Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986, which now shifts to the releases I didn’t discover until after 1986]
Artist: THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
Album: THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
When discussions turn to the great songwriting duos of the rock era, names like Lennon/McCartney, Goffin/King, Jagger/Richards, Bacharach/David*, Difford/Tilbrook, Becker/Fagen, Hayes/Porter, John/Taupin, Lieber/Stoller, Page/Plant and Mann/Weill usually come to mind, but not Linnell/Flansburgh. That’s a shame because the pair of Johns behind They Might Be Giants has spent three decades creating some of the most original, quirky yet always catchy songs. They’re probably not taken seriously by a lot of music snobs, but the quality & consistency of their work shouldn’t be ignored, even if you’re not a fan of their music. They came to most people’s attention via their delightful third album, 1990’s million-selling Flood, but they built their reputation with the alternative & indie crowds through their one-of-a-kind videos from their first two albums. Both of them are jam-packed with sonic delights, and their self-titled debut has long been my favorite TMBG record, so much so that I included it in Part 1 of the Great Out Of The Gate series on my favorite debut albums. Following is what I wrote about it in April 2015. In addition to the full-length songs I mentioned, this album includes a number of strange…and strangely interesting…short tracks like “The Day” (“The day Marvin Gaye and Phil Ochs got married…”), “Number Three” (“There’s only two songs in me, and I just wrote the third…”), “Chess Piece Face” and “Boat Of Car” (which cleverly samples Johnny Cash’s “Daddy Sang Bass”).
I don’t think the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell get the recognition they deserve as incredibly gifted songwriters. That’s likely due to the fact that many of their songs are humorous, they’ve released several collections of children’s music (which are as good as any of their “adult” albums) and they started their career using sampled sounds, dressed in silly outfits, included accordion in their instrumental arsenal & produced quirky, low-budget promotional videos. In many ways they were like Devo Mach 2, without the de-evolution manifesto of their quirk-rock predecessors. Instead, they churned out incredibly inventive songs at an impressive rate, their first four albums containing 18-19 songs each, all of them in less than 45 minutes. For me it doesn’t get much better than their self-titled debut, which I first checked out in 1988, the same year I saw the video for “Don’t Let’s Start” on MTV. Some tracks are merely sketches with one or two hooks before wrapping up in less than 90 seconds, while more fully fleshed out songs like “Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head,” “(She Was A) Hotel Detective,” “She’s An Angel,” “Youth Culture Killed My Dog” and “Rhythm Section Want Ad” make the case for them being one of the most creative artists of their time. They released more mainstream-friendly material in later years, but I always come back to their debut, which has remained my favorite TMBG album for nearly three decades.
I’m wondering how others feel about They Might Be Giants’ debut, especially fans who first discovered them through their later albums. Their early work might seem under-produced in comparison but that’s what makes those records so special to me.
* These songwriting legends were name-checked in TMBG’s “Youth Culture Killed My Dog.”