And, after I complain about Hallowe’en, I go for a monster-themed song. What can I say? I’ve been in a particularly Hallowe’en-y mood all day because of a thing I’ve written for Newsarama that will hopefully go up today, despite everything. Even so: I love Edgar Winters’ “Frankenstein” for the following reasons:
That riff is awesome.
There is something ridiculously wonderful about the way that the organ at 0:16 reminds me of the theme to Taxi.
The extended freak-out from 2:22 through to 3:54 is arguably the greatest argument against prog-rock ever recorded.
(Actually, this live version is even greater for the progginess of the whole thing:
As they used to say on The Fast Show: “Nice.”)
I actually discovered the song in the 1990s, through They Might Be Giants, and I have to admit, I may still prefer their version –
– and yet, in whatever form it takes, there’s no denying that “Frankenstein” is one seriously weird, wonderful and stupid song that demonstrates in its own way the value of not caring what anyone thinks and following your bliss. Even if your bliss is a spectacularly grindy song that seemingly never ends.
They Might Be Giants are a band that’s so much an acquired taste that it feels as if they’re almost deliberately off-putting. That nasal voice! The purposefully-restricted arrangements (the cheap-sounding drum machines!)! And yet, under all that, there is a real pop sensibility; listen to the chorus of “Ana Ng” – not the vocals, as such, but the whole package – and there’s something very perfect pop about it, at least to my ears. At heart, this is a bouncy pop song about unrequited love (“And we still haven’t walked in the glow/Of each other’s majestic presence”), and what could be more mainstream pop than that? Admittedly, you have to pick your way through chainsaw guitars and tinny drums and nasal vocals to find it, but once you do, it’s like seeing the arrow in the Fed Ex logo; you’ll never be able to go back to the old ways ever again.
Something strange and wonderful about this song: The number of people performing their own covers on YouTube. Gaze upon these wonders for yourself.
I kind of love that. Clearly, TMBG fans are the performing kind (And, yes; I really think that each of these covers demonstrates the greatness of the song under the original’s production. Your Mileage May Vary, as they say).
Even though Flood was the big hit album, Apollo 18, the follow-up, is the one that I still think is the best of the They Might Be Giants albums, filled with pop songs that just… worked, for want of a better way of putting it. “The Statue Got Me High” is an example of that; if you can look beyond the production – with the drum machine making it sound, weirdly, far cheaper and tackier than it actually is – there’s a great little psychedelic song at the heart of this one, with – again – some great harmonies despite their appalling singing voices. Much like my love of Billy Bragg, I suspect that my love of They Might Be Giants is based upon some strange notion of adoring the idea of the song, rather than the song itself.
Not for the first time, I find myself wishing that They Might Be Giants wrote songs for other people to perform while listening to “Dead,” from their 1990 album Flood (It’s the closest they had to a crossover album; it’s the one with “Birdhouse In Your Soul” and “Instanbul (Not Constantinople)” on it). The flat-vowelled accents of Johns Linnell and Flansburgh do this song no favors, which is a real shame; it has a lovely structure, especially in the call-and-response bridge that starts at 1:33, and the arrangement that has both Johns harmonizing for the majority of the song feels like it deserves singers with less nasal voices, to be brutally honest. Despite that (because of that?), this is an earworm of a song that nestles into your brain sneakily, distracting you with the vocals and letting the wonderful piano that underpins the whole thing quietly slip into your head and decide to stay for awhile.