The transition from 1980s new wave and hair rock to 1990s far less follically-minded indie pop wasn’t always a smooth one. But enigmatic, idiosyncratic, and frequently non-grammatical duo They Might Be Giants made it all go down so easy with instantly catchy hooks and frequently hilarious lyrics.
The band’s tongue-in-cheek non-sequiturs and unconventional instrumentation masked a knack for writing songs that made us hum the first time we heard them. Nowhere is that more evident than in their major label breakout hit “Birdhouse in Your Soul” from their 1990 album Flood, which is likely the first — and only — song ever sung from the POV of a nightlight. Yes, you read that right: The lyrics are from the perspective of a blue night light shaped like a canary — something that only co-Giants John Linnell and John Flansburgh could pull off.
In this 12th episode of The Story Behind the Song, host Peter Csathy interviews Linnell about how his mind found its way to concoct the addictive “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” As always on this podcast, Peter’s guest also discusses their personal choice for our journey into a second song; in this case Linnell selects the band’s recent surreal, sobering song “If Day For Winnipeg,” from their 2021 album BOOK. He tells Peter that this song has special resonance for him and for these times, for reasons that become obvious once you crack the band’s trademark lyrical cryptography.
Linnell spoke with Peter from his flat in Brooklyn as he prepped for They Might Be Giants’ forthcoming 40th anniversary tour (snag tickets here). Listen to the podcast above or check out the full video of the discussion below.
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