John Henry (album)

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John Henry
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 13, 1994
RecordedNovember 1993–June 1994
StudioBearsville Sound Studios, New York, Skyline Studios, NYC, New York
GenreAlternative rock, indie rock
ProducerPaul Fox, They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants chronology
Back to Skull
John Henry
Live!! New York City 10/14/94
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3/5 stars[1]
Chicago Tribune2.5/4 stars[2]
Entertainment WeeklyB[3]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide3/5 stars[5]
The Village Voice(choice cut)[6]

John Henry is the fifth studio album by American alternative rock group They Might Be Giants. It was released in 1994. It is the first album by They Might Be Giants to include a full band arrangement, rather than synthesized and programmed backing tracks. The album's name, a reference to the man versus machine fable of John Henry, is an allusion to the band's fundamental switch to more conventional instrumentation, especially the newly established use of a human drummer instead of a drum machine.[7]

John Henry is TMBG's longest record and was the band's highest-charting adult album, having peaked at #61 on the Billboard 200, until 2011's Join Us, which peaked at #32.[8] In 2013, the album was reissued across a double LP by Asbestos Records.[9]

Lyrical themes[edit]

The lyrics to the song "AKA Driver" refer to a "NyQuil driver". John Flansburgh offered an explanation of the legal issue with the inclusion of a brand name:[10]

It was a brief education for us in the difference between protected speech and trademark infringement. Although it was a possibility that we could have gotten away with it, or settled with the NyQuil manufacturers for a small amount of money, the path of least hassle was simply omitting the name from the package. According to our lawyer you can say pretty much anything in a song about a product, and that expression is a protected part of every American's freedom of speech. However when you title a song after a trademarked product and then start selling your recording (which is also a product) you run the risk of the trademark holder suing you for infringing on their trademark. To make matters tougher on ol' NyQuil Driver, trademark holders are compelled by the law to protect their trademark or they run the risk of their product name falling into the public domain.

"I Should Be Allowed to Think" excerpts the first line ("I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical") of the poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg. The song is also, according to its author, John Linnell, an example of the use of an "unreliable narrator".[11] "Meet James Ensor" refers to an eccentric Belgian expressionist painter whose works excited John Flansburgh. In an interview, Flansburgh explained that "the line 'Dig him up and shake his hand' is actually very specific – a parallel idea to a lot of his paintings which involve resurrections, skeletons and puppets being animated. [...] With the song, I'm trying to encapsulate the issues of his life – an eccentric guy who became celebrated and was soon left behind as his ideas were taken into the culture and other people became expressionists."[12] "Why Must I Be Sad?" is a string of references to Alice Cooper song titles and lyrics, involving several titles from the Billion Dollar Babies album including "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "I Love the Dead," and others.

Appearances in other media[edit]

Instrumental excerpts from "No One Knows My Plan" and "The End of The Tour" were used as the opening and closing themes, respectively, during the first season of the animated variety show Cartoon Planet in 1995.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by They Might Be Giants, except where noted.

Side one
2."Snail Shell"3:20
3."Sleeping In the Flowers"4:30
4."Unrelated Thing"2:30
5."AKA Driver" (They Might Be Giants, Tony Maimone, Brian Doherty)3:14
6."I Should Be Allowed to Think" (They Might Be Giants, Tony Maimone)3:09
7."Extra Savoir-Faire"2:48
8."Why Must I Be Sad?"4:08
10."O, Do Not Forsake Me"2:30
Side two
11."No One Knows My Plan"2:37
12."Dirt Bike"3:05
13."Destination Moon"2:27
14."A Self Called Nowhere"3:22
15."Meet James Ensor"1:33
18."Out of Jail"2:38
19."Stomp Box"1:55
20."The End of the Tour"3:18
Total length:57:07


John Henry is the first album credited to They Might Be Giants as a full band, rather than a duo:

Additional musicians

  • Robert Quine – guitar solos on "Sleeping in the Flowers" and "No One Knows My Plan"
  • Hudson Shad – vocals on "O, Do Not Forsake Me"


  1. ^ Anderson, Rick. "John Henry – They Might Be Giants". AllMusic. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  2. ^ Caro, Mark (September 29, 1994). "They Might Be Giants: John Henry (Elektra)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  3. ^ Mirkin, Steven (September 16, 1994). "John Henry". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on February 4, 2017. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  4. ^ "They Might Be Giants: John Henry". NME. September 17, 1994. p. 50.
  5. ^ Considine, J. D. (2004). "They Might Be Giants". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 808–09. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  6. ^ Christgau, Robert (March 11, 1997). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
  7. ^ " information on John Henry". Archived from the original on June 6, 1997. Retrieved 2017-04-25.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link). Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  8. ^ TMBG chart history. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  9. ^ "They Might Be Giants - John Henry 2xLP". Asbestos Records. Retrieved 2013-05-16.
  10. ^ John Henry track information.
  11. ^ Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns), 2003. Dir. AJ Schnack.
  12. ^ West Net interview with John Flansburgh.

External links[edit]