They Might Be Giants Albums, Worst to First

TMBG Albums, Worst to First

Time for another pointless list, this time the best They Might Be Giants albums of all time. Couple of rules here: I’m only listing the ones I own. I haven’t bought much of their new stuff (such as “Why” and “Phone Power”, nor do I own the kids album “Here Come the 123s”) and I don’t have many of the collections. I’m lumping all the EPs into one entry because 20 is a nice round number. Also, I want to say this review seems to slag on Flansburgh a lot, and what I want everyone to take away instead is that I *REALLY* like John Linnell’s songwriting. Anyway, here we go!

  1. Here Come the ABCs (2005) – I’m not going to pretend to be the biggest fan of TMBG’s kids albums, but a few of them have some merit. This is one I feel best encapsulates why I tend to not like “new” TMBG stuff. Basically everything after Factory Showroom seems to be them experimenting with voices and silly sounds. Many of the songs on this album are downright annoying, and this is coming from a parent who listens to tons of crap my kids like.

Songs to Listen to: Alphabet of Nations; Go for G!

  1. Venue Songs (2004)A “collection” album of songs they wrote (probably the day of a concert) for various venues they played at. While their dial-a-song service was great, I felt it was better for satiating die-hard fans rather than calling what they produce in a week a ‘finished product’. Add to that I’m not generally a fan of live albums, and you see why this falls where it does.

Songs to Listen to: The Stony Pony (Asbury Park); Anaheim House of Blues (Anaheim); First Avenue Stage (Minneapolis)

  1. Glean (2015) – So this is the real reason I’m writing this list. My love for TMBG has sorta waned in recent years. I felt the band was concentrating too hard on silly sounding instrumentation and I’ve come to almost dislike Flansburgh’s songwriting. 2013’s Nanobots changed my opinion and made me look forward to a new album. What I got instead is this one. Sure it isn’t ingrained in my brain like older albums are, but still, there isn’t much to this album I’d call memorable. Of note, however, is that this is the first album of their in many where I *do* actually like some of Flansy’s songs. That might say more to how unimpressed I am with it, though.

Songs to Listen to: Unpronounceable (I really like this song); Answer; Madam, I Challenge You to a Duel

  1. EPs (various) – I’m cheating here by lumping all their EPs into one category. Truth be told, some of the EPs contain really good songs, but in general, it’s no surprise that many of these tracks missed the album’s final cut. I’m specifically addressing the following EPs (as I don’t have all of them): Why Does the Sun Shine?; Back to Skull; They Might Be Giants… in Holidayland; Bed, Bed, Bed; Indestructible Object; The Spine Surfs Alone. (Also, if Holidayland didn’t exist, this ‘album’ might be higher, but man those are some lousy songs.

Songs to Listen to: Mrs. Train (from Skull); Ant (from Object)

  1. Severe Tire Damage (1998) – Another live album, though the inclusion of Dr. Worm and the Theme from Severe Tire Damage are welcome additions. The live versions of these songs aren’t overwhelmingly different than the studio albums, though I like their slower version of She’s an Angel and a really good version of She’s Actual Size. I also just like “she’s” songs, apparently. This loses MANY points for the inclusion of the “Apes” songs, which are just bad songs recorded poorly.

Songs to Listen to: She’s Actual Size; She’s an Angel; Dr. Worm

  1. No! (2002) – TMBG had not developed an identity as a kids band at this time, and I think that actually helped this album. Sure it lacks focus, but there are some pretty fun songs on it. What helps is they didn’t try to teach anything with this album, they just tried to entertain. That it does, even if some of the songs fall flat.

Songs to Listen to: Violin; Four of Two; I Am Not Your Broom

  1. Long Tall Weekend (1998)/ They Got Lost (2002) – These two compilation albums aren’t technically the same, but there is plenty of overlap, so I’m including them both. The first was available ONLY via MP3 download (back before anyone knew what that was) but I was lucky enough to be at a concert where they hucked a CD copy right at me. There are some real gems on here, but I could certainly do without hearing On Earth My Nina ever again.

