When “Genius Of Love ” by Tom Tom Club (a side project from Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth) was released back in 1981, did they really expect the huge impact this little tune would have?
Maybe not in the commercial sense, at least not that much. While a hit in the dance clubs, the song only peaked at 31 on the Billboard chart. Then again, Talking Heads were more used to being critical darlings and alternative favorites than megastars in a more conventional way.
And yet, Tom Tom Club truly created something unique with “Genius Of Love”, a song with a way longer shadow and influence in pop culture.
The sample was kept in circulation for several years, But when it really reached new heights was in the next decade. In 1995, it was part of one of the biggest hits of that year, Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.”
This particular mix of R&B, pop, hip-hop, and alternative, was number one on the charts. It proved to be the combination nobody knew they needed, but ended up paving a new form of thinking into what we conceive of as a “mainstream” hit.
And its legacy was still far from being over. The list of artists who sampled “Genius Of Love” — one way or another — includes Public Enemy, 2Pac, and Busta Rhymes. Just last year, it was part of Latto’s single “Big Energy”.
Now, the big question might be, why it has lasted for so long?
As a song, it’s just catchy. Maybe sometimes things are as simple as that, but then again, a lot of songs are “good and catchy,” yet don’t have the shelf life that “Genius of Love” has enjoyed.
Maybe it goes deeper. In the lyrics, you can hear references to James Brown, Bob Marley, and Hamilton Bohannon. It’s a joyful celebration of some of the biggest names in both African American and Black music in general. It achieved a very delicate equilibrium: it doesn’t feel too phony or an obvious act of pandering. It just wants to have fun and delivers on its promise.
Once you comprehend its historic place, you’re reminded that it actually sounds different from what was being done at the time: not exactly disco, not quite New Wave, and yet not really that out of place in either genre. There’s a timeless feeling to it; it sounds good today because it still sounds modern. Chances are we’ll hear it in the future, and it will sound as fresh as when it was recorded.
Let’s not forget its constant use in film and TV. From Anchorman 2 to the raunchy characters of South Park, the song has claimed a place in the pop culture landscape that few have gained.
Basically, “Genius of Love,” with its formula of being basic yet well-composed, unique yet adaptable, is truly a work of genius.
PS — While we’re on the topic of Rock History, you might enjoy our YouTube series of daily one-minute nuggets of memorable moments…
Fair Use image of “Tom Tom Club” album