ABC and 123: A Learning Collaborative: Musical Monday: They Might Be Giants

Monday, September 28, 2009

Musical Monday: They Might Be Giants

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Thank you so much to Alex, husband to Holly (creator of Mother Is Not Concerned) and daddy to their two boys, Zachary (6) and Corey (3) for guest writing today's Musical Monday! Alex has dabbled in music review writing since high school, both for his college newspaper and on his own blog, The Curiouser Music Review. When not listening to, writing about or creating his own music, he works as an advertising copywriter.

If your kids are anything like mine, then they just can’t get enough music. When they’re not listening in the car or on the stereo (usually accompanied by an impromptu interpretive dance), they’re plugging into their iPods, banging on their collection of toy instruments or randomly bursting into song. Now, we all know that music is, by and large, a good thing for a child’s development. But what about the parents? I mean, if our kids are going to insist on listening to the same album over and over again (as they are wont to do), shouldn’t there be something in it that we grownups can tolerate or, better yet, actually enjoy on some level?

That’s where They Might Be Giants comes in. Since the early '80s, the duo of John Linnell and John Flansburgh (known to fans as “the two Johns”) has been creating quirky, amusing, likable and—let’s just say it—bizarre rock music for adults. It’s the kind of group more inclined to write songs about palindromes and birds that live in electrical outlets than love, and who are as adept at accordion and tuba as they are guitar and synthesizers.

It wasn’t until 2002 that the band released their first proper children’s album. Still, their impressive pedigree of absurdism and songs on such erudite topics as former presidents (“James K. Polk”), the animal kingdom (“Mammal”) and geometry (“Particle Man”) makes their moonlighting as a hip kiddie band seem like it was destined from the start.

Over the past seven years, They Might Be Giants has released four full-length kids’ albums, and, in many ways, they aren’t all that different from the kind of material they’ve been creating all along. Each has all the strange lyrical twists, the memorable power-pop-meets-kitchen-sink melodies and, of course, those unmistakably nasal vocals.

The major difference is that most of these albums, particularly the Here Come… series, focus on a single topic, whether that be the alphabet, numbers or, in their most recent release, the wonders of science. Most also come packaged with a video DVD, setting each of the songs to whimsical and artistic animated videos, along with spoken-word interludes from a puppet or cartoon version of John and John. The added visual stimulation does a great job of keeping kids engaged with the topic at hand, while still being every bit as fun and entertaining as the music itself.

So, which albums to get first? For younger kids, say six and under, I’d recommend starting with either Here Come the ABCs or Here Come the 123s. These cover everything from the importance of vowels and how to make numbers bigger by adding on zeroes, to reciting the alphabet backwards and identifying a nonagon.

Grade-school kids will enjoy these as well, but will probably appreciate the more sophisticated lessons of Here Comes Science, featuring songs about the scientific method, the elements, evolution, the solar system and more. The band even cleverly illustrates how science is constantly refining its findings by following the song “How Does the Sun Shine?” (one that’s long been in their repertoire) with the more scientifically up-to-date lyrics of “How Does the Sun Really Shine?”

Meanwhile, No! stands as a perfect all-purpose Giants kids album, featuring weird and wonderful songs on topics such as violins, robot parades and The Edison Museum.

No matter which They Might Be Giants release you go with, your kids are sure to enjoy all the new facts they’ll pick up, delivered with the Johns’ trademark creativity and wit. Just as important, they’ll be listening to some great music by one of the best bands of the past quarter-century (and so, thankfully, will you). Hey, it beats Barney any day.

To get a better taste of They Might Be Giants’ music for kids, check out the YouTube videos below, subscribe to the TMBG Family Video Podcast, or visit the band’s Web site at


  1. We love their ABC, 123, podcasts!

  2. I love They Might Be Giants. I remember their first albums. They have really found a great niche for themselves by doing learning songs for kids.

  3. As a long time fan of TMBG, I love playing the kid albums for my kids. I'd like to comment that the adult albums aren't meant for kids and do contain explicit lyrics.

  4. You just brought back some great High School memories :) I remember hearing once they did a kids album. Thanks for posting about them, I cant wait to check them out!!

  5. I've never heard the Alphabet of Nations. Thanks for sharing!