Views: 1,382
Comments: 2
Posted: 2009 12-04


Artist or Show

You are not currently tracking They Might Be Giants

this artist

You are not currently tracking Barnes & Noble, New York

this show


Artist Vitals
Total Clips183
Active Streams164
Missing Streams19
Commercially Available0
Artist RP Ranking59%
If you are a copyright holder of this video and believe that this content infringes your intellectual property rights, please submit a Notice of Claimed Infringement.


This video is provided and hosted from a third-party server. RockPeaks is not responsible for any activities originating with such third-party server. If you believe this linked content infringes your intellectual property rights, please click the flag icon above and follow the instructions.

YouTube Uploader: vvedge1138
Retrieved from Wikipedia:
James K. Polk on Wikipedia
"James K. Polk"
Song by They Might Be Giants from the album Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
ReleasedMay 14, 1990 (1990-05-14)
A-side"Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
GenreAlternative rock
Writer(s)John Flansburgh
Matthew Hill
John Linnell
Composer(s)John Flansburgh
John Linnell
Producer(s)They Might Be Giants
Istanbul (Not Constantinople) track listing
  1. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
  2. "James K. Polk"
  3. "Stormy Pinkness"
  4. "Ant"
  5. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" (Brownsville mix)

"James K. Polk" is a song by alternative rock band They Might Be Giants, about the United States president of the same name. Originally released in 1990 as a B-side to the single "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)", its first appearance on a studio album was 1996's Factory Showroom. It also appeared on their compilation albums Dial-A-Song: 20 Years of They Might Be Giants and A User's Guide to They Might Be Giants. The song is about James K. Polk, 11th President of the United States, beginning with a description of the 1844 Democratic National Convention and going on to cover some of the highlights of Polk's presidency. Although the band set out to write a song consisting entirely of historical facts, it includes a few errors or misstatements.

The Factory Showroom re-recording of "James K. Polk" includes an interlude featuring Julian Koster playing a musical saw. The song has become a fan favorite and is frequently played live, although the band has expressed antipathy towards Polk himself; John Flansburgh has described Polk as "evil".


  • 1 Composition
  • 2 Lyrics
  • 3 Reception
  • 4 Legacy
  • 5 Personnel
    • 5.1 1990 recording
    • 5.2 1996 recording
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


According to John Flansburgh, John Linnell wrote "James K. Polk" with Matthew Hill, a childhood friend of theirs and a history buff. The concept for the song came from a conversation the two had about writing a song that was based entirely in fact. They were specifically drawn to James K. Polk due to his relative obscurity despite his tremendous influence during his presidency.[1] They proceeded to write the song despite personal disagreement with Polk's policies as president. Flansburgh speculated that if they had included their opinion that Polk was "evil", it would have defeated the purpose of writing a song of pure fact.[1]

Prior to writing the song, Linnell and Hill were not familiar with Polk's presidency—they chose Polk at random from a list of presidents. Only after researching Polk did they discover that he was, according to Linnell, "really intense and kind of…creepy".[2]

In a review of the "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" single, which had "James K. Polk" as its B-side, Christian Huey called the song's main instrumentation a "plodding synth line". He also compared the bridge's melodic non-lexical vocables to those in "Istanbul".[3] The Factory Showroom recording features Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel playing a musical saw. Linnell and Flansburgh call the effect of the saw "spooky".[4]


The song does not present a comprehensive biography of James K. Polk. Instead, it begins at the 1844 Democratic National Convention. Deadlocked among Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, and Lewis Cass, the party eventually chose Polk as its nominee. The song skips over the general election and describes Polk's accomplishments as president, such as acquiring part of the Oregon Territory and leading the country to victory in the Mexican–American War.

"James K. Polk" contains two main errors or misstatements in its lyrics. The first verse describes Van Buren as an abolitionist. While Van Buren later joined the Free Soil Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery in the United States, he did not advocate for its abolition entirely. Secondly, the song says that Polk "made the English sell the Oregon Territory" during his presidency. In fact, the US had claimed part of what was then called Oregon Country prior to Polk's administration. Polk did sign the Oregon Treaty with the United Kingdom in 1846, which delineated American and British claims in the Pacific Northwest. Only after this treaty was the Oregon Territory established.


Although Factory Showroom received a lukewarm response from critics, "James K. Polk" has been generally well regarded. In a review of the song for AllMusic, Stewart Mason praised the song for both its melody and its lyrics, which, despite being "practically paragraphs", "scan perfectly well". Though Mason favors the original 1990 arrangement over the 1996 recording, he calls the tune a "fan favorite".[5] A People review of Factory Showroom labels the song "Beatles-esque".[6]

Despite the praise the song has received, in a review of Factory Showroom, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic disapproved of the band's "recycling" old material for the album. To Erlewine, this signified their "creative block" during the period. Regardless, the song is designated as an "AllMusic pick" from the album.[7]


"James K. Polk" has been cited as an example of the band's unconventional subjects for pop lyrics.[8][9] Some critics have seen a connection between the song's educational lyrics and the band's later success, in the mid- to late-2000s, in composing children's music.[8] Mason compares the song to Schoolhouse Rock! educational television program;[5] however, the song is also popular among the band's adult fans, and it often features in their live setlists.[10]


  1. ^ a b Flansburgh, John (March 17, 2010). "Interview with John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants" (Interview). Interview with Michael Bradshaw. Green Shoelace. Archived from the original on April 14, 2010. Retrieved June 5, 2015. 
  2. ^ Linnell, John (April 17, 1998). "Interview Man, Interview Man". Yale Herald (Interview). Interview with Brian Levinson. 
  3. ^ Huey, Christian. "Istanbul (Not Constantinople) [EP]". Allmusic. Retrieved July 16, 2015. 
  4. ^ Flansburgh, John and John Linnell (1996). "A Guided Tour of Factory Showroom". Elektra.
  5. ^ a b Mason, Stewart. "James K. Polk - They Might Be Giants". AllMusic. Retrieved June 5, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Factory Showroom". People. October 26, 1996.
  7. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Factory Showroom - They Might Be Giants". AllMusic. Retrieved June 5, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b Kluger, Jeffrey (May 15, 2008). "They Might Be Giants". Time.
  9. ^ Leopold, Todd (April 12, 2001). "Nerd Music? Geek Tunes? Odd Pop? Oh, Why Not?". CNN.
  10. ^ Christenson, Thor (February 3, 2012). "Sock Puppets Animate They Might Be Giants Show". Dallas Morning News.

External links

  • "James K. Polk" at This Might Be A Wiki
  • "James K. Polk" at AllMusic
  • Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics

Complete Video List

Sort By:
          Enter your Rock Peaks username.
          Enter the password that accompanies your username.
          Forgot Password?

          Not a Member Yet?


          It's Free!