#112 – “AKA Driver” (1994)

John Henry
L.K.: Oh I was just thinking about this song earlier, in the wake of the Kanye West “Theraflu” debacle.
A.S.: Yep.  Looks like Theraflu won that one.
L.K.: Remember kids, you can have brand names in songs, but you just can’t print them.
A.S.: The company posted a message saying that they in no way endorsed the song, and then I guess Kanye changed the title. But Theraflu did not force him to change it. So I feel like TMBG could have gotten away with calling it “NyQuil Driver”.
L.K.: If TMBG were higher-profile, maybe NyQuil would’ve gone after them, but their lawyer advised them to avoid the whole problem in the first place by changing the song’s title and by not printing the lyrics.
A.S.: Yeah.
L.K.: That being said, it is still a GREAT song.
A.S.: One of the best. We were discussing fairly recently about Flansburgh’s songwriting run in the early 90s. This song is further testament to how exceptional his output was between 1992 and 1994.  Obviously, he’s written a whole bunch of incredible stuff outside of those years, but I think so many of his strongest songs were written around then.
L.K.: I think Apollo 18 and John Henry were just two very strong albums in general. I think the whole run of TMBG’s first 5 albums are pretty consistently excellent, despite the horribly dated production on Flood (which is pretty ironic, considering that it sounds more dated than the two albums that preceded it!)
A.S.: I mean, if you ask me they haven’t put out a bad record ever – at least the adult stuff. But anyway, this song.
L.K.: Yes! This song is one of the relatively few songs in the TMBG catalog that is credited to more composers than just the Johns.
A.S.: Yep, also to Tony Maimone (formerly of Pere Ubu!) and Brian Doherty
L.K.: It came about as a sort of joint improvisational thing between the four members of the band at the time. Brian Doherty himself posted a video of the band’s performance of the song on Conan, with a couple interesting comments about the tour and the song’s origin.
A.S.: Most fascinatingly how Elektra pulled their support as soon as the tour started.
L.K.: That’s the major labels for ya.
A.S.: Yep. Love Linnell on the Hammond in this performance.
L.K.: Flans’s insane guitar solo too. He’s not a particularly good guitarist, but no one can accuse him of being an uninteresting one.
A.S.: And then Maimone with the ebow on the bass at the end. Such a great performance.
L.K.: I feel like I’ve seen more videos of TMBG performing this song than any of the other numbers from John Henry, which is kind of interesting. For a song they were afraid to even print the lyrics to, they sure played it on tv a lot.
A.S.: Yeah, that’s true.  “Hey we won’t print the lyrics on this album that not many people will end up buying, but let’s play it on national network television!”
L.K.: Here’s another version from 120 Minutes.
A.S.: This songTHIS is one they need to bring back on tour. I know I say that about a lot of songs, but I really mean it this time.
L.K.: We’re going to say this about every song from John Henry or Apollo 18, basically.
A.S.: Can you blame us? I dunno, this is a pretty impeccable tune – for me the ending makes it pretty close to perfect. When the guitar, organ, and bass cut out and are replaced by – out of nowhere – acoustic guitar and this theremin-y synth sound. Right as the song should end, there’s just this amazing coda that keeps up the intensity while still significantly altering the sound and mood of the song. It’s pretty ominous sounding throughout but there it’s just intensified so dramatically and exquisitely.
L.K.: I just can’t believe that it hasn’t made an appearance on a setlist since 1997. That’s just crazy!
A.S.: 1997?! Come on guys.
L.K.: This is another song with totally straightforward lyrics. It’s a guy tripping on NyQuil and driving. It is about exactly what it sounds like it is about. “Big hand’s on 120, little hand’s on E.”
A.S.: Have you ever had NyQuil?
L.K.: Nope. Have you?
A.S.: Nope.  Never really needed it.
L.K.: It’s just another one of those drugs that has a lot of alcohol in it, right?
A.S.: Yeah, a pretty strong depressant. Perfect for operating complex machinery.
L.K.: Oh boy, look at this. Sounds like NyQuil is mostly pretty ineffective as a drug if you’re looking to do anything but fall asleep.
A.S.: Which is its purpose.
L.K.: Wait, this one is even better. “if you wanna get high stop being a pussy, man the **** up, and buy weed  and stop acting like your a little eight grade hot **** druggy”
A.S.: Chugged 3/4s of a bottle down and didn’t feel anything?
L.K.: Kids these days.
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