Songs to Listen to: Certain People I Could Name; Reprehensible; Older; Lullaby to Nightmares

  1. The Else (2007) – I gotta be honest, this album probably would have done more poorly if it didn’t come with the “B” side album, Cast Your Pod to the Wind. The latter contains two of my favorite TMBG songs of all time. As for the main album, it is, unlike the title track, unimpressive.

Songs to Listen to: Brain Problem Situation; We Live in a Dump; Bird of the Bee of the Moth; The Mesopotamians

  1. Miscellaneous T (1991) – The fanboy in me probably ranks this “B” side collection better than it should, but man, this was my youth here. Some of the songs truly are among TMBGs greats, though in all fairness some of the others probably shouldn’t have made it onto any purchasable album.

Songs to Listen to: Hey Mr. DJ…; I’ll Sink Manhattan; It’s Not My Birthday; The Famous Polka

  1. Factory Showroom (1996) – This album marked the first time I was disappointed with a TMBG album. I bought it the day it came out and saw a measly 13 tracks. Worse yet, many of them didn’t hit at first. Sure, I grew to love the album in time and most of the tracks, but it was a really slow burn. I also stopped seeing them live soon after this as their shows became less band-having-fun and more Flans-yelling-a-lot.

Songs to Listen to: Till My Head Falls Off; Exquisite Dead Guy; Spiraling Shape; I Can Hear You

  1. Here Comes Science (2009)Every rule has an exception. I said before I don’t love the kids CDs (though I’d still rather hear TMBG kids stuff verses 95% of “other” kids’ music). This album is different. The topic has much to do with it, as I and my family all love science. But the songs here are clever, fun, and educational. These songs have replayability, too, something many of their kids CDs don’t.

Songs to Listen to: Meet the Elements; My Brother the Ape; How Many Planets?; Solid Liquid Gas

  1. Join Us (2011) – Really, #s 9-7 are all interchangeable, and they’re adult studio albums #8, 9, and 11 (The Else, which was just above this, was #10). These aren’t bad albums, per se, they’re just sort of… there. It was also at this time that the rift between the songs written by Linnell and those written by Flansburgh really became noticeable.

Songs to Listen to: Canajoharie; When Will You Die; Spoiler Alert

  1. Mink Car (2001) – See #9.

Songs to Listen to: Man, It’s So Loud in Here; Yeh Yeh; Drink

  1. The Spine (2004) – See # 9, but with this addition: this was, in all actuality, the last time I actively sought out new TMBG releases and started buying them whenever I saw them on sale.

Songs to Listen to: Experimental Film; Museum of Idiots; Stalk of Wheat; I Can’t Hide From My Mind

  1. They Might Be Giants (the Pink Album) (1986) – Back where it all started. This wasn’t the first TMBG album I owned (like almost everyone else, it was Flood), but this was a totally ambitious first album for any band. No drums, no bass, all programming, and songs that defied all types of musical convention. There was an accordion throughout. The lyrics were usually very dark but sung incredibly happily. It’s a pretty special album.

Songs to Listen to: Everything Right is Wrong Again; Don’t Let’s Start; Nothing’s Gonna Change My Clothes; (She Was a) Hotel Detective; She’s An Angel; Chess Piece Face

  1. Nanobots (2013) – This album made me a fan again. Basically every album they release, fans on Amazon say “It’s nothing like their old stuff!” or “This is the first album since XXX to capture their old magic.” I don’t buy that anymore. They’ve evolved, and I’m okay with that. But really, the later albums are missing two things: quirky, witty lyrics and catchy melodies. This one brought them both back in force. Sure, there are some duds on here, and I still can’t get into most Flansburgh songs, but there is so much to like about this album. Totally caught me by surprise.

Songs to Listen to: You’re on Fire; Call You Mom; Sleep; 9 Secret Steps; Decision Makers; Icky

  1. Flood (1990) – I have a theory that, for most bands that people actively like, the first album they buy/listen to will always be their favorite. This was my first, and for a long time it was my favorite. (Guilty admission: I didn’t care for it for about a year, then I randomly put it on one day and fell in love with it.) Scott Fourre got me into them by playing “Whistling in the Dark” for me, which was my ultimate hook. And the rest is history. It’s still a fantastic album, and to this day when people refer to the one quintessential album by ANY band, they’ll sometimes refer to it as that band’s “Flood” (“Fashion Nugget” is Cake’s “Flood”).

