Tom Tom Club, "Genius of Love" (Tom Tom Club, 1981). Aside from maybe "I Zimbra" and "Burning Down the House," the Talking Heads rarely flew a funk flag, so the band's husband-wife rhythm section formed the Tom Tom Club. Artists ranging from Grandmaster Flash (1982) to Annie (2005) have covered and/or sampled "Genius" and for good reason. Bassist Tina Weymoth handles most of the vocal duties and over the hookiest of synth lines and funkiest of beats narrates a sonnet-of-sorts in which her love is like a great r&b crooner. Then, in the song's breakdown, her husband, drummer Chris Frantz yells the sonnet-closing couplet for her, intoning the name "James Brown" again and again and, well, you can't help but dance. Nicole and I saw the Tom Tom Club co-headline with the B-52s at a casino's mini-outdoor ampitheater in southern Arizona in 2000 or 2001. A warm and dry night. On stage all night, 40-somethings singing what poet Allison Joseph calls "disco liberation." We broke through the half-hearted barriers between seats and stage and stood in front of Tina Weymouth (and, afterward, in front of Fred Schneider during the B-52s set) as she rocked the Sonoran desert, moving Tom Tom Club through a covers-heavy set that included the band's version of "You Sexy Thing." But "Genius of Love" was the evening's high point, besting even their co-headliner's rendition of "Rock Lobster."
Dead Kennedys, "Take this Job and Shove It" (Bedtime for Democracy, 1986). In seventh grade, I had two DK casettes, 'Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death' and 'Bedtime for Democracy', though what I really wanted was one of those black t-shirts with the DK logo in red. Though now I understand that the band's debut record 'Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables' is their masterpiece, at thirteen I dug the fast-paced 'Bedtime for Democracy' best. The songs waste no time. They waste nothing. The "Take this Job and Shove It" cover--the opening track of the record--clocks in at under ninety seconds. The song tries too hard to be subversive, but so do thirteen-year-old Dead Kennedys fans. If the country version of the song gives the finger to a mean boss-man, this version gives the finger to the world that allows mean boss-men to exist in the first place. I still like 'Bedtime,' a thematically tight record, with self-explanatory tracks like "Chickenshit Conformist," "Macho Insecurity," and "Rambozo the Clown" nicely cohering, and never failing to remind me of the things I hated about the Catholic school I attended.
Lou Reed, "Romeo Had Juliette" (New York, 1989). What did I know about New York City at fourteen or fifteen? Certainly part of my impression of the city came from beat poetry and Velvet Underground music and Rolling Stone articles about first generation punk rock. About the time that Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing came out, I got Lou Reed's concept album about NYC, a record that spoke to gentrification and AIDS and police brutality and vigilantes and drug addiction. Without a doubt, the record represents the highpoint of Reed's post-VU career. As strong a time capsule and as potent a piece of art as the Spike Lee movie, 'New York' was, as its liner notes suggested, like a novel. And "Romeo Had Juliette," an ode to teen love gone wrong, was the novel's most vivid moment. Full of striking images, particularly those that imagine the protagonist Romeo Rodriguez ("A diamond crucifix in his ear / is used to help ward off the fear"). Check out the youtube performance, in which Reed mumbles the song with a toothpick in his mouth the whole time.