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A Definitive Ranking Of The 50 Best They Might Be Giants Songs

They Might Be Giants but they definitely are difficult to rank.

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50. "Good To Be Alive"

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A very recent composition that highlights Flansburgh's warm vocals and Linnell's accordion, "Good To Be Alive" is a solid example of TMBG's skill crafting short, sweet tunes that linger well past the end of the song.

49. "Prevenge"

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"Prevenge" is a steady rock piece that relies heavily on TMBG's funky word play and embrace of the nonsensical.

48. "Let Me Tell You About My Operation"

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TMBG fans can attest to the band's successful history with horn ensembles and jazzy backings, and "Let Me Tell You About My Operation" continues that fine tradition.

47. "The Statue Got Me High"

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John Linnell singing about an inanimate object with anthropomorphic qualities? A TMBG songwriting mainstay, and this simple arrangement is one of the best in its class, featuring passionate vocals from Linnell.

46. "Damn Good Times"

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A uncommonly feel-good TMBG song, and one that practically forces you out of your seat to dance along.

45. "Au Contraire"

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Absurdist pop culture reference and swinging keyboards chords make "Au Contraire" one of TMBG's more dated, but equally as listenable post-modern tunes.

44. "Brain Problem Situation"

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Slightly repetitive lyrics are no match for this song's irresistible rhythm and eclectic mix of instruments.

43. "Lucky Ball and Chain"

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A sad song set to happy music -- another trope of TMBG's songs, and beautifully (and heartbreakingly) summed up in this "Flood" classic.

42. "It's Not My Birthday"

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A throwback to TMBG's original guitar-accordion combo with the same delightful weirdness of noise and lyric that define their sound.

41. "Turn Around"

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A bassline you can't help but follow around the block, great electric guitar, and a series of surreal vignettes that appeal to the screwball in all of us.

40. "Boss of Me"

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One of TMBG's best-known songs, largely because it severed as the theme to FOX's Malcolm in the Middle. A little rock, a little ska, a lot of 90s -- something for everybody.

39. "Whistling in the Dark"

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A song whose weirdness is noticeable from the first strangely low note of the singer's voice, but whose lyrics are surprisingly uplifting and genuine for all their repetitive mania.

38. "Hopeless Bleak Despair"

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Of Linnell's many songs about depression, this one is probably the most optimistic. But the reason it hits #38 on this list are the unusually cohesive narrative arcs dispersed throughout the verses and chorus.

37. "Answer"

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A similar song (I think) to "Hopeless Bleak Despair" that may be one of TMBG's least confusing pieces of all time. A standard (and lovely) love story, with the usual deprecating humor and wordplay we've come to expect.

36. "Why Does The Sun Shine?"

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The only one of TMBG's children's songs to make the list, and a truly excellent piece of educational music. Catchy as any power pop and twice as relatable.

35. "She's An Angel"

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A throwback to TMBG's very first album. From the beginning, John and John have been happy to try something different, and play with different types of noises in their music. "She's An Angel," whose accordion-filled chorus is weirdly catchy, is a fun piece to listen to over and over, whether to try to understand the lyrics or to just enjoy the fluctuations of the music.

34. "Your Racist Friend"

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A TMBG song that, shockingly, addresses a topic head-on. No metaphor needed, this basic pop diddy does a nice job capturing the discomfort and anger of dealing with racism and social pressure.

33. "You Probably Get That A Lot"

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A song like "Prevenge" that circles around a singular turn of phrase and revels in word play, but that benefits from a tighter arrangement and ambient electric keyboard.

32. "We Live in a Dump"

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A short song (not even two minutes long) that will motivate even the proudest of us to celebrate our sloppiness.

31. "We Want A Rock"

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Some of TMBG's cleverest (or, arguably, most non-sensical) lyrics, and most striking imagery.

30. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"

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Another one of TMBG's most famous songs, and I'm sure I will be getting much flack for not placing it closer to the top. It is an excellently produced song, with precise and imaginative bits of instruments and vocals painting a musical picture. But for all this, "Istanbul" is still, lyrically, one-note piece.

29. "Stalk of Wheat"

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A song that sounds like it belongs with TMBG's children's music, but is cramped alongside longer pieces in "Spine." "Stalk of Wheat" is cute, self-referential, musically sharp, and well-edited. Is it their most profound song? No. But it is a good song that benefits from many replays.

28. "Dead"

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Simple piano and simple harmonies carrying out funny, morbid, even troubling lyrics about death, desire, regret, and wasted life.

27. "Everything Right Is Wrong Again"

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A delightful anthem for the pessimist in your life.

26. "Meet James Ensor"

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A neat little song about a relatively unknown Belgian painter. Do you need more than that? I didn't think so.

25. "Thunderbird"

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One of two songs on this list explicitly about addiction, "Thunderbird" is replete with striking imagery, pushy chord progressions, and pained vocals to match a painful subject.

24. "Purple Toupee"

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A wacky song about an oddly-colored hairpiece, or a bittersweet memory of the JFK assassination? You decide!

23. "Women and Men"

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An unusually calm song by TMBG, not dissimilar to traditional sea shanties or English folk tunes, about creation and reproduction.

22. "When Will You Die?"

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One of the best songs you can play when you just need to rock out, alone and angry, in your room. "When Will You Die?," in all its hyperbolic glory, captures any and all frustration you can have toward that certain someone ruining your life.

21. "Nothing's Gonna Change My Clothes"

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A questionable compositional structure and a little too much repetition aside, this song features some my favorite bizarre phrases and a great duality between light, catchy tune and troubled, distorted jam.

