Ten Songs Which Were Not Written By They Might Be Giants But Which Would Nevertheless Fit Into Their Benighted Canon With Nary A Second Look
TMBG’s answer to The Who’s “Tommy”, and specifically the question – Can anyone write a stupider disability themed song than “Pinball Wizard”? This is a supposedly whimsical, but instead thoroughly irritating coming of age tale of a young kid called John who is unable to speak. The song is set to a drum machine, ukulele and accordion backing – and in particular makes account of the bullying the young mute gets. Nowhere is it explained in the song how John – whilst mute to all his contemporaries, is able to sing (or at least whine) this song. Continuity and factual inacuracies come to a head when it is revealed – to nobodies surprise at all – that the reason John cannot speak is because he is actually an insect. This is of course obvious from the title – its a bit like calling Psycho : “Norman Bates Did It Dressed As His Mother”, or The Sixth Sense “Bruce Is Dead”. Foolishness is compounded when it is never revealed how an ant managed to escape the rigourous constrictions of the ant colonies hive mind, and then enrol into the Public School system. Nor why if a member of They Might Be Giants turned up in a school in the form of an ant, the kids would not be fighting each other to stamp on the tuneless little bugger.
TMBG answer to Squeeze’s “Cool For Cats”, and specifically the question not posited by Difford and Tilbrook – What if condiments could fall in love? Hot For Dogs is the heartwarming (in the way that bile – when produced in sufficient quantities – will warm any part of the body) tale of a romance between the ketchup and the mustard on top of a Jumbo Dog served after the fourth innings of a baseball game. Set to the backing of chugging ZZ Top style guitar, djembe and accordion, The Hot Dog also has a supporting cast of fried onions and the wedding chapel of the purchasers mouth. The song manages to raise not a single smile from its elaborate ampropomorphism of tangy taste providers – and the bathos raised by the contrived yet unsurprising “being eaten” ending is so weak it would be better renamed showeros.
(Note: This feature is in a way a tribute to the generous Dial-A-Song service which They Might Be Giants used to run, which would have a fresh song every day. As was pointed out in the pub the other day, freshness is not always a good thing. Every shit is fresh from the moment it pokes out its wee turtle head.)
A charming, and thankfully short, tune with two different and rather difficult to discern time signatures. The verses talk ponderously about the trials of puberty over a German style Oompah band backing and accordion. The chorus on the other hand borrows heavily on the tune, the words and the idea behind ‘Who Put The Bomp’, merely substituting the grossly unamusing line ‘He put his fist in my fistu-fistula — He wiped the pus on my new nylon sweater’. Luckily the song does not bother with another verse, though it still leaves the listener with the odd idea that one of the John’s in TMBG had a sweater made of nylon. Of course acrylic would have made more sense, but not scanned quite so well. Like the effort paid to that tiny aspect of musical construction was worthwhile.
(You know, four days in – that title is starting to look a bit wieldy).
Written, on a slow day even for the genii which TMBG are. The two John’s were sitting in the They Might Be Giants Cave (actually a pokey rented office space shared with a massuse two stories above a Chinese restaurant) – kicking around ideas for a song. John One suggested “Desk”, whch John Two countered with “Telephone”. Realising both of these ideas not to be up to the standard of their usual glittering gems they compromised – creating one of the finest works of music since Paul McCartney made a pact with the devil and sold John Lennon’s soul (a worthless item anyway if you’ve heard his solo records). The tune merely repeats the words “Ring, Ring – Little telephone on the desk” over the sound of a metronome and an accordian. It rocks in at a magnificent one minute, one second – five seconds of which is CD dead air.
(With customary apology to newcomers to the relative obscurity of this item. I rip the piss out of John Lennon below. And indeed on most of the other pages too.)
A tribute to both classical prodigy and early death boy Mozart and the late eighties US indie stars of the Shimmy Disc roster (stars in a 40W lightbulb from the distance of two miles sort of way). As a tribute it is akin to making a statue of both out of giraffe’s fecal matter. Ein Kline Bongwater attempts to be a vague cover version of Bongwater’s “The Power Of Pussy” set to a Mozart like twiddly clasical backing. This grand project is scuppered by three things:
a) The Power Of Pussy is a lousy record, and is actually quite offensive when sung by a man who is one.
b) Mozart was rubbish, and TMBG are no Mozart’s when it comes even to pastiching classical music
c) It is played exclusively on an accordian.
