They Might Be Giants, Why? – This is the band’s fifth children’s album, intended as a follow-up to their first of that sort, 2002’s No! The other three, produced by Disney, were topic-specific and intended primarily for young children. This one is just a collection of songs meant for kids in general, and as such they vary in how complex they are. Some could easily have worked on one of TMBG’s regular albums, while others are very simple and instructional. Then again, this WAS a band that did songs like “Mammal,” “Meet James Ensor,” and “James K. Polk” long before even considering children’s music. If there’s any main theme to Why?, it’s the power of imagination and the fun of absurd stories.
Oh You Did – The lead vocal here is by John Flansburgh’s wife Robin Goldwasser. It’s basically a list of things not to do, some pretty normal and others totally ridiculous. It also includes such semi-rhymes as “pyramids of Itza” and “Leaning Tower of Pizza,” and “napkin” and “hapkin.” It’s pretty cute.
Omnicorn – This is more of a rock song, the subject matter being an animal with one of every kind of horn, “even rarer than a unicorn.”
I Am Invisible – Pretty straightforward, but I like the bit about whether you could see an invisible person eat. The lines starting with “dancing in the supermarket” remind me of “My Evil Twin.”
Definition of Good – The song doesn’t actually define the word “good,” but it describes a lot of different fun things. You don’t get too many kids’ songs promoting Captain Beefheart, at least as far as I know.
And Mom and Kid – I have to wonder if this was meant to piss off fundamentalists, much like “Science Is Real.” Neither one is all that controversial on its face, but the main theme to this simple, jingly song (it uses a toy piano) is that there are a lot of different sorts of families and there’s nothing wrong with that. It was originally written for a documentary by Rosie O’Donnell.
I Made a Mess – A slow march about just what it sounds like. I like Flansburgh’s low backing vocals.
Moles, Hounds, Bears, Bees and Hares – Several short verses describe each of the animals mentioned in the title. There’s a bit of a factual error in the suggestion that hares and rabbits are the same. Robin co-wrote the song, but doesn’t sing on it.
Walking My Cat Named Dog – A cover of a 1966 song that was a pretty big hit for its writer Norma Tanega. It achieved fame as a novelty song, although the lyrics aren’t really particularly comical, just kind of weird and hippie-ish.
The cover is pretty straight, with Flans signing in falsetto, and keyboard substituting for the flute.
Or So I Have Read – The first single from this album, although I don’t know whether that means it’s been sent to radio stations. Are singles really even a thing now that you can buy pretty much any song by itself online? It seems to be a warning not to believe everything you read, with lyrics describing a lot of ridiculous ideas, including such amusing ones as a mime being the offspring of a human and a clown and barber poles living in the wild.
Elephants – Sung by bassist Danny Weinkauf, with his children doing the spoken part about elephants destroying a house in Sri Lanka. I don’t know which specific incident this is referring to; apparently that’s happened a few times. Elephants can be really violent when frightened. The song is quite fun and catchy, and includes a few facts about the animals.
Long White Beard – Another tall tale sort of song, sung by Robin with Flans on harmonies. It’s pretty forgettable, but still enjoyable. I wonder if it’s a reference back to the narrator in “Four of Two” waking up after years with a long white beard.
I Just Want to Dance – I can imagine this saxophone-heavy number being good for kids to dance to, which is apparently the whole point. It also touches on the idea of how dancing can be a way for children to temporarily ignore the rules of proper behavior.
Thinking Machine – A nonsense song made up of Flans singing a line of words that doesn’t make any sense, followed by a complaint by John Linnell. I understand Flans didn’t think of this as a kids’ song, but Linnell did. It reminds me a little of “Stuff Is Way” in that its phrases have a good sound to them but don’t mean anything.
So Crazy for Books – A celebration of reading that doesn’t have anything particularly original to say, but is positive and fun nonetheless. If kids are going to take advice from this one, they should also keep “Or So I Have Read” in mind, however.
I Haven’t Seen You in Forever – I guess this fits on a children’s album due to the simple language and the “no, YOU go away” argument, but I don’t think it would be out of place on one of their regular records. With just vocals from both Johns and percussion, it’s about the very real way you can miss someone when they’re gone, but be totally annoyed by them when they’re actually there. I think anyone can identify with that.
Out of a Tree – This was based on a phrase someone said, and was originally used in a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. I can’t recall seeing it, and can’t find it online either. It was later expanded into a full song about an eight-year-old child who goes to live in a tree. While certainly a song I think kids would like, it seems like it’s more directed at parents.
Hello Mrs. Wheelyke – I’d heard this one before, and didn’t think of it as a kids’ song. Basically, Linnell sings a phrase, then Flans adds more stuff; but it makes sense both ways. You might well know by now that I always appreciate good wordplay, and there’s a lot here. I hear some similarity to “Spoiler Alert,” and not just because they both use bass clarinet.
Then the Kids Took Over – A song about environmentalism, and what kids can do to help preserve the planet. I hope children take it to heart, but it’s not one of my favorites.