TMBG's best-known songs include "Birdhouse in Your Soul" (from the 1990 album, Flood), "Don't Let's Start" (from 1986's They Might Be Giants), and "Ana Ng" (from 1988's Lincoln). Their appearances on the show Tiny Toon Adventures also gained recognition for the song "Particle Man" and for their cover version of the Four Lads song "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)". Their song "Doctor Worm" was a surprise hit in Australia, ranking 13th in the Triple J Hottest 100 for the year 1998. Two TMBG albums have been certified gold: Flood and the 2005 children's music album Here Come the ABCs.
Their song "Boss of Me" served as the theme to the Fox Television Network comedy series Malcolm in the Middle and earned them a Grammy Award in 2002. They have also contributed theme songs to Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Adult Swim's The Oblongs, Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Higglytown Heroes, along with a commercial for Dexter's Laboratory and Cartoon Network's Courage the Cowardly Dog.
At one point, Linnell broke his wrist in a biking accident and Flansburgh's apartment was burgled, forcing them to take a break from performing. During this hiatus, they began recording their songs onto an answering machine, and then advertising the phone number in local newspapers such as The Village Voice, using the moniker "Dial-A-Song". They also released a demo cassette, which earned them a review in People magazine. The review caught the attention of Bar/None Records, who signed They Might Be Giants to a recording deal.
The duo released their self-titled debut album in 1986, which became a college radio hit. The video for "Don't Let's Start", filmed in the New York Pavilion of the 1964 New York World's Fair in Queens, became a hit on MTV, earning them a broader following. In 1988, they released their second album, Lincoln, named after the duo's hometown. It featured the song "Ana Ng" which reached #11 on the US Modern Rock chart.
In 1990, Throttle magazine interviewed They Might Be Giants and clarified the meaning of the song "Ana Ng": John Flansburgh said, "Ng is a Vietnamese name. The song is about someone who's thinking about a person on the exact opposite side of the world. John looked at a globe and figured out that if Ana Ng is in Vietnam and the person is on the other side of the world, then it must be written by someone in Peru." (Derek Thomas, Throttle, August 1990.)
Further interest in the band was generated when two cartoon music videos were created by Warner Bros. for Tiny Toon Adventures: "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and "Particle Man". The videos reflected TMBG's high "kid appeal", resulting from their often absurd songs and poppy melodies.
In 1991, Bar/None Records released the B-sides compilation Miscellaneous T. The title referred to the section of the record store where TMBG releases were often found as well as to the overall eclectic nature of the tracks. Though consisting of previously released material (save for the "Purple Toupee" b-sides, which were not available publicly), it gave new fans a chance to hear the Johns' earlier non-album work without having to hunt down the individual EPs.
In early 1992, They Might Be Giants released Apollo 18. The heavy space theme coincided with TMBG being named Musical Ambassadors for International Space Year. Singles from the album included "The Statue Got Me High", "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)", "I Palindrome I", and "My Evil Twin". Apollo 18 was also notable for being one of the first albums to take advantage of the CD player's shuffle feature. The song "Fingertips" actually comprised 21 separate tracks — short snippets that not only acted together to make the song, but that when played in random order would be interspersed between the album's full-length songs. (Due to mastering errors, the UK and Australian versions of Apollo 18 contained "Fingertips" as one track.)
John Henry was released in 1994. Influenced by their more conventional lineup, this album marked a departure from their previous releases with more of a guitar-heavy sound. It was released to mixed reviews amongst fans and critics alike.
Their next album, Factory Showroom, was released in 1996 to little fanfare. The band had moved away from the feel of John Henry, and Factory Showroom includes the more diverse sounds of their earlier albums, despite the inclusion of two guitarists, the second being Eric Schermerhorn who provided several guitar solos.
They left Elektra after the duo refused to do a publicity show, amongst other exposure-related disputes.
