Interpretations:Number Three

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Superficially, at least, this is the impossible song. Like perhaps TMBG in pop music at large, song "number three" has no progenitor, and is not "long for this world." It reminds me thematically, of "Rhythm Section Want Ad," as a possible nose-thumbing at the notion of giving the right people what they think you should be giving them. So, despite the fact John's got only two songs in him, a metaphorical Big Wig needs another hit. He figures that he might as well "[buy him]self some denim pants and a silver guitar" while he's at it.

What comes of writing the song that never really was, can be easily categorized as "number three," using the numerical excremement scale, which has number one being urine, and two being pure shit. The song is clearly not self-incriminating, but rather is a song about the concept itself. For instance, performers like Lou Reed (Metal Machine Music) and Neil Young (Everybody's Rockin') have had notorious "number three" moments; not necessarily from a musical quality perspective, but more as a result of being pressured to create when the artist was not necessarily behind the art.

I picture Flansburgh (I always assume, as with the Beatles, that each John generally takes lead vocals on songs that are among "his babies.") sitting in a leather armchair with some chunky executive music guy, desperately trying to explain that "I don't have anything else for you. This is it! What you see is what I've got." Then, the executive guy basically demands the impossible: "I don't give a damn whether or not you can write another song. That piece of information is inconsequential. What I do give a damn about is that you write me another song."

It might also be a little simpler, if we follow the "ever gotten writer's block or something like the same" line. The song is simply about the need to write and overcome that mental barrier, and the frustration that accompanies that treading of water. EdBanky 19:05, 11 Jun 2006 (MDT)

It's just a joke about what the poet Baudelaire called "the vanity of inspiration". Flans is chuckling about songwriters who agonize to write songs. Is it also a boast about his own effortless fecundity? A celebration of the versatility of the standard pop song formula (verse, bridge, chorus, hook)? Or... something more sinister? --Nehushtan 11:44, 10 Mar 2006 (CST)

  • I dunno. I think if it is indeed referring to this "vanity of inspiration," I can't help but see it as Flansburgh bemoaning his status as an agonizing songwriter. That's if. EdBanky 19:05, 11 Jun 2006 (MDT)

This song is so obvious I can't believe I'm the first person to say this. This is the THIRD SONG on the FIRST ALBUM so it's TMBG's THIRD SONG. "There are two songs in me, and this is number three" Absolutly hilarious when you think about it. The in between lyrics are a bit random about him being out of ideas. ~AgentChronon

I believe that this song is referencing President Grant, who stated that he only knew two songs, and that “One was Yankee Doodle, the other wasn't.”

Frankenstein's monster[edit]

The third song is a patchwork monster bolted together from parts of the first two, which had to be dug up from a shallow grave.

Number Three, duh[edit]

I kind of thought the meaning of this song was obvious. Maybe I'm just stupid and can't think outside the box, but this song is the third song on the first album, meaning that in chronological order, it's the third They Might Be Giants song ever heard (sort of). Also, it's called Number Three, it's about a third song, and in the song, the character asks the president if he's ever had writer's block. It sounds to me like this song is merely about the third song on their album. In other words (whether TMBG actually had writer's block or not) this song is a song about itself.

The narrator often re-iterates the point that he doesn't know how he wrote it, so I think it was more than writer's block.

One-hit wonder[edit]

Someone before wrote something similar to this, but I believe this song is about a musical artist who got a one-hit wonder, and this is the first song off of their first album that came out after their hit song. The two songs before it were the one-hit wonder and possibly the forgotten B-side. The president represents record companies, who saw their failure of the artist, and when the artist comes to them asking for money, they say, "Whaddya want from me, kid?". The artist is then afraid of talking about it in the media because he may get sued by the record company, explaining the lyric "Now I'm in the middle like a bird without a beak".--You&Me!! (talk) 08:14, 25 May 2022 (EDT)


I feel like the lines "A rich man once told me, "Hey, life's a funny thing" / A poor man once told me that he can't afford to speak" could be (at least subconsciously) inspired by Leonard Cohen's "Bird on the Wire": "I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch / He said to me, 'you must not ask for so much' / And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door / She cried to me, 'hey, why not ask for more?'" 23:47, 5 November 2022 (EDT)

oh god it's gender[edit]

it's always gender --