Hindsight Is Everything: Making A Case For Tom Tom Club!
Next time you're in the car with a group of friends, co-workers, or, I dunno, hitchhikers, play the song "Genius of Love" by Tom Tom Club and see what happens.
Chances are all conversation will come to a halt, a disco ball you never knew was there will drop from the ceiling, and everyone will come as close to dancing in their seats as humanly possible while the wheels of the automobile in question begin to float three inches above the ground.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for anything in the Talking Heads' canon; not "Once In A Lifetime", not "Psycho Killer", not even "Life During Wartime".
Sure, the Talking Heads had enigmatic frontman David Byrne to inject his unique visual presence and authoritarian angst into the proceedings, but, without him, the band's rhythm section of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth would soar to amazing musical heights with much the same backing musicians appearing on record and stage with Talking Heads.
It's enough to make even the casual listener ask "Why didn't they just keep going as Tom Tom Club?"
After all, Talking Heads had all but broken up by 1981 after completing their touring commitments for their fourth studio album Remain In Light. More accurately, David Byrne had become disillusioned by the commercial expectations heaped upon the band and, at the same time, was enamored by ambient and world music genres.
While Byrne went off to record the sound of glaciers melting (My Life In The Bush of Ghosts) with Brian Eno and Jerry Harrison issued the straight-to-the-cut-out-bins The Red And The Black, Chris and Tina used their modest cache to rent out a hall in the Bahamas and let their funky freak flags fly.
At the time, this writer was but an innocent teenager viewing the progress of many a New York City-based band hailed by critics as the best thing since sliced bread and, to my ears anyway, the Heads were a damn fine funk band whose potential was continually stymied by a contrarian frontman more interested exploring the angular than the hormonal.
This is pop music, after all.
So it was with a certain amount of sadness that I read some years later that the success of Tom Tom Club had actually helped David Byrne see value in continuing with Talking Heads. Either that or the stunningly dull thud made by his and Eno's record hitting the record store bins and staying there had forced him to admit that he needed Weymouth and Frantz a helluva lot more than they needed him.
After all, the success of "Genius of Love" and "Wordy Rappinghood" had shown this husband-and-wife rhythm section that they could more than tread water musically and opened the door to potentially making this side project a full-time gig. Ultimately, though, with such success comes raised expectations and the need to make someone the focal point of the band. Perhaps, more than anything else, the disdain Tina may have held for being that center-of-attention led Chris and her to return to the comfortable confines of Talking Heads after two brilliant TTC albums.
In a brilliant stroke of perfect timing, during the entire three-year period the Talking Heads were on hiatus, MTV was not only born but grew rapidly into the monster that revitalized the music industry. This new, exciting visual phenomenon enabled David Byrne to guide the band to platinum status via a series of popular MTV videos that led to the landmark Jonathan Demme film "Stop Making Sense".
Of course, with the well-documented tensions between Byrne and the rest of Talking Heads these days, Chris & Tina have had all the time in the world to make Tom Tom Club their full-time gig, releasing the gritty funk-rock tour de force Downtown Rockers in 2012 and touring globally as recently as 2013.
Whatever the next chapter in the story of Tom Tom Club may hold, you can bet your ass it will be funky and that this writer will be there to cover it.
Superior St. Rehearsal Facility
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