Album: They Might Be Giants
. . .
While Johns Linnell and Flansburgh started writing songs in high school in Lincoln, Massachusetts the late 1970s, they didn’t form They Might Be Giants until they both moved to Brooklyn in the early 1980s, formally adopting the name under which they’re still recording in 2023.
Prior to actually getting a record contract, they gained their earliest notoriety by recording their songs onto an answering machine — a mechanical device that hooked up into your phone line and allowed you to ask people to leave you a message instead of texting you, Zoomers — and placing an ad for their “Dial-a-Song” service, which, along with a demo, led to their self-titled 1986 debut, which immediately established their take on pop music: every possible style of music, sometimes all at once, with funny-sad lyrics, sung with exuberance and chock-full of hooks galore.
It could be, and often was, too fucking much. But if you could make yourself focus, it was also too fucking great, as displayed on their first single, the almighty “Don’t Let’s Start,” which kicked off with a drum-machine-driven stop-start rhythm and Linnell singing the chorus first.
Don’t, don’t, don’t let’s start
This is the worst part
Could believe for all the world
That you are my precious little girl
But don’t, don’t, don’t let’s start
I’ve got a weak heart
And I don’t get around
How you get around
Because they didn’t have to rely on a human drummer to play the crazy-ass, ever-changing rhythms, “Don’t Let’s Start” also unfolded at a ridiculously fast speed, with Linnell spitting the lyrics of the chorus in almost a rap cadence, slowing down slightly during the verses, with the second one being the most famous.
No one in the world ever gets what they want
And that is beautiful
Everybody dies frustrated and sad
And that is beautiful
They want what they’re not
And I wish they would stop saying
While Linnell has downplayed the seriousness of the lyrics by saying that all of that business around frustration and beauty was just him trying to hit the melody and rhythms with words that fit, those are still the lyrics he came up with. And that is beautiful. Also beautiful, John Flandsburgh’s rhythm guitar throughout, supportive and funky and also kind of grounding, keeping the whole song from flying off into space. Barely.
Because it was the mid-1980s, “Don’t Let’s Start” featured a video that quadrupled-down on the smartass weirdness of the rhythms and lyrics while also at least slightly acknowledging Flansburgh’s guitar playing.
For reasons that I couldn’t discover, “Don’t Let’s Start” wasn’t released as a single until November, 1987, nearly a full year after They Might Be Giants was originally released. Maybe it took them that long to conceive, shoot and edit the video. Things were different in the indie scene in the mid-1980s, and while “Don’t Let’s Start” wasn’t anything remotely resembling a hit at the time, except for college radio, of course, it’s definitely one of their most enduring songs.
“Don’t Let’s Start” Official Music Video
“Don’t Let’s Start” Live on Big World Cafe, 1988
“Don’t Let’s Start” Live 2001
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