Episode 4: TOM TOM CLUB

tom-tom-club

TOM TOM CLUB – Tom Tom Club – Sire Records – 1981

The year is 1981 and pop culture is exploding around the world — Raiders of the Lost Ark premieres, the wreckage of the Titanic is found, and Lady Diana Spencer marries Charles, Prince of Wales. The music industry is coming out of one of its worst slumps in decades, dealing with the backlash against disco music, and tucked away at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads record their first album as Tom Tom Club.

The album will become one of the most popular post-disco dance records of the ’80s and gross more than any of the four albums Talking Heads had released to that point. It incorporates international musical techniques and influences, giving the songs a flavor that expands the post-punk art rock sound Tina and Chris had established with Talking Heads, and sets the tone for the new directions that they would take in their musical careers.

While this album can definitely be dated to the early ’80s, we are in love with how it simultaneously sounds fresh and exciting to our millennial ears. In this episode, we explore the sound combinations that make this album the joyous thing that it is, discuss its legacy and relevance, and speak about why Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz are two artists who inspire us big time.

Listen to Tom Tom Club: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

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Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Here’s a brief timeline of Tom Tom Club’s formation and growth.
  • Tom Tom Club’s first album was not only a greater commercial success than the previous Talking Heads albums; they partially credit it with giving Talking Heads new life when a split seemed imminent.
  • Chris Blackwell is a real MVP and a true BAMF.
  • The chorus of “Wordy Rappinghood” is a riff on the Moroccan childhood tune “A Ram Sam Sam,” and, if you grew up in the ‘90s (or raised kids then), this version might ring a bell.
  • This documentary short on “Wordy Rappinghood” explains everything, in their own words (and, by the way, we could totally go for one of these for each song on this album…)
  • Some (very brief) notes on the origins of early rap:
    • Rap’s origin is based around NYC block parties uptown in the early ‘70s, but it wasn’t something people took seriously — commercially, at least — until the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979 and Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” in 1980.
    • Meanwhile, downtown, Blondie released “Rapture” in 1981, which was Billboard’s first #1 rap song, as well as the first rap video to play on MTV, opening the door for a broader interpretation of rap from a new musical community.
    • Here’s a little starter guide about the birth of rap.
  • Everyone and their mother knows “Genius of Love” and if you don’t, you’ve probably spent your life in a cave (sorry, but honestly…), because about a million artists have sampled or covered it.
  • This two and a half hour lecture with Chris and Tina at the Red Bull Music Academy is so thorough and comprehensive and pure geek heaven, and, at the same time, not nearly enough — it makes you (okay, us) want to have a longer conversation and soak in their knowledge and experiences even more.
  • Peep our ‘Further watching’ links below to watch two must-see performances of “Genius of Love” — one, a grand production from Stop Making Sense, the other, a sparse, acoustic performance from NPR’s Tiny Desk.
  • Here are the translated lyrics to “L’Elephant,” if you’d like a more thorough translation than Carrie’s 7th grade-level one. (She tried.)
    • Food for thought from Carrie’s subpar French: the French word for “to kill” sounds a lot like the phrase for “you are” — tuer vs. tu est — which, when repeated in the coda, could perhaps be interpreted as an implication or accusation of complicity. Or, it could just sound cool.
  • Listen to “Lorelei.” Then listen to “Suboceana” (from their third album, Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom). Repeat. Tell us if you agree with Carly’s belief that they are sister songs (we love sister songs).
    • “Lorelei” sounds like a song that would be a Pitchfork fave if it were released today, and makes us think of a slew of artists who are influenced by Tom Tom Club, from Tennis to Vampire Weekend to Haim (fun fact: Este Haim decided to switch from guitar to bass after watching Tina in Stop Making Sense) to Jenny Lewis (in all incarnations: solo, with Rilo Kiley, or with Nice As Fuck)
    • Honestly, we just really want a Jenny Lewis – Tom Tom Club cover session to happen.
  • “On, On, On, On” is the new resistance anthem, pass it on.
    • Again, another Nice As Fuck-y song — play NAF’s “Door” video. Play it again on mute with “On, On, On, On” playing in the background. Woke.
  • Pssttt — follow us on Spotify to hear all the songs we discuss on this episode that influenced and were influenced by Tom Tom Club in our ongoing master playlist.
  • A brief history of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz being WOKE AF:
    • This 1983 feminist bop called “This is a Foxy World” that is also our new resistance anthem (although we lament that it’s still a spot-on critique of today’s society)
    • On the “being a woman in rock” trope (circa 1984)
    • Being pre-woke about the changing music industry in 1999 (scroll to the part about $50 concert tickets — we would love to know what they think about the whole $500 VIP ticket racket that’s prevalent today).
    • This.
    • This badass segment in the “Girls in Bands” doc (starts around 27:30), but mostly this here-for-this-write-this-down-and-frame-it moment: “If you want to do something, just do it. Don’t talk about it — and don’t criticize other women. If they want to go out and swing on a wrecking ball naked, why not? Let them do what they want. We’re just smart, as women, because we have our balls neatly tucked inside where they’re protected, and that’s that.” 
  • We’re highkey into this pro-choice PSA from 1991 that featured Tina.
  • Here’s just one piece of context to what we mean when we describe “Booming and Zooming” as a Brian Eno-esque track.
  • The original vinyl album was rereleased with a cover of The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk” replacing “Booming And Zooming” as the final track.
    • Fun fact: Tom Tom Club albums frequently include covers of a song previously done by men, with Tina singing lead, because they are not here for your gender stereotypes.
    • These include: “Under the Boardwalk” on Tom Tom Club, “Femme Fatale” on Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom (sure, Nico sang it for the Velvet Underground first, but it’s still a very Lou Reed song), and “You Sexy Thing” on Dark Sneak Love Action (which is our personal favorite).
  • Tom Tom Club became their full-time band after the Talking Heads split up; their most recent album, Downtown Rockers, was released in 2012.
  • We’re up on our legacy soapbox again and we would love to talk with you about how, as millennials, we want to make sure music that came before us lives on forever — email us, follow us on Facebook (thanks to everyone who asked if they could find us there — we’re on the ‘book now), or tweet at us
  • We are passionate about classic music that has legs beyond its era of origin, and established artists that continue to grow and expand and embrace new technologies and stay in touch with new generations of listeners. Tom Tom Club does this, and they have our utmost respect for that.

