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Was (Not Was)

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Was (Not Was) is an eccentric pop group founded by David Weiss (a.k.a. David Was) and Don Fagenson (a.k.a. Don Was). (Don Was is also a famous producer, who has worked with The B-52’s, Rolling Stones and many other artists.)

Weiss and Fagenson were childhood friends who grew up together in suburban Detroit. Due largely to Fagenson’s poverty, they decided to form Was (Not Was) in 1979. The name of the band was derived from Fagenson’s son, who enjoyed contradicting words such as ‘Blue’ with ‘Not Blue’. Their first recording was “Wheel Me Out”, a 12-inch dance record for the avant-garde Ze Records.

Their first album ‘Was (Not Was)’ (1981) was an amalgam of rock, disco, Weiss’s beat poetry, Reagan-era commentary and jazz. On vocals they recruited Harry Bowens and “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, who proved to be distinctive, very soulful front-men, who frequently found themselves singing absurd, surreal songs alongside tender ballads. The MC5’s Wayne Kramer (guitar) and The Knack’s Doug Feiger (vocal) were guest players.

Born to Laugh at Tornadoes (1983) introduced even more guest musicians, including Ozzy Osbourne rapping over electro, Mel Torme crooning an oddly beautiful ballad and an abstract funk piece “Man Vs the Empire Brain Building”. The band were shortly dropped from their record label.

In 1987, they found their biggest hit with the album What Up, Dog?, along with the singles “Walk The Dinosaur” and “Spy in the House of Love”. Special guests include Stevie Salas, John Patitucci, Frank Sinatra Jr. and a writing credit for Elvis Costello. About this time, the Was Brothers developed separate careers as producers, film scorers and music supervisors.

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