#83 – “I Am A Human Head” (2000)

Working Undercover For The Man EP

A.S.: So this was one of the songs originally intended for No! but was deemed too strange for a children’s album.

L.K.: As if the subject matter was any less “weird” in an adult song.
A.S.: It’s an odd song no matter how you look at it, although I think its exclusion from No! would be due to kids’ likely inability to grasp the main idea of the song, not because of the subject of disembodied heads, which is treated here in a real matter-of-fact way that I don’t think would freak kids out that much. This is very different from “Clowntown”, which is just plain creepy.
L.K.: I guess I have to figure that he’s going for some sort of metonymy/synecdoche thing here, because if taken at face value, the lyrics are totally absurd.
A.S.: I think it’s about companionship – rejecting it and then regretting the rejection. “I don’t really need my best friend” at the beginning of the song and “Where’s my friend, the other head?” at the end.  It’s a really cool subject.
L.K.: I don’t think children would necessarily be upset by the subject matter at all though. I mean, there’s a floating head in The Wizard of Oz… though I guess maybe that scares kids too? I don’t know.
A.S.: My dad was always freaked out by The Wizard of Oz when he was young, but it was mostly because of the flying monkeys. In terms of TMBG songs, floating heads are much less terrifying than nude clowns.
L.K.: Yeah, that song’s rejection from No! at least makes more sense on subject matter grounds.
A.S.: The theme of companionship would go right over kids’ (har har har) heads.
L.K.: You know, musically I used to find this song really boring, but I find it a little better now. This used to be the sort of song I would instantly skip over any time it came up on shuffle on my iPod.
A.S.: I’ve always enjoyed it.  The motion and melody of the song is extremely hesitant; at the moment, I can’t think of any songs that sound like this.
L.K.: Judging songs by their first few bars is a mistake I’m still gradually growing out of. I think it just immediately hit me as too simple and too silly. It’s still not one of my favorite songs by any means, but I can at least enjoy it more now. The hesitation and stop-and-go quality of the music really bothered me when I was younger, I guess.
A.S.: I think that’s intentionally off-putting, although the big payoff is the nice chorus section. For as much as people go on about how great Dan Miller’s playing on that section is (which it is), I think Dan Hickey’s drumming in that bit is both more understated and technically impressive.  He’s really working those snare rolls there.
L.K.: I don’t know enough about drumming to be able to evaluate that, frankly. One thing I can’t help but wonder though… whether any other band has written as many songs about heads as They Might Be Giants.
A.S.: No. I mean, that’s a very difficult thing to gauge, but in terms of sheer volume of songs about heads, I think TMBG are the band to beat. Then again, in terms of sheer volume of songs, TMBG are pretty tough to beat anyway.  Only a few bands can top them there.  Guided By Voices, Frank Zappa, maybe The Residents.  Not many others. Duke Ellington.
L.K.: Well primarily instrumental composers don’t really count here…
A.S.: Either way, needless to say that issue of volume is why we’re doing this in the first place, but what I’d really love to see is a Guided By Voices song-a-day project.
L.K.: Oh man, a Guided By Voices song-a-day would never be completed. I’m pretty sure there’s a big enough backlog by now with enough new material being created that you wouldn’t be able to catch up until, well, the death of the composer. I don’t know how long it will take us to catch up to the entirely of TMBG’s stuff, but I feel like there’s at least some vague semblance of an end in sight.
2 Responses to “#83 – “I Am A Human Head” (2000)”
  1. This song always stood out to me as a little hidden gem in the TMBG discography – I’m surprised now looking at its TMBW ratings and seeing some mixed reception. Maybe you guys aren’t CRANKING IT LOUD ENOUGH. Especially at Dan’s solos over the chorus; so catchy.

    “Look at me, I’m a fine floating head.”

  2. Nathan says:

    Disembodied heads show up quite a bit in the Oz books. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of children being bothered by them, but I’m sure it depends on the kid.

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