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Combining a knack for infectious melodies with a quirky, bizarre sense of humor and a vaguely avant-garde aesthetic borrowed from the New York post-punk underground, They Might Be Giants became one of the most unlikely alternative success stories of the late '80s and early '90s. Musically, John Flansburgh and John Linnell borrowed from everywhere, but their freewheeling eclecticism was enhanced by their arcane, geeky sense of humor. The duo would reference everything from British Invasion to Tin Pan Alley, while making allusions to pulp fiction and President Polk. Through their string of indie releases and constant touring, They Might Be Giants built up a huge following on college campuses during the late '80s, switching to a major label in the early '90s. With support from MTV, 1990's Flood became a gold album, and with it, the duo began to reap commercial rewards, moving into the status of one of the most popular alternative bands before grunge. However, They Might Be Giants' whimsical outlook became buried in the avalanche of post-grunge groups that dominated MTV and modern rock radio in the mid-'90s, and the group retreated to its cult following.
Flansburgh and Linnell met when they were children in Lincoln, Massachusetts. During high school, they began writing songs together, yet they never officially formed a band. Both Johns went to college after high school, with Linnell playing in the Mundanes, a new wave group from Rhode Island. By 1981, the pair had reunited, deciding to move to Brooklyn to pursue a musical career. Taking their name from a George C. Scott film and performing their original material with a drum machine, They Might Be Giants soon became fixtures on the Manhattan underground. Although Flansburgh and Linnellwere building a cult following, they had a hard time getting a record deal, so they set up Dial-A-Song -- a phone line that played songs on an answering machine -- as a way to get their songs heard. The gimmick worked. Not only did it lead to a deal with the indie label Bar/None, but over the years it was a successful venture; at one point, the service was receiving hundreds of calls a day.