Between late 1979 and the end of 1989, there were nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 just one time, a list that includes Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Timbuk 3, The Church, Bronski Beat, Nik Kershaw, The Buggles, The Waitresses, Ultravox and two different bands named The Silencers. Once a week, I’ll highlight a (real) one-hit wonder for you.
In 1981, NYC’s Talking Heads was on a break between albums, and Tom Tom Club was born, founded by one-half of Talking Heads – real-life husband and wife Chris Frantz (drummer) and Tina Weymouth (bass, backing vocals).
Tom Tom Club actually started out as a side project between Talking Heads albums, exploring more of a combo platter of New Wave, Synthpop, Funk and Dance Rock, and was comprised of Chris and Tina, and whoever they could get to help out, including Tina’s three sisters on backing vocals, and Adrian Belew, the then-new frontman, singer and guitarist of the legendary Prog Rock band, King Crimson.
Chris and Tina actually got the name Tom Tom Club from a dancehall in the Bahamas while Talking Heads were on hiatus in 1980. They had bought a house in Nassau, Bahamas, and their new neighbor was Chris Blackwell, owner of Island Records, who arranged for some studio time for them at his own Compass Point Studios.
The result was their first single, “Wordy Rappinghood,” released on Island in the U.K. and other parts of the globe in mid-February 1981. People were enamored with this fun, quirky hit, and it reached the Top 10 in the U.K., France, Holland, Ireland, Italy and Spain, and spent a week at No. 1 in Belgium in September 1981.
That month also saw the release of the second Tom Tom Club single, “Genius Of Love,” followed by the release of their self-titled debut album. At this point, the singles and album had not been released in America. When “Genius Of Love” was released worldwide but not in the U.S., demand was so high that 100,000 copies of the single were sold as imports. Well, that (finally!) prompted Sire Records to make a deal with Chris and Tina and the album was released (finally!) in late 1981.
Three weeks into 1982, “Genius Of Love” (paired with “Wordy Rappinghood”) spent a week at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart. A week later, “Genius Of Love” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 87. For nearly three months, it made a slow climb up the chart, before making a big leap into the Top 40 in April 1982. Their time in the Top 40 was short-lived, though.
“Genius Of Love” spent a couple weeks at No. 31 and departed the Hot 100 after 17 weeks. The single did, however, reach No. 2 on BILLBOARD’s R&B chart, and though they released six studio albums between 1981 and 2012, and a number a singles, Tom Tom Club wouldn’t reach the Hot 100 again.
“Genius Of Love” (along with songs like “Wordy Rappinghood” and their sweet cover of “Under The Boardwalk”) were instrumental in getting its parent album certified for a Gold album here in the U.S. in 1982.
Over the years, “Genius Of Love” has been sampled many times, mostly by Rap / Hip-Hop artists like Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, 50 Cent and 2Pac, but was most notably sampled by Mariah Carey in 1995, and her song “Fantasy,” which spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100. Chris and Tina were apparently on board with the sample, and I’m hoping they (along with “Genius Of Love” co-writers Adrian Belew and Steven Stanley) got a crapload of money for it.
You know, Tom Tom Club may have started out as a side project, but many years ago, they outlasted Talking Heads and they are still together today. I sadly missed them every time they came to Portland, but if they ever returned, you can bet I’d be there. I wouldn’t have said that in 1981, though.
I confess to you here that when “Genius Of Love” was climbing the Top 40 in early 1982, you could prolly hear me saying, “What the hell is this?!” In my youth. I eventually caught up to everyone else and grew to love the song as I stepped away from my youth, and couldn’t imagine my life without it today. For starters, it’s a damn fun Dance song with a creative video (even Frank Zappa was a fan), and it pays tribute to fellow musicians like Bootsy Collins, Smokey Robinson, Bob Marley, Sly And Robbie, Kurtis Blow, James Brown.
In the nine months I’ve been doing this bloggy thing, I’ve noticed the process can be pretty funny. I’ve written posts and had revelations about the song I’m writing about while working on the post. And I just had another one. Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth are geniuses – of music and of love. They’ve been together for nearly 40 years, and in the entertainment industry, that’s pretty Goddamn impressive. But, they also got me to love their song. It took awhile, and maybe some kick-ass Talking Heads songs in between, but I finally got there. I’m not only in heaven when I hear “Genius Of Love,” but it’s definitely what I consider fun, natural fun…