Nathan (vovat) wrote,

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Paging Mr. Saxophone

Since most of the votes in my poll last week said I should move on to EPs and other miscellaneous TMBG material, this week I'm going to take a look at (or, rather, listen to) the bonus material from Then: The Earlier Years. This includes all of the songs that were on the B-side collection Miscellaneous T, aside from the single mixes of "Don't Let's Start" and "(She Was a) Hotel Detective." There are also several early, previously unreleased recordings that were eventually released through eMusic as "Giants Jubilee" and "Mightathon," which I would assume means that the Johns had no role in naming them. Anyway, here we go:

We're the Replacements - It's pretty catchy, but I think it's a bit overrated as far as TMBG B-sides go. I mean, I've heard this one live a few times, which was never the case for some far superior B-sides.

When It Rains It Snows - I really like this one, with its accordion-based waltz tune and mysterious lyrics. I've seen it proposed that it's about a murder, which would explain the "nut with a shotgun." The pause in the middle of the song is also effective.

The Famous Polka - What this polka is primarily famous for is that the band once invited the audience on stage to dance during it, and the stage collapsed. While I'm sure that wasn't much fun, the song itself is. This one gets played live fairly often, but it hardly ever includes the lyrics when they do it in concert.

Untitled - Back when the Dial-A-Song machine took messages, two people accidentally left a long conversation about they didn't understand it. It's pretty funny, although it doesn't stand up too well to repeated listens. The dialogue was actually considerably longer than what was included in this track, and they later put two additional snippets of it on Clock Radio, one of which has the two of them discussing Dial-A-Stripper. I have to wonder what song it was that Gloria heard. All I know is that she thought it sounded "like all kinds of people."

For Science - Sort of a mini rock opera, with the Johns and someone identified as "Lt. Anne Moore" singing lines in a tale of interplanetary seduction. John Flansburgh's exclamation at the end about getting the missiles ready to destroy the universe apparently came out of nowhere, and is my favorite part of the song, as it's just so absurd.

The Biggest One - Not one of the band's better songs, but the references to "I Will Survive" are amusing.

Kiss Me, Son of God - Instead of the Ordinaires with their stringed instruments, this version has the accordion as the main instrument. I like both versions, but I think this one has a better ending.

Mr. Klaw - A weird little number that plays on the theme song to Mr. Ed, and has largely spoken lyrics. The Johns sure did come up with some messed-up stuff in their early days, didn't they?

Critic Intro - This was what they used to introduce the band the first time I saw them, back in April 1997. The critics mentioned are actually panelists from To Tell the Truth, two of whom (Kitty Carlisle and Tom Poston) died within two weeks of each other.

Now That I Have Everything - They've identified this as the first song on their first demo, but I don't know what form that demo took. It's a pretty good song.

Mainstream USA - One of the best of these early not-really-songs. I've always kind of thought it was about homophobia, but that might be reading too much into lyrics that the Johns probably made up on the spot.

Fake Out in Buenos Aires - The Johns admit that this one was "written in a heartbeat," and it's pretty simple, but enjoyable. It's basically just a series of bad puns on the word "fake," followed by a chorus (if you can call it that) of "in Buenos Aires." Why Buenos Aires? I have no idea, but I've always kind of hoped it was a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges, who lived there and wrote a fair amount about reality and fakeness. That's probably a stretch, but I found a lot of his stories to be thematically similar to TMBG songs, so who knows?

Greek #3 - It's just "Number Three" sung in Greek by John Linnell. An amusing novelty, but I've heard that Linnell's pronunciation was bad.

I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die - I like this version of the song, which is minimalistic and ends abruptly. I enjoy the song anyway, and I think this might be even better than the album cut.

I'm Def - A sorta-song that incorporates another answering machine message, this one from some guy who wanted to get his own song recorded. The rest of the words are apparently based on Flans's confusion over the slang word "def."

Don't Let's Start - This seems to be an early sketch of what would become the best-known song on the pink album. It's always interesting to see how these things develop, but there really isn't enough here to make it of any more than historical value.

'85 Radio Special Thank You - The Johns are good at putting out bizarrely humorous radio promos, and this is...well, not one of the better ones. The writing is amusing, but the fact that the whole thing is sped up makes for a rather annoying listen. Still, it must have been one of their earlier promos, so I can bring out the "historical value" label again.