Also in 1999, the band contributed the song "Dr. Evil" to the motion picture Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Over their career, the band has performed on numerous movie and television soundtracks, including The Oblongs, the ABC News miniseries Brave New World and Ed and His Dead Mother. They also performed the theme music "Dog on Fire", composed by Bob Mould, for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. More recently, they composed and performed the music for the TLC series Resident Life, the theme song for the Disney Channel program Higglytown Heroes, and a song about the cartoon Courage the Cowardly Dog.
During this time the band also worked on a project for McSweeney's, a publishing company and literary journal. The band wrote a McSweeney's theme song and forty-four songs for an album that was meant to be listened to with the journal, with each track corresponding to a particular story or piece of artwork. Labeled They Might Be Giants vs. McSweeney's, the disk appears in issue #6 of Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern.
Contributing the single "Boss of Me" as the theme song to the hit television series Malcolm in the Middle, as well as to the show's compilation CD, brought a new audience to the band. Not only did the band contribute the theme, songs from all of the Giants' previous albums were used on the show: for example, the infamous punching-the-kid-in-the-wheelchair scene from the first episode was done to the strains of "Pencil Rain" from Lincoln. "Boss of Me" became the band's second top-40 hit in the UK which they performed on long running UK television programme Top Of The Pops, and in 2002, won the duo a Grammy Award.
On September 11 2001, they released the album Mink Car on Restless Records. It was their first full album release of new studio material since 1996, and their first since parting ways with Elektra. The making of that album, including a record signing event at a Manhattan Tower Records, was included in a documentary directed by AJ Schnack titled Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns). The film, released in 2003, won rave reviews and several awards, and was featured in dozens of film festivals. The film was released on DVD in 2003.
In the release of Windows Millennium, the hit "Time" was loaded on every copy of the Operating System.
In 2002 they released their first album "for the entire family", No!. Using the enhanced CD format, it included an interactive animation for most of the songs. They followed it up in 2003 with their first book, an illustrated children's book with an included EP, Bed, Bed, Bed.
In 2004, the band created one of the first artist-owned online music stores, at which customers could purchase and download MP3 copies of their music, both new releases and many previously released albums. By creating their own store, the band could keep money that would otherwise go to record companies. (TMBG MP3 Music Store)
Also in 2004, the band released their first new "adult" rock work in three years, the EP Indestructible Object. They followed that up with a new album, The Spine, and an associated EP, The Spine Surfs Alone. For the album's first single, "Experimental Film", TMBG teamed up with Homestar Runner creators Matt and Mike Chapman to create an animated music video. The band's collaboration with the Brothers Chaps also included several Puppet Jam segments with puppet Homestar, and the music for a Strong Bad email entitled "Different Town." More recently they recorded a track for the 200th Strong Bad e-mail, where Linnell provided the voice of The Poopsmith.
Drummer Dan Hickey left the band around this timeframe and was subsequently replaced by Marty Beller, who had already played with TMBG for kids' shows and other projects.
TMBG also contributed a track to the 2004 Future Soundtrack For America compilation, a project compiled by John Flansburgh with the help of Spike Jonze and Barsuk Records. The band contributed "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", a political campaign song from the presidential election of 1840. 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 progressive organizations such as Music for America and MoveOn.org.
Flansburgh and Linnell made a guest appearance in Camp, the January 11, 2004 episode of the animated sitcom Home Movies. They voice both a pair of camp counselors and members of a strange hooded male bonding cult.
Following the Spine on the Hiway Tour of 2004, the band announced that they would take an extended hiatus from touring 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!. The Disney Sound label released the CD and DVD separately on February 152005. To promote the album, Flansburgh and Linnell along with drummer Marty Beller embarked on a short tour, performing for free at many Borders Bookstore locations. In November 2005, Venue Songs was released as a two-disc CD/DVD set narrated by John Hodgman. It is a concept album based on all of the "venue songs" from their 2004 tour.
