I Palindrome, I

Album: Apollo 18 (1992)

Songfacts®:

  • This song cryptically tells the story of a man who murders his mother to collect his inheritance. At the end of the song, this deed is turned back on him when one of his children kills him. The implied moral is that what goes around comes around, a message that is reflected in the song's title.
  • A palindrome is a word or phrase that's spelled the same way forward and backwards, for example: "Madam in eden, I'm adam." In this song, the bridge section is a word palindrome, meaning the words are the same forward and backwards: "Son I am able, she said though you scare me. Watch, said I, beloved, I said watch me scare you though, said she, able am I, Son."
  • They Might Be Giants ran a Dial-A-Song service from 1983-2006, playing snippets of songs on an answering machine for any fans who called in (a free number). On the Apollo 18 album, however, the wrong number was printed on the initial pressings, causing an electrical contractor to get flooded with calls.

Comments: 5

  • Fred from Laurel, MdIn the wonky world of composing palindromes, this title can be taken as a formula for turning a palindrome into a (very slightly) longer one -- "I [insert palindrome here] I." Re: the 2nd Songfact above, I had heard of that as simply, "Madam, I'm Adam," but yours is an improvement (it's longer). And the reply from his new companion was, of course, even more simply, "Eve." Other palindromic chestnuts: Napoleon's lament in exile, "Able was I 'ere I saw Elba," which is letter-reversible word-by-word, and Teddy Roosevelt's vision, "A man, a plan, a canal -- Panama!" Of course, neither of these men ever actually said these things. And a note about the album title--The Apollo program was initially planned to have 10 landing missions, Apollo 11 through 20, but budget cuts took out the last 3, so 17 was the last landing mission. But then came the idea of détante with the Soviets, and the Apollo 18 tag was used, informally, for the Apollo-Soyuz mission, in which an Apollo command module would be docked to a Soviet Soyuz module. For this, there had to be a lot of engineering work to figure out how to dock the two modules, which had very different hardware. In the end the 'adaptor' was built and supplied by the U.S. I wonder whether this awkward docking is represented by the giant squid attacking a whale on the album cover, with a tiny depiction of an Apollo landing module?
  • Jas from Clifton, TxThis song is so brilliant. It just amazes me that in the era of prefab-pop (see the disaster that is Britney Spears, Lady GaGa whatever he/she is, American Idol), some songwriters are still able to work out pieces like this one. When you break it down and read the lyrics, this is a pretty messed up song where a guy kills his mom, then his kids kill him and it is expected to continue. It's a really deep song but it's wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a viking helmet, that is to say it's cloaked in complete weirdness, so most people don't actually catch on to what they are talking about. I didn't catch it until I decided to figure it out one day and when I did, I didn't know if I should be completely taken aback or just go back to enjoying catchy and seemingly nonsensical lyrics. I chose the latter.
  • Jake from Rolling Hills Estates, CaThe background singers chat palindromes ("Manonam", and "Egad, a base tone denotes a bad age") and one of the verses is a palindrome, though with the words if not the letters.

    "Son I am able," she said "though you scare me."
    "Watch," said I
    "Beloved," I said "watch me scare you though." said she,
    "Able am I, Son."
  • Eric from Central Coast, AustraliaGood interpretation. I always have trouble with TMBG songs.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaI wouldn't have expected that!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

John Lee HookerSongwriter Interviews

Into the vaults for Bruce Pollock's 1984 conversation with the esteemed bluesman. Hooker talks about transforming a Tony Bennett classic and why you don't have to be sad and lonely to write the blues.

American Hits With Foreign TitlesSong Writing

What are the biggest US hits with French, Spanish (not "Rico Suave"), Italian, Scottish, Greek, and Japanese titles?

Trans Soul Rebels: Songs About TransgenderismSong Writing

A history of songs dealing with transgender issues, featuring Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Morrissey and Green Day.

Petula ClarkSongwriter Interviews

Petula talks about her hits "Downtown" and "Don't Sleep In The Subway," and explains her Michael Jackson connection.

Mike Love of The Beach BoysSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer/lyricist of The Beach Boys talks about coming up with the words for "Good Vibrations," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Kokomo" and other classic songs.

Famous Singers' First FilmsSong Writing

A look at the good (Diana Ross, Eminem), the bad (Madonna, Bob Dylan) and the peculiar (David Bowie, Michael Jackson) film debuts of superstar singers.