Happy new year everybody! 21 days in…. I’m sorry, but I’m now officially a working man. I just haven’t had the time to get back into this. Well, there have been weekends obviously…. but I just haven’t had the inspiration and energy to write. 10am-6pm is a long day, I tell you! I’ll try and get back to the once a week thing on here. Emphasis on ‘try’. Though it will more than likely be a sporadic post here and there.
And so the first track of 2018 is one by They Might Be Giants, who coincidentally just released their 20th(!) album entitled I Like Fun on Friday. Haven’t heard the whole thing yet apart from its title track and ‘I Left My Body‘. I probably should. I leave you a link to its iTunes page where you can buy it for a reasonable price.
‘I Should Be Allowed to Think’ is on the band’s fifth album John Henry, released way back in 1994. Their longest album by a mile, almost an hour in length, it was the first where they performed as a full band with bass guitar and percussion backing John Linnell and John Flansburgh. Thinking on it, I personally see it as their way of showing that they were still able to provide their usual versatility and unique style of songwriting even without their drum machines and backing tapes of the past.
Like many other of the group’s songs, it’s told from a viewpoint which you can look at in two ways… You can listen to the narrator and take their points at face value… or they’re lying and something else is up. Knowing They Might Be Giants, it’s usually the latter. This narrator in particular feels injustice from seeing these rubbish bands advertised anywhere, and sees this as reason to say whatever they want and have their ideas heard by anybody – no matter how stupid they may be. They feel as if there’s this big conspiracy against them, when really they’re probably just thinking about it a bit too much.
This is a great song, another mainly penned by John Linnell though Flansburgh sings in the bridge. I do find myself humming along to its bass line when hearing it, particularly the second half of the chorus. Fair play to Tony Maimone, who plays the bass a fair few of the songs on John Henry. It’s a standard rock song I would say, although it’s not really because it’s They Might Be Giants. There’s always something a bit different when it comes to them. In a good way.
‘I Should Be Allowed’ was recorded on the band’s home equipment and could be listened to on the phone through their Dial-a-Song service before the song was officially released. Thanks to the Internet, that demo version can be heard all the time. It is below.
I may or may not have mentioned that They Might Be Giants are one of my favourite musical acts bar none. I enjoy a large majority of their songs and many of their albums hit that sweet spot. I wrote my dissertation on them that’s how much I find their material so interesting. I’ve made many a post about their songs in the past, and there are many more to come in the future. Surely I must have said why I enjoy them so much and how much their music means to me and how they came into my life by chance. I can trust you to look back for me.
‘I Palindrome I’ can be found on Apollo 18, the fourth album by Brooklyn alt-rock band They Might Be Giants. Another display of infectious melodies and witty lyricism packed into just over two minutes, the John Linnell written composition kicks in straight after the abrupt ending of Flansburgh’s ‘Dig My Grave‘ which starts the album off.
I don’t really know what to say about this track. I know I like it. It’s not even one of my favourites from the album, though it is in general for many a fan of the band. But every time Linnell comes in with that “Someday Mother will die and I get the money” line with the peppy rhythm and guitars behind him, I’m always singing along. He and Flansburgh are simply great at writing a sequence of notes that are meant to be sung, I can’t say much else.
Here are a few clever/funny things about the track that could interest you:
It is 2:22 minutes long – a numerical palindrome.
John Flansburgh sings two palindromes at various points in the track – Seek ’em out.
The bridge is a form of antimetabole…. quite the fancy word.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas.
I can’t vividly describe the first time I heard ‘I Can Hear You’. There was no situation I found myself in life where the song was playing on the radio and felt a wave of emotion. It just happened when I listened to Factory Showroom in full in 2010 or so. I can’t remember how I felt about the song on that first listen, though revisits to it revealed another noteworthy gem of the group’s within their illustrious discography.
The performance of ‘I Can Hear You’ was recorded at the Edison Historic Site in New Jersey on wax cylinder alongside three other songs on 27th April 1996, explaining the low audio quality of the track. Its thin sound also makes it quite hard to decipher what instruments are being played on it. All these years I never thought there was a bass being played in it, yet close listening made it much clearer. It also has quite a simple yet punchy rhythm to it which makes it that much enjoyable to hear.
The lyrics are sets of dialogue from other low-quality transmissions that you may come across in daily life, whether it be from a passenger in a plane calling a close friend from the sky to those intercom towers you order your food from at a fast-food drive-through. There’s a sad feeling I get from this song, I can’t explain it. There’s something about the sound of it and its cyclical nature – the ‘chorus’ at the beginning of the song comes back around at the end – that sometimes gets to me. It’s far from being one of the band’s best songs. Though I enjoy it a lot. Good tune.
