Why Does The Sun Shine?

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Music video for "Why Does The Sun Shine?"
Screenshot from the Nickelodeon KaBlam! video for the live version

song name Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)
artist They Might Be Giants
releases Why Does The Sun Shine? (EP), Music From Malcolm In The Middle (Promo), Carmen Sandiego - Out Of This World, TMBG Clock Radio, A User's Guide to They Might Be Giants: Melody, Fidelity, Quantity, John Henry + Factory Showroom
year 1993
first played January 20, 1987 (858 known performances)
run time 2:53
sung by John Flansburgh; spoken parts done by John Linnell (sometimes reversed live)


  • This is a remake of the song by Hy Zaret And Lou Singer, performed by folk singer Tom Glazer on the album Space Songs (Motivation Records, 1959). The album has been restored, in high fidelity, by Argosy Music. Information on Space Songs, as well as a free PDF songbook and links to purchase the album and its five science-themed counterparts can be found here.
  • The origin of the chorus and of the facts in the song come from a book titled "Stars: A Guide to the Constellations, Sun, Moon, Planets and Other Features of the Heavens" written by professors Herbert Zim and Robert Baker, copyright 1951 by Simon and Schuster.
  • The original melody to this song is taken from The Girl I Left Behind Me, a traditional military folk song sung for departing troops. A midi file and lyrics are available here.
  • The song states that the sun is so hot that everything in it is a gas; however, this is incorrect. The sun is so hot that all gases are ionized and turned into plasma, which is a very highly-charged state of gas considered a state of matter separate from gas. To address this misinformation, TMBG wrote the song "Why Does The Sun Really Shine?" for the album Here Comes Science.
  • A performance of the song, from an April 6, 2002 concert at Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH (with tour manager Brendan Hoffman as fire-eater), appears as a bonus video on the Direct From Brooklyn DVD.
  • This mellow studio recording of "Why Does The Sun Shine?" isn't responsible for the song's popularity; the rocking live version featured on Severe Tire Damage in 1998 is. The slow version was retired from live performances in the mid-90s, only to be brought back in 2009 with the release of Here Comes Science, an album which featured yet another recording of the song where Linnell and Flansburgh's roles were reversed (John Linnell sang the song and John Flansburgh dubbed the spoken parts).
  • Since early 2008, John Flansburgh has been singing the miscellaneous normally spoken lines throughout the song, like "The sun is so hot that everything on it is a gas."
  • 93 million miles is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun. Read more info here.
  • The nuclear reactions between Hydrogen, Carbon, Nitrogen, and Helium may be found here.
  • This song was heard in the Malcolm In The Middle episode, "Malcolm Babysits".
  • In iTunes, the words "Live Version" appear after the song's title, despite the fact that it is a studio recording.
  • The first line of the song appears verbatim in the Golden Nature Guide: Stars first published in 1951
  • In The Simpsons Game, while in the planetarium exhibit in a museum, a voiceover quotes the lyrics to the song, saying, "The sun is a mass of incandescent gas. A giant nuclear furnace."
  • Before the song is performed live, Flansburgh has been known to say, "We want you to want the sun," similar to Cheap Trick in their famous Live at the Budokan version of "I Want You to Want Me".
  • In the September 5th, 1993 recording of MTV's "120 Minutes" in which they performed the song, John Linnell misquotes a line, replacing "Nitrogen" with "Helium", which he says twice.

Song Themes

Educational, Everything, Numbers, Precious Metal, Questions, Science, The Senses, Size, Space, Spoken Word, Temperature, Title Not In Lyrics, TMBG Remakes, Weather


  • Watch it on Youtube.png - Animated music video for the rocking version of this song, from the Nickelodeon TV show, KaBlam! (circa 1999)

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Why Does The Sun Shine? is currently ranked #369 out of 1010. (121 wikians have given it an average rating of 8.49)