They Might Be Giants: From El Grupo to Nanobots

How do you do justice to the brilliant, three decade career of They Might Be Giants in just a few words? You could simply list the things they’re most famous for, Birdhouse in Your Soul and the theme from Malcolm in the Middle, but that would be boring.

John Flansburgh and John Linnell aspiring to ever higher things and appearing in Edinburgh tonight. Picture: Dominic Neitz

It feels more in the spirit of the duo’s current album Nanobots (25 songs, nine less than one minute long), or Fingertips (a “suite” of 21 songs, all less than 30 seconds long) to offer up as many factoids as possible in the space of 400 words (or 300, not including that preamble). Ready?

They Might Be Giants played their first concert as El Grupo De Rock and Roll (it was a Sandinista Rally in New York’s Central Park). Their name came from a 1971 film about a grieving millionaire who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes. At their early gigs they performed alongside a giant cardboard cut-out of the head of American newspaper editor William Allen White (a friend of President Roosevelt).

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Other than the songs mentioned above, They Might Be Giants are probably most famous for Dial-A-Song, a 1980s answering machine service that, in theory, played a new song every day (its slogan: “Always Busy, Often Broken”) which they advertised in the Village Voice. It delighted and bemused people in equal measures – one confused listener’s response was later immortalised, hilariously, on an untitled B-side.

Memorably off the wall song titles include: Youth Culture Killed My Dog, Shoehorn With Teeth (about a man who wants a shoehorn with teeth “cause he knows there’s no such thing”) and Someone Keeps Moving My Chair. In 1992, They Might Be Giants were named Musical Ambassadors for International Space Year, in honour of their album Apollo 18. In 2002 they released their first children’s album, called No! Songs include Fibber Island, about an island where everyone tells fibs, and Where Do They Make Balloons?

• Scottish They Might Be Giants Fact 1: at you’ll find Fud, a collection of Scottish versions of songs from their Flood album - Istanbul (Not Constantinople) becomes Prestonpans (Not Quite Portobello).

• Scottish They Might Be Giants Fact 2: the band play the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, tonight. They are a hoot. You should go.