As every fan of the film Stop Making Sense can tell you, Talking Heads concerts were sometimes interrupted by spontaneous Tom Tom Club concerts. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz – bass player and drummer of Talking Heads – formed the Tom Tom Club as a side project and managed to have a hugely successful debut album and still continue to occasionally perform as that band. They released several other albums over the years – some quite good – so I’m going to rank 12 (but not all) of their singles today. Enjoy!
12. Love to Love You Baby
From 2000’s The Good, The Bad and The Funky, First Single
Weymouth and Frantz – a bass player and a drummer – appear to be huge fans of funk and disco. You can hear it in their playing and you can also see it in their choice of songs to cover. Donna Summers’ classic “Love to Love You Baby” isn’t really one of my favorite songs from the disco era (and I have several favorite songs from this era) but its a reasonably good match for Tom Tom Club, particular for Weymouth’s deliberately low key vocal style. Part of the reason I didn’t like including cover songs on these lists during the Facebook-only era of this project is that I have a hard time separating how I feel about original versions of songs from how I feel about the covers. I can’t really tell if I genuinely dislike this version of the song more than the rest of these singles or whether I’m just prejudiced against the original.
11. Call of the Wild
From 1988’s Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom, Third Single
Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom was released when I was a dj at my college radio station at Bates – WRBC. I only ever played one track from the album (see #2) because there was just so much music and so little time. I’m pretty sure this album was released a few months after the final Talking Heads’ album, Naked, but I can’t find a definitive released date for this record (Naked was released in March of 1988). I wonder if they were already aware that Talking Heads was on the road to dissolution? I wonder if Tom Tom Club contributed to the eventual break-up? David Byrne and Jerry Harrison both contributed to this album so surely they hadn’t reached the bad blood stage just yet? “Call of the Wild” is a fairly forgettable single but it does illustrate how the band’s sound was become a little less minimalistic by 1988.
10. Under the Boardwalk
From 1981’s Tom Tom Club, Third Single
I had thought this was a Bananarama song back in the early 80’s. I mean, the Weymouth sisters (in addition to Tina, Lani, Laura and Loric Weymouth also sing on the songs from Tom Tom Club debut) do all sing in unison (as opposed to singing harmonies) but really the two bands sound almost nothing alike so I have no excuse except youthful ignorance. One of the things that amuses me about Tom Tom Club is that there are as many as nine people playing on this song and yet the orchestration (I hope I’m using that word right) still sounds minimal. Everyone contributes just what they have to and there’s not much in the way of showboating. I mean, Adrian Belew (one of my favorite guitarists) plays on the tracks on the debut album but he relegates himself to a little guitar-coloring here and there instead of unleashing his standard twang-bar pyrotechnics. This is a fine cover but I’m going to pick the original every time so a bit of a lower ranking than it maybe deserves.
9. Don’t Say No
From 1988’s Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom, First Single
I absolutely love the verses on this song (the “Oh… Oh… Oh oh oh oh” interjections are infectious as all get out) but am really pretty “meh” on the choruses. I wish I’d discovered this one in 1988 instead of just focusing on the one song I really dug (again, see #2) because it sounds just like the sort of stuff I played on half my shows. Oh well.
8. Sunshine and Ecstasy
From 1992’s Dark Sneak Love Action, First Single
Chris Frantz breaks out some rapping on this one. When I first heard Pitbull rap on Usher’s “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love Again,” my first thought was “oh, well, I guess Chris Frantz’s rapping wasn’t as cringe inducing as I thought it was.” “Sunshine and Ecstasy” was a great combination of Tom Tom Club’s typical stylistic elements and the rising tide of 90’s dance music. There were also some touches of Yello (specifically the “I Can Feel It” responses to the “Feel my heart beat” refrains) and of course that rap (that gets repeated with no variation). The video is a bit of a “white people showing that they have no funk” disaster, but the song itself is pretty good for the most part and often very catchy.
7. The Man with the 4-Way Hips
From 1983’s Close to The Bone, First Single
I remember hearing an ad for this album on either the radio or TV at one point. The Tom Tom Club debut had been such a huge, unexpected hit that the label must have been trying to push the follow-up record a bit. It didn’t really catch on in quite the same way – I think they might have adhered to closely to the formula of the debut album. “The Man with the 4-Way Hips” is a fun song, but it could just have easily been a song from their first album and I suspect that fans were listening for something new (besides, if you’re in a dance club, why play this new song when you can still fill up the dance floor playing “Genius of Love?”).