Since December 2005, They Might Be Giants have been making podcasts on a monthly, sometimes bi-monthly, basis. Each edition includes remixes of previous songs, rarities, covers, and new songs and skits recorded specifically for the podcast.
The band contributed fourteen original songs for the 2006 Dunkin' Donuts ad campaign, "America Runs On Dunkin'", including "Things I Like To Do", "Pleather" and "Fritalian". In the aired advertisement, Flansburgh sings "Fritalian" along with his wife, Robin Goldwasser. In a 2008 Commercial, "Moving" is played.
Recently, they have produced and performed three original songs for new Playhouse Disney series: one for Higglytown Heroes and two for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. They have also written and performed the theme song for the upcoming Adult Swim pilot, "The Drinky Crow Show". They will also be providing original songs for the soundtrack to the Henry Selick-directed movie of Neil Gaiman's children's book Coraline. In addition, the band performed the title track to the Disney movie Meet the Robinsons.
Their twelfth album, The Else, was released July 10, 2007, on Idlewild Recordings (and distributed by Zoë Records for the CD version), with an earlier digital release on May 15 at the iTunes Music Store. Advanced copies were made available to stations by mid-June 2007 . The album was produced by Pat Dillett (David Byrne) and The Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys).
In the rest of 2007, They Might Be Giants wrote a commissioned piece for Brooklyn-based robotic music outfit League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots and performed for three dates at the event, and covered the Pixies "Havalina" for American Laundromat Records "Dig For Fire - a tribute to PIXIES" compilation.
The band's thirteenth album, Here Come the 123s, a DVD/CD follow-up to 2005's critically-acclaimed Here Come the ABCs children's project, was released on February 5, 2008. On April 10, 2008, They Might Be Giants performed the song "Seven" from the album on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
In an interview with Terry Bartley on the Super Cool Stuff Show, John Flansburgh confirmed that the band's fourteenth album will be "Here Comes Science," a science themed children's album.
According to Dave Wilson, in his book Rock Formations, the name They Might Be Giants had been used and subsequently discarded by a friend of the band who had a ventriloquism act. The name was then adopted by the band, who had been searching for a suitable name.
A common misconception is that the name of the band is a reference to themselves and an allusion to future success. In an interview John Flansburgh said (paraphrasing) that the words "they might be giants" are just a very outward-looking forward thing which they liked. He clarified this in the documentary movie Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) by explaining that the name refers to the outside world of possibilities that they saw as a fledgling band. In an earlier radio interview, John Linnell described the phrase as "something very paranoid sounding".
On the compilation album Miscellaneous T, on track 13 ("Untitled"), a confused caller to TMBG's Dial-a-Song named Gloria talks to an unknown third party (presumably unaware that the entire conversation is being recorded) about the mystery of "There May Be Giants", as she mistakenly refers to the band.
In the commentary for the cartoon for "Experimental Film" on Homestarrunner.com Strong Bad refers to "They Might Be Giants" with the incorrect name "Supergiants."
In the Terry Pratchett novel Soul Music (Set on The Discworld) a group of musically gifted short people call themselves 'We're Certainly Dwarfs' as an homage to TMBG. This is mentioned by the author in The Discworld Companion.
To promote Flood, TMBG performed "Your Racist Friend" on The Today Show, where Bryant Gumbel called them "They Must Be Giants". On the Severe Tire Damage album track "They Got Lost," John Flansburgh refers to this error when he jokingly introduces themselves as "They Must Be Giants," to audience laughter.
|US Modern Rock||UK Singles Chart|
|1990||"Birdhouse in Your Soul"||#3||#6||Flood|
|1990||"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"||-||#61||Flood|
|1992||"The Statue Got Me High"||#24||#92||Apollo 18|
|1994||"Snail Shell"||#19||-||John Henry|
|2001||"Boss of Me"||-||#21||Music from Malcolm in the Middle|
Other videos include: