Wanna know how I was introduced to this legendary cut by the Tom Tom Club?
Well, aside from it being sampled by Mariah Carey for her monumental track, “Fantasy.”
I was around 13 years old, and on weekdays I’d wake up early before school and watch Pop Up Video (man, remember that show?!) on MuchMoreMusic, Canada’s version of VH-1. After the show they’d play older music videos. One day I slept in a little late, and when I woke up, I switched to the channel to see the visuals for “Genius of Love.”
And fam, I was NOT ready for how kaleidoscopically weird it was. Moment after moment of dreamlike and somewhat creepy animated people, animals, and more, transforming, shifting, and colliding over an odd, funky beat with nonsensical lines and adlibs. It was a trip, like an LSD hit done up in markers, and for my groggy 13 year old self it was so out there that I didn’t know what to make of it. I clearly remember telling a friend of mine later in class about this really strange video I saw at 7 in the morning. That was my proper introduction to this song, and later I would come to realize just how significant and dope a listen it is.
An offshoot of the legendary act Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club is a collective of artists including Talking Heads co-founder Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz. The group came together during the Heads’ hiatus in 1980 and took a sly, spacey, dance-oriented approach to music, with the band’s name cribbed from a Bahamas dancehall club. In 1981 they released their self-titled debut, a quirky and fun little record which became an underground sensation off the strength of this listen right here.
“Genius of Love” became a dance floor staple when it hit in the fall of ’81, a perfect bop for those downtown Manhattan clubs. There’s something irresistible about this listen, from the propulsive bassline that’ll crack your spine from its funkiness to the breezy guitar work and the iconic nursery-rhyme like lyrics (“Whatcha gonna do when you get outta jail?”). It’s unique, playful, and just so damn cool, and listening to it now I’m still blown away by how fresh it sounds.
“Genius of Love” had a major effect on popular music. Not long after release it became an enduring hip-hop sample (Beginning in ’82 with “Genius Rap” by Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde and “It’s Nasty” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five), and over the years the song has been reused, re-envisioned, and referenced constantly in pop culture (like Mariah). Its success would convince Talking Heads frontman David Byrne to resume the band as well. It’s just an absolutely timeless listen.
Oh yeah, and here’s the music video if you haven’t seen it already. Get ready, cuz it’s gonna be weird.