Songs to Listen to: Birdhouse in Your Soul; Dead; Particle Man; We Want a Rock; Minimum Wage; Letterbox; Whistling in the Dark

  1. John Henry (1994) – I distinctly remember when this album came out, They Might Be Giants “purists” were aghast. How could they ditch the drum machine? A full band? What the crap of what?!?! I held judgement. Part of me wanted to join the crowd, but I couldn’t because the album was Just. So. Good. My first concerts were around this album so I didn’t really get the true “John and John” experience, though they later replicated it during some shows. But the songs are just so awesome on this album. Really, if you’ve never heard them before, listening to any of the top 6 albums are solid choices, but #s 1-3 in particular.

Songs to Listen to: Subliminal; AKA Driver; No One Knows My Plan; Destination Moon; A Self Called Nowhere; Meet James Ensor; Window; The End of the Tour

  1. Lincoln (1988) – The top three albums are also interchangeable in my mind; they’re all fantastic albums. Their replayability is off the charts, their lyrics are excellent, their melodies and chords are super catchy. Picking between them is like picking between your children. Lincoln is many TMBG fans’ favorite album, and for good reason: there really isn’t a dud on it. Well, except Santa’s Beard. It also blazed the way with the first few true “hits” the band had before their Flood explosion. It holds up well to this day.

Songs to Listen to: Ana Ng; Cowtown; Lie Still Little Bottle; Purple Toupee; Where Your Eyes Don’t Go; Pencil Rain; The World’s Address; Shoehorn with Teeth

  1. Apollo 18 (1992) – Most people remember this album because it has Fingertips, the mashup of tiny songs. TMBG even tried something similar on Nanobots, but I don’t know of anything like it before or after in music. That being said, the album is so much more than Fingertips (and it still annoys me that they split up all the tracks on a CD so it can play on random!) Another album with nary a weak track, and essentially no difference in the caliber of writing between of the Johns.

Songs to Listen to: Dig My Grave; I Palindrome I; She’s Actual Size; Spider; The Guitar; Dinner Bell; Which Describes How You’re Feeling; See the Constellation; Turn Around; Fingertips

 

Interestingly, or not really if you’ve read any of this, of the 90+ songs I listed in the “Songs to Listen to” sections, only about 25 of them were written by Flansburgh. But since I feel like I’ve spent this whole blog bashing him, I want to say that if I were to have a top 10 TMBG songs list, he’d had more than 20% representation. She’s Actual Size is easily in my top 3 (maybe #1?), and also Lie Still Little Bottle, Hotel Detective, We Live in a Dump, and See the Constellation would all be in the running. AND Go for G is easily the best song on the lackluster ABCs album. So sorry John F., since I’m sure you’re going to read this and be piiiiiiiissed.

Top 50 Songs

In looking over my older blogs, I stumbled on something I don’t ever recall writing – Derek’s Top 113 Songs. It was ambitious and, quite frankly, probably pointless since I was getting 2 or 3 hits on my blog per day around then. I guess I just loved making lists.

As I shook my head about the actual undertaking, it made me realize a few things: 1) That was TEN YEARS AGO. Man, that’s humbling. 2) My musical tastes have changed – not drastically – but they’ve moved away from some things. 3) I still really like making lists.

So I decided to once again try this experiment. I wanted to whittle it down to less than 113, so first I looked at my iTunes ratings. I had just over 900 “5-star” songs, so that wasn’t the way to go. Culling through that list, I was able to pare it down to about 140 songs (using the “look quick and mark it if I really like it” method). Doing that method one more time, I was able to get it down to a workable list of 50.

I was pretty startled to see that, of my top twenty songs in 2006, only 6 would even make it in the final 50 today. And of my current top 10, I probably hadn’t heard 6 of the songs in 2006. Which is, of course, part of the problem with ever coming up with a list of favorite songs. If I use the criteria “songs I never get sick of”, a tune I’ve only liked for 3 years has a huge advantage over something I’ve known since I was in middle school. However, imperfect as it may be, here is the list, with links to the top 25:

50. Metronomic Underground – Stereolab – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Apparently monotony does not bother me.

