They Might Be Giants’ Dial-A-Song, running for 36 years

Story by Jordan Mooney, Illustration Editor

Formed in 1982, They Might Be Giants is a quirky and experimental alternative rock band that has been making music for over 36 years. It was formed by John Linnell and John Flansburg in Brooklyn, New York: hence the band’s self-titled status as “Brooklyn’s Ambassadors of Love.” Most well known for the songs “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” “Istanbul”, and “Particle Man,” they have released twenty studio albums, nine live albums, ten compilation albums, and eleven singles. They are also two-time Grammy winners for their children’s albums and their movie soundtrack works. They, somehow, continue to make and release music through their online Dial-A-Song service.

The initial Dial-A-Song ran from 1983 to 2006, it consisted of an answering machine that would play back a song or two from a cassette tape the Johns produced. The inspiration for Dial-A-Song came after Linnell broke his wrist in a bicycle accident and the duo could no longer perform live. They Might Be Giants sneakily advertised in The Village Voice under the personal ads (rather than commercial ads) to save on money, simply stating the band’s name and the phone number for their service. This made the band very accessible in a time where streaming music wasn’t possible, and helped them grow a loyal fanbase. The first Dial-A-Song service ended in 2006 when the machinery became too obsolete and would break constantly. With the advent of the internet, it became easier to share demos through their website and email.

But, in October of 2014, They Might Be Giants announced a new project: a short revival of Dial-A-Song. This time, instead of short demos and samples being released whenever the Johns made something they liked, a new fully-formed song would be released every week for the entirety of 2015. This project resulted in three albums by the end of the year, two for adults and one for children. This service went quiet again for three years while they worked on their studio album I Like Fun and did several tours. Shortly before it was released, They Might Be Giants announced the third coming of their one of a kind service. In 2018, they have been releasing music every other week.


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