The band replicated the recording process of the song as part of a Millennium special of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show in 1999. This version is just as good, if not probably better, given some string flourishes that enhance its effect.
“Hovering Sombrero” is a song about the saddening reminder that time flies; before you know it, the things you had grown accustomed to when growing up will all be replaced and you will only have the memories to remember them by. John Linnell sings of a sombrero that continues to ‘hover on’ as the seconds, years, and minutes roll by. Obviously it’s not a literal wide-brimmed hat of Mexico; that would have to float back down to the ground some time. I do have the idea that the ‘hovering sombrero’ is actually the Solar System. It looks a bit like a sombrero if you really think about it, and in line of the song I think it makes a bit of sense.
The seventh offering on the band’s eighth album contains standard rock instrumentation consisting of acoustic and electric guitars, the rhythm section, and a keyboard that makes an appearance here and there. Linnell’s single-tracked vocal guides you through the track; he also provides an overlapping ‘no/don’t’ backing vocal that stretches throughout various lines. It is quite beautiful in its simplicity, but you think things are just about to get started it is already the end of the song. Another great gem within their discography.
“Hopeless Bleak Despair” is another They Might Be Giants song that takes on the depressing/saddening subject matter with upbeat/happy sounding music. Appearing on the group’s eighth album Mink Car in 2001, John Linnell sings from the perspective of a person burdened by this ‘hopeless bleak despair’.
Placed between “Yeh Yeh” and “Drink!“, two tracks where John Flansburgh sings about the joys of having a good time with a girlfriend and drinking respectively, “Hopeless Bleak Despair”, sung by John Linnell, is something of a sobering listen. The narrator’s life falls apart because of this despair. His family leave him, and he is fired from his job. It isn’t until the final verse where it is revealed, amongst angelic background choir vocals, that the narrator is dead – how he died is not said but we can assume it’s suicide – and was finally separated from it. However, the narrator goes to hell while the despair ‘ascends to heaven’ so even then it gains the upper hand.
The song’s quite funny that way. After everything that has happened to him whilst alive, the narrator can’t catch a break even in the afterlife. You want to feel sorry for him but Linnell’s enthusiastic vocals and the forceful performance by the band pushes those feelings aside, and instead will have you singing along to this poor person’s problems.
When listening to They Might Be Giants’ 1986 self-titled debut for the first time, the opening drum fill for “Hide Away Folk Family” slightly caught me off guard. The four preceding songs establish the album’s upbeat and sprightly mood that you assume it’s the kind of rhythm and mood they’ll be going for throughout the whole thing. But no. “Hide Away” slows the album’s pacing down, allowing the listener to breathe for a few minutes and really feel the music.
Sung and presumably written by John Flansburgh, the track has a cosy and homey feel to it with a light lullaby-like melody to its lyrics and cute instrumentation. Take away the lyrics which creepily depict a mother and father who are paranoid about their house being burned down or blown up, and you have a perfect instrumental for a child’s bedtime song. The ‘happy music with dissonant lyrics’ trope is one that They Might Be Giants have used countless times; this is another instance in which it is executed with great effect. You wouldn’t realise what it was you were singing about unless you had a very good look at the lyrics.
“Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal” was originally going to be released on the Purple Toupee EP, when the title track was to be released as a single in 1989. For some reason the EP was shelved and the song was later placed as the opener to the band’s B Side/Remix compilation Miscellaneous T, two years later in 1991. The compilation is loved by many a They fan due to the fact that for a B Side album, the stuff on there are as brilliantly written and performed as any other song you would find on the three albums they had released by that time.
The song is a tale of a lad who is eager to get his new song on the radio, going to the local DJ to see if he can sort some things out. From the wordy title, you can probably tell that things don’t go as planned. The tale is told accompanied by catchy rhythms, an infectious melody and a delightful Carribean-like (xylophone? glockenspiel?) line and backed up by the witty lyrics of John Linnell. Notice how he cleverly pulls of a ‘Glass Onion’ and sneaks in some references to other TMBG songs in a verse. So much fun.
I could imagine this being a lead single for any album. Seeing as it was to be released with “Purple Toupee”, I assume that it was recorded during the Lincoln sessions. Goodness. I enjoy Lincoln enough as it is, but it would have been cool to have this on there. Though it’s title would have stuck out like a sore thumb on the track list.