I got my first CD player when I was 12. It was spring of 1988 and I probably saved my lawn mowing money for it. It was made by the very reputable electronics company, Crown and took something like 10 AA batteries. Through the help of Radio Shack, I bought a headphone to RCA plug adapter, hooked it up to the “phono” jack on my Emerson Boombox and went to town.
Actually, I didn’t go anywhere. Though portable, it pretty much wasn’t. Back in those days, portable CD players didn’t have any anti-skip technology. If you moved it a bit or looked at it wrong, it would skip and take about four years to start playing again. So even though the Crown CD Player had a shoulder strap (seriously), you just set it on a shelf and didn’t bother it.
My first CD shows my age and street cred. It was They Might Be Giant’s “Don’t Let’s Start” single. It was a CD3 and at that point, nobody had any idea where this crazy new CD craze was going. CD3s were 3″ CDs containing about 20 minutes of music, so they were used as singles. People thought this would actually catch on. Columbia Records released a slew of them – I had George Michael and Herbie Hancock. Most were sold with cardboard backing and then a sleeve, either plastic or, in the case of They Might Be Giants, cardboard.
Somewhere along the way, I lost this. And to rebuy it now is pretty expensive. I don’t really listen to CDs anymore, so lucky me, I found a copy of it on vinyl! Check it out…
It’s got the same track listing and it’s in amazing condition. Looks like it wasn’t ever played. Lucky find? Oh yes!
I probably heard the song either on Dr. Demento or MTV. If it was MTV, it was the presidential campaign for Randee of the Redwoods ["It's Randee, with two E's, like in 'the river'"]. They Might Be Giants played a couple of songs, including “Shoehorn,” which wasn’t a b-side for “Don’t Let’s Start,” but was from the same era. I remember they were wearing incredibly tall “hats” and had very stern hand gestures to go along with the song. Maybe that happened after I had the CD. I really can’t remember.
Anyway, the CD itself had four songs. “Don’t Let’s Start,” “We’re The Replacements,” “When It Rains It Snows,” and
“The Famous Polka.” The last three were true b-sides, not appearing on their first album and probably not appearing on CD until Miscellaneous T was released in 1991 – it had a bunch of b-sides on it.
“Don’t Let’s Start” has been described by the band to be a song about “not let’s starting.” They lyrics are fairly absurd:
When you are alone you are the cat, you are the phone
You are an animal
The words I’m singing now
Mean nothing more than meow to an animal
Wake up and smell the cat food in your bank account
But don’t try to stop the tail that wags the hound
It quickly became one of my favorite songs ever. When I picked up the single, I fell in love with them and quickly bought the album Lincoln (though oddly, I bought it on cassette – maybe the Crown had died by then). The song on the single is a remix from the one on the album. The music has a little less reverb and there’s synth overdubs on the “I don’t want to live in this world anymore” part. But you’ve probably only heard the single remix version. It was used in the video and on Then: The Early Years CD.
As for the other songs, “We’re The Replacements” is about being in a band and touring, but not about being roadies for the band The Replacements. That’s just an urban legend. They Might Be Giants never roadied for The Replacements. “When It Rains It Snows” has two halves, separated by a long five or six seconds of silence which was shortened on all releases after the single. You can only hear it in its full silent glory here! The final song, “Famous Polka,” was originally called “The Phone Inside A Ribcage Polka.” Personally, I like that name better. It’s about a famous person being just like the singer – she has two legs, which is the exact number of years that he’s lived in the city. Amazing!
The whole thing is amazing and I’m endlessly happy that I found it. And so are you!
Here, enjoy the video for “Don’t Let’s Start”!
Deputy dog dog a ding dang depadepa
Deputy dog dog a ding dang depadepa