Return of the Dinosaurs

Was (Not Was) gets past tense, into future perfect.

Was (Not Was) hits the road and the studio after a - 12-year break.
Was (Not Was) hits the road and the studio after a 12-year break.
The members of Was (Not Was) were the most unlikely pop stars. In 1989, the ad hoc group -- led by David Weiss and Don Fagenson, renamed David and Don Was -- reached the Top 10 with a playful bit of dance-funk called "Walk the Dinosaur." A goofy music video, featuring shimmying cavegirls who brought to life the song's "Boom-boom-acka-lacka-lacka-boom" chant, was unavoidable on MTV.

But Was (Not Was) isn't the trivia-question novelty act that "Dinosaur" would imply. More than half a dozen years before it shared playlists and airtime with Guns N' Roses and Richard Marx, the Detroit-bred duo (David writes the words, Don writes the music, and both play various instruments) released a self-titled debut album that remains one of the strongest and most baffling art-funk projects ever recorded. "We were always this underdone, low-tech [band]," says David Was (pictured left). "We were making shoot-from-the-hip instant art. [We weren't] polishing and repolishing and redubbing and bringing in the Tower of Power fucking horns."

But just as quickly as radio embraced them, it dumped them. A subsequent cover of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" stalled on the charts, and by the end of 1992, the revolving group (only singer Sweet Pea Atkinson remained a constant) dissolved. What happened? "In a word: Bonnie Raitt," says Was, "and the herd of over-40 recording artists who went to Don for the fountain-of-youth treatment that he had given her. It never ended. He's still in [the studio] with the Rolling Stones."

Indeed, Don's behind-the-boards work on such high-profile records as Raitt's Nick of Time and the Stones' last two albums all but broke up Was (Not Was). "At one point, I was kinda miffed," admits David, who's kept busy the past decade scoring television shows. "We had this Mom-and-Pop shop doing a worldwide business that was only getting better. But [with] the fees Don was getting for producing people, I couldn't be mad. This was a sure thing, [compared to] eking out a living touring and going into debt with your record company."

The Wases are back together now and on the road, with Atkinson in tow. "Being around the Rolling Stones, Don realized that being in a band is like family," says David. "He abandoned us. He hung his hat in a million places around the world and discovered, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, that home is where the funk is."

Hopefully, all of this is inducement to pick up where Was (Not Was) left off. A new song, "Party Party Marty," is making the rounds, and its jerky rhythms and rhymes are more on par with the group's cerebral R&B than the rare Top 40 hits it scored. (Was says the record company ordered radio-friendly remixes of those songs.) And more is on the way. "We've had some of these tracks in the can for so many years," Was says. "The seasoning of passing time makes them sound more contemporary now than when we cut them. And it looks like we're -- for better or worse -- revived."