6. Happiness Can’t Buy Money
From 2000’s The Good, The Bad and The Funky, Second Single
Odds are pretty good you’ve not heard this song unless you’re a superfan, but I encourage you to give it a listen. Weymouth’s vocals haven’t changed but this is the sound of Tom Tom Club rocking out and its really very appealing. The song title kind of tells you everything you need to know about the lyrics (in a good way). Tom Tom Club has only released one album since 2000 (in 2012, they released a pretty decent record called Downtown Rockers which didn’t have any singles as near as I can tell) so this is the “newest” single on the list (and its 17 years old).
5. Wordy Rappinghood
From 1982’s Tom Tom Club, First Single
Do I like this song? Does it make me want to hurl my computer out of the window in a rage when I listen to it? Yes to both? “Wordy Rappinghood” was Tom Tom Club’s first single. That nonsense word chorus was used in an in-house made promo for WRBC and every time I heard it in that context, I wanted to unplug the station permanently for the good of humanity. On the other hand, the rest of the track is really quite fun and (for 1982) innovative. Frantz and Weymouth were New York musicians and, thus, were pretty plugged in to all different kinds of NYC scenes. They had a huge interest in the rap scene and several songs on the debut album were influenced by (and later extensively sampled by) rap musicians. The lyrics here would make this a good track on a playlist consisting of “Elephant Talk” by King Crimson and “AEIOU Sometimes Y” by EBN/OZN, among other songs about words.
4. You Sexy Thing
From 1992’s Dark Sneak Love Action, Second Single
Chris Frantz clearly loves singing “you sexy thing yow” on this track. This is, in my opinion, Tom Tom Club’s best cover song. Its again a really good fit for Weymouth’s vocal style in specific and for the band’s love of funk in general. I first heard them perform this while watching David Letterman and was pretty much immediately sold on it. I suspect Dark Sneak Love Action was the band’s attempt to craft a career that was independent from parallel development with Talking Heads but it didn’t quite catch on the way they’d hoped (despite some decent songs) and Frantz and Weymouth reunited with Harrison to form The Heads pretty soon after.
3. Pleasure of Love
From 1983’s Close To The Bone, Second Single
In the pre-internet days, if you heard a song you liked and didn’t quite get the title, finding it again could be challenging. I knew I liked “Genius of Love” but when I saw there was a Tom Tom Club song titled “Pleasure of Love,” I thought it might be that song. It is not. Nope. Not even close. When I played it on WRBC in 1985 thinking it was “Genius of Love,” I kept waiting for the iconic little keyboard melody and it never arrived. Indeed, nothing from that song ever arrived. Fortunately, this is a very good song in its own right. Its just not “Genius of Love.”
From 1988’s Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom, Second Single
This was a minor hit in the UK and a major hit on my radio show on WRBC. I played it pretty regularly for a whole semester. Earlier Tom Tom Club songs were a little more minimalistic and I confess this one felt a little more “designed for pop radio airplay,” but its just so good. Its lyrically in the tradition of “Octopus’ Garden” (or, more obscurely, The Three O’Clock’s ” target=”_blank”>”Underwater”). The title of its parent album comes from the sung refrain between verses on this track – certainly easy to remember! I’m not sure anyone else in the United States loved this song as much as I did – perhaps not even the band. Who can say? I especially love the subtle little keyboard line.
1. Genius of Love
From 1982’s Tom Tom Club, Second Single
I admit I don’t often select a band’s best loved song as my top choice. This isn’t by design – I just have usually heard the best known songs so much that I’ve grown maybe a little tired of them sometimes. I’m not sure its possible to grow tired of “Genius Of Love.” This is why everybody samples it to this day. The naive little keyboard line? The beat? The “whatchagonnado when you get out of jail” business? The unison singing that is both a throw-back to smooth jazz of the 60’s and entirely new in the 80’s? This song has so much going for it. “Genius of Love,” I hope, provided Frantz and Weymouth with a retirement fund and with college tuition for their kids. And a house. I hope, as I said. It also means that whenever they play live to this day, they have at least one song that absolutely everyone wants to hear. That’s not a bad thing at all.
Coming Soon: Less Tom Tom, More Heads.