This week's edition of Retro Friday features the band They Might Be Giants, and the song "Birdhouse in Your Soul."
They Might Be Giants may very well be one of my all time favorite Retro Bands from the 80's and 90's. They are such a happy-go-lucky, feel good band. You just can't help but smile when you hear one of their songs!
They Might Be Giants is an American alternative rock band formed in 1982 by John Flansburgh and John Linnell. During the band's early years Flansburgh and Linnell were frequently accompanied by a drum machine. In the early 1990s, They Might Be Giants became a full band. Currently, the members of They Might Be Giants include Flansburgh, Linnell, Marty Beller, Dan Miller, and Danny Weinkauf. They are best known for an unconventional and experimental style of alternative music. Over their career, the group has found success on the modern rock charts.
Flansburgh and Linnell released their self-titled debut album in 1986, which became a college radio hit. The video for "Don't Let's Start", filmed in the New York State Pavilion built for the 1964 New York World's Fair in Queens, became a hit on MTV, earning them an even broader following. In 1988, they released their second album, Lincoln, named after the duo's hometown. It featured the song "Ana Ng" which reached #11 on the US Modern Rock chart.
In 1989, They Might Be Giants signed with Elektra Records, and released their third album Flood in 1990. Flood earned them a gold album, largely thanks to the success of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" which reached number three on the US Modern Rock chart, as well as "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)".
While the band then went on to release countless albums, and achieve much success with their music, "Birdhouse in Your Soul" is one of my all time favorite They Might Be Giants songs.
"Birdhouse in Your Soul" was released in March 1990 as a single from the album Flood. It reached #3 on the United States Modern Rock Tracks chart and #6 on the UK Singles Chart and remains their highest-charting single in both countries. The song returned to the UK Singles Chart again in 2010, after its use in a television advert for Clarks Shoes, peaking at #70. The song is sung from the perspective of a nightlight.
The song "Birdhouse in Your Soul" tells the story, in They Might Be Giants very own abstract style, of a nightlight with the appearance of a blue canary, from the point of view of the nightlight itself. The summation of its opening statements ("I'm your only friend; I'm not your only friend, but I'm a little glowing friend, but really I'm not actually your friend; but I am") reveals that while it is not really a friend in the traditional sense of the word, its job as a nocturnal protector of its owner (the listener) makes it their only friend while they sleep. It tells the listener to make a birdhouse (being a safe place for something small and vulnerable) for the light it creates in their mind and soul.
The nightlight then goes on to proclaim its identity ("my name is 'blue canary;' one note, spelled 'L-I-T-E'"), and that it will always serve its intended purpose to the listener and their room. It references a picture in the room of a lighthouse ("There's a picture opposite me of my primitive ancestry, which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck-free"), and explains that while it respects the lighthouse's job, it would never be able to perform that job and references Greek mythology ("Though I respect that a lot, I'd be fired if that were my job, after killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts"). It is plain and simple, just a "guardian angel" for its friend and owner.
As the song fades, the line "while you're at it, leave the night-lite on inside the birdhouse in your soul" echoes the chorus, reinforcing it's point and telling the listener to keep all the good things that provide light in their soul protected.
I absolutely adore this song. It really speaks to me, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! And here it is, for your listening pleasure, "Birdhouse in Your Soul."
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