Chart Week: April 10, 1982
Song: “Genius of Love” – Tom Tom Club
Chart Position: #37, 12th week on the chart. Peaked at #31 for two weeks.
(Administrative note: this is the second RFTS entry from this chart week. The first is here.)
This entry is both about the song and about the radio station on which I heard it the most as a kid.
Tom Tom Club was a side project of married couple Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, members of Talking Heads. In Tom Tom Club, they branched out from Talking Heads more avant-garde sound into dance-oriented music. Which made sense as they served as Talking Heads rhythm section, Frantz on drums and Weymouth on bass.
“Genius of Love” was the biggest song of Tom Tom Club’s career. It topped the the Billboard Disco chart and reached #2 on the Hot Soul Singles chart. More on that in a second.
That success on the Disco and Soul charts wasn’t enough to drive strong pop chart success. “Genius of Love” slowly simmered on the pop charts for three months before it finally cracked the Top 40. From its peak at #31, it dropped a massive 54 spots to #85 in early May and was gone soon after.
Yet the song made its mark. Thanks to its overall funkiness and its shoutouts to legends of the Black music world, it got serious airplay on Black radio. From that exposure, it became one of the most sampled songs of the 1980s, both in other dance and R&B songs, and in hip hop.
My early knowledge of the song came from its more obscure chart success. In the early ‘80s, my mom bounced around in her default radio stations. She would listen to pop stations, to adult contemporary stations, and to Kansas City’s only soul station, 103.3 KPRS.
KPRS was a whole new world to me when we moved to Kansas City from a small town in southeast Missouri. My parents had long listened to “Black” music, but it was to crossover artists like the Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire, Donna Summer, and so on that they heard on pop and disco stations. When we moved to Kansas City in 1980 and they began listening to KPRS, I was hearing all kinds of soul artists that I had never heard before.
More importantly, KPRS was truly a Black station. It was the first Black-owned radio station west of the Mississippi, and remains the oldest continuously Black-owned station in the country. All the DJs were Black. It featured a nightly news bulletin from the National Black Network, which certainly brought a different perspective than what the AM news-talk stations were providing. Biggest was how KPRS ran ads from Black-owned businesses you just didn’t hear on Q–104, KY–102, and ZZ–99. Harold Pener’s clothing store is the most memorable example. Listening to KPRS in the early 1980s opened my ears to a whole different world.
So how do we tie together “Genius of Love” with KPRS? Well, KPRS played very few white artists back in the day. And often it was just individual songs by white artists they would play. Hall & Oates were an obvious cross-over point, but really only “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “One on One” got serious airplay on KPRS. Teena Marie was white, but she was basically a Black artist and KPRS played many of her songs. And then “Genius of Love,” with its totally funky sound, got airplay.
KPRS used “Genius of Love” in a weird way, though. KPRS was an automated station for a long stretch of that era. Before the NBN news bulletin at five minutes to the hour, the computer would often select “Genius of Love” to fill in the gap before the news ran. If there were six minutes until the news, “Genius” would play once, jump back to the song’s midway point, and begin again. If there were two minutes until the news, the first two minutes would play before it abruptly cut off and the news began. The nights when the computer got confused and began playing it too early, over another song, and then re-started it multiple times to attempt to get the timing synced up always made me laugh. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but looking back this low-tech, high-tech moment is pretty charming.
Thus the song was cemented into my memory.
- Apparently this has changed, to much controversy, in recent years. ↩