They Might Be Giants

From Academic Kids

This article is about the band. For the movie, see They Might Be Giants (movie).
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They Might Be Giants (commonly abbreviated to TMBG) is an American pop/rock duo consisting of John Linnell and John Flansburgh, collectively known as "the two Johns" or "John and John".

TMBG's most famous songs are probably one single from each of their first three albums, "Don't Let's Start" (from They Might Be Giants), "Ana Ng" (from Lincoln), and "Birdhouse in Your Soul" (from Flood). Their appearance on the show Tiny Toon Adventures also gained recognition for their songs "Particle Man" and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)". They are also known for "Boss of Me", the theme to the hit television comedy, Malcolm in the Middle for which they won a Grammy Award.



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Left to right: John Linnell, John Flansburgh. Together, They Might Be Giants.

The two Johns first met as children in Lincoln, Massachusetts. They began writing songs together in high school, but they never officially formed a band. Eventually the two went to separate colleges after high school, and Linnell joined The Mundanes, a New Wave group from Rhode Island. The two finally reunited after moving to Brooklyn (same apartment building on the same day) to continue their career.

The band began performing their own music accompanied by a drum machine, and soon became fixtures on the Manhattan underground. Their early work has been described as a type of performance art, in which they used many innovative stage props, including giant cardboard cutout heads of William Allen White. Many of these props would later turn up in their first music videos.

Although they had a strong local following, they had a hard time getting a record deal. They did many live performances in New York but when Linnell broke his wrist in a biking accident and Flansburgh's apartment was broken into and all his guitars stolen, they set up the Dial-A-Song system with an answering machine hooked up to a tape of them playing popular songs. It soon caught the eye of Bar/None Records and earned them a review in People magazine.

The duo released their self-titled debut album in 1986, and it became a college radio hit. The video for "Don't Let's Start" became a hit on VH1, earning them a broader following.

In 1988 they released their second album, Lincoln. This album caused a major shock within the US music industry when in its first week of release it knocked U2's The Joshua Tree off the top of the Billboard College Charts (the US music industry's equivalent to the "Alternative/Independent" charts elsewhere in the world) after only a one week stay at the top (most were expecting U2 to be on top for the remainder of the year). The first single from Lincoln, "Ana Ng", reached number 89 on the UK Billboard charts, and was No.1 in the College Charts, earning the attention of major labels.

In 1989, they signed with Elektra Records, and released their third album Flood the following year. Flood earned them a gold album, thanks to the singles "Birdhouse in Your Soul", which reached number 6 in the UK charts, and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)".

Further interest in the band was generated by a pair of music videos featured in Warner Brothers cartoon Tiny Toon Adventures: "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and "Particle Man". This reflects the high "kid appeal" that TMBG has, resulting from their often silly or absurd songs and poppy melodies.

Following those successes, Bar/None Records released the B-sides and rarities compilation Miscellaneous T in 1991. The 1992 release of Apollo 18 saw Flansburgh and Linnell attract a supporting band, consisting of former Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone and drummer Brian Doherty. Several albums have followed, including John Henry (1994) and Factory Showroom (1996).

In 1999, the ever-changing backing band lineup settled on The Band of Dans, forming a full house line-up of Johns and Dans for almost five years. The Band of Dans was a trio of guys named Dan: guitarist Dan Miller, drummer Dan Hickey and bassist Danny Weinkauf. In 2004, however, Dan Hickey left the band and was subsequently replaced by Marty Beller, who had already played with TMBG for kids' shows and other projects.

Also in 1999, They Might Be Giants became the first band ever to release an entire album exclusively on the Internet with Long Tall Weekend, available through Emusic's "TMBG Unlimited" service.

Further in 1999, they contributed the song Dr. Evil to the motion picture Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

They Might Be Giants have also performed on other movie and television sound tracks, including The Oblongs, the ABC News miniseries Brave New World, and Ed and His Dead Mother. They also perform the theme music ("Dog on Fire", composed by Bob Mould) for the Peabody Award-winning The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. More recently, they composed and performed the music for the TLC series Resident Life and a song about the cartoon Courage the Cowardly Dog.

The decision to include the TMBG single "Boss of Me" as the theme song to the hit television series Malcolm in the Middle, as well as on the show's compilation CD, has brought a new audience to the band. This owes largely to the use of songs from all of the Giants' previous albums: the infamous punching-the-kid-in-the-wheelchair scene from the first MITM season, for example, was done to the strains of "Pencil Rain" from Lincoln. "Boss of Me" became the band's second top-40 hit in the UK.

On September 11, 2001, they released the album Mink Car and were filmed as the subject of a documentary made by AJ Schnack titled Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns. The film, released in 2002, won rave reviews and several awards, and was featured in dozens of film festivals. The film was released on DVD in 2003.

In 2002 they released their first album "for the whole family", No!. They followed it up in 2003 with their first book, an illustrated children's book with an included EP, Bed, Bed, Bed.

In 2004 they released their first new rock work in years, the EP Indestructible Object. They followed that up with a new album, The Spine, and an associated EP, The Spine Surfs Alone. TMBG teamed up with Homestar Runner to provide music for several cartoons as well as hiring its creators to do an animated music video for their song "Experimental Film". They also went on tour again, visiting over 30 cities.

In addition, they started one of the first artist-owned online music stores, at which customers can buy MP3 copies of their music for US$10 an album. By doing this, the band gets to keep money that would otherwise go to record companies. (TMBG MP3 Music Store (

TMBG also became slightly involved with the electoral process by contributing a track to the Future Soundtrack For America compilation, a project compiled by John Flansburgh with the help of Spike Jonze and Barsuk Records. The compilation was released by Barsuk and featured indie, alternative, and high-profile acts such as Death Cab For Cutie, The Flaming Lips, and Bright Eyes. All proceeds went to left-wing organizations such as Music For America and TMBG contributed "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", a political campaign song from the presidential election of 1840.

Following the Spine Surfs the Hiway Tour of 2004, the band announced that they would take an extended hiatus from performing to focus on other projects, such as a musical produced by Flansburgh and written by his wife, Robin "Goldie" Goldwasser, titled People Are Wrong!.

2005 saw the release of Here Come the ABCs, TMBG's follow-up to the successful children's album No!. Disney Sound released the CD and DVD separately on February 15th.

Throughout their career, Brooklyn musical inventor Brian Dewan has been a frequent collaborator and friend of the group. He designed many of their album covers — including the famous podiums of Lincoln — and performs and sings on many of their songs, both in their albums and occasionally live.

The band's name

The band takes its name from the 1971 movie They Might Be Giants starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward (based on the play of the same name written by James Goldman.) The play (and movie) title is a reference to Don Quixote, who mistook windmills for giants. George C. Scott's character discusses man's ability to invent and analyze past the obvious, saying:

Of course, [Quixote] carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But, thinking that they might be... Well, all the best minds used to think the world was flat. But, what if it isn't? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what they might be, why, we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.

In an interview Flansburgh said (paraphrasing) that the words 'they might be giants' are just a very outward looking forward thing, that they liked. In an earlier radio interview, Linnel described the phrase as "something very paranoid sounding". Also, the band's name is parodied in Terry Pratchett's novel Soul Music by the dwarf "rock band", "We're Certainly Dwarfs".

Music videos

The band has made music videos for many of their songs.

  • Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head (1986)
  • Don't Let's Start (1986)
  • "(She Was A) Hotel Detective" (1986)
  • Rabid Child (1986) (home video, not released publicly)
  • Ana Ng (1988)
  • Purple Toupee (1988)
  • They'll Need A Crane (1988)
  • Birdhouse In Your Soul (1990)
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (1990) (claymation version)
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (1990) (animated, with Tiny Toons characters)
  • Particle Man (1990) (animated, with Tiny Toons characters)
  • The Statue Got Me High (1992) (two versions exist - the BBC aired a different variation)
  • The Guitar (1992)
  • Snail Shell (1994)
  • Doctor Worm (1998)
  • Boss Of Me (2001) (premiered on FOX, some airplay on MTV2 and other stations)
  • Courage The Cowardly Dog (2003?) (computer animated, aired on Cartoon Network)
  • Experimental Film (2004) (animated, with Homestar Runner characters)
  • Damn Good Times (2005) (animated, appears on


LP Albums

Compilations, Online Releases

EPs, singles, and demos

External links

it:They Might Be Giants sv:They Might Be Giants


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