. . .
Alright, I’m going to admit something. I’ve always been kinda bumped by the opening couplet from the classic Spider-Man cartoon theme song. You know the one: “Spider-Man, Spider-Man / Does whatever a spider can.” And I’m exactly sure why, but I think it comes down to the verb “does” there. It doesn’t make sense to me. The grammar is all off or something.
I mean, I understand they wrote it that way: “can” rhymes with “man.” But “Does whatever a spider can” makes zero sense to me, especially because outside of spinning a web, they don’t even explain whatever it is he does outside of spinning a web that a spider can. No one uses “does” when describing powers. They use “can do.” I mean how much more difficult would it have been to sing “Spider-Man, Spider-Man / Can do whatever a spider can” ???
Anyways, I mention all of this because the opening couple of They Might Be Giants beloved “Particle Man” both steals from and improves upon the Spider-Man theme song: “Particle Man, Particle Man / Doing the things a particle can.” I mean, even “doing” is miles better than “does” is all I’m saying. Jeeze.
As a song, “Particle Man” is pretty simple. Just drums, guitars, keyboards, handclaps (!) and an accordion solo in between some of the verses. Unlike “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Particle Man” isn’t that complicated musically. To the point where, when I’m listening to it on repeat while writing this post, I have to look up at my iTunes to see if the song has started over. Or at least I did until I remembered that that the verse about “Particle Man” isn’t repeated.
Anyways, “Particle Man” is a case study on four different beings, each with their own abilities: Particle Man, Triangle Man, Universe Man and Person Man. But who wins the song? Who loses it? In case you’ve ever puzzled about that, let me solve all of your problems! Or at the very least, present The “Particle Man” Power Rankings!
The “Particle Man” Power Rankings
1. Universe Man
Universe man, Universe man
Size of the entire universe man
Usually kind to smaller man
He’s got a watch with a minute hand,
Millennium hand and an eon hand
When they meet it’s a happy land
Powerful man, universe man
I think this one is pretty obvious. Not only does Universe Man stay out of the petty squabbling that preoccupies all of the other Men (Mans??), like The Kinks’ “Big Sky,” he’s basically too big to care about any of their petty bullshit. Instead, he lives out the eons waiting for his watch to properly synchronize just so he can spend a minute in the happy.
2. Triangle Man
Triangle man, Triangle man
Triangle man hates particle man
They have a fight, Triangle wins
Triangle man, triangle man
Triangle man hates person man
They have a fight, triangle wins
Yes, Triangle Man — who was apparently inspired by somebody telling John Linnell that shirtless Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter looked like an evil triangle — is a bully and kind of a dick, punching down by picking fights with both Particle Man and Person Man, while not even attempting anything with Universe Man. That said, you know that Triangle Man hates Universe Man the most of all, because he knows Universe Man would kick his ass in a Bambi Meets Godzilla fashion. And it probably means nothing to him he gets the chorus of the song.
3. Particle Man
Particle Man, Particle Man
Doing the things a particle can
What’s he like? It’s not important
Is he a dot, or is he a speck?
When he’s underwater does he get wet?
Or does the water get him instead?
Nobody knows, Particle Man
While it’s Particle Man loses his fight with Triangle Man, he’s still an intriguing characters, with Linnell’s assertion that it’s not important what he’s like completely undercut by all of the questions that immediately follow, essentially admitting at the end that Particle Man is totally unknowable. Of course that’s at least partially because trying to get to know Particle Man via observation would change him.
4. Person Man
Person Man, Person Man
Hit on the head with a frying pan
Lives his life in a garbage can
Is he depressed or is he a mess?
Does he feel totally worthless?
Who came up with Person Man?
Degraded man, Person Man
Honestly, this isn’t even close. Not only does Person Man get whacked on the the head with a frying pan — no doubt leaving a head-shaped indentation in the frying pan — he also gets his ass kicked by Triangle Man, adding insult to injury. It’s a wonder that the degraded depressed worthless Person Man ever leaves his garbage can home in order to have all that violence done to him. But he’s probably hungry, not even Uber Eats is going to deliver food to him. Who came up with Person Man, indeed?
And those are your “Particle Man” Power Rankings.
Of course a whole generation first experienced “Particle Man” as a video on the Tiny Toons Adventures show, which I at least sampled after it came out, though I don’t recall if I remember seeing the actual video on it or not. In any event, while “Particle Man” was never a single, it has endured as one of TMBG’s most eternal songs — and the Tiny Toons link seems like a precursor to their later children’s albums — to the point where they named their YouTube account “Particle Men.”
“Particle Man” from Tiny Toons
“Particle Man” Live on 120 Minutes
“Particle Man” Live on Tech TV
Did you miss a Certain Song? Follow me on Twitter: @barefootjim, or any of the other 4,876,987 social media platforms that exist.
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page