Hello Radio - A brief little instrumental that really doesn't much for me.

It's Not My Birthday - When asked to name my all-time favorite TMBG song, this is the one I'll give. It has some pretty stiff competition, certainly, but I think everything I love about the band is incorporated here: weird lyrics, an odd reference to an earlier song (in this case "Macarthur Park," an a catchy arrangement heavy on guitar and accordion. I've heard them do this one live twice, and I have to say I quite appreciated it.

I'll Sink Manhattan - According to an intro Flans did a concert once, the title of this song was inspired by some graffiti that turned out to be the name of a band. There are things I like about this song, like the "he's my lower half" line, but it's not really a favorite of mine. I actually kind of prefer the Dial-A-Song demo, which had Latin-style guitar instead of the factory whistle sound.

Nightgown of the Sullen Moon - This is a really good song that doesn't get a lot of attention from the Johns. From what I've heard, people have actually asked why they don't perform it live, and Flans has said he doesn't find it fun to play.

The World's Address (Joshua Fried Remix) - Back in the day, there were several of these remixes that weren't done so much to change the style of the song as to just work in a lot of oddities. Like a lot of remixes, it doesn't really stand up too well to repeated listens, but you have to love some of the samples that Joshua Fried worked into it. "Someone in the club tonight has stolen my ideas."

Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal - A pretty amusing song about a DJ who rips off the band, which includes references to some other TMBG songs. The music is catchy, but I think it takes too long to end.

Lady Is a Tramp - A weird instrumental version of the Rogers & Hart song. They actually did a few of these in their early days (I've heard a similar take on "Bewitched"), but I think this was the only one to get an official release.

Birds Fly - Although not an absolute favorite of mine or anything, I like this song. I think it's one of Flans's earliest attempts at being a lounge singer.

Kitten Intro - This is apparently based on an old car commercial, and also includes the awesome line, "No, They Might Be Giants are not Satanists. They are not posing as an easy listening Nazi rock band trying to lure intellectuals into believing what they already know to be true." It would be cool if they were to revive this intro, I think.

Weep Day - Despite the not-so-great recording quality, this is an interesting and enjoyable song, based on an odd hyphenation of a Bob Dylan record, leading to Mr. Tambo and Urine Man. I have to wonder why the lyrics in the Then booklet say that the consulate from Belgium is "now a hermit in a cave," when the actual lyric is clearly "Buddhist," not "hermit."

The Big Big Whoredom - Another one of those early not-exactly-songs, although TMBG Unlimited once featured a live version where they just sing it straight, which I have to say I liked better.

I'm Getting Sentimental Over You - This is, as far as I can tell, sort of a cover with a different tune and drum-machine-heavy arrangement. Sort of akin to their take on "Lady Is a Tramp," only with lyrics.

Become a Robot - A simple early song that I think kind of sums up the band. Hip-hip-horrific are the words they sing, but the music is fun, and there are also robots. If I were to offer an interpretation of this song, I'd say it's sort of a precursor to "The Bells Are Ringing," begging people not to conform to the crowd. This one also has a weird error in the liner notes, with "wishnik" in place of "deathwish."

Which Describes How You're Feeling - The official studio recording of this is, of course, on Apollo 18, and I think the arrangement on that version suits the song better than this early one. It's interesting to hear how it sounded earlier on, though, and the backwards bridge is pretty cool.

Swing Is a Word - This semi-song plays on expressions from the jazz era, while also announcing the Dial-A-Song number. Too bad that doesn't work anymore.

Doris Cunningham - Part of a longer piece that had the interviewer asking questions about such things as whether the Johns live like pigs, with the answers being sound effects. Why they included just this one little clip on the collection isn't entirely clear.

Counterfeit Fake - A very simple song that's nothing like the later "Counterfeit Faker," although the title probably did inspire that much better number.

Schoolchildren Singing "Particle Man" - A true novelty, this is exactly what the title says, a school class singing "Particle Man." I don't know why they'd put this on a collection of pre-Flood songs, but even though it's not something I like to listen to on a regular basis, I'm glad it got released. I'm amused by the kids yelling "ow" in the background (although the kids themselves probably weren't).
Tags: tmbg

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