Thursday, September 5, 2013

Was (Not Was) - Born to Laugh at Tornadoes

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of Born to Laugh at Tornados, the second studio album from the pop group Was (Not Was). The band was founded by David Weiss (“David Was”) and Don Fagenson (“Don Was”), two childhood friends from Detroit. This September of 1983 release went to number 134 on the US Billboard Album chart.

Side one begins with “Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like a Rubber Ball)”. As the first single, it peaked at number 109 on the US Billboard chart. The up-beat anthem tells the tale of a scrawny young man who was taunted and abused while growing up. Eventually it drove him to a life of illegal activities.

“Bow Wow Wow Wow” features vocals by classic American rocker Mitch Rider. I love the energy of this song about a wild night on the town. From the high octane beat to the synth burst accents to the wailing horns, it has easily earned the four-star rating on my iPod.

“Betrayal” is the first of two tracks featuring vocals by Doug Fieger, lead singer of the Knack. This pop-rock ballad speaks to distrustful behavior in a love relationship.

“Shake Your Head (Let’s Go to Bed)” has guest vocals by heavy metal rocker Ozzy Osbourne. The lyrics of this highly danceable track list things that cannot be done, or that can be but only with an extreme amount of difficulty. Osbourne was not the only performer to do vocals for the track. A pre-fame Madonna auditioned for the vocal but was ultimately not selected. Actress Kim Basinger provided some vocals for a 1992 remix of the song for a Was (Not Was) compilation.

"Man vs. the Empire Brain Building", a song about conflict, features a funky bass groove and a stomping percussion. It features some oddness too with two repetitive line stanzas near the end.

Side two opens with “(Return to the Valley of) Out Come the Freaks”, a re-visitation of a track from their 1981 debut album. As a single, this track went to number 41 in the UK. It is the second in a trilogy of songs by the band with a similar title, tune and chorus line. All three lyrically deal with social outcasts and other oddballs. This one was done with a slower and stripped down rhythm that reminds me of 60's soul music (there are even some song titles dropped as the song is fading out). Harry Bowens provided the vocals.

“Professor Night” is the story of a big-timeplayer who can land any woman in the bar he desires.

"The Party Broke Up" features Marshall Crenshaw on organ, guitar and backing vocals.

Fieger returns on “Smile”. This message about keeping on a strong game face, no matter what, features a sound very reminiscent of the new-wave/pop sound that was all over the airwaves in the early 80's.

The album closes with “Zaz Turned Blue” which features velvet smooth vocals from Mel Tormé. With a light jazz touch, it tells of a likeable guy who nearly chokes to death in public as a teenager and how it effected his life afterwards. I often find the chorus of this one pops in my head, usually at very odd times.

I owned a copy of Born to Laugh at Tornadoes on cassette, but I did not pick it up until the later part of the 80‘s. When Was (Not Was) hit it big with their 1988 album What Up, Dog?, I became an instant fan of the band and thus sought up any of their earlier albums I could find. Something I like about these songs, even though the genres vary, is that they all are very catchy tunes. They stick with the listener long after you are finished with the album.

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