Long ago, before the days of Hughes Net satellite internet (or any internet, for that matter), two childhood friends came together in suburban Detroit. Joined by their love of music (and a pressing need for cash), the two friends decided to transform themselves. David Weiss became David Was. Don Fagenson became Don Was. Together, they became the avant-pop group known as Was (Not Was) (and yes, the parentheses are always included).Was (Not Was) formed in 1979, at a time when the punk genre was reinventing itself as post-punk and even the pop genres of dance and funk were becoming open to a new form of experimentalism. W(NW) certainly provided that. Beginning with their first self-titled album in 1981, the group became known for combining disparate musical genres with spoken word poetry and surprising but talented guest stars. On their debut, these included Wayne Kramer from the Michigan proto-punk group MC5, Doug Fieger from the LA new wavers The Knack, and Marcus Belgrave, trumpeter for the avant-jazz musician Charles Mingus.On 1983′s Born to Laugh at Tornadoes, heavy metal and future reality TV superstar Ozzy Osbourne joined the fray, contributing a rap to “Shake Your Head.” Meanwhile, Mitch Ryder sang on “Bow Wow Wow Wow,” while Doug Fieger returned on “Betrayal” and “Smile.” Marshall Crenshaw sang on “The Party Broke Up,” and Mel Torme, a jazz singer known as The Velvet Fog, sang on the awkward ballad “Zaz Turned Blue.”So with all these guest stars, what did the actual members of the group do? David Was primarily played flute, keyboards, and harmonica, while Don Was played bass guitar and piano. Lead vocalists “Sweet Pea” Atkinson and Harry Bowens also made important contributions to the band that is Was (Not Was).That’s right, is. After releasing their 1990 album Are You Okay?, the group disbanded in 1992. In 2004, they reunited, and in 2008 released the critically-acclaimed album Boo!. Highlights on the album include Kris Kristofferson on closer “Green Pills in the Dresser,” Wayne Kramer on guitar, Marcus Miller on bass, and Booker T. Jones on the Hammond organ.For those who like a little (or a lot) of eccentricity with their dance music, you owe it to yourself to at least check out Was (Not Was). It may not be exactly your cup of tea, but then again, was Was (Not Was) ever anyone’s?
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