John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

The Genius of Tom Tom Club

Talking Head spinoff band made one for the ages in “Genius Of Love.”

By - Mar 9th, 2018 04:15 pm
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Tom Tom Club, 1983.

Tom Tom Club, 1983.

That promising pop moment that keeps recurring every five years or so, the one where the 1980’s make a glorious comeback, is kind of predictable in its ability to disappoint. It’s often synths, drum machines and an unfortunate faux British singing style that refuses to reveal an ounce of soul or wit. There’s a reason so many great singers over there try to sound like us. But if the Tom Tom Club, shown here performing their hit “Genius Of Love,” was the model for these comebacks I’d be all over it. What flat-out fun they were!

Featuring Talking Head Tina Weymouth on bass and vocals and propelled by bandmate/husband Chris Frantz‘s rock-steady drumming, it was a maddeningly infectious spinoff of an already pretty cool outfit. Lighter in tone than the Talking Heads — who wouldn’t be when you subtract that riveting and oddly ominous Mad Hatter, David Byrne? — they did away with angst and concentrated on keeping dancers happy.

You may notice a familiar figure lurking in the background of this video. Yep, that’s Milwaukee native, Jerry Harrison, the fourth member of The Heads. I had no idea he had played with them. How lucky can you get? He’s there, but Tina’s sister Laura Weymouth, who was a member, is hard to spot in this video. There are two backup singers who seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they fatten up the already charming vocal.

About four minutes in, Tina does a truly hilarious dance, kind of a freaky spider walk that goes from side to side, she’s at that moment as much a star as David Byrne. It speaks volumes about the amount of talent in the parent band. You can almost see the inevitable clash and irreparable nuclear finale on the horizon. I’d be reluctant to use the word “ego’ here, only because the Heads always came off as somehow beyond the petty psychological traps of other bands. The gave the impression of coming from a brighter, more enlightened future. That’s what I sensed anyway. Boy, was I wrong!

I haven’t read the books, but whatever Chris and Tina had to say about David did not sit well. Forget about a reunion, it will never happen. I suspect everyone is comfortable enough financially and they won’t have to put on happy faces while they pretend to like each other. I’ve heard the figure they were offered to get back together and tour. It’s ridiculous yet Byrne turned it down. (By the way, Harrison is the only one still talking to both sides of the Not Talking Heads. Maybe he’ll surprise everyone and broker a peace deal.)

Back to the genius of Genius. Here are the lyrics, which only add to the fun. I don’t see the goofy “Bohannon, Bohannon!” chant anywhere in the official lyrics. Since so much of the charm is in the track, the sweet child-like melody and and even sweeter harmonies, the song made itself right at home in my head before I ever read these whimsical lyrics:

What you gonna do when you get out of jail?
I’m gonna have some fun
What do you consider fun?
Fun, natural fun

I’m in heaven
With my boyfriend, my laughing boyfriend
There’s no beginning and there is no end
Time isn’t present in that dimension
You’ll take my arm
When we’re walkin’, rolling and rocking
It is one time I’m glad I’m not a man
Feels like I’m dreaming, but I’m not sleeping

I’m in heaven
With the maven of funk mutation
Clinton’s musicians such as Bootsy Collins
Raise expectations to a new intention
No one can sing
Quite like Smokey, Smokey Robinson
Wailin’ and skankin’ to Bob Marley
Reggae’s expanding with Sly and Robbie

Oops! Your mama said uh
Oops! Your mama said uh
Oops! Your mama said uh
Oops! Your mama.

© Steve Stanley, Adrian Belew, Cris Frantz & Tina Weymouth

This scans like a translation from some other, more loopy, language. No matter — any song that begins with “What you gonna do when you get out of jail?” is all right with me. Here are some other catchy lyrics, more or less in order of maximum amusement:

“It is one time I’m glad I’m not a man”
“Time isn’t present in that dimension”
“I’m in heaven with the maven of funk mutation”
“Clinton’s musicians such as Bootsy Collins raise expectations to a new intention”
“Oops! Your mama said uh”

Adrian Belew, listed as one of the writers and “expanded band” members when The Talking Heads went macro, is a bridge back to Prog Rock. That dreaded non-danceable attempt to make rock sort of high brow teemed with artists who seemed to be seeking validation from the academy. Or maybe Time Magazine. I wonder if Belew didn’t like Tom Tom Club a tiny bit more than the oh-so-serious stuff. Trying to connect with audience, as opposed to critics, strikes me as a genuine and generous move. And if you do have something difficult or challenging to deliver, wrap it up in high-fructose ear candy and it actually has a chance of reaching its destination. You know, be sneaky. Heck, the Heads were the sneakiest of all. On the other hand, Tom Tom Club was pretty open about their mission — it was all about the dance floor.

All this happened a long time ago, yet it’s curious how modern it still sounds. Many other things from that era run the gamut from lame to laughable. What, if anything, being done today will have the kind of staying power this song does? I guess we’ll have to wait around to see.

2 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: The Genius of Tom Tom Club”

  1. Anton Caldwell says:

    R&B/Hip-Hop classic from members of one of the greatest Punk bands ever. Loved this song from the day i first heard it on WMSE in the early 80’s. Brings back alot of good memories Great selection on your part

  2. 2fs says:

    Belew didn’t really come from prog – if you’ve heard the band he more or less started in, the Bears, it was very ‘Revolver’-influenced. Zappa heard him, added him as “stunt guitarist”…then Bowie took him on for a couple of years, and then of course he joined King Crimson. But his songwriting in that band is startlingly, well, Revolver-esque. A curious mix. So: Belew could play prog, for sure…but I think his soul really rests in ‘Revolver’ and that era of Beatlemusic.

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