Thursday, July 02, 2009

Music Box: 'Tom Tom Club' (1981) (2009 Reissue)

They say if you want something done right then you should do it yourself. So having spent considerable time and money, along with my pal Greg Jelinek, in "issuing" my own version of various albums that were never released on compact disc, I tend to be as leery as I am excited when records labels surprise me every so often and actually get around to putting some of these overlooked gems out themselves. Still, when word leaked out that a two-disc reissue of the Tom Tom Club's infectious debut album was in the works, complete with bonus disc of the band's hitherto unreleased-on-CD second record, "Close to the Bone, I was overjoyed. (Not to be a buzz kill -- I know it was part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Island Records -- but what IDIOT thought of releasing this album on CD in 2009 -- now that NO ONE buys CDs? Why wasn't this out between 1990 and 2000 when they were flying off the shelves and fans were KILLING for it??? But I digress ...)

Naturally, I'm always thrilled when the old tapes are properly converted to digital as my vinyl transfers -- no matter how talented my friend DJ Joe Ross is -- can hardly compete to the real thing. But more often than not, the record label forgets to dot all of its I's and cross all of its T's, so when the CD version finally comes out it frequently pales in comparison to what I've already come up with. Missing B-sides, crappy artwork and incorrect information are common problems -- Marilyn's "Despite Straight Lines" and the Romeo Void/Debora Iyall discs come to mind -- and you're left thinking, you had 20 YEARS to get this right and this is the best you could do?!

So how does "Tom Tom Club/Close to the Bone," um, measure up? Much to my surprise, I'd have to say it's nearly perfect. The sound is fantastic. (It's so great to finally hear my beloved "Never Took a Penny" and "Measure Up" without the hiss and crackle from my worn-out 1983 album.) And they even included the three remixes of "The Man With the 4-Way Hips" that Greg and I had fastidiously included on our "reissue." While it would have been nice to have the artwork from "Close to the Bone" more fully represented somewhere (see photo above for Greg's flawless replication of the cover mixed in with the other albums, above), the packaging is completely delightful and builds upon the timeless original work of James Rizzi, whose "Genius of Love" video won an MTV award for "Best Animated Video" in early '83. (The inclusion of the singles covers is sooooo Greg Jelinek!) The best part, however, is Ian Gilchrist 's loving liner notes, which fascinatingly detail the recording of the debut album that would influence an entire generation (Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry was supposed to have the con but he STOOD THE BAND UP as they waited in Compass Point Studios, Bahamas, for weeks! The label had originally ordered just a single but were so blown away that it was turned into an album deal! Grace Jones was recording in the studio next door!) The notes go on to explain the tumultuous recording of the dreaded followup (Babies, vegans and cocaine -- oh, my!) They even got to perform "Pleasure of Love" on "Soul Train," making them only the second white act to appear on the show. (Everyone knows "Genius of Love" has been sampled a million times; but did you know Diddy and LL Cool J made "Pleasure of Love" into songs, too?) The band's subsequent efforts, including the infamous Escape From New York tour with the Ramones and Debbie Harry in 1990, are detailed as well. (Really great stuff, Ian: would have loved to have heard how/why they chose to record "Under the Boardwalk, though; and should mention that Colombian -- as in Colombian-American -- and Combs -- as in Sean Puffy Combs -- were misspelled, and it's LL Cool J, not "Jay"!)

My only complaints about the reissue are this: While the new (non-"Close to the Bone") bonus tracks were a nice touch, why would you REMOVE two of the bonus tracks that were on the original CD pressing -- especially a remix of "Wordy Rappinghood" and a long version of "Genius of Love," two of the band's best-known songs? For one thing, there's PLENTY of room left of the disc for them to be included. And more annoyingly to me, doing this forces me to KEEP both discs instead of replacing the old one with the new. (I'm actually NOT a fan of remixes but I AM very anal.) And secondly, WHY didn't someone -- was that you, Chris Frantz? -- DOUBLE CHECK the sequencing and artwork? Two of the songs are listed INCORRECTLY on the disc AND on the artwork: "On, On, On, On ..." (remix) is really "Under the Boardwalk" and vice versa. (Oh, and the inside descriptions omit the word "remix," so it makes it look like "On, On, On, On ..." is just on there twice for no reason). Still, two rather modest misgivings given the shoddy work I've seen from other labels.

MY GRADE: "A": If you are a fan of the Tom Tom Club, you WILL want to shell out 30 bucks for this wonderful U.K. import.

"As Above So Below" (2017 video)

Here they are doing "Under the Boardwalk" in what looks like a reunion tour

"Genius of Love" (acoustic live version)

Performing "Wordy Rappinghood" in 1981!

And again at a 2009 Island Records celebration

  • Read all Music Box posts HERE.

    Francey said...

    Hi Kenneth - a couple of answers to your review:

    - 12 inches of "Wordy" and "Genius" were left out for three reasons: they were already released on previous CD editions of the album; There is also not enough room for both without leaving more essential (read: rarer) stuff off; To keep the 12inches with the right album, they'd have to be fitted on disk one, where obviousbly isn't even room for 1 extra track;

    - The tracklisting on the disks is the way it's ment to be, the artwork people at Universal mixed up the titles on the cover art. Apparently they also forgot to mention that OnOnOnOn from the "Boardwalk EP" is a remix. Just like they forgot the names of te versions of "The Man with the 4-Way Hips".

    - The release was supervised by Chris Frantz, but you can't expect him to check such trivial details at the spelling of a rappers sir-initial, can you ? ;-)

    Thanks for the review - hope you enjoy the album anyway :-)

    Frank Veldkamp

    Dishy said...

    Kenny - thanks for that great review! Of course I will also have to hold on to my old CD of the first album - those xtended mixes are must haves - why do bands do that? I have no room left on my CD shelves (I must have thousands)...I love me my hard copies - hard drives and back ups can crash - people will lose huge music collections.

    headbang8 said...


    I completely overstand your enthusiasm.

    Genius of Love was the very first song I heard as I walked into my very first gay bar.

    This takes me back a very sexually charged time in my life. The cool, understated, even-tempered rhythms cast a calm, intimate mood over my clunkiest seductions, and gave me a much higher success rate than I deserved.

    By the way, I think that the 2009 version of Wordy Rappinghood you shared is actually better than the original.

    Thanks you for this post. I got rid of my vinyl copies of both albums, assuming that I could replace them easily on CD. I have been TT Clubless, until now. You made my day.

    Sean said...

    I finally managed to pick this one up and listened to it all weekend! Good stuff. In the liner notes, I thought it was interesting that they mentioned that there is a 2nd Heads album in the vaults. I wonder if they had guest singers on that one too? It would be great if that ever saw the light of day.

    Sean said...

    I was just reading the liner notes in the new 2xCD set and didn't know that there was a 2nd unreleased Heads album sitting in the vaults. I wonder if there were any guest singers like on the 1st album? Anyone have any additional information about this? I loved the first Heads album so much and would love to know more. It would be nice if this unreleased gem could be released and get the deluxe treatment along with a remastered first Heads album, now that would be sweet!

    Was also informed that there is a promo only Radioactive CD that has one Heads song called "There are lots and lots of Ants" with John Taylor on vocals. Anyone have this unreleased gem???