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Defender Picks


They Might Be Giants

Music Playlist Series

Thirty years, fifteen albums, two Grammy Awards, pioneer podcasts and a side helping of certified gold children’s music records? This must be They Might Be Giants.


Whether you know them from the early days of John, John, and a drum machine, the full band’s platinum ‘Flood’, or you just watched a whole lot of ‘Malcolm in the Middle’, TMBG are back on the bus, and have been tearing through tour dates since the summer months. Paying respects to the Crescent City, the long-running band will be gigging uptown at Tip's Saturday night (2/4) before making their way up North to close out a lengthy stint of life on the road. TMBG’s co-Founder singer, songwriter, and (left-handed) rhythm guitarist John Flansburgh made use of his travel time by sharing ten tracks "that he likes’" Check it, and then find a little birdhouse in your soul after Saturday night's Krewe du Vieux to check them:


1. ‘I'm Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend to Dance’ - Black Kids
I feel kind of late for the party on this band. I know they were the talk of SxSW or some other music conference a couple of years ago, but I never heard the songs--just the name. In any other time this song would just have been a big fat hit. This song has the familiar insistence of the Cure at their best with multiple synths woven in to a hooky guitar line--and I'm not sure if he's singing with a fake English accent but if he is--FANTASTIC. 
2. ‘Big Bird’ - Eddie Floyd
This is considered a Stax Records classic from the guy who sang the original version of "Knock on Wood." I had actually never heard it until I went to a New York Soul Club event where Eddie Floyd himself was joyously singing over the DJ spinning the 45 rpm record. This song is like the Empire State Building of grooves--the rhythm section and horns just pound on and on to create a great great song.
3. ‘The Hook and Sling’ - Eddie Bo
 "It makes me feel so unnecessary!" As lovers of New Orleans music know, Eddie Bo made a long string of impossibly funky singles through the 60s and 70s and this might be the funkiest. It's hitchy and strange and kind of unpredictable. The set up of the song allows the drummer to do an endless number of breaks between horn hits.
4. ‘Formed a Band’ - Art Brut 
I don't know much about this band, but they really have a sound--the way the Ramones or the Replacements had a sound. I have been told this song was the first thing they ever wrote, and it's freshness supports that idea. There are countless fanciful lyrical turns that make this self-reflexive completely charming. My favorite: "We're going to be the band that writes the song that makes that Israel and Palestine get along!"
5. ‘Green Rocky Road’ - Karen Dalton
Once you hear Karen Dalton you will probably remember the tone of her voice for the rest of your life. It is an unknowable, cobwebbed sound of someone preternaturally old. Evidently she was something of a fixture in the West Village folk scene and although she made two albums she never had the kind of cross-over commercial success of her contemporaries. She was the subject of "Katie's Been Gone" on Dylan/The Band's Basement Tapes. Although she was officially shy of proper recording sessions, she self-produced some of her most arresting work in home recordings. The ignored phone ringing in the background of Green Rocky Road just adds to the music's haunting charm.
6. ‘A New England’ - Billy Bragg
2:15 of musical genius from a great band consisting entirely of Billy Bragg's electric guitar and his perfect voice. As for people who "can't take politics" in their music--your side loses.
7. ‘Walking My Cat Name Dog’ - Norma Tanega
This song was a minor hit in my childhood, but since I was a child the idea of it was quite appealing. It is breezy bit of bohemian pop that sounds like a template for the original songs of Sesame Street. The joy of the lyric combined with her fragile voice is pretty irresistible. I recently purchased Tanega's album and there are a few lost gems there too.
8. ‘Please Don't Sell Me Out’ - Debate Team
People often have a strong knee-jerk response against the "Cher effect" of auto tune set to stun or vocoder vocalizing, but the nice slightly baroque keyboard-based manipulation of the vocal line doesn't take away from this songs charm.
9. ‘Boy’ - Book of Love
Book of Love were a synth pop group on the East Village scene of the mid 80s--very much contemporaries of TMBG in our early days, and this song (along with Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight) was spun continuously. In spite of its stiff bone crushing beat the lyric is sweetly wistful--the songs protagonist is a woman who wants to go to the Boy Bar--a popular gay male spot on St. Marks that had a strict "No women allowed" door policy.
10. ‘Human Fly’ - The Cramps
This song is one of their finest moments, with a thick tremolo guitar and a creepy conceit: "I got 96 Tears and 96 eyes." The Cramps concept--essentially a psychedelic rockabilly combo celebrating Halloween every day--might seem almost like an obvious combination now, but if there was a way to "live it" the Cramps did. There is strange youtube clip--really a document--of the band performing at a mental hospital in the late 70s. It's hard to know what anyone took away from the experience, but it happened.
-Edited by Laine Kaplan-Levenson


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