Shoehorn With Teeth

From This Might Be A Wiki
They Might Be Giants performing "Shoehorn With Teeth" wearing carpet hats, 1988.

song name Shoehorn with Teeth
artist They Might Be Giants
releases Lincoln, Then: The Earlier Years
year 1988
first played May 16, 1987 (468 known performances)
run time 1:13
sung by John Flansburgh (first verse alone), John Linnell (second verse alone)


  • In 2021, Dan Spock, a childhood friend of the Johns, explained the origins of this song in the Miscellaneous T Facebook group:
    OK, so I knew the Johns growing up in Massachusetts. We had a mutual friend, a New York kid I met in summer camp who was very funny, kind of a prankster, a very irreverent sense of humor. We all had these common interests in underground comics, music like Zappa and Beefheart, comedy like Firesign Theater, etc. Anyway, I would go visit him when we were teens in NYC. He had this gag I watched him do where he would go into a shoestore and ask if they carried shoehorns. The clerks would pull out boxes and show him what they had and my friend would say, yeah, no, this isn't the kind I'm looking for. Now some of these stores had quite a selection. It's New York, right? So they'd have everything from the cheap plastic shoehorns that only cost a quarter all the way up to fancier ones with long handles made out of real animal horn, or engraved sterling silver or whatever. So, the clerks would be showing him stuff, completely stumped. What kind are you looking for, kid? And my friend would say, you know, the kind with teeth? The kind that have teeth on them. That kind.

    And these clerks would have all kinds of reactions, everything from I've never heard of that, to there's no such thing, to can you describe it better? The whole time I'm trying not to crack up, but the basic idea was to see how long you could keep the gag going until the clerk got frustrated and threw us out of the store. So, I shared this story with Linnell and he thought it was funny, I guess, because he didn't forget it. He wrote the song probably at least a decade later. The part about people being beat up for stating their beliefs is just a classic Linnell non-sequitur of the type he's been spinning out since he was at least 9 years old when we first met. BTW, the NYC kid responsible for this prank is Eric Drooker who is now a pretty renowned illustrator/artist in his own right.
  • John Linnell would also explain this story in "Everything Sticks Like A Broken Record", a track-by-track breakdown of the Lincoln album featured in Bandbox Issue #103:
The notion of it was based on a friend of mine from New York who perversely would... I think he initially made an art object where he took a plastic shoehorn and glued little teeth to it as kind of an absurd art object that just came out of his imagination. But then it got weirder because he would go into shoe stores and ask, "Do you have any shoehorns with teeth?" Just to be a weird provocateur and a nuisance, I guess. The shoe salesman would be like, "I don't know," and they'd go and pull out a box of shoehorns and they're like, "What about these?" He's like, "No, none of these seem to have any teeth."
  • In live shows from 1987 to 1988, this song was frequently performed with three-foot carpet hats, most notable for their appearance in the music video for Don't Let's Start. John and John on the carpet hats[1]: "People like them but they do have negative side effects−they turn your forehead red, crush your brain and make you vote Republican."
  • The glockenspiel was originally brought out for Brian Doherty to play during the slow version of "Why Does The Sun Shine?." After a while, the band decided to goof on the audience by making a big show of bringing out the glockenspiel and make them think that They were going to play one song and then actually playing another, unexpected song which was not previously in the live set. What made it even more comical is the fact that the replacement song only used the glockenspiel for three notes. The tradition was handed off to Dan Hickey, and the band continued to make a big show of introducing the song whenever it was played right up until the glockenspiel was retired and given away to a young fan at a show in 2002.
  • In lieu of using the glockenspiel at some shows, Marty Beller has used three desk bells affixed to a 2x4 block while performing the song, or a bell cymbal hanging on a piece of rope.
  • This song has been covered by Da Vinci's Notebook with Moxy Früvous.
  • The note hit on the glockenspiel is an A (recorded with a B-flat note).

Song Themes

Body Parts, Death, Furniture, Music, Questions, Swing Feel, Title Not In Lyrics, Transportation


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Shoehorn With Teeth is currently ranked #308 out of 1009. (141 wikians have given it an average rating of 8.58)