They Might Be Giants: Indie Alt-Rock Beginnings
They Might Be Giants is a Brooklyn, New York-based duo made up of John Flansburgh and John Linnell. The collaboration started off as an indie-alternative rock band that created clever offbeat music with lyrics that are a unique mix of high-brow and simplistically infectious. The band evolved from a Modern Rock radio staple, into one of the most successful composers of music for children.
They Might Be Giants were first signed to a small independent record label in Hoboken, New Jersey, called Bar None. Although Bar None had limited resources, the band still received significant airplay on their single “Ana Ng” from their second studio album ‘Lincoln.’ “Ana Ng” peaked at #11 on the Modern Rock chart, and It was obvious that the group had the potential for greener pastures. “The Johns,” as many refer to Flansburgh & Linnell, decided to make the leap from Bar None to a major record label, transitioning to Elektra Records in 1989. The move to Elektra was a turning point for They Might Be Giants, giving the band a much larger recording budget that afforded them the opportunity to work with renowned producers Alan Winstanley and Clive Langer to record their third studio album ‘Flood’.
“Birdhouse in Your Soul”: The Unconventional Lead Single for Flood
‘Flood’ became arguably the band’s definitive LP. It was certified platinum, selling more than 1 million copies. The popularity of ‘Flood’ was fueled by the first single, a charming little ditty titled “Birdhouse in Your Soul” about a nightlight in the shape of a canary. “Birdhouse in Your Soul” was another brilliantly unconventional arrangement by They Might Be Giants- with an irresistible melody, zany lyrics, and a catchy chorus:
Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
Who watches over you
Make a little birdhouse in your soul.
As John Linnell admitted in the interview with Professor of Rock, “Birdhouse in Your Soul” did not follow any formulas, but its quirky appeal was too charming and infectious to deny. It climbed all the way to #3 on the Alternative Rock chart in the U.S. and was a huge pop hit in the UK, ascending to #6 on the UK Singles chart. In fact, the song had two turns on the UK Singles chart when it found new popularity in 2010 after it was placed in a frequently played commercial on British TV, and re-charted at #70.
They Might Be Giants emulates Elvis Costello Production Trick
The slowly rising volume effect heard at the beginning of the “Birdhouse in Your Soul” was a recording technique that Flansburgh called “an old-fashioned mastering trick” where the beginning of the song starts off volumetrically quieter and builds to a booming drum beat that leads into the vocals of the first chorus. It was a purposeful move by the band that they believed would establish the lyrical hook very early in the song. The idea for the “mastering trick” was inspired by an Elvis Costello track that the Johns liked called “Pump it Up.”
They Might Be Giants: Award-winning Composers for TV, Children, and the Theater
They Might Be Giants wrote and performed the theme song for the long-running sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, called “Boss of Me” in 2000. The Duo won their first Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Movie or TV Show for “Boss of Me” in 2002.
Remarkably, the band delivered their 22nd studio album in 2018, with the release of ‘The Escape Team’.
Three of their children’s music albums have been certified gold (selling over 500,000 units). ‘Here Come the ABCs’, ‘Here Come the 123s’, and ‘Here Comes Science’. The latter two receiving Grammy Award nominations for best Musical Album for Children. Here Come the 123s won the Grammy for that category in 2009.
They Might Be Giants also hold the distinction of being nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics Written for a Theater) for SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.