First Release: Don’t Let’s Start EP, 1989
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Although it’s not prominent enough to be considered a standard, this is the best song about payola that I can think of–because it’s the only one. The lyrics dovetail nicely with the Pink Album’s Rhythm Section Want Ad in commemorating the struggles of a young alternative band in the music industry of the 1980s. In this case, tracking down the DJ who took their payola and then skipped town. Its first North American release was on the compilation album Miscellaneous T, which record store section where fans typically found They Might Be Giants.
According to the band, the song had its origins as a stage set piece, to be titled “Sleeping Our Way to the Top” and sung while the Johns laid in a pair of hammocks–but the band never actually performed it live until 2008.
The whole song is a lyrical delight, chock full of the kind of clever, brainy rhymes the Johns are known for, but the refrain, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch your record” is a nice touch.
Alex says: This song is really hard to sing… Super quick lyrics back to back to back. That said, I love it to death.