Sunday, March 29, 2020


I had no idea about this music video existed until I came across a screenshot online of a dog, thought it looked like something from a cartoon series, and clicked on it. What did I get? The sound of one of the most sampled guitar riffs of both the 1980s and 1990s, and wild imagery that spans everything from your childhood drawings to Piet Mondrian. I’m glad I clicked.

“Genius of Love” is the title track from the 1981 album by Tom Tom Club, a band formed by married couple Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, as a side project from the band Talking Heads – Frantz, playing drums, and David Byrne recruited Weymouth in 1974 to play bass guitar, and they married in 1977. The lyrics, sung by Weymouth, are a testament to the power of the boyfriend - “Time isn’t present in that dimension” and “he’s got a greater depth of feeling” - while listing the musicians and singers who take her to that same level, like Bootsy Collins, Smokey Robinson and James Brown. (Click here for when I discussed “Wordy Rappinghood”, another song from the same album.)

Tom Tom Club is not a simple husband-and-wife duo like the White Stripes purported to be, but also an umbrella term for the groups Wentworth and Frantz formed to make their albums. As a result, the very distinctive keyboard sounds on “Genius of Love” are from Tyrone Downie, of Bob Marley and the Wailers, while the guitar comes from Adrian Belew, who worked with Frank Zappa and David Bowie before leading the band King Crimson.

The video feels amazingly lo-fi. I thought I had come across an episode of “Roobarb,” about the rivalry of the eponymous dog and Custard the cat, animated by Bob Godfrey using felt-tip pens on paper. The style used by the series, where lines constantly move even when characters and objects stand still, is technically known as “boiling.” The “Genius of Love” video is made the same way, but the boiling also comes from the dizzying array of images thrown at you, from figures that turn into shapes, and the patterns that appear to have made their way into 1980s postmodernist designs by the Memphis group and others.

The video builds on the work of New York pop artist James Rizzi, who created the cover to Tom Tom Club’s first two albums, and whose style appears to be a maximalist, overwhelming even more colourful version of Keith Haring’s work. It can only be considered child-like in the bold and frantic use of flat, primary and secondary colours, and because few of his faces, if any, do nothing but smile. The animation by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, also directors of the “New Frontier” video for Donald Fagen that we talked about here, later the creators of “Max Headroom” and directors of the “Super Mario Bros.” film – yes, that one - preserved the energy of Rizzi’s art, while throwing as many images into the melting pot as possible. Jankel and Morton also channelled Rizzi for a later Tom Tom Club video, “Pleasure of Love,” which rendered the line art in neon.

After “Genius of Love,” both single and album, was released in 1981, it was sampled in a rap song, “Genius Rap” by Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde, before the year had ended. The following year, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five used it for “It’s Nasty.” Public Enemy, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent, and Ice Cube have all used it, and it formed the basis of songs as diverse as Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” and Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack.” “Genius of Love” is just about the most sampled track of the 1980s – when you hear it for the first time, you will feel as if you heard it your entire life, because you have.

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