Favorite track(s): Genius of Love (Carly) | Wordy Rappinghood and Genius of Love (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Booming And Zooming (Carly) | Booming And Zooming (Carrie)

Album Credits:
Adrian Belew – Guitar
Chris Frantz – Drums, Co-Producer
Tina Weymouth – Bass, Vocals, Co-Producer
Monte Browne – Guitar
Tyrone Downie – Keyboards
Uziah “Sticky” Thompson – Percussion
Lani Weymouth – Vocals
Laura Weymouth – Vocals
Steven Stanley – Co-Producer, Engineer
Benji Armbrister – Engineer
Kendall Stubbs – Engineer
James Rizzi – Cover art

Further watching:
Tom Tom Club: Red Bull Music Academy Tokyo lecture | November 2014
Tom Tom Club: NPR Tiny Desk Concert | October 2010
Wordy Rappinghood doc | 2009
Genius of Love (Stop Making Sense) | December 1983

Further Reading:
Tina Weymouth Writes a Letter to Her Younger Self | i-D [Vice] (January 2017)
The Best 200 Songs of the 1980s | Pitchfork (August 2015)
Rockers Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth Talk Marriage | Rolling Stone (July 2013)
How We Met: Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth | The Independent (March 2013)
Talking Tom Tom Club: Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth Interviewed | The Quietus (July 2011)

“OKAY, BYE!”

 

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