WAS (NOT WAS)
Hey King Kong: Pick of the Litter 1980-2010
[Rating: 4.5 stars]
“Out Come the Freaks” was the rallying cry of David Weiss and Don Fagenson (taking the brotherly last name of Was), two Detroit musical misfits who turned disco, funk, soul and jazz upside down with five albums released during the titular years. Don went on to high profile fame and fortune as a pop/rock producer but his work in Was (Not Was) seems closer to his heart. Led by soul vocