Interpretations:Rhythm Section Want Ad

From This Might Be A Wiki

"We salute you the way we know" makes me think they're giving the finger. -Cronny

Basically, John is saying that they'll never change who they are and what they're like just for the money.

"If you dig a band with a chick singer, Say your cup of tea is a wall of trombones, If you dig Menudo or MDC, we'll salute you the way we know. For every one with dollar signs in his eyes, There must be hundreds who look at you as if you're some kind of rhythm section want ad"

Some producers thought that TMBG would be more of a commercial success if they followed the norm of the day (as in the examples given in the above lines) -- especially an actual drummer. Though the Johns salute those people, they're not going to sacrifice their tastes to appease the public and make more money. What they like, they like.

Ironically, seemingly every line in this section was "broken" later on in TMBG's career. "Chick Singer": Robin Goldwasser (In The Middle, In The Middle, In The Middle, Dr. Evil, and other newer songs) "Wall of Trombones": See John Henry. "Menudo or MDC": Well, not much to say here. Menudo was a Puerto Rican "boy band" of the 80s. While TMBG did facetiously record Too Plus 3 R One, I guess this part remains intact... so far. "Rhythm Section Want Ad": Well, Dan Hickey and the infamous Jim from The Guitar are examples of some drummers they've picked up over the years.

As most They Might Be Giant's songs, I figured this one was nonsensical. I mean "If you dig a band with a chick singer, Say your cup of tea is a wall of trombones," I honestly doubt we're supposed to take that literally. Not to mention the whole "use hats as megaphones" thing. --Mr. Nuclear

"Use hats as megaphones" brings to mind acts like Devo in which the fashion sense (like stylish haircuts in of the previous line) or gimmickry seemed as important as the music.

On the contrary, I would argue that the references to Menudo, MDC, the wall of trombones, etc., are not included in the spirit of "we'll never be like these mainstream guys" but more like "Yeah! Freaks like us!" Because look: In the mid-eighties, what was selling was Springsteen and Aerosmith and Madonna and the Cars, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with these bands, but they were not experimental. None of them had large brass ensembles. The rock band with the "chick singer" was still mostly a staple of the underground and nascent alternative scenes. I don't know much about Menudo, other than that they supposedly completely overhauled their lineup every few years -- not exactly music-industry standard practice, if it's true -- but I know that MDC, at least, was the acronym for a hardcore punk band that stood for Millions of Dead Cops, which I doubt mainstream America received with open arms. So I think in this song the Giants, far from listing stodgy standards that they would one day shamefully cave in to and espouse, are rattling off a lot of the elements that they would later incorporate, all in the spirit of unabashed weirdness. Just my two cents...

They say they're a lot happier now with a rhythm section anyway, and it's not like you're seeing John Flansburgh's apartment on "Cribs," so I don't think you can say TMBG have tried to please the crowd more than they've tried to please themselves and do justice to their music.

I just put in an alternate lyric at the beginning of the song. More of an interpretation, I guess. I thought the word might be "prose" rather than "pros" ... indicating the place for poetry was across from the place for prose. -BigJohn

This is a double pun. The obvious one is "poetry"/"prose". The other is that the opposite of a "pro(fessional)" is an "amateur", which literally means "one who loves" -- someone who does (music, or whatever) for love, not for money. So, "there's a place for poetry amateurs/lovers, it's not the place for prose/pros." --fubar o.

This song is just a bundle of fun for lots of reasons.

To me, the lyrics are difficult to decypher without being able to read them, due to how rapid they are enunciated and the unusual ways in which many syllables are stressed and inflected. "Poetry" to me does not normally sound like "power tree", and "mistakes into rhyme" sounds to me like "my sticks into ram". The "so if you like a band...wall of trombones" bit comes across as near total gibberish ending in "drum on". I can't hear the word "salute" at all. In "hairstyle made of bones", I tend to hear "bombs" instead.

Aside from the plays on words and notes about alternative music, this song also seems to me to be chock full of cartoon references. The idea of dollar signs in the eyes is a figurative one often made literal by the magic of animation. Olive Oyl. The entire chrous is, I think, one cartoon reference after another. A new-age hairstyle made of bones would be found in The Flintstones. I'm sure I've only seen a hat used as a megaphone in a cartoon. Speaking softly, driving a Sherman tank sounds so Elmer Fudd. Laughing on the way to the bank is also something made literal in cartoons.

I'm probably stretching too far to look for the cartoon references, but the specific mention of Olive Oyl kinda sets the stage for that.

The song also makes me think of Men Without Hats.

I'm pretty sure the Olive Oyl reference is to do with Linnell's whiny style of singing. So someone who didn't really get them might go up to him after hearing them and ask, "Do you sing like Olive Oyle in purpose?"


In some ways, this song is They Might Be Giants' in-your-face, "rebellion" anthem. The rhetorical lines "Do you sing like Olive Oyl on purpose / You guys must be into the Eurythmics" caustically parody (recapitulate maybe) what some listeners have said to the duo in derision: that John Linnell sways his body as he sings like Olive Oyl (which fans, of course, appreciate -- consult the video to "They'll Need A Crane"), and that TMBG is a campy, derivative New Wave group (since proven wrong, obviously). Flansburgh yelling "No! No! No! No!" over these lines is reminiscent of bands angry over being labeled, genre'd, or miscatagorized.

- wittytirade

I hear this song as an affirmation, that there's plenty of room in the world for every kind of music (and every kind of person) and that they have respect for everyone, no matter what their musical taste (or lifestyle).

That said, they wanted to let everyone know that, even if hundreds of people are saying you are weird, that you will never make it, that you need a rhythm section, you don't have to do it, because there's room for you, too. Speak softly (do your own thing), drive a sherman tank (don't let anyone change you), laugh hard (have fun), it's a long way to the bank (you're going to be here in life for a long time).

- gazoogleheimer

I think this song is a celebration of diversity in music. "There's lots of room to roam" means there is enough room in the musical world for many different styles. No matter what your sound, you can find an audience because there are many music lovers with diverse tastes. "Pleanty of time to turn mistakes into rhyme" refers to the need to develop a sound. Very few bands pick up their instraments and find their sound right away. You will struggle at first, but there is pleanty of time to find your sound.

"There's a place for those who love their poetry" means there is room in the music world for musicians who are trying to make art rather than being commercially successful. "It's just accross from the sign that says 'pros (prose) only'" distinguishes the true artists from those trying to for commercial success.

"So if you like a band . . ." means it doesn't matter what genre of music you are trying to make. THBG will salute anyone trying to make good music, regardless of the style of music.

"For everyone with dollar signs . . ." means that for exec that gets your sound, there may be hundreds that don't. It also is a reference to the fact that music execs are a necessary evil for anyone who wants to make a living playing music. The execs don't sign bands because they love the music but because they think they can make money off the music. Hence the dollar signs (rather than hearts or something).

I read somewhere that the "use of hats as megaphones" line refers to a dunce cap (which is the shape of a megaphone). It means, if someone tells you you're no good (puts you in the corner with a dunce cap on) keep on making music (use the hat as a megaphone).

"Laugh hard it's a long way to the bank" is advising you to enjoy the music. Don't let the money be the most important thing, because it could be a long time until you make any money making music (if you ever do). So have fun (laugh hard).

They themselves ARE the rythm section want ad. They played with a drum machine all those years, and therefore had no rythm section (bass, drums, percussion).--tehbagel ( o ) 15:41, 3 Jun 2006 (CDT)

Just a quick note: the only sort of hat that would make a good megaphone would be a dunce cap, and a hairstyle made of bones would make the person who had it a "bone-head". Make of that what you will.

I think it's about being unique and not selling out as some people have already outlined, but here are some of the lines I think prove it...

"In a world we call our home there's lots of room to roam" you can do whatever you want... "Plenty of time to turn mistakes into rhyme" because you won't die that soon.

"There's a place for those who love their poetry It's just across from the sign that says, 'Pros Only'"

If you dig poetry and like to make it, you don't have to make a job out of it.

"So if you like a band with a chick singer, Say your cup of tea is a wall of trombones If you dig Menudo, or MDC we salute you the way we know"

If you say you like what you truly like, we're all for you.

"For every one with dollar signs in his eyes" if you want money... "There must be hundreds that look at you as if you're some kind of Rhythm section want ad" you have to know people are gonna look at you weird if you do what you really want to do. in TMBG's case this was not having a rythm section.

"Hats off to the new age hairstyle made of bones Hats off to the use of hats as megaphones"

Hats off to being unique.

"Speak softly, drive a Sherman tank"

Do what you want. Speak softly could be referencing shoegaze

"Laugh hard, it's a long way to the bank"

Remember that your hobbies are all for you to have fun, and it will take a lot of work for you to make a career out of your interests.

"Do you sing like Olive Oyl on purpose You guys must be into the Eurythmics"

about how odd people think Linnell is.

Some individual lines have been well explained up there.

I don't have anything to say about the rest of the song, but "Speak softly, drive a Sherman tank" is probably a play on the phrase "Speak softly and carry a big stick", which is (according to Wikipedia) a West African proverb most famously used by President Theodore Roosevelt to describe his foreign policy.

I really like the interpretation toward the very top of the page, about them not changing for the money. It reminds me of "Sultans of Swing," by Dire Straits. The way I'd originally thought of it was very similar. Now I'm not much on interpreting lyrics (I'm a melody man like Linnell) and I only looked at these lyrics for the first time last week, so bear with me.

I've taken what they're describing as a place (ie club/lounge) where all kinds of music is welcome.

There's a place for those who love their poetry It's just across from the sign that says, "Pros Only"

This reminds me of my town. There's a club that nearly only hosts bands of genres that are big now, very much into trends. Of course, there's no "Pros Only" sign. Around the corner is a club about the size of my bathroom, that brings in all kinds of acts and it's glorious.

So if you like a band with a chick singer...we salute you the way we know

If you like any of this off-beat kind of stuff, come on down!

Speak softly, drive a Sherman tank

This is a spin on the philosophy of the Monroe Doctrine, but here I take it to mean "don't worry about being rich and famous, just rock hard."

Laugh hard, it's a long way to the bank

As others have said, it's about having fun and just doing it out of the love of art.

For now, that's all I've got!

- Randy 11:43, 25 August 2009 (UTC)

I think this song is very straightforward. It was just the Johns' way of saying, "We don't need any drummers; we're fine with our drum machine, thanks. No Solicitors," back before they actually got a band. --Izzhov

Music Industry Rant[edit]

First, we've got to resist the urge to interpret this song without listening to the music. The song is self-referential: "Here's the reason why." The reason is that TMBG can rock with electric guitars AND electric drums. And it does rock...even with an accordion.

The key lyric to the song, I think, is "for every one with dollar signs in his eyes there must be hundreds who look at you as if you're some kind of rhythm section want ad."

They're saying that for every person in the recording industry who hears them and thinks that they could make money, there are hundreds who see them as a fundamentally incomplete act. Not just bad...but that TMBG is trying to do something impossible...breaking the format of the rock band.

You get more exposition on the relationship between the band and the suits when the perspective changes and the band is no longer's the record execs "Do you sing like Olive Oyl on guys must be into the eurythmics." While, at the same time, the band is screaming "NO NO NO NO" in the background.

It's their fight to be recognized as something legitimate that comes across to me as paramount in this song. They're not just saying "we're ourselves" they're saying "we're ourselves, and we want to be taken seriously."

The "rhythm section want ad" is a metaphor for that, because that's how music industry sees them, as a giant want-ad saying "We won't be a real band until we get a drummer."

Additionally "pros only" refers to the want ad, which might say "pros only" when asking for drummers to come in and audition. TMBG is happy to position themselves firmly "across" from that sign.

And lastly, I think that the most peculiar parts of the song might be just TMBG being pecuilar (hairstyle made of bones, megaphones, sherman tank) but it's also quite lovely.

But the last line in that "Laugh hard it's a long way to the bank" is a really beautiful summary of working hard for a difficult goal to me. As opposed to "laughing all the way to the bank" which is about making a lot of money easily (usually at someone else's expense.) It also got picked up by Modest Mouse in "Paper Thin Walls" a testament to TMBG's influence and lyrical prowess. :-)

Hank?! Is that you?! Aside from that, I think this is actually a very well thought out interpretation. I agree with you, on most counts. I mean, I always thought it was more of a DLS type, where the words just fit the music, save for a few lines with real meaning. Apparently, I just noticed those lines one at a time, not all together, as you're recorded here. I agree with you, for the most part, and I think you communicated that very nicely. --Apollo approves of this. 22:57, 3 February 2010 (UTC)

... i've been thinking about it... now i understand what he said ...[edit]


The bridge following "here's the reason why" is a very recognizable section of the composition 'Powerhouse' by Raymond Scott. The section used (sometimes called 'Powerhouse B') features prominently in depictions of assembly lines -- particularly Warner Brothers cartoons from the 40s and 50s.

As it follows the line "no others need apply / here's the reason why" -- it may well be a commentary on the assembly line nature of the modern music industry, where culture becomes manufactured to fit the perceived tastes of the public. Musicians, rather than existing as artists ("a place for those who love their poetry"), become technicians ("pros/prose only") producing economic artifacts.

Listening to this just now, I hear "And here's the reason why (people think we need a rhythm section)" right before an excellent accordion solo. People think they need a rhythm section because really, an accordion? Who does that? As them moved toward more typical rock music songs they got their wonderful drummers, but at that point who was anyone to tell them what to do with their music? They're the guys with the trombones and accordions and a drum machine!

What is a rhythm section want ad? This sounds to me like a commentary on a musician or singer that's trying to make it big, but is lacking the qualities to do so. Here's how I break down the lyrics.

"There's a place for those who love their poetry. It's just across from the sign that says, 'Pros Only'" - People who make music or write songs for the love of the craft have their place, but they're never going to play the really big venues, having to settle for the metaphorical place across the street.

'For every one with dollar signs in his eyes' - For every one who thinks you could be a success 'There must be hundreds that look at you as if you're some kind of Rhythm section want ad' - There must be many more who don't think you're anything special, wanting for rhythm.

'Do you sing like Olive Oyl on purpose?' - Olive Oyl is classically a bad singer, the line speaks for itself.

Agonisingly literal, but could very easily be taken as a parable.