Birdhouse in Your Soul

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"Birdhouse in Your Soul"
Tmbg birdhouse ep.jpg
Single by They Might Be Giants
from the album Flood
Released1989
Format7", cassette, CD single, 12"
Recorded1989
Length3:19
LabelElektra (US)
Elektra / WEA (EU)
Songwriter(s)John Flansburgh, John Linnell
Producer(s)Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley
They Might Be Giants singles chronology
"Purple Toupee"
(1989)
"Birdhouse in Your Soul"
(1989)
"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
(1990)
Audio sample

"Birdhouse in Your Soul" is a song by American alternative rock band They Might Be Giants. It was released in late 1989 through Elektra Records as the lead single from the album Flood, making the single the band's first release on a major label. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" is also the band's highest charting single in both the US and the UK, and is one of their best known songs.

The song's lyrics are narrated from the perspective of a nightlight. Due to its largely digital composition, it contains some unconventional musical elements for a pop song, including an atypical snare drum pattern and modulation between four keys. Production was handled by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley.

Background[edit]

"Birdhouse in Your Soul" was one of four songs on Flood produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley; these four songs alone exhausted two-thirds of the album's budget.[1] The track was selected for release as a single early on.[2]

Recording and composition[edit]

The melody to "Birdhouse in Your Soul" was written several years prior to its recording for Flood. John Linnell has stated that he "shoehorned" the lyrics into the existing melody.[1] The lyrics, which are narrated from the perspective of a blue nightlight shaped like a canary, are hyper-associative, rapidly connecting disparate topics such as Jason and the Argonauts and The Longines Symphonette.[2] Elizabeth Sandifer and S. Alexander Reed have noted that movement between lyrical themes is a recurring motif throughout Flood.[2] However, Linnell has commented that he feels the lyrics ultimately sound like stand-in "dummy lyrics".[3]

"Birdhouse in Your Soul" features an unconventional drum beat, which was programmed by Linnell, wherein the snare drum sounds on every beat. During production, Linnell created a demo using a more standard pop drum beat with the snare drum only on the backbeats. However, Langer and Winstanley emphatically rejected this change, which Linnell credits as saving the song.[2]

Musically, Reed and Sandifer note that the song makes an unanticipated jump from its initial key of key of C major to E-flat major, and then back to C major. The frequent key changes (18 in total) may be a product of the album's largely digital composition and production; they call the album in general "modular" in its movement between musical ideas. The track's later shifts to F-sharp minor and A major divide the octave into equal intervals.[4] The music also interpolates elements of "Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful. The car horn-like trumpet sound in the bridge of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" recalls the sounds of traffic in "Summer in the City" and both songs use similar rhythms in their chord progressions. Linnell states that these references were inspired by the intense heat during the album's recording in the summer of 1989.[4]

In April 1990, They Might Be Giants appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson to promote the release of Flood. As part of the appearance, Linnell and Flansburgh performed "Birdhouse in Your Soul" with Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band. Severinsen's unusually fast count-in resulted in a performance with a noticeably higher tempo than the album recording. The band would later adopt a similar tempo for subsequent live performances.[5]

Music video[edit]

The music video for "Birdhouse in Your Soul" was directed by Adam Bernstein and filmed in the New York County's Surrogate's Court and Hall of Records building in Manhattan in 1989.[6] The video features Linnell and Flansburgh moving and performing erratically amidst a group of dancers dressed in red plaid shirts. In the video, the dancers wear masks made from sunglasses affixed with an image of the eyes of William Allen White, whose face is used frequently in the band's visual material.[7] These props were designed by John Flansburgh.[8] In an article on They Might Be Giants's music videos, Emily Petermann speculates that the zombie-like behavior of the dancers, coupled with the video's warehouse setting, evokes "oppressed factory workers". Petermann finds this to be at odds with the song's "cheerful" music. On the other hand, the "non sequitur" lyrics and "surreal" musical elements—such as modulation—are complemented by moments of "nonsense" in the video, such as when "[Linnell and Flansburgh's] performance becomes embedded in a bizarre situation or the performance is abandoned altogether".[7]

Reception[edit]

"Birdhouse in Your Soul" received positive attention from critics. In his review of Flood for Allmusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called it one of the band's "finest singles".[9] Reviewing the single alone, Stewart Mason elaborates that, compared to previous releases, the high production value highlights Linnell and Flansburgh's "knack for dynamics and arrangement". Mason also speculates that the song's popularity stems from the modest depth of its lyrics, which are somewhat oblique on the surface but ultimately "easy to figure out", giving the listener a sense of pride in their understanding.[10] Chris Willman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, predicted that the track would become a "college radio standard".[11]

Commercial performance[edit]

"Birdhouse in Your Soul" peaked at #3 on the United States Modern Rock Tracks chart and #6 on the UK Singles Chart.[12][13] It is They Might Be Giants's highest-charting single in both countries. In 2010, the song was featured in an advertisement for Clarks shoes. Following this, the song returned to the UK Singles Chart for three weeks, peaking at #70.[13]

Track listing[edit]

All songs by They Might Be Giants.

7" single & cassette single
  1. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" – 3:19
  2. "Hot Cha" – 1:34
12" single & CD single
  1. "Birdhouse in Your Soul" – 3:19
  2. "Hot Cha" – 1:34
  3. "Hearing Aid" – 3:26
  4. "Ant" – 1:53
Notes
  • "Hot Cha" and "Hearing Aid" are taken from Flood.

Personnel[edit]

They Might Be Giants
Additional musicians
Production

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1990) Peak position
US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[12] 3
UK Singles Chart (OCC)[13] 6
Irish Singles Chart (IRMA)[14] 12
AU ARIA singles chart[15] 125

Cover version[edit]

A cover of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" was featured in the Pushing Daisies episode "Pigeon", which premiered on October 24, 2007. This version was arranged and performed by series composer Jim Dooley with vocals from actors Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene. The cover also appears on the show's official soundtrack.[16] In a 2015 Decider article revisiting the episode, Joe Reid wrote that the selection of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" contributed to "a moment that must have felt tailor-made for the audience members who responded to it".[17]

In 2008, Dooley was awarded a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series for his work on "Pigeon".[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ferris, DX (February 22, 1990). "They Might Be Giants' "Flood": Track by Track Guide to the Geek-Chic Breakthrough". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Reed, S. Alexander; Sandifer, Elizabeth (February 13, 2014). "Blue Canary in the Outlet by the Light Switch, Who Watches Over You?". Slate Magazine.
  3. ^ DeMain, Bill (January 1, 2004). In Their Own Words: Songwriters Talk about the Creative Process. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-98402-1.
  4. ^ a b Reed, S. Alexander; Sandifer, Elizabeth (November 28, 2013). They Might Be Giants' Flood. 33⅓. 88. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62356-829-0.
  5. ^ Gigantic (A Tale Of Two Johns). Dir. AJ Schnack. 2002. Plexifilm, 2003.
  6. ^ "Birdhouse in Your Soul (commentary track)". Direct from Brooklyn, produced by John Linnell and John Flansburgh. Restless Records, 2003.
  7. ^ a b Petermann, Emily (2019). "The Music Videos of the Alternative Rock Band They Might Be Giants: Prolegomena for a Theory of Nonsense across Media". In Walter Bernhart; David Francis Urrows (eds.). Music, Narrative and the Moving Image. 17. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-40131-0.
  8. ^ Flansburgh, John (February 5, 2018). "TMBGareOK". Tumblr. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  9. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Flood – They Might Be Giants". AllMusic. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  10. ^ Mason, Stewart. "Birdhouse in Your Soul – They Might Be Giants". AllMusic. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  11. ^ Willman, Chris (January 20, 1990). "They Might Be Giants 'Flood' Elektra". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 7, 2016.
  12. ^ a b Billboard Single Chart History for They Might Be Giants. Billboard. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c They Might Be Giants | Artist | Official Charts Company. Official Charts Company. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
  14. ^ The Irish Charts Archived 2009-06-02 at the Wayback Machine. IRMA. Retrieved April 9, 2014. Enter "They Might Be Giants" in the "Search by Artist" box and click "search".
  15. ^ "Response from ARIA re: chart inquiry, received 2015-07-15". Imgur. Archived from the original on July 16, 2015. Retrieved October 3, 2015.
  16. ^ "Pushing Daisies [Original Television Soundtrack] - Jim Dooley". Allmusic. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  17. ^ Reid, Joe (October 24, 2015). "Today in TV History: 'Pushing Daisies' Put a Little Birdhouse in Your Soul". Decider. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  18. ^ "2008 Creative Arts Emmy winners press release" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 20, 2008. Retrieved June 27, 2019.

External links[edit]