By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
While vacationing in the Bahamas, Weymouth and Frantz dreamed up seven unforgettably sweet notes that would become the signature riff of their newly formed band the Tom Tom Club: 1981's Top 40 single "Genius of Love." With Monty Brown and Stephen Stanley, they formed the nucleus of what would later become an ever-shifting group of players. "Chris and I have always made a record and then invited friends to come and join us," Weymouth explains. "And they're all people who are extraordinary in their own right. People who have been -- for one reason or another -- neglected."
Securing an identity separate from anything involving Talking Heads, Frantz and Weymouth enlisted Parliament Funkadelic's Bernie Worell, among others, to launch into tropical party-thong mode with music as sunny and danceable as pop culture could muster. They struck international paydirt, too, as "Genius" topped charts in seventeen different countries with a simple question that any overt intellectual need never bother trying to answer: "Who needs to think when your feet just go?" A delirious homage to George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Kurtis Blow, Smokey Robinson, Bob Marley, Sly Stone and -- Mr. please, please himself -- James Brown, the tune remains one of the most sampled to date. Grandmaster Flash, Ziggy Marley, Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, Puff Daddy and Mariah Carey have all used it as a key ingredient in various arrangements. "Wordy Rappinghood," a playful typewriter-accompanied ditty, plus a cover version of "Under the Boardwalk" likewise became big singles -- bigger than anything Talking Heads had produced up to that point.
"It was a period of crossroads," Weymouth says. "We didn't know what was going to happen."
Evidently delighted with the results, the beat-happening side project reconvened two years later with the same basic cast (including Weymouth sisters Lani and Laura, aka the Sweetbreaths) for Close to the Bone, a fanciful but less interesting collection of metronomic sing-songery about freedom, equality, a man with four-way hips and life being great; it prompted music scholar Robert Christgau to question the dubious merits of "when rich white people find the meaning of life in the tropics." (But what does he know?) Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom, from 1989, involved both Byrne and Harrison for a curious rendition of the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" -- perhaps one last jaunt down Manhattan Lane before Talking Heads would call it quits at the close of the decade.
Weymouth and Frantz spent part of the '90s making one other Tom Tom album -- 1992's easygoing Dark Sneak Love Action -- but used the bulk of it to establish their own label, Tip Top Music. The pair handled production for Garbage canary Shirley Manson, Argentina's Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and the now-deceased Yemenite singer Oprah Haza. They also joined up with Harrison in 1996 for a last-ditch attempt at convincing Byrne to reconsider a reunion. He declined -- vehemently. In what probably seemed like a good idea at the time, the three baptized themselves anew and abbreviated as the Heads and carried on without their original frontman. They recorded an album of new material with an odd collection of twelve disparate vocalists -- a glaring case of having too many cooks in the kitchen if there ever was one. Think of it: sex relics from the CBGB days like Deborah Harry and Richard Hell alongside Live's god-squaddin' Ed Kowalczyk. Gordon Gano and Andy Partridge sharing the marquee with that dullard Michael Hutchence from INXS. Why not hold auditions in New York's Port Authority? Paging Psycho Killer!
"We were trying to avoid the inevitable David Byrne comparisons, and, unfortunately, even doing that we didn't manage to avoid them," Frantz concedes. "It seemed like maybe the timing wasn't right for that kind of thing. Though I think it's a very good record, and we're very appreciative to the singers involved. We recorded a whole other Heads album which is in the can, but the reaction was so..." He pauses, then continues, "We're waiting for the right time. It's all about timing."
Upon its release, critics beat No Talking Just Head like a flaming piñata. Byrne even filed a lawsuit to stop the Heads from touring and releasing albums under their new name ("Squawking Head," August 21, 1997), then subsequently dropped the suit for reasons he hasn't made public.
So what's a poor rhythm section to do?
If their new self-produced disc The Good The Bad and The Funky is any indicator, Frantz and Weymouth made the right decision to revert to what they do best: making nonstop, butt-shakin' party jam music as the Tom Tom Club. Praise Jah. The recording is sweet and serene. It booms and zooms with seductive girlie vocals and rock-steady drumming. It's fun -- natural fun. The band playfully resurrects "Love to Love You Baby," first done by pouty Donna Summer, the sultry vixen who single-handedly brought heavy breathing to dangerous new heights in the '70s. Better yet is a cover of Lee "Scratch" Perry's "Soul Fire" (Perry was originally slated to produce the Toms' first album but never showed), as refreshing as two blunts and a bottle of Red Stripe. "He's the Brian Eno of Jamaica," Weymouth says. "In fact, he invented a style. Here's a guy who hasn't received the recognition that he's due. All hail Lee 'Scratch' Perry!"