Monday, July 18, 2016

Was (Not Was) - Was (Not Was)

This month marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the self-titled debut album from Was (Not Was). David Weiss and Don Fagenson formed the band in Detroit, Michigan, in the late 70's. The duo enlisted vocalists Harry Bowens and Sweet Pea Atkinson for this 1981 record. The album was re-released in 2004 under the title Out Come the Freaks with an expanded track listing.

Side one opens with "Out Come the Freaks", the first in what would become a trilogy of songs across the group's first three albums. Each one tells of societal outcasts and share a common chorus line of "woodwork squeaks and out comes the freaks". As a single, this first one went to number 16 on the US Billboard Dance chart. I like the classic disco vibe of the music and the extended saxophone solo on this one. The lyrical structure is interesting too, especially where the rhymes are placed.

"Where Did Your Heart Go?" was released as the second single. Earlier this month, I also mentioned that Wham! recorded a cover version for their 1986 album Music From the Edge of Heaven. The arrangements between both are nearly identical, down to the amazing saxophone accents. This was my first time hearing the original and I rather like it.

The third single "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming" went to number 68 on the US Billboard R&B chart and number 3 on the US Billboard Dance chart. The mix of clips from one of Ronald Reagan's speeches between the lyrical verses makes for an interesting composition.

"Oh, Mr. Friction" has a jaunty, jazz backing composition with a spoken-word verse that you might hear at a coffee house poetry night.

Side two begins with "Carry Me Back to Old Morocco", a mid-tempo dance track with a swaying groove and a grinding guitar riff. The verse lyrics, delivered in a spoken-word form, are a bit trippy. At the very end, the music collapses into a jumbled heap.

"It's an Attack!" keeps the party going with another rousing rhythm.

At just over two minutes, "The Sky's Ablaze" is the shortest cut on the album. This one, even more so, has its roots in beat poetry with a simple horn accompaniment and the sounds of traffic rushing by. It is like I am on a downtown street corner in Detroit hearing someone perform for the passing crowds.

The original vinyl release closes with the rock and funk fused "Go...Now!". It reminds me a lot of what Living Colour would do late in the decade.

I did not own a copy of Was (Not Was) back in the 80's when it was available on vinyl and cassette. I got into the band around 1987 though and managed to track down their second and third album. As the first one is no longer in print, the 2004 re-issue is the way to go now to pick this one up. Luckily, for review purposes, that album is available on the streaming services like Spotify.

I definitely enjoyed this record a lot. The tracks were fun, energetic and an interesting blend of various musical influences. Was (Not Was) apparently took everything they heard around them and threw it into a blender to create their own unique style. This is definitely one I am going to want to pick up in the future.

For more from Was (Not Was), click here.

1 comment:

HERC said...

Fun stuff that defies categorization though you could almost always dance to it.

Always tried to sneak a Was (Not Was) song on a mixtape or disc whenever I could though I tuned out when "Walk The Dinosaur" hit.