Was (Not Was)

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1  (1979-)

- Don Fagenson (aka Don Was) -- vocals, sax, flute

- David Weiss (aka David Was) -- vocals, bass, synthesizers


   backing musicians (1981)

- Armand Angeloni - tenor saxophone, piccolo flute 

- Sweet Pea Atkinson --- vocals

- Marcus Belgrave - trumpet, flugelhorn 

- Sir Harry Bowens -- vocals 

- Tom Brzezina -- backing vocals

- Les Chambers -- percussion 

- Carolyn Crawford -- backing vocals 

- Rick Cushingberry -- backing vocals 

- Jervonny Collier -- bass

- Michelle Goulet -- backing vocals

- Carol Hall -- backing vocals

- Sheila Horne -- backing vocals 

- Lamont Johnson -- bass 

- Raymond Johnson -- keyboards

- Mark Johnson -- keyboards 

- Jerry Jones -- drums 

- Kathy Kosins -- backing vocals

- Wayne Kramer --  guitar 

- Larry Fratangelo -- percussion

- Irwin Krinsky -- piano 

- Jim Matthews -- percussion

- Franklin K. Funklyn McCullers -- drums

- David McMurray -- sax

- Bruce Nazarian -- guitar, bass

- Richard Pinkston -- backing vocals 

- Mack Pitt - mandolin 

- Luis Resto -- piano, synthesizers 

- Ricardo Rouse, -- guitar

- Pam Schlom -- backing vocals 

- Ruth Seymore -- backing vocals 

- Carl "Butch" Small -- percussion, rap vocals 

- Gary Stuck -- percussion 

- Kevin Tschirhart -- percussion 

- Rubin Weiss-- backing vocals


  backing musicians (1983)

- Marin Alsop -- violin

- Sweet Pea Atkinson -- vocals

- Chris Blackwell -- vocals

- Sir Harry Bowens -- vocals

- Jervonny Collier -- bass

- Marshall Crenshaw -- vocals, guitar, organ

- Michael Edwards -- vocals

- Lawrence Fratangelo -- percussion

- Doug Fueger -- vocals

- Carol Hall -- vocals

- Kathy Kosins (aka Kim Basinger)-- vocals

- Yogi Horton -- drums

- Randy Jacobs -- bass, guitar, backign vocals

- Wayne Kramer -- guitar

- Bob Kullick -- guitar

- Jay Leonhart -- bass

- Josephy LoDuca -- guitar

- David McMurray -- sax

- David Nazarian -- guitar

- Ozzy Osbourne -- vocals

- Luis Resto -- keyboards, synthesizers

- John Robie -- synthesizers

- Mitch Ryder -- vocals

- John SInclair -- backing vocals

- Mel Torme -- vocals, piano

- Vinnie Vincent -- lead guitar




- none known





Genre: rock

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Was (Not Was)

Company: Island

Catalog:  ILPS 9666

Country/State: Detroit, Michigan

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $20.00


I'm not sure you'd call Was (Not Was) a band.  Their more like a music collective, or an art ensemble.  Regardless of the label, they were talented.  They were weird.


Under the guidance of Davis Weiss (aka Davis Was) and Don Fagenson (Don Was), Was (Not Was) formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1979.  Weiss and Fagenson were school friends, who shared a passion for music.  By the late-'70s they were starting to make inroads playing local clubs.  Featuring an odd mix of disco, jazz, pop, rock and experimentation, the following year they released their debut single on Island's Antilles subsidiary:

  7" release

- 1980's 'Wheel Me Out' b/w 'Hello Operator ... I Mean Dad ... I Mean Police ... I Can't Even Remember Who I Am' (Antilles catalog number ANS 4505) 


  12" release

- 1980's 'Wheel Me Out' b/w 'Hello Operator ... I Mean Dad ... I Mean Police ... I Can't Even Remember Who I Am' (Antilles catalog number AN 805) 


