KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Satur-debut – THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS “THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS”

They Might Be Giants are most certainly songwriting giants and that was obvious from the start. I’ve already written about the offbeat brilliance of their eponymous debut twice, first in the Great Out Of The Gate series in 2015 and then the following year in the Thirty Year Thursday series about my favorite albums from 1986. See below for all the reasons I love this album…and this group…so much.

For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.

 

 

From GREAT OUT OF THE GATE Part 1:

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.

 

From THIRTY YEAR THURSDAY (in September 2016):

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. 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’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.”

 

If you’re already a TMBG fan, where does this debut rank in their discography for you? For anyone less familiar with their work, do the audio/video clips above pique your interest?

16 comments on “Satur-debut – THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS “THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS”

  1. stephen1001
    January 25, 2020

    A friend of mine will be making a 5.5 hour drive to Conneticut to see them soon – I gather they’re one of those groups, those that like them, like them a lot!

    Like

    • That is a long drive for any artist. Not sure I would do that for anyone but it’s true that TMBG do have very passionate fans whom they’ve earned over the past 3-1/2 decades.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aphoristical
    January 25, 2020

    I’ve never heard their debut – my kids really enjoy all the kids albums so I know those really well, while I only know the grown-up stuff briefly. They must be just about the most prolific song-writing duo ever too – according to this they’ve released 1773 songs (although that includes live versions and demos) http://tmbw.net/wiki/Category:Songs

    Like

    • Even if those include live & demo versions that’s still a lot of songs and not at all surprising. For many years, pretty much before they signed with a major label, they set up Dial-A-Song where you could call & hear a new song from them every day. Many of them were just brief sketches but some were full-fledged songs. Since you already like some of their music I highly recommend this debut and its follow-up, Lincoln. I bet your kids would enjoy them too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Colorado Russ
    January 25, 2020

    TMBG first entered my consciousness when “The Statue Got Me High” started playing on the radio, and I purchased Apollo 18 and fell in love with it.
    It was thrilling to then go to their back-catalog (so small back then!) and listen to Flood, Lincoln, They Might Be Giants, and Misc T. I’ve been a devoted fan ever since, and their later albums are still top-notch!

    Like

    • Thanks for your feedback. I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed their early stuff after getting into them with Apollo 18 (a fantastic album). I completely agree about their later albums. I have them all and they always contain a number of new classics.

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  4. Thanks for this – good to see/hear those dudes again! Haven’t thought about them for a long time.

    Like

  5. critterjams
    January 27, 2020

    here’s a fun thing I discovered:

    it’s not *exactly* what you hear, but it’s very close. clearly this is the machine they were using.

    I felt this was their best album for a long time – it’s flawed in a lot of ways but there’s a certain purity to it. I think a lot of bands create real magic when they don’t really know what they’re doing. I guess their later records are probably better but the best songs here are just peerless. I got the latest vinyl reissue (pink, of course) and my kids love it.

    Like

    • Thanks for sharing that link. What a great recreation. If you told me that was their original instrumental demo I would have believed you. I’m not sure if TMBG has a “best” album but this is the one I return to most frequently and have known the longest. Flood is the one that newbies should hear first, and any of their children’s albums are perfect for people with kids (or people who never stopped being kids). Such a rich back catalog and they’re still at it all these years later (thankfully). Your pink vinyl copy of the debut is probably quite stunning, especially as it spins around the turntable.

      Like

  6. Bill P
    January 29, 2020

    Thanks for the blast from the past! Haven’t heard “Don’t Let’s Start” since high school. Great track. Reminds me of a quote I saw on one of the Smithereens videos from last week….”music was better when ugly people were allowed to make it.” Nothing wrong with the way they look but it certainly isn’t the “made-for-TV-American-Idolesque” glossiness that pervades “pop” music today.

    Like

    • Hi Bill. This is one of those special blasts from the past because it still sounds so fresh (to my ears, at least). As for the “when ugly people were allowed to make music” quote, it’s sadly true. Sure, there have been a number of “ugly” artists who scored hits since the era of music videos started, but things were quite different when people heard music without any associated visuals. I’m glad I grew up during that time.

      Like

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