49. The Gate – The Bobs – 2006 Ranking: N/A – I’m a sucker for beautiful songs about cult suicide.

48. Exhibit 13 – Blue Man Group – 2006 Ranking: N/A – The perfect zone-out instrumental.

47. Timeless Winter – Into Eternity – 2006 Ranking: N/A – The metal-ist song on the list by far.

46. Mother – Pink Floyd – 2006 Place: 51+ – Preferably the version from the movie, but the album version is good too.

45. You Remind Me – David Matheson – 2006 Ranking: N/A – You’re going to find lots of slower, sweet songs on here.

44. I’ll Fly Away – Erik Darling/Kossoy Sisters – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Traditional song, the best version is this one from O Brother (but inexplicably not on the soundtrack!)

43. Ride On – AC/DC – 2006 Ranking: N/A – The bluesiest song they ever recorded.

42. Use Your Brain – The Dirty Dozen Brass Brand – 2006 Ranking: N/A – The highest-rated instrumental on my top 50.

41. Nightswimming – R.E.M. – 2006 Ranking: 9 – Despite the ranking plummet, still a gorgeous song.

40. Dr. Wanna Do – Caro Emerald – 2006 Ranking: N/A – I dare you not to tap your toe to this jazzy tune.

39. What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Truly a timeless classic.

38. I’m Downright Amazed at What I Can Destroy With Just a Hammer – Atom and His Package – 2006 Ranking: 5 – Incredibly fun, it dropped only due to oversaturation.

37. Your New Boy – You Were Spiraling – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Fun song by a local NJ artist.

36. Stay Alive – Tripod – 2006 Ranking: N/A – How is there only 1 Tripod song in my top 50? That’s a shame.

35. Everyday Lover – Saucy Monkey – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Easily the best song from a CD that I got for free.

34. Lucas With the Lid Off – Lucas – 2006 Ranking: 35 – Up one place, and this song has earned it.

33. Arkansas – John Linnell – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Not Linnell’s best song ever, but probably the one I find myself humming the most.

32. Free Your Head – Bucho! – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Slow jazzy ditty from a local Sacramento band.

31. Heretic Pride – The Mountain Goats – 2006 Ranking: N/A – A song of pride and revolution. Get used to seeing The Mountain Goats on this list.

30. Black Betty – Spiderbait – 2006 Ranking: N/A – An excellent cover of a great original, there are only three better covers on this list.

29. One True God – Austin Lounge Lizards – 2006 Ranking: N/A – A song lambasting religion? And I heard them play it in a church? Priceless.

28. What About Me – Lake Street Dive – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Another band that should have far more entries on this list. If only 50 was a slightly bigger number.

27. Word Crimes – Weird Al Yankovic – 2006 Ranking: N/A – A very clever parody of a very crappy song.

26. She’s Actual Size – They Might Be Giants – 2006 Ranking: 7 – One of the sad victims of my musical maturation is TMBG, but this is still the best of the oldies.

25. White and Nerdy – Weird Al Yankovic – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Al took what worked in Pentiums (2006 Ranking: 20th) and improved on it.

24. International – Jim’s Big Ego – 2006 Ranking: N/A – The only song I know that uses the words “inter-dependence” and “acquiescence”.

23. Gumbo Pants – Paul & Storm – 2006 Ranking: N/A – A song about making gumbo. In your pants. The 2nd shortest song on the list.

22. Icky – They Might Be Giants – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Linnell at the top of his game lyrically. Poor guy lent out a pair of slacks and only got one slack back.

21. Never Quite Free – The Mountain Goats – 2006 Ranking: N/A – An uplifting song until the last line, just like the final scene in every horror movie that is planning a sequel.

20. Rhode Island is Famous For You – Lascivious Biddies – 2006 Ranking: N/A – If you look up “jaunty ditty” in the dictionary, you should see this song.

19. Schism – Tool – 2006 Ranking: 21 – If you look up “jaunty ditty” in the dictionary, you will definitely not see this song.

