Tom Tom Club

Tom Tom Club

Sire, 1981

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


When Talking Heads members David Byrne and Jerry Harrison temporarily opted out of the band to do solo albums, their two bandmates Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth decided to follow suit and form a side project themselves. What resulted was the twelve-member group called the Tom Tom Club. Recorded in the Bahamas (where this then husband and wife had a home), their self-titled debut album was released in 1981 and had all the hallmarks of a sundrenched and somewhat frivolous dance record. If their aim was trying to be more radio-friendly, then they came very close to succeeding.

Coproduced by Steven Shanley, this first album effort is, by far, their strongest to date. It opens with one of the first ever rap songs “Wordy Rappinghood,” where Tina Weymouth picks up where Blondie’s Debbie Harry left off with the faux-rap hit “Rapture.” An instant college staple, this single features a nonsensical rhyme put to a simple, electro riff. By the end of the song, Weymouth is clearly out of breath -- as you will be if you attempt to sing along to it. Just do yourself a favor first; find a lyric sheet.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The big hit single on this album -- the Tom Tom Club’s one hit wonder -- is “Genius Of Love,” which is a summery reggae song set to a dance beat. With its instantly identifiable squelching synth hook, this became fodder for the likes of Mariah Carey, who sampled it on her #1 hit “Fantasy” in 1995. Tina Weymouth may not have had the vocal pipes of Ms. Carey, but at least she showed that she can actually sing when called upon. There is quite a bit of namedropping to be found on “Genius Of Love,” making it a fun song to see how many other familiar soul music icons can be spotted.

There are many other noteworthy tracks on Tom Tom Club, from an artsy song sung entirely in French (“L’Elephant”) to a weightier Talking Heads sound-alike (“As Above, So Below”) to a top-notch remake of an R&B classic (“Under The Boardwalk”). The only two songs that slip a bit in maintaining a high quality level are “Lorelei” and “On, On, On, On.” The former song is a cringe-worthy and repetitive misfire, while the latter sounds like it is being sung by the characters of a Peanuts cartoon. One listen to those couple of bum tracks and you too will be saying “Oh, good grief,” like Charlie Brown.

In 2005, I had the privilege of interviewing Chris Frantz for my book Flashbacks To Happiness, which pays homage to artists from the 1980’s. When asked about “Genius Of Love,” Frantz said it was the most fun he has ever had in the recording studio. “It was like magic…but also hard work. There was really no template for that song, although the beat was inspired by ‘More Bounce To The Ounce’ by Zapp.” As for what he considers his best memory of those times, Frantz doesn’t hesitate. “Hearing ‘Genius Of Love’ being played on the airwaves all over New York City -- in the clubs and even on the basketball courts.”

Giving credit where credit is due, Frantz praises Tina Weymouth’s contributions to the Tom Tom Club and Talking Heads. “After moving from Rhode Island to New York, she came into the band (then called The Artistics) and because she really shared our aesthetic, she helped us a lot in terms of image.” As for recording with Sire Records, he has equally kind words to say about Seymour Stein and Ken Kushnick. “Sire was the perfect label for us. They gave us complete artistic freedom and helped us to sell a lot of records as well.”

Rating: B

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