Was (Not Was) – Walk the Dinosaur (1989)

Boom boom acka-lacka lacka boom, fuckers!

Yes, yes, I realize it’s become trendy in certain circles to dismiss (or just remain proudly ignorant of) the weird, wonderful bursts of pop genius that Was (Not Was) gave the world during the ’80s.

Of course, this is the band’s fault as much as anyone’s — singles like “Walk the Dinosaur” (download) are made for killing careers — but still, the band deserves better than it’s gotten. Sadly, a Cassingle Vault post isn’t really the place for changing minds about an artist’s work. Perhaps one day, we’ll get around to doing a Pocket Guide on the band. In the meantime, this will have to do.

Anyway. “Walk the Dinosaur.” Let’s just run the video, so we can get all the snark out of the way up front:

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Yes, it’s as bad as you remember. And here’s the thing — “Walk the Dinosaur,” dumb as it is, fit right in with the Was (Not Was) aesthetic, but they weren’t a novelty act, per se. What they were is difficult to explain. Try to imagine what you might have gotten if Motown had gotten its start in the ’80s, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention had been one of the label’s first signings, and you’re sort of in the ballpark, but honestly, they might have been the strangest “mainstream” band of the decade.

The two best-known Was (Not Was) releases — 1988’s What Up, Dog? and 1990’s Are You Okay? — are, like the rest of the band’s catalog, woefully uneven. Don and David Was weren’t above doing stuff just because they thought it was funny, whether it was getting Ozzy Osbourne to rap (I guess he was rapping, anyway), bringing in Kim Basinger to do vocals, or having Frank Sinatra Jr. take the lead for “Wedding Vows in Vegas” (download) (this single’s B-side).

But behind all the silliness lurked a frightening amount of talent, led by the badass soul-singing duo known as Sir Harry Bowens and “Sweet Pea” Atkinson. The band deserves its share of lumps for stuff like “In K Mart Wardrobe,” but they were also making real soul music during an era in which it was desperately needed.

Why Sir Harry and “Sweet Pea” aren’t international superstars with dozens of their own records under their belts is a consistent source of bitter disappointment for me; I can take limited solace, however, in the backing vocals they’ve done for artists too numerous to count. (If your music collection doesn’t feature any Bowens or Atkinson, you need more music.) My personal favorites are the vocals they cut for Brian Wilson’s I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, the Don Was-produced soundtrack to the Don Was-produced documentary of the same name. (Buy it.)

Given all this, it’s tempting to blame Chrysalis, the label that released What Up, Dog?, for taking a cheap novelty track like “Walk the Dinosaur” to rado — but really, there aren’t many labels that wouldn’t have done the same thing. Was (Not Was) must have given the Chrysalis promotion staff painful headaches, and even if “Dinosaur” spelled immediate doom for the band, it at least made them a few bucks in the process.

Happily, after an 18-year layoff, Was (Not Was) is back — the band’s new album, Boo!, is being released by Rykodisc next month. Brace yourselves for that Pocket Guide…

About the Author

Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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