18. My Daddy Taught Me Good (The Backin’ Up Song) – The Gregory Brothers feat. Diana – 2006 Ranking: N/A – There’s no way a viral novelty mashup of a crazy interview should be in my top 20, but I’m trying to be honest with myself here: this song brings me extreme joy.

17. The Book of Love – Peter Gabriel – 2006 Ranking:N/A – Best cover of a song I don’t like, beating out Lake Street Dive’s cover of I Want You Back. Maybe the most beautiful song I own. Also used in the Scrubs finale.

16. Malcolm – The Arrogant Worms – 2006 Ranking: 27 – You got problems you can’t solve? Malcolm can. Still not the shortest song on this list.

15. Ghost Love Score – Nightwish – 2006 Ranking: N/A – At 10 minutes, this isn’t the longest song in Nightwish’s catalog, but it’s the longest one in the top 50. Great gothic metal.

14. Stress – Jim’s Big Ego – 2006 Ranking: 30 – I love both versions, but I prefer the Dr. Demento collection version to the album version only slightly.

13. Nobody Loves You Like Me – Jonathan Coulton – 2006 Ranking: N/A – This is the 3rd musician who should have far more entries on this list, as he’s one of my favorites. Muy pretty song.

12. Momma Don’t Allow – Austin Lounge Lizards – 2006 Ranking: 51st+ – At less than a minute, and only utilizing 3 sentence (two of which are the same), I challenge anyone to write a funnier song under these criteria.

11. Gulf War Song – Moxy Fruvous – 2006 Ranking: 3 – Nothing about this song isn’t amazing. Dropped slightly only because I’ve put it on 1000 mix CDs and tapes.

10. Maybe You’re Right – Barenaked Ladies – 2006 Ranking: N/A – As fun as their goofy songs are (and they are), I prefer BNLs more serious stuff.

9. No Children – The Mountain Goats – 2006 Ranking: 2 – If ever there was a Mountain Goat “hit”, it’s this song. And it’s incredible. But there are still two songs by Darnielle alone that beat it.

8. Cat’s in the Cradle – Ugly Kid Joe – 2006 Ranking: N/A – I wasn’t a dad in 2006, hence this not even cracking the top 113. With all due respect to the Chapin original (which is awesome), I prefer this heavier version.

7. Start Wearing Purple – The Gogol Bordello – 2006 Ranking: N/A – If you had asked me in 2006 if a gypsy punk song would make my top 10, I would have asked who you were and why you were talking to me.

6. Insanity – Oingo Boingo – 2006 Ranking: 1 – Another case of overplay having hurt this one, it’s still an aural wonder to behold. So. Many. Instruments. Note, the video is for a lamer, pared-down version of the song. The full version can be heard here.

5. Brain Problem Situation – They Might Be Giants – 2006 Ranking: N/A – The song I traditionally put on at track 5 in every mix I make finds itself as #5, and it’s just a song about being drunk. Damn damn catchy.

4. The Future – The Limousines – 2006 Ranking: N/A – For a band by whom I only own one song, they wrote a fantastic one and filmed a powerful and disturbing accompanying video (that’s got an F bomb so watch at work with caution).

3. The Impresario (Opera Sequence) – Jake Kaufman & Tommy Pedrini – 2006 Ranking: N/A – The fact that they were able to turn this original into a Bohemian Rhapsody-inspired power ballad is reason alone for these two guys to be sainted.

2. Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod – The Mountain Goats – 2006 Ranking: 11 – I can’t add to what I said then. It’s an extremely gripping song about overcoming adversity. Who could possibly unseat it?

  1. Woke Up New – The Mountain Goats – 2006 Ranking: N/A – Beaten by himself, of course. This is a song I’ve always liked, ever since I saw the video before the album came out. It’s grown on me immensely, and while I consider it possibly the saddest song ever written, its combination of emotion and imagery, set to a very memorable melody, put it on top.

There you have it. 50 songs, only 11 of which appeared in my top 50 a decade ago. Now’s the time when I would say “did I leave anything out”, but it’s my list, not yours. I invite everyone to write their own blog about their lists. It’s harder than it seems.