TMBG Countdown #11: Why Does the Sun Shine

April 20, 2015 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (0) 780

First release: Why Does the Sun Shine (EP), 1993

(This is an ongoing countdown that will be updated through April. Click here for the full list.)

Another of the “science-songs” that made TMBG nerd icons long before the release of Here Comes Science (though it would appear on that record), “Why Does the Sun Shine” has been in the band’s repertoire so long that the science relayed in its lyrics changed.

Well, almost. The song was in fact written in the 1950s by Hy Zaret And Lou Singer, and a version by folks singer Tom Glazer was released on Space Songs, an album so influential it’s been cited not only by They Might Be Giants but by science fiction giant Isaac Asimov.

The 1993 EP version of the song is perhaps lesser known than the rocking live version linked above. During live performances, John Flansburgh often improvises alterations to the spoken-word portions–usually relating in some way to peculiarities of the audience. At shows I’ve attended, for example, the heat and light of the sun resulted from the chemical reaction between “estrogen, estrogen, estrogen, and more estrogen,” and at a 2003 NPR show in Philadelphia, the items that were all a gas on the sun included “patchouli oil, hemp, gimp, kilns, and crystals.”

With the release of Here Comes Science in 2009 came an update, “Why Does the Sun REALLY Shine,” that updated the 1950’s science with a contemporary understanding: The sun is not “a mass of incandescent gas” at all, but instead a “miasma of incandescent plasma.”

Trivia: According to TMBW, the melody is based on “The Girl I Left Behind,” a traditional folk song, often sung by military forces, that dates to the 18th or early 19th centuries.

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