An idea which shouts through a megaphone that it was conceived on the back of a beermat- The Ghosts Of Pac-Man asks a number of searching questions about the blamanche-like spooks in the early eighties video arcade game. An idea not fully developed one must assume as
a) Beermats are not very big
b) TMBG are the kind of guys who beaten up in bars
c) Well at least the kind of bar I go to
d) And admittedly I would probably be doing the beating up
e) Mainly because they obviously cannot take their beer, and that’s pissy American beer at that – about 2.9% proof.
Anyway, the song (if such a word could be used) asks important questions like – what were the ghosts when they were alive? Why do they want to eat Pac-Man? Why are they scared of him when he is on drugs? Do they represent the spectre of socialism, to Pac-Man’s obviously avaricious capitalist – or is that merely a Marxist reading of history done by people kicked off their politics course for being “too whiny”. Its difficult to say, especially when presented over the sounds of a bunch of dodgy early eighties synths set up to emulate their memory of early Namco games, plus an accordian.
(Note: Jonathon Richman’s version of this imaginary song, if it were to be written, would be a lot more sympathetic to the ghosts – admitting that often he cried at night feeling sorry for the arbitary baddies of the piece).
A stab at psychedelia, which if psychadelia pressed charges would almost be reduced to “acting goofy with a deadly weapon”. Mellow Marsh cleverly transposes the two constituent words of marshmellow, to tell a story about Vietnam draft dodgers making out in a bit of swampy land whilst smoking what the song describes as Jazz Cigarettes. This being TMBG the tune does not get very explicit on the making out front – instead some feeble stab at inuenddo is made regarding “toasting on a stick” which is about as suggestive as saying your drink looks like a slug (though possibly true in TMBG case). Musically Mellow Marsh outstays its welcome by a good three minutes, and uses the idiots guide to psychadelia by employing a sitar, with accordian backing. Mellow Marsh has been taken up by the DEA as part of their war against drugs, as they manage to make them sound not only dull and uninspired but thoroughly geeky as well.
Some say this song was written as a response to fans who found the brackets in the song title of (She Was A) Hotel Detective annoying and difficult to sing. Such fans later had their mail traced by the FBI and have now been locked away in a high security prison for simpletons. Not only is the song title nerdy and foolish, it is also incorrect. The only thing in parentheses in this song is the word parentheses – which means the song could also be called just “This Song’s In”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if the hottest young stars of the day, in the hottest film were to be caught having fun whilst listening to this record – it would not be “In”. Especially since the track uses that most “In” of instruments, a plastic toy harmonica and an accordian. The only thing that should be in parentheses in this song is the mark out of ten. (0).
Our cup overfloweth with sixth form humour with this classic. A direct descendant of the “Monster Mash”, just not as scary or potato based. Their Casiotone 400 “Scary Sounds” option button must have been pushed – as creapy wafty noises compete with an accordian to create a genuinely unatmospheric backing to some imagined pitch of theirs of Stephen King’s next best-seller. In doing so they not only misunderstand Mr King’s ouvre (who has been way out of “The” prefaced horror novels for at least fifteen years) but create a pastiche so unlikely that even Dean Koontz would not nick it. When they get on to the bit where the hearth rug eats much of a small town in Maine the record both becomes horrifically poor, and yet laughably tame. Therefore a masterpiece in self-contradiction.
By far and away the pinacle in imaginary They Might Be Giants awfulness – We Put The A In Accordian – is an almost prog-rock type number which explains almost their entire career away as some sort of sad, sorry joke. It is only a matter of time before Ben Folds Five do a similar tune about a piano – this is a brief history of the accordion in rock music. Or should I say accordian? Well, according (nice wording – cheers) to the ones named after the “first half good, second half rubbish George C.Scott film” the equivalent to the electric guitar in the sqeezebox world should be spelt with an a at the end. this is partially – the song explains – due to it natural key, but mainly due to the fact that with that final A it sounds like a much more whiney instrument. We Put The A In Accordian is supposedly played in that key – though frankly it is unlikely that key changes mean anything to TMBG. They also slide in other “clever” jokes such as the idea that in some sort of musical grading ceremony their career may be given an A. Only if preceeding “bismal” I would argue. In an attempt to make me write the word ironically, this is the only tune in their four thousand tune repetoire which does not employ a squeezebox. Ho fucking ho fucking ho.
(I would like to thank all that have made this gargantuan item possible – a parting shot before Tom makes me – the most popular thing on this site – go weekly. Most of all I would like to thank Christopher Virchow for his help on this particular item.)