Tom Tom Club Perform “Genius of Love”

Here’s a clip of Tom Tom Club’s infectious 1981 dance floor filler “Genius of Love”, taken from their self-titled debut album. This is the sound of early 80s dance music at its best, folks: funky, sexy, yet somehow more innocent than the dance music of today. To me, it’s the sound of adolescence.

Tom Tom Club, 1981
Tom Tom Club, 1981

The group is actually an off-shoot project as led by bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz, both of Talking Heads, expanding on the more funk-oriented interests of that parent band, along with an exploration of early hip hop textures. The ‘band’ Tom Tom Club was initially more of a collective than a traditional group, with Weymouth and Frantz acting as musical fulcrums for the contributions of guests.

It is important to note that on the New York club circuit in the late 70s-early 80s, dance music was the leader of the pack, and punk coming out of CBGBs, a scene in which the ‘Heads flourished, was just a stray pup trailing behind in comparison. Needless to say, this is a very New York track, as much as any music coming out of the punk clubs of the time. The world which this track typifies is where a young and hungry Madonna would make her name, and build her initial sound.

And of course, then there was the nascent hip hop scene, in which this track would play an important role too. It would be sampled heavily by disparate artists in that genre, starting with Grandmaster Flash and Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde. It would later hit the mainstream in the 90s, when it was sampled for the Mariah Carey track “Fantasy”. That’s what I call a groove with mileage, despite what you may think of Mariah Carey.

Through the life of the Tom Tom Club ‘vehicle’, Weymouth and Frantz would release a number of albums spread out across the decades from ’81 to the 21st century, with the project becoming their main focus when Talking Heads broke up officially in 1991. They kept their eyes on the urban scene, using it as a sort of stylistic horizon while adding in influences from other genres. The project remains to be a going concern for the pair, recently playing shows with Devo, their early 80s classmates. Yet, this song marks their biggest mainstream success.

For more about Tom Tom Club, boogie on down to the official Tom Tom Club site.


Gil Scott-Heron ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’

Gil Scott-HeronHere’s a clip of Gil Scott-Heron’s most famous spoken word piece, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, taken from his 1971 album Pieces of a Man.

Gil Scott-Heron is thought to be one of the progenitors of hip-hop, approaching his early efforts with a spoken word ‘rap’ as backed by an insistent groove, with some counterbalancing jazz flute acting as a foil to his strident vocal delivery. His was the street-level voice of a black man concerned that the larger American culture was leaving his community behind in the wake of cultural distractions.

Among these distractions was television and commercialism which took attention away from what was happening in neighbourhoods in cities all over America – that the poverty cycle and disillusionment caused by it was reaching a breaking point. Where Marvin Gaye was angered and saddened by this same trend as expressed in his “Inner City Blues” put out that same year, Scott-Heron is full of disdain and sarcasm, listing off the banalities of white America measured against the anger and rising tension that stood in contrast with it.

Whether or not Scott-Heron can be traced to today’s hip-hop in general is arguable, although his connection to individual hip hop artists like Grandmaster Flash (‘The Message’), The Disposal Heroes of Hiphoprisy (‘Television, The Drug of the Nation’), and Public Enemy (‘Fight the Power’) is pretty undeniable in terms of tone and subject matter. What Scott-Heron was trying to do with this piece and other early poetry pieces he’d done while working in the same vein as contemporaries the Last Poets was to shed light on what was happening in the inner cities.

Hip Hop today, for the most part with those listed exceptions in mind, is about rising out of what is happening there, and escaping it. Absent from modern hip hop is the concern for the community that is so endemic to Scott-Heron’s work, it seems to me. In its place is the same banal materialism that he is speaking out against in “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”.

What do you think, good people? I’m sure there are examples which prove this generalization of mine wrong. Are there some striking examples of social commentary and concern left in modern hip hop? I’d love to be turned on, hip hop fans!