General Info John Linnell and John Flansburgh met in high school, in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Their first song recorded together, at about 16, was a cover of Yoko Ono's "Don't Worry, Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)". They graduated and parted ways for college, then reunited after they both happened to move into the same Brooklyn apartment building on the same day. In 1982 They Might Be Giants was formed—named after a 1971 George C. Scott film—with Flansburgh on guitar and Linnell on accordion and baritone sax, backed by drum machines and pre-recorded analog tracks. TMBG became heavily involved in the downtown New York art scene, befriending other musicians, actors and artists. Wikipedia points out that their "atypical instrumentation, along with their songs which featured unusual subject matter and clever wordplay" drew a strong following and helped set them apart. In 1986 they signed to Bar/None Records and released their eponymous debut, which included the college radio hit "Don't Let's Start". Their peak fame came in 1990 with the album "Flood", released on Elektra and including the songs "Birdhouse in Your Soul", "Particle Man", and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)". This included hit videos on MTV, appearances in major magazines, and other oddities for the idiosyncratic duo. In 1994 John and John made a major chance and have never looked back: they added a full band. Although the members have revolved, They Might Be Giants has ever since been the two Johns backed by a lead guitarist, bassist and drummer (currently Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf and Marty Beller, respectively). In the late '90's TMBG began being tapped for commercial music, particularly jingles and TV show themes. They recieved an Grammy for their theme for the show "Malcolm in the Middle", and have also composed and/or recorded the themes for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart", the second "Austin Powers" film, and "The Oblings", among others. In 2002, they released "No!", their first children's album. They have to date released three others while continuing to release their usual, "adult" music.
For an astoundingly more fascinating and detailed biography, go here.
They Might Be Giants (1986)
Their debut of 24 years ago is a weird pastiche of accordion, synth bass, drum machine beats, field recordings, screaming, and Johnny Cash samples that finds some mid-point between Sesame Street and The Velvet Underground, to say nothing of a million other connections. The infectious melodies suggest it belongs in the pop tradition, but pop songs aren't about C.B. radios, hotel detectives and hypothetical marriages between Marvin Gaye and Phil Ochs. This is the work of a duo capable to making hits, and instead using that talent to break every convention.
The sophomore follows very closely on the heels of the debut, and in fact the two are often seen almost as one work due to their consistent mood and style. In other words, Lincoln every bit as delightful and strange as They Might Be Giants.
This was their breakthrough, in part due to heavy promotion by their new, major label, Elektra. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" reached #3 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts, and the album has been certified Gold. Many critics consider it their best record.
Apollo 18 (1992)
After the unexpected success of Flood, John and John released another studio album, a synthesis of the avant-garde scene in which they formed and the big rock sound they later came to adopt and dominated by the biggest and most complex musical concepts to date. One song speaks in palindromes, another in deliberately nonsensical, circuitous phrases. One song is about a bitter break-up, another about the biology of mammals. One songs changes key four times in the chorus. Then there is "Fingertips": 21 mini-songs stitched together, meticulously arranged and orchestrated, it is a microcosm of They Might Be Giants' work. Apollo 18, in this author's opinion, is their best album to date.
Severe Tire Damage (1998)
While not necessarily one of their strongest releases, this works as a sampling of both their full band sound as well as their live sound. Highlights include "Dr. Worm" and an uptempo version of the 50's educational song "Why Does the Sun Shine?". The album features seven hidden tracks, all bootlegs of improvised tunes about the "Planet of the Apes" film series.
Here Come the ABCs (2005)
It's worth getting acquainted with TMBG's children's albums, and this is their best. It illustrates that the quality of their music does not suffer when they aim for a younger demographic, for they still churn out music clever and infectious enough for adults. In addition, ABCs also illustrates how John and John thrive as songwriters under constraints such as only writing songs about the English alphabet, with each track coming at the concept in an entirely unique way.
Dial-a-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants (2002)
If you are more about the best-ofs and retrospectives, this one can't be beat. With a terrific mix of hits and deep cuts and fan favorites, with a few live versions thrown in, Dial-a-Song offers a very accurate and well-rounded experience of They Might Be Giants.
Sounds Like Genre: alternative, indie pop/rock, geek rock Similar Artists: hmm... Elvis Costello, DEVO, Talking Heads, Barenaked Ladies, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, The Magnetic Fields, of Montreal (& other Elephant 6 artists). Similar Bonnaroo Artists: Weezer, Ween, OK Go, The Flaming Lips, Dr. Dog.
Video Samples "Birdhouse in Your Soul" on The Tonight Show, performed with Doc Sevrinsen and the NBC Orchestra.
Mediocre fan-made video for the opus known as "Fingertips".
On Conan in 2002, performing "Robot Parade" from their first children's album No!, and then...
Early on in They Might Be Giants' career, John and John set up a dedicated phone line in their Brooklyn apartment which would call an answering machine, on which the duo would record new and experimental material. It was dubbed Dial-a-Song, and the service was run on the same number until just a couple years ago. Nowadays, you can go to www.dialasong.com.
In 2003 the band was the subject of a documentary entitled Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns. It is recommended.
Linnell's birthday is June 12th; they will be performing the day after, so be sure to wish him well.
Live Show: What to Expect The imagination that goes into a They Might Be Giants song is the same imagination that goes into a They Might Be Giants show. They have implemented puppets and choreography, posed as their own opening band, and invented a game called "Spin the Dial", in which they use a portable radio to tune in to local stations, then improvise along to whatever song they hear. For their Bonnaroo show, I would expect a hit-heavy show. For festivals and free shows they tend to view it as an opportunity to sell themselves, for better or worse. It will still be a lot of fun with surprises and odd antics, with a tight band. They also work hard at adding a little something to their performances, so that they aren't just playing the songs straight off the record but changing the arrangements or including little flourishes. No doubt, it will be one of the most fun places to be that weekend.