20. "Call You Mom"

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Even if the lyrics of "Call You Mom" were nothing special, this piece would remain high on my list for its phenomenal drums, horns, piano, and bass. But thankfully, the deliciously messed-up mommy problems of the lyrics only add to its appeal.

19. "Doctor Worm"

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I've gotten to the part of the list where it's become increasingly difficult to put one song over another, and "Doctor Worm" at #19 is proof of that. "Doctor Worm" is one of TMBG's best-loved songs, especially after being featured on Nickelodeon's KaBlam!, and it features great trumpet, fun, silly lyrics, and a consistent tone of happy melancholy.

18. "They'll Need a Crane"

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A song about divorce whose gut-wrenching lyrics oscillate between dreary verses and a peppy chorus to only further complicate a complicated subject. A solid and well-rounded song that pays homage to a topic that touches many peoples' lives.

17. "Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal"

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Some of my favorite wordplay in TMBG's sizable oeuvre, and a pointed attack on the music industry. Simple chord progressions pair beautifully with rhythmic guitar and keyboard.

16. "Shadow Government"

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Another song that touches upon a specific, solid topic: political corruption. The music is pounding, like the heartbeat of the narrator, and the bass and drums are a constant reminder of what's coming after you.

15. "I Should Be Allowed to Think"

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Beginning with a quote from Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," "I Should Be Allowed to Think" is a like a mini-manifesto, advocating free speech and, more importantly, free thought. This song does a particularly good job balancing Linnell and Flansburgh's two voices together.

14. "Can't Keep Johnny Down"

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A song that, at first listen, feels like a "Fuck you" song, but quickly reveals itself to be a tongue-in-cheek bit of unreliable narration. A brilliant satire of those in our society who act like bullies and claim to be perpetual victims, set to gorgeous cascading arpeggios.

13. "Contrecoup"

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A TMBG song written specifically to include a few obscure words, including the titular "contrecoup." It's a surprisingly cohesive piece, musically soothing in parts before being awoken by the bass, with an emotive guitar solo at its center.

12. "Climbing the Walls"

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Block rock chords and angsty sentiments combine in this song, whose clever harmonies save the occasionally unfulfilling lyrics. It's not always clear what the Johns are trying to say in "Climbing the Walls," but they do such a good job in this song that you can't help but agree.

11. "Dinner Bell"

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A clever, tight piece that experiments and succeeds with vocal harmony, and whose reference-heavy, sometimes childish lyrics make it a goofy but nuanced listen.

10. "Where Your Eyes Don't Go"

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One of the scariest songs you're likely to hear, laden with nightmare imagery and synced against the melody of a childhood nursery rhyme, "Where Your Eyes Don't Go" succeeds in being musically fascinating, lyrically haunting, and all-around impressive.

9. "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair"

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A story of sorts about poor Mr. Horrible, but a larger metaphor for the things human beings do to distract ourselves from the pain in life, and obsession over the small. Clever, flowing lyrics and cyclical chords trap you in for many listens.

8. "Experimental Film"

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Call-and-response between harmonized vocals and bass piano notes start off one of TMBG's best-arranged pieces, whose lyrics simultaneously mock and celebrate experimental art.

7. "Ana Ng"

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The story of a man who loves someone named Ana Ng, who lives on the exact other side of the world. The verse chords are iconic and perfectly match the halting nature of the narrative.

6. "Don't Let's Start"

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"Don't Let's Start" is a song about a phrase that doesn't really exist, but a sentiment that is highly recognizable: difficult love. The brilliant lyrics range from fantastically weird to fantastically sad, such as "Everybody dies frustrated and sad/And that is beautiful."

5. "Spiraling Shape"

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The cousin to "Thunderbird," "Spiraling Shape" is a song about addiction, or, more abstractly, losing yourself to an obsession. It is notably longer than the majority of TMBG's compositions, and though each section of the song is musically distinct, there are consistent motifs and melodies that connect each into one longer piece.

4. "Metal Detector"

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For a group famous for their odd instrumental inclusions and diversity of sound, TMBG's best electronic-y, straight-up kooky piece is "Metal Detector." The music is spot on, from composition to implementation, and each instrument and sound plays an important part in maintaining the song's unsettling yet optimistic tone.

3. "I Palindrome I"

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A song that features several types of palindromes, some in word and some in image, and even some in its music. It's a song that you can choose to be fun, or challenging, depending on your mood. It's #3 on this list because the excellent marriage here between the nature of the lyrics and the nature of its music, and because it's the type of song that never gets boring on repeat.

2. "No One Knows My Plan"

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My vote for best lyrics in a TMBG song, "No One Knows My Plan" comes in at #2. Its music is some of the Johns' best, and the disconnect between the party feel of the horns and the paranoia of the narrator helps showcase an increasingly-obvious break from reality. "No One Knows My Plan" is fun, scary, darkly inviting, and one of the best songs I can think to play when you feel isolated from the world.

1. "Birdhouse in Your Soul"

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Possibly the best known song by They Might Be Giants, and for good reason. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" comes in at #1 on this ranking for the marriage of its metaphorical, yet also starkly literal lyrics with its complex, and yet also dreamily simple music. The song's story could arguably be about a nightlight, or from the prospective of some larger protector, and though some lines are clearer than others, there is a message: someone is looking out for you, and you should welcome that into your heart. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" hits a perfect balance between the classic alternative rock sound, heavy on guitar and keyboards, the New Wave sound of TMBG's earlier work, and the horn-and-electronic pop that increasingly populates their later compositions. The lyrics, even at their most nonsensical, are rhythmically comforting, easy to remember, and full of interesting syllables and references. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" is a song that crosses a number of different musical boundaries, and deserves the reputation it holds amongst fans of the band.

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