Monday Morning Smile: Istanbul (Not Constantinople) - They Might Be Giants

When my daughter was younger, on most nights I would sing her a song or two before putting her to bed. But as Miss Mary Mack grew older, she eventually decided she didn't want me to do that every night. Once a week or so, however, I'll still sing her a goodnight song. Until recently, it has been something from my repertoire of lullaby songs -- "Hush Little Baby," perhaps, or Brahms' Lullaby (the "doo doo doo" song, with other silly sounds as well). But for some reason -- Miss Mary Mack has been very vague as to her motivation -- in recent weeks she has requested "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," a Jimmy Kennedy/Nat Simon song from the early 1950s whose prominence in my brain is 100% due to They Might Be Giants, who recorded a version for their essential 1990 album Flood. So now I bring up the TMBG version, with the weird vocalizations and instrumental parts, in my mind using memories of an album twenty years old and am thankful I still get to sing lullabies for my daughter. They Might Be Giants - "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" - [YouTube]

Video: "Four of Two" - They Might Be Giants (via Readeez)

Nine and a half years ago, They Might Be Giants were prepping their first album for kids and while No! had some fancy games you could play if you stuck the disk in the computer, unlike their later work, it didn't have a single fancy video. Michael Rachap, creator of all things Readeez, has rectified that oversight, Marty McFly-style, by going Baaack. In. Time. and applying the Readeez technique to "Four of Two." OK, he didn't really go back in time. I think. But the video's amusing (stay for the ending bump, which made me laugh out loud). Also: John Linnell sings really fast, because the Readeez couldn't even keep up, sometimes having to post a couple words at a time.

They Might Be Giants' "Four of Two" -- Readee-Oh Version from Readeez on Vimeo.

Monday Morning Smile: "Tubthumping" - They Might Be Giants

I know, it's not Monday, but after a July 4th which fell on a Monday, it feels like a Monday. And if you think I'm waiting 'til next Monday to play this, you're nuts. It's They Might Be Giants covering Chumbawumba's one big hit, "Tubthumping," for The Onion's AV Club. Now, I've actually loved the original song unironically since I first heard it -- it's got a nice melodic line, killer sing-along chorus, and the end, when there are like four different melodies interwoven is brilliant brilliant brilliant, easily one of my top ten musical moments of all time. On top of that, the lyrics are simultaneously celebratory and mocking -- the band (around for many years and known for its anarchist tendencies) is able to have its cake and eat it too. Yes, this song is on my iPod. Having said that, I've never bothered embedding the song here; the combination of one of my favorite bands and the song, however, is almost reason enough to do so. I doubt the band are huge fans of the song, though I'm sure they appreciate it from a songwriters' standpoint. But since by the time TMBG got to the series, many of the tunes had been chosen, the band had to think strategically, and where the band's version doesn't quite have the studio production values that puts the original over the top, the choice to invite a whole of AV Club staffers into the tiny room and shout the chorus makes this required posting (and watching). If your kids can sing or play music this joyfully, then you've done right by them, musically.
They Might Be Giants covers Chumbawamba

Billboard 2010 Top Kids Albums Announced: Like Another World

KidzBop18.jpgI know that people sometimes criticize the Grammys for being not quite attuned to the "real world," especially in the genre categories, but most readers of this site would probably look at this year's list of kids music nominees as being more familiar and representative of the year in family music than the list of Top Kid Audio (as Billboard calls it). The Top 25 list is headed up by Kidz Bop 18 and followed up by... er... Kidz Bop 17. Kidz Bop gets a total of 4 albums on the list. Disney gets a stunning 15 albums on the list, including 3 Hannah Montana-related disks (one being a karaoke disk). Add a couple Nick/Viacom show soundtracks, the Chipmunks, Charlie Brown Christmas, a Cedarmont Kids album, and a no-name collection of kids' Christmas sing-along songs, and what you're left with in terms of what you might think of as an actual independent artist hitting the charts is, er, nothing. Now that's not entirely true. One of those Nick/Viacom soundtracks is Music Is Awesome, Vol. 2, the Yo Gabba Gabba! collection, though it could be argued that that's just a college rock album marketed slightly differently. The other album is They Might Be Giants' Here Comes Science album, which has spent a whopping 52 non-consecutive weeks on the Kid Audio chart since its release in September 2009. But it could be argued that TMBG's other fan base helps out considerably as does Disney's distribution power, which no doubt helped get the album in places most kindie artists can only dream of. Compared to last year, the genre didn't do appreciably better when compared to the industry as a whole, given that 3 of the Top Kid Audio albums charted in the Billboard 200 in both 2010 and 2009. But the broader issue is that it's impossible to fully measure the genre's impact. I wouldn't be surprised if Justin Roberts' Jungle Gym (which reached as high as #10 and spent a couple weeks on the Kid Audio chart is being underreported if a lot of his album as sold via toy stores, for example, or at Justin's shows (I don't know if he's self-reporting to SoundScan). And Laurie Berkner's Best of... must have just missed the cut-off, because her album spent a full 3 months in the Kid Audio Top 10, and has spent 28 weeks there total since being released in late June. One wonders, however, whether kids' music would have wider visibility in the industry if it figured out some way to better quantify all the albums being sold (or if SoundScan reduced the fee to become a reporter). I would guess that the percentage of "unreported" sales is higher in this genre than in others, and that maybe a few more artists (rather than TV and movie soundtracks) might squeeze their way in were those "unreported" sales finally reported.

Taking Kids Music to the Big Boys: 2011 EMP Pop Conference

One of the goals I have for the year is try to expand the reach of family music (at least my sliver of it) into the broader world. I know that everyone is trying to do the same, but I really believe that we can let our freak flags fly a little bit louder, right? As part of that effort, I'm geeked to announced that I've been asked to participate in the country's pre-eminent conference on the study of pop music, the 2011 EMP Pop Conference at UCLA. This year's conference theme is called Cash Rules Everything Around Me: Music and Money, and, as you can probably guess, centers (loosely) on the intersection of the music and cash. The conference is in its tenth year, but this year they've moved it from Seattle (the Experience Music Project's home base) and are hosting it in Los Angeles). And the participants include David Lowery (on derivatives -- the financial kind, really), Holly George-Warren, Ann Powers, Chuck Klostermann, and more. Including me. That's right, I'll be presenting a paper called Pay Me My Money Down: Dan Zanes, They Might Be Giants, and the (Un)Surprising Resurgence of Family Music as part of a panel called "My Music Business," which'll feature a jazz musician, a Cajun-country folklorist, a music journalist, and me. Should be fun. I'm just waiting for my invite to TED.

A Blue Canary in the Outlet by the Light Switch. Really.

IMG_4647.jpgI don't do a lot that is not kids-music-focused here, but I think you'll understand why I've made an exception for this item. It's the Blue Canary Night Light, and, yes, it's an homage to They Might Be Giants' super-catchy "Birdhouse in Your Soul" from their album Flood. (An album which, I might add, was released more than 20 years ago. Pardon me while I feel old.) But not only is it an homage, it's a darn fine nightlight. I am a happy customer, and it occurred to me that the Venn diagram of people who read this site and those families who might, for many reasons, want a Blue Canary Night Light could be sizable. I also liked simple statement on the website -- "We needed a night light for our daughter a few months ago, and really wanted a blue canary night light, but couldn't find one. So I made one!" That sort of attitude merited further investigation. So I got in touch with Brock Tice, the creator of the night light, who kindly answered a few questions. So read on to find out what it takes to manufacture a nightlight, Tice's favorite TMBG album, and a picture of the nightlight lit up while, yes, in the (OK, my) outlet by the light switch. Zooglobble: When did you first hear Flood? Brock Tice: I was introduced to TMBG when my sixth grade (read: around 1995 or '96, can't recall for sure) drama teacher did a class on the song "Birdhouse in Your Soul". I also heard "Particle Man" around that time on Tiny Toon Adventures along with their amusing illustration of the song. After that it was a while before I heard more of Flood, but in college with the advent of Napster I ended up listening to a lot more of that album. I also really loved "Why Does The Sun Shine", which is not on Flood. Regarding the nighlight's creation, you written that you "needed a night light for our daughter a few months ago, and really wanted a blue canary night light, but couldn't find one. So I made one!" How long had you been thinking a blue canary night light would be a cool idea? (Was it since before your daughter was born?) What pushed the idea from "that'd be cool" to you investigating manufacturing techniques? I had thought on and off since college (2000-2004) that a blue canary night light would be pretty cool to have, but from time to time I'd search the Internet and stores, and not find anything. A combination of having a daughter and wanting a night light for her in 2008, plus a second reading of Tim Ferriss' 4 Hour Work-Week inspired me to try building the light, with the eventual goal of selling it to others if it worked out well. How long did it take you from concept to production?