Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Was (Not Was)

Back in the early 80s I happened to find myself in a record store which is a location I happened to find myself in more often than not as I have always spent a lot of time and money in these places.

I saw an album by a group called Was (Not Was) and it was called "Born To Laugh At Tornadoes".

It was an odd colorful cover by a band with an odd name and the album had ... you guessed it ... an odd name. So I bought it.

And the band changed my life at that time.

That album had Ozzy Osbourne singing a disco song. Mel Torme singing a song about a red-headed guy that got strangled in a park, Mitch Ryder singing about a dog ... this was some mind-blowing stuff.

I wore that album out. I bought another copy of it and then when CDs came out, I bought a Japanese import of it for something like $50 at the time.

Without looking at Wikipedia, Was (Not Was) (to me anyway) are an avant-garde pop band led by two guys who called themselves the Was Brothers. There was David Was and the now pretty-successful producer Don Was. The band had probably 12-15 musicians in it and was anchored by two awesome soul singers, Sweet Pea Atkinson and Harry Bowens.

They did awesome rock songs, pop songs, lounge songs, soul songs, rap songs, jazz songs, disco songs ... these guys did it all.

But their lyrics were strange. S-T-R-A-N-G-E.

Which is what really sealed their fate when it came to becoming huge stars. Because musically, you'd be hard pressed to find a more versatile band of artists that could cover so many genres and do them as well as Was (Not Was).

They had one big hit in '88 ... "Walk The Dinosaur". Just like most fans of one-hit wonder bands, that song is about my least favorite of theirs. It was almost as if they were selling out. The video was very MTV-friendly but still stayed true to their overall weirdness. So while America was falling in love with the band, I was preparing for them to take over the world of popular music.

As you can guess ... that didn't happen. There was no follow-up hit. "Walk" was actually the second single from the album "What Up, Dog", the first "Spy In The House Of Love" was a much catchier song but didn't catch on with radio and clubs like it should have. I know. I was working in the clubs then and I couldn't pay people to dance to the song.

Here's five samples of the band's versatility. My pipe dreams of the band ever making it big are gone so I don't expect anybody to listen to these and go "Oh my God! We have GOT to get this band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!!!" That's never going to happen.

But we can still enjoy the music.

Was (Not Was)'s (Return To The Valley Of) Out Come The Freaks
(The band released a song on every album called "Out Come The Freaks" that featured the same chorus but each time they were in a different musical genre ... funk, soul, pop ... this one's my favorite)

Was (Not Was)'s Papa Was A Rolling Stone
(Way too funky for its own good. I played this in the clubs to a lukewarm response which I never really understood.)

Was (Not Was)'s Shadow and Jimmy
(One of my wife's favorite songs, this sounds like something you'd hear in a Mexican cantina. A song about a lonely guy and his best friend ... his shadow)

Was (Not Was)'s Walk The Dinosaur
(The sole hit. You can have it.)

Was (Not Was)'s Hello Dad, I'm In Jail
(In my club days, at the end of the night I'd put this song on to run out the stragglers. This one manager would not close the club until we were down to five people and you couldn't really FORCE the people out, but put on certain songs and it'd clear the room. This was one of those songs. I'd say something along the lines of "Sure hope none of you have to make THIS call tonight!" and then let it play. Six dirty looks and 1:34 later, we'd be turning on the lights and clocking out)

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