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May 21, 2010

Security Blanket: They Might Be Giants

Most parents probably don’t need me to tell them They Might Be Giants make fantastic music for kids, so consider this more of a gratitude post. Because my wife and I honestly turn to each other from time to time and ask what we’d do without TMBG’s four children’s albums.

The miracle their music has achieved in our household can be explained in terms of a particularly vicious cycle: The more appealing a CD is to your kids, the more your kids want to hear it—usually on endless loops that last days. By the end of these loops, it often doesn’t matter what you, the parent, thought of the music to begin with. You now wish to never, ever, ever hear it again. (I mean, there’s not an awful lot of adult music that could stand up to 36 consecutive plays.)

Yet somehow, Johns Linnell and Flansburgh have created not just one but several albums that our sons can’t get enough of—and that we still enjoy hearing ourselves. Now, this is doubtless in part because both Whitney and I were album-owning fans of their adult music years ago, and because TMBG is the rare crossover-to-kid-music group whose sound—and lyrical cleverness—didn’t change one iota in the transition. (Indeed, TMBG still records adult albums, and tours them.)

However, there’s still something remarkable in the fact that I was recently at work humming “Meet the Elements,” off the Here Comes Science CD, and not only did I not start screaming in horror once I realized this fact, but I smiled and kept humming. (And before you pawn this off as parenting-related psychosis, let me assure you this is not my reaction when I catch myself singing the theme to “Elmo’s World” in the supermarket.)

That would be enough to be thankful for, but TMBG delivers more. The animated videos to their kids’ songs, many delivered originally in a series of weekly podcasts, delight Dash and Griff even more than the music alone does. They’ve proved invaluable, in more than one desperate moment, as short-term YouTube babysitting. And again, parents will find themselves being sucked in to watch the clips themselves at times. (This does admittedly reduce the babysitting value, but I have no one to blame but myself.)

On top of all that, we realized as we heard Dashiell singing “Roy G. Biv” the other day that, thanks to John and John and their band, he was…well, actually learning some things about the color spectrum. Education had honestly never occurred to us as a potential benefit of any children’s album, since most attempts at it are heavy-handed and, well, no fun. But TMBG’s songs—especially those on the science album, their most recent for kids—do what educational entertainment always tries but usually fails at: They make learning fun, so much that it doesn’t really seem like learning. 

So for all that—but mostly for the nonsuicidal parenting part—we thank you, John and John.


  1. Wouldn't it be great if these TMBG songs are to our kids what the Schoolhouse Rock songs were to us?

  2. I was just thinking of Schoolhouse Rock as the only real analogy after I posted this--and I think you're right: TMBG will almost certainly play that part in our kids' memories.

  3. We LOVE TMBG in our house - from the ABCs and the 123s to Here Comes Science. How they rhyme words with the elements and paleontologist, I'll never know. They have rocked our house, and we just saw them in concert yesterday and rocked The Regent Theater in Arlington, MA. Our boys (including our one with special needs) loved it. Here's my review:

  4. That's fantastic. I really need to see TMBG live again one of these days—somehow, despite living in Brooklyn for the first couple of years of parenthood, we never found out about their shows in time to be able to get in. I did see them back in their, and my, pre-kid days, and will always treasure the memory of John Flansburgh playing two trumpets at the same time.

    And yeah, "Birdhouse in Your Soul" is a pretty great song. Glad to hear they're still performing it, and at the kid shows too.