Lab TracksScience

Monday Lab Tracks: They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants has been making catchy alternative rock songs since the 80’s (you may have heard of them, they’re kind of a big deal). A little while ago they got into the business of writing songs for children, actually winning a Grammy for their children’s album Here Come the 123s.

Today’s Lab Track, or pair of them, comes from their album Here Comes Science (another track of which Teen Skepchick featured on their Friday music series!). I chose these two tunes because of the brilliant demonstration of revising claims to fit the evidence.

In this first example, they explain (with an infectious melody, I might add) that “the sun is a mass of incandescent gas,” and that “scientists have found that the sun is a huge atom-crushing machine.” Give it a listen [EDIT: I’ve just been informed (by commenter Breadbox) that this wasn’t actually written by them. The lyrics are by Hy Zaret and the music is by Lou Singer. Credit where credit is due, yo.]:

Then, they found this to actually be inaccurate. The sun isn’t made of gas, and doesn’t crush atoms so much as fuse them. So instead of leaving it as-is and chalking it up to valid artistic expression, they wrote another song:

Since including the lyrics to two tunes is so space-consuming, I’ll only include abridged versions. You can click at the link at the top of each lyric quotation to see the full song.

Why Does the Sun Shine?

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees

Yo ho, it’s hot
The sun is not
A place where we could live
But here on Earth there’d be no life
Without the light it gives

We need its light
We need its heat
We need its energy
Without the sun
Without a doubt
There’d be no you and me

The sun is hot
It is so hot that everything on it is a gas
Iron, copper, aluminum, and many others

The sun is large
If the sun were hollow, a million Earths could fit inside
And yet, the sun is only a middle-sized star

The sun is far away
About ninety-three million miles away! And that’s why it looks so small
And even when it’s out of sight, the sun shines night and day

Scientists have found that the sun is a huge atom-smashing machine
The heat and light of the sun come from the nuclear reactions of
hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and helium

Why Does the Sun Really Shine?

The sun is a miasma
Of incandescent plasma
The sun’s not simply made out of gas

The sun is a quagmire
It’s not made of fire
Forget what you’ve been told in the past

(Plasma!)
Electrons are free
(Plasma!)
A fourth state of matter
Not gas, not liquid, not solid

The sun is no red dwarf
I hope it never morphs
Into some supernova’d collapsed orb

The sun is a miasma
Of incandescent plasma
I forget what I was told by myself

(Plasma!)
Forget that song
(Plasma!)
They got it wrong
That thesis has been rendered invalid


This has been another installment of Monday Lab Tracks. Send us your musical recommendations through our contact link at the top of the page, and tell us what you think of the song in the comments below!

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Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

6 Comments

  1. August 29, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Oh man! I love this record! Here though is the best track:

    Science is real
    From the Big Bang to DNA
    Science is real
    From evolution to the Milky Way
    I like the stories
    About angels, unicorns and elves
    Now I like those stories
    As much as anybody else
    But when I’m seeking knowledge
    Either simple or abstract
    The facts are with science
    The facts are with science

    Science is real
    Science is real
    Science is real

    Science is real
    From anatomy to geology
    Science is real
    From astrophysics to biology
    A scientific theory
    Isn’t just a hunch or guess
    It’s more like a question
    That’s been put through a lot of tests
    And when a theory emerges
    Consistent with the facts
    The proof is with science
    The truth is with science

    Science is real
    Science is real
    Science is real

    Science is real

    I love how they include “angels” in there.

  2. August 29, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Given that the first song had already been released years before (and written decades before by someone else) — yeah, just fixing the first song wasn’t really an option. The result is a neat little example of the scientific mention in action.

    The entire Here Comes Science album is such a gift to skeptical parents (particularly those who grew up with TMBG themselves).

    boxbrown: That bit always reminds me of an online conversation (via amazon reviews, actually). Some TMBG fan generally appreciated the song, but objected to the inclusion of angels alongside unicorns and elves, because angels were “biblical”, and therefore real. To which someone quickly pointed out that unicorns were also mentioned in the bible.

  3. August 29, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    @breadbox – Ohhh, interesting. I didn’t realize that the first tune wasn’t an original. Apparently it was written by Hy Zariet and Lou Singer (http://tmbw.net/wiki/Hy_Zaret_And_Lou_Singer). This is doubly weird to me because the first time I heard about the whole album was when TMBG performed it on Radiolab and explained the story behind the two songs. If I remember correctly, they never attributed the first one to a different composer. If they didn’t, that’s kinda lame.

    I could remember incorrectly, though.

  4. August 30, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for this. TMBG is one of those bands that sort of wizzed by me and ruffled my hair without making any lasting impression. I just downloaded “Here Comes Science” and will probably get it in CD form too. I want to be able to sneak into my daughter’s things when she moves out in 16 or so years because she’s going to be so sick of hearing it by then that I bet she’ll “accidentally” leave it behind. πŸ™‚

  5. August 30, 2011 at 10:25 am

    @Smashley: TMBG have been playing that song since at least the mid-90’s. I remember first seeing them performing it live on either 120 Minutes or The Jon Stewart Show or something, at which time (if I remember rightly) they credited the original writers back then. The only reason I remember this is because the day after I heard it I started telling my friends “ZOMG, did you see TMBG last night?!?!?!?! They played this rocking version of this old science-y song about the Sun!!! SO AWESOME!!!”

  6. August 30, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Just here to fangirl over some nerdy musicians. (Who HAVE built a little birdhouse in my soul.)

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