately. Very clever.
And how can you not love a rock band that uses an accordion as one of its primary instruments!
They’re a blast to see live too. Everyone in the audience seems to know the words to all their wacky songs, giving the concert a playful, party feel.
TMBG had further success, winning a Grammy in 2002 for the theme song they wrote for Malcolm in the Middle, “The Boss of Me.” They also wrote the theme song for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.
Starting around 2005 the guys have been focusing most of their energies toward recording children’s records. (One of them, Here Come The 1 2 3s, earned them a second Grammy.) If I still had small children they’d be listening to TMBG, not Barney or Raffi.
Enjoy… until next week.