Want a hot idea for a popular rock song? How about one that deals with mammalian metabolism? No? What about particle physics or James K. Polk? Such improbable topics have made They Might Be Giants a phenomenon in the indie-rock world for more than 20 years--and that same sense of curiosity and ingenuousness is now making them just as popular with kids.
The core members of the band based in Brooklyn, N.Y.--John Flansburgh and John Linnell, both 48--may have toughened their hides in the same unglamorous venues that all indie groups do, but they brought with them a gentler sensibility. Flansburgh once worked in the art departments of various educational publishers and was struck by the creative types he encountered there, particularly Theodor Geisel--or Dr. Seuss. "He was clearly writing within his own aesthetic," says Flansburgh. "He was writing for himself, and that seems like such a good idea."
If you want to sell your music, that aesthetic has to appeal to listeners too. In the case of They Might Be Giants, it surely did, at least among rock fans, and Flansburgh and Linnell decided kids might also get it. In 2002 they released their first collection of children's songs--an album simply titled No! They soon became a fixture on the Disney Channel, writing the theme song for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, as well as for Higglytown Heroes, an animated show in which the characters are modeled on Russian nesting dolls--a vaguely surreal concept that is perfectly suited to the band. "We're not that interested in prosaic ideas," says Flansburgh.
Even when the Giants do get prosaic, they do it their own way. Their recent CD and DVD hits--2005's Here Come the ABCs and 2008's Here Come the 123s--deal with stuff that could not be more basic, but they do so in a decidedly unbasic way. There aren't many musicians who teach the concept of the number seven with a song about a gang of sevens invading a home and demanding cake. Think that's too edgy for your kids? Show it to them once--and then see if you can pull them away.