While not a massive seller, the debut generated enough attention for Island/Antilles/Ze to approve a debut album.  Co-produced by Fagenson and Weiss in their Don an Dave Was alter egos, 1981's "Was (Not Was)" continued their strange amalgamation of disco, pop, rock, and experimentation with occasional stabs at political and social commentary.  Check out the Funkadelic-meets Ronald Regan 'Tell Me That I'm Dreaming.'  With support from about a third of Detroit (take a look at the extensive performance credits), the album was a samplers dream, routinely mixing experimental moves ('The Sky's Ablaze') with top-40 catchiness  ('Out Come the Freaks' and 'Carry Me Back to Old Morocco').  Listening to Fagenson and Weiss' bizarre lyrics, time after time you had to wonder what singers Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens were thinking in the midst of the leadoff track 'Out Come the Freaks.'  One of the strangest, but most fascinating albums in my collection, parts of it are definitely tough slogging (''), but for me the album marks an interesting period in time where some of the traditional barriers between musical genres started to come down.  


"Was (Not Was)" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Out Come the Freaks   (David Was - Don Was) - 5:41  rating: **** stars

Hearing 'Out Come the Freaks' it's easy to picture folks roller skating to this with their Sony Walkmans.  I'd argue that for some folks the opener exemplifies the best of early-'80s music. Not to get too philosophical about it, but it represented a brief period of time when folks appeared willing to abandon the boundaries surrounding their musical tastes.  Powered by Harry Bowens wonderful vocals, the tune effortlessly blended rock, jazz, soul and disco influences into a hypnotizing slice of radio-friendly music.    


2.) Where Did Your Heart Go?   (David Was - Don Was) - 4:55   *** stars

Okay, the Wham cover is the version most folks will recognize.  Personally I'd go with the original.  Atkinson's voice easily beat George Michael into a pulp.  To be honest, the late Sweet Pea Atkinson could have words out of a dictionary and I'd have listen to it.  His voice was good enough to salvage an also-ran ballad like 'Where Did Your Heart Go?'   YouTube has 1993 MTV video of the song: Was Not Was - Where Did Your Heart Go - MTV Most Wanted - 1993 - YouTube  The track was tapped as a single in France and the UK:

- 1981's 'Where Did Your Heart Go? b/w 'Wheel Me Out' (Ze/Island catalog number WIP 6716)

3.) Tell Me That I'm Dreaming   (David Was - Don Was) - 4:58  rating: ** stars

Talk about a band suffering from an abundance of treasures.  Not only did Was (Not Was) have Sweet Pea Atkinson, but they had Harry Bowens.  Admittedly 'Tell Me That I'm Dreaming' buried Bowens under a track that sounded like it had been stolen from George Clinton's Funkadelic/Parliament songbook with the some of the arrangement borrowing from James Chance and the Blacks.  It simply hasn't aged well.  Another single:

   7" pressing

- 1981's 'Tell Me That I'm Dreaming' b/w 'Tell Me That I'm Dreaming' (Ze catalog number 202014)


   12" pressing

- 1981's 'Tell Me That I'm Dreaming (traditional remixed version)' 'Tell Me That I'm Dreaming (souped up version)' b/w 'Out COme the Freaks' (dub version)' (Ze catalog number DISD 50011)


4.) Oh, Mr. Friction!   (David Was - Don Was) - 3:31  rating: ** stars

Side one closed out with the band at their most experimental - a fragmented, jazzy sound collage underneath truly bizarro and somewhat disturbing spoken word lyrics.


(side 2)
Carry Me Back to Old Morocco   (David Was - Don Was - Doug Fieger) - 6:01   rating: **** stars

'Carry Me Back to Old Morocco' was a brilliant example of their ability to mash-up influences.  Built on a pop melody with an incideously catchy group refrain ("Carry me back to old Morocco, where the tea is strong and so are the people..."), the song somehow managed to embed Was' nonsense, spoken word narratives ("Holding hands full of white hair, on the surface of the moon ... you said bring a balloon, but it's too late") and still make it an album highlight.  Well, until the end where the wheels literally seemed to come off the track.

2.) It's an Attack!   (David Was - Don Was - David Goss) - 3:11    rating: **** stars

The rollicking 'It's an Attack!' showcased Atkinson's classic soul voice over some of their typically weird vocals.  Yeah, it was strange, but try to sit still through this one.

3.) The Sky's Ablaze    (David Was - Don Was)  2:16   rating: ** stars

Geez, did I slap a Brecker Brothers album on by mistake?  Wait, am I listening some old radio show featuring "Beat" poets?    Bet you'll never hear this one on AM radio ...

4.) Go...Now!   (David Was - Don Was - Ron Banks) - 5:34 

No, it was a remake of the old Moody Blues hit ...  Opening up with some blazing guitar, 'Go ... Now!' demonstrated what an impressive singer Atkinson was.  The song ended with a l'Out Come the Freaks' loop of Atkinson repeating "cause he says it hurts his neck"




Genre: rock

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Born To Laugh At Tornadoes

Company: Geffen / Ze

Catalog:  24016-1

Country/State: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: cut out notch lower edge; original inner sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2039

Price: $15.00

Geez, hard to believe it, but this may be the last album I bought after seeing an MTV video clip ('Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like a Rubber Ball)'.  1983's "Born To Laugh At Tornadoes"  is also one of the strangest, most varied albums in my collection ...  part of it is hyper commercial; part freaked-out weirdness.  Guess that's why it is a personal favorite.

This album has so much going for it ... How could you not be mesmerized by a collection that managed to collect Marshall Crenshaw, The Knack's Doug Fieger, MC-5's Wayne Kramer, Ozzy Osbourne , Mitch Ryder, and Mel Torme in one place?   That has to be one of the most impressive (and varied) collections of artists to ever work together on an album.  And then you got to the music ...  Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens brought the Motown-styled credentials turning in classic work on 'Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like a Rubber Ball)' and a remake of '(Return To the Valley of) Out Come the Freaks').  Elsewhere the Don Fagenson and David Weiss team demonstrated their flexibility across an amazing musical spectrum including '80s dance tunes ('Shake Your Head (Let's Go To Bed') and 'Professor Night'), '60s garage rock ('Bow Wow Wow Wow'), and power-pop ('Smile').  The album included a couple of just plain strange efforts that seemed there mostly to infuriated radio programmers ('Man vs. the Empire Brain Building' and 'The Party Broke Up').   One of my favorite '80s albums ...  hard to believe it wasn't a massive, massive hit for these guys.   

"Born To Laugh At Tornadoes" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like a Rubber Ball)   (Don Was - David Was) - 3:05    rating: **** stars

With Sweat Pea Atkinson handling the lead vocal, the soul-meets-rock mash-up results were staggering. I remember hearing the tune on the radio one afternoon and wondering who the world these guys were.  I then saw the MTV video and was equally stunned.  I may be way off target, but I always thought the tune was about spousal and child abuse and I remember the original MTV video (with some serious bad mid-'80s production work), having a plotline that seemed to support that contention.  The video was subsequently edited deleting the abuse part of the story,  Regardless of the song's intent, one of the classic '80s tunes.  By the way, YouTube has both of the promotional videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGgRipOH0nY  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nqKOFNA6dg    The tune was tapped as a single:

   7" format:

- 1983's 'Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like a Rubber Ball)' b/w 'Man Vs. The Empire Brain Building' (Geffen catalog number 7-29407)

   12" format:

- 1983's 'Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like A Rubber Ball)' and 'Bow Wow Wow Wow' b/w 'Smile' and 'Shake Your Head (Let's Go To Bed)' (Geffen catalog number PRO-A-2079)

2.) Bow Wow Wow Wow   (Don Was - David Was) - 3:09   rating: **** stars

My goodness, say what you will about Fagenson and Weiss, you couldn't critique them when it came to their collective tastes in guest musicians ...  Mitch Ryder for gawd's sake.   Killer rocker that sounded like classic Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and sounds as good today as it did back in 1983.  

3.) Betrayal   (Don Was - David Was) - 3:02   rating: *** stars

The Knack's Doug Feiger ...  so you have to remember for a brief moment in time, Doug Feiger and the Knack were being portrayed as rock's saviours.   It seems hysterical (but then remember Klaatu was The Beatles in disguise).  Regardless, 'Betrayal' wasn't a half bad ballad with a catchy refrain and it was certainly better than a lot of The Knack catalog.

4.) Shake Your Head (Let's Go To Bed)   (Don Was - David Was - Jarvis Stroud) - 3:52   rating: **** stars

With a seriously bad '80s dance vibe, I've always wondered why this one wasn't tapped as a single.  Add to that Ozzy Osbourne and Kathy Kosins handled lead vocals ...   John Robie's synthesizer riff simply will not leave you alone ...   The track was released as a UK single in both 7" and as an inferior, remixed, extended 12" format:


7" format:

- 1983's '- 1983's 'Shake Your Head' b/w 'I Blew Up The United States' (Fontana catalog number 864 100-7)


  12" format

- 1983's 'Shake Your Head' and 'I Blew Up The United States' b/w 'Listen Like Thieves (Giant Club Mix)' and 'Listen Like Thieves (Vandal Dub' (Fontana catalog number WASX 11)   




5.) Man vs. the Empire Brain Building   (Don Was - David Was) - 4:00   rating: ** stars

Don and Don and their goofiest ...  Simply too new-wave strange for my tastes.   Imagine something that wouldn't have been out of place on a James White and the Blacks album.  


(side 2)
1.) (Return To the Valley of) Out Come the Freaks
   (Don Was - David Was) - 4:20  rating: ***** stars

I've had nightmares where I was faced with the choice of having to save Sweet Pea Atkinson, or Sir Harry Bowens ...   truly nightmarish scenario.   This was a different version than appeared on the debut album ...  The lyrics were typically bizarre, but the song was framed in a sweet, classic soul vibe that would have made Marvin Gaye smile with happiness.  Great tune and that I could happily hum all day long.     

2.) Professor Night   (Don Was - David Was - Felix Morris) - 4:10   rating: *** stars
Easily one of the album's most straightforward and commercial dance tunes.  Don Was' bass line was wonderful.  The song was tapped as a 12" UK released and a 7" British single:

- 1983's 'Professor Night' b/w 'Shake Your Head (Let's Go To Bed)' and 'Bow Wow Wow Wow' (Geffen catalog number TA 4412)- 1983's 'Professor Night ' b/w 'Bow Wow Wow Wow' (Geffen catalog number A4412)     
3.) The Party Broke Up   (Don Was - David Was) - 2:14   rating: ** stars
Two minutes of bizarre spoken word material ...   Fred Schneider and company on a bad acid trip ?   This was probably the song that sent radio station owners running for cover ....
4.) Smile   (Don Was - David Was) - 3:12
  rating: **** stars
With Fieger again handling lead vocals, I'm not sure how to describe 'Smile' other than to say it was near perfect power pop ...  It's the kind of track Marshall Crenshaw would have sold his mom to have written.   Easy to understand why it was tapped as a single:

- 1983's 'Smile' b/w 'The Party Broke Up' (Geffen catalog number 7-29477)    
5.) Zaz Turned Blue   (Don Was - David Was) - 4:18
  rating: **** stars
I can't help but smile every time I hear the torch ballad 'Zaz Turned Blue'.  No idea if it was really about asphyxiophilia, but if it was Mel Torme sang it with a sense of class that's all but disappeared from modern music.  Always wondered how and why they chose Torme for the tune ...