They Might Be Giants PhotoFORMED: 1983, Boston, MA

Combining a knack for infectious melodies with a quirky, bizarre sense of humor and a vaguely avant-garde aesthetic borrowed from the New York post-punk underground, They Might Be Giants became one of the most unlikely alternative success stories of the late '80s and early '90s. Musically, the duo of John Flansburgh and John Linnell borrowed from everywhere, but their free-wheeling eclecticism was enhanced by their arcane, geeky sense of humor. They would reference everything from British Invasion to Tin Pan Alley, while making allusion to pulp fiction and President Polk. Through their string of indie releases and constant touring as a duo, They Might Be Giants built up a huge following on college campuses during the late '80s, switching to a major label in the early '90s. With support from MTV, 1990's Flood became a gold album, and with it, the band moved began to reap commercial rewards, elevating them into the status of one of the most popular alternative bands before grunge. However, the group's whimsical outlook became buried in the avalanche of post-grunge groups that dominated MTV and modern rock radio in the mid-'90s, and the group retreated to its cult following.

Flansburgh and Linnell met when they were children in Lincoln, Massachusetts. During high school, they began writing songs together, yet they never officially formed a band. Both Johns went to college after high school, with Linnell playing in the Mundanes, a New Wave group from Rhode Island. By 1981, the pair had reunited, deciding to move to Brooklyn to pursue a musical career. Taking their name from a George C. Scott film and performing their original material with a drum machine, They Might Be Giants soon became fixtures on the Manhattan underground. Although the duo was building a cult following, they had a hard time getting a record deal, so they set up Dial-A-Song -- a phone line that played songs on an answering machine -- as a way to get their songs heard. The gimmick worked. Not only did it lead to a deal with the indie label Bar/None, but over the years, it was a successful venture; at one point, the service was receiving hundreds of calls a day.

They Might Be Giants released their eponymous debut in 1986, and the album became a college radio hit; it also made waves on MTV, due to the inventive video for "Don't Let's Start." Two years later, the band released Lincoln, which expanded their following considerably. Featuring the college hit "Ana Ng," Lincoln climbed to number 89 on the charts, earning the attention of major labels. They Might Be Giants decided to sign with Elektra Records in 1990, releasing Flood later that year. Flood worked its way to gold status, thanks to the singles "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," which both had popular videos directed by Flansburgh. In the wake of the group's success, Restless/Bar/None released the B-sides and rarities compilation Misc. T. in 1991.

Apollo 18, released in 1992, wasn't quite as successful as Flood, yet it consolidated the group's cult. For the album's supporting tour, They Might Be Giants performed with a full backing band for the first time, hiring former Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone and drummer Brian Doherty. The shift towards a full band coincided with the dominance of grunge rock in alternative rock. Though they were strengthened by the powerful sound of a full band, They Might Be Giants failed to receive much attention from MTV, mainstream modern rock radio or college radio when they released John Henry in the fall of 1994. Recorded with their full band, John Henry lost the group several fans, yet the group's concerts remained popular attractions, especially on American college campuses. Still, the band's next album, 1996's Factory Showroom, was virtually ignored by the press, MTV and radio. The live Severe Tire Damage followed two years later.

They Might Be Giants maintained their "hardest working men in show business" status in 2001 when they issued Mink Car, a stunning follow-up to Factory Showroom that boasted collaborations with M. Doughty, Adam Schlesinger, and The Elegant Too. They celebrated their 20th anniversary in summer 2002 with the release of their first children's album, No!. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide