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They Might Be Giants Saves The World, One Dial-A-Song At A Time

Dial-A-Song. They Might Be Giants have this thing called Dial-A-Song, and once a week the band releases a new song. A brand new song every single week for the entire year.

Sound daunting? It is!

Don’t know who They Might Be Giants are? Allow me to rectify that error.

At its core, They Might Be Giants is two guys: John Linnell (vocals/keyboards) and John Flansburgh (vocals/Guitar). The self-described twin quasars of rock met as teens in Massachusetts in the late 1970s, where they began writing songs together. By about 1982, they had both moved to Brooklyn (independent of one another) and began to create music together once again.

For many years, it was just the two Johns and a drum machine. Bewildering the artistic elites on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with their off-the-wall jams turned profitable after a while, and they began to sell out all of their shows.

It was during these formative years that the unique, and dearly beloved Dial-A-Song service began. Flansburgh’s apartment had been burglarized, resulting in the loss of some expensive gear that was necessary to performing live.

At the same time, Linnell broke his wrist in a cycling accident, rendering him unable to play for a while. Never being ones to resist the impetus to be original, John and John quickly though of something that would allow them to continue to be productive, while technically unable to perform for an audience.

That something was They Might Be Giants “Dial-A-Song”. The concept is simple: the two Johns would record new material as an outgoing message on the cassette in Flansburgh’s answering machine.

This allowed fans of the band, or anybody for that matter, to call a regular toll number, and if they were able to get through, Flansburgh’s answering machine would pick up, and play whatever song the Johns had recorded that week.

John and John started placing advertisements in the classified section of the Village Voice advertising their service. It was slow to develop at first, however by the time They Might Be Giants had attracted national attention, one was lucky to be able to dial the number and actually get through.

When one did get through to the answering machine, it really was something special for fans of the band. If you called and got through, you were actually listening one-on-one to new, exclusive material on the band’s own personal phone line.

Not only was this venture successful in its initial goal of providing the band an alternative outlet through which to create art, but it had the corollary effect of endearing the band with its fans.

They Might Be Giants is not now, nor have they ever been a band that is for “everybody.” True, they had a couple of songs that one might consider “hits” of a sort (Istanbul (not Constantinople), Don’t Let’s Start, Boss of Me), but nothing that ever cracked the Billboard top ten. Their music speaks to a diverse array of individuals, however multi-platinum record sales are not something that is in the cards for this band.

The point is, that when They Might Be Giants truly speaks to someone, that someone tends to fall pretty hard for the band. They were one of those bands that you obsess over.

Between the unorthodox exuberance of the music, to their brilliant, insightful, witty lyrics, the true magnitude of their genius may never truly be appreciated. The more one listens to their records, the more apparent their ability becomes, the more the astute listener succumbs.

Depression and hyperbole are seemingly necessary components of adolescence. Dial-A-Song became a way for all of the depressed and hyperbolic adolescent fans of the band to connect with them in a more personal way.

Certainly, neither John is clairvoyant, so none of their lyrics are written about you or I. That doesn’t alter how sincerely the words they sing affect those that consume them.

It can be difficult for kids to relate to other people directly, and teenagers love to feel like nobody understands what they are going through. But when a band uses the power of music to bypass the bullshit and speak directly to your intellectual and emotional state, while never having met you personally, it can be extraordinarily powerful.

It may be marginally hyperbolic to say this, but Dial-A-Song probably helped an entire generation of teenagers stave off thoughts of suicide, at least for one more night. Not bad for a couple of dudes who just wanted to play some songs on their answering machine.

Just like the line says in the song “Older” by the band: Time… is marching on. Dial-A-Song held on for a long time, until technology finally rendered the service somewhat obsolete, and it disappeared for a while. It sort of tried to find a new identity in the form of a website, but ultimately, it stopped, and the phone number was disconnected.

Flash forward to 2015, and They Might Be Giants drops a bombshell. They announce that not only are they bringing Dial-A-Song back at a brand new phone number, but there is also a website. In addition, the two Johns promised a brand new song every single week for the entire year of 2015!

Obviously, as we near the end of 2015, you may be wondering if it isn’t too late to experience what for so long has been so important so so many. The good news is that you can join in anytime.

You can listen to the new song each week at the website (, you can subscribe to the band’s Drip account where you can download each week’s track (as well as tons of bonus material) as soon as it is released, or you can hear the new track every Friday night at 8:15 on KKSM AM 1320, Palomar College Radio (

If you are or were a fan of the band, and have not yet, check out Dial-A-Song. A new song each week sounds daunting, but it is a challenge John and John have met with aplomb thus far.

Not only do fans get a new dose of one of their favorite artists on a weekly basis, but it is also providing the band with an opportunity to expand and experiment with a lot of different elements that have made Dial-A-Song 2015 quite rewarding to have been a part of.

If you don’t know the band, check them out. After all, They Might Be Giants have been (in their own words), installing and servicing melody since 1982. Over 30 years, and no signs of slowing down. Certainly, all that longevity means they have got to be doing something right, right?

They Might Be Giants are on tour, and will be coming through San Diego on Sunday, March 27, 2016 at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. Do yourself a favor and get a ticket before the show sells out.

I’ve seen them quite a few times. Not only to they outstrip themselves with every performance, but they usually bring a free keg of beer for the crowd. If that ain’t incentive, I don’t know what is.

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  • a&e telescope logo: Telescope Staff/The Telescope | All Rights Reserved
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