30 Days: 30 Albums | They Might Be Giants

I can;t believe it took me over 30 years to finally hear this album, but that’s the sad truth. At first, the TMBG debut album was LP only in that nether period where not all new albums in the mid-80s were released on CD. I remember seeing the LP at first but not the CD. I only bought the CD-3 singles release from it at the time. The CD of this then became available but I never got around to picking it up. Instead, I bought their next three albums and any singles released from them until the fateful year of 1993, whereupon I simply stopped buying any TMBG music for reasons unknown.

Bar/None Records ‎| US \ CD | 1987 | 7 72603-2

#5They Might Be Giants: They Might Be Giants US CD [1987]

  1. Everything Right Is Wrong Again
  2. Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head
  3. Number Three
  4. Don’t Let’s Start
  5. Hide Away Folk Family
  6. 32 Footsteps
  7. Toddler Hiway
  8. Rabid Child
  9. Nothing’s Gonna Change My Clothes
  10. (She Was A) Hotel Detective
  11. She’s An Angel
  12. Youth Culture Killed My Dog
  13. Boat Of Car
  14. Absolutely Bill’s Mood
  15. Chess Piece Face
  16. I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die
  17. Alienation’s For The Rich
  18. The Day
  19. Rhythm Section Want Ad

It’s been a looooong time since I’ve fired up any of the TMBG in the Record Cell.  I only really know their short, sharp, surreal early period, but maybe because this was the first album [that I never heard]  I was actually surprised by the abrupt shifts in tone and willful embrace of non sequitur that the band employed. While huge chunks of this are gleeful pop, there were aspects of this that strongly recalled The Residents. Especially during their “Commercial Album” period full of songs this brief. Some of the juxtapositions the band favored could be just as dark as with The Residents.

The instrumentation of guitars, saxes, and accordion with drum machine and sampler was both of its time and completely out of it. I did not expect the hints of country music that could be found in the mix, as on “Alienation’s For The Rich,” but with a band this eclectic, I should not have been surprised. I was also jarred by the appearance of guest vocalist Margaret Seiler on the unsettling “Boat Of Car” but not as much as by the slightly arrhythmic sample in the song of Johnny Cash saying “daddy sang…bass” that manifested there. It is now lodged in my mind… haunting me.

The single “[She Was a] Hotel Detective” was still a rousingly great appropriation of rock tropes pushed slightly into the red by the hint of madness in the band’s demeanor. Their usage of manic laughter for an effect that’s both giddy and unsettling was always a part of this song, but also manifests variously throughout the album. It managed to count as a stylistic leitmotif for them this time out.

This band were immediately appealing to me when their video for “Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head” managed to eke out a space on MTV’s 120 Minutes back in 1986. Strangely enough, there was only an obscure sub-indie split 7″ EP for the song; not a single as such, and yet they filmed a video for it. And it got on MTV. I’d always assumed that there had been a Bar None Records single of it on vinyl only, but no. This was wrong. Their first Bar None single was the ebullient “Don’t Let’s Start,” which I did buy on CD-3 at the time.

This is a great album that I wish I’d bought about 30 years prior. It made no sense that I didn’t until now. 95% of these songs get right under my skin and stay there. I really only get antsy during “Hide Away Folk Family.” The rest are skewed, left-field pop of the best kind. Now I need to fire up “Lincoln,” “Flood,” and “Apollo 18.”

CONCLUSION: enjoy…what took me so long?




About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to 30 Days: 30 Albums | They Might Be Giants

  1. diskojoe says:

    So was Sparks the TMBG of the 70s or TMBG the Sparks of the 80s? Anyway, I was also really into TMBG (I saw them live a couple of times) until about 1996. I think that for some reason they lost something when they went to a full band format. They are still plugging away, which is great. As for myself, I’m content with Then, which is a compilation of all their early stuff & the Rhino compilation which includes their theme for “Malcolm In The Middle”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      diskojoe – “Then” is pretty unimpeachable, but I never got it. The Sparks of the 80s? I can’t go there. Ron Mael is a much more fastidious writer. I don’t see much overlap there. I was also a pretty big early fan. I saw them on the “Lincoln” and “Apollo 18″ tours, where I got John F. to autograph the non-playing side of my TMBG 8” laserdisc. Which he had not seen before. His comment? “Those bastards…!”

      When I heard that they went to a full band that may have been the catalyst for my ennui. Now there’s a loaded phrase!


  2. I too dropped TMBG for a while after they went to a full band, but it was just the change that was jarring — they are still a surreal, ebullient, amazing group and the current lineup (which has been the lineup for a decade or so now, if not longer) is incredibly tight and focused, and continue to be one of my core bands (so much so that I was actually in a TMBG cover band!).

    Anyway, that first album is such a joy (and there is now a live version of the same album available as IIRC a free download from their site) and of course set the blueprint for most of their career. Like the Monk, my first exposure to them was the video for “Puppet Head,” though I responded more strongly to “Hotel Detective” before reaching critical mass with them via “Don’t Let’s Start,” which remains brilliant and fresh despite a million or so repeat playings. Most of the rest of the album became beloved through live versions I witnessed at concerts, but “Boat of Car” needed no repeats to be seen as a solid-gold nugget of oddity. I especially love “She’s An Angel.”

    Comparing that album to the most recent one of theirs I have, I’d say that in truth they’ve barely changed (apart from a weird little obsession with random electro-squelch John L was going through for a while) — with approximately the same number of stone-cold classics in their 20th album as was on their first, IMO. Nostalgia obviously makes those first four albums super-special to any long-time fan, but pick any of their last 10 albums, and you can find at least 25 percent on any of ’em that takes you to the same place that their best early songs do. They push my pleasure buttons pretty hard, those guys, and they’re flat-out the most fun live act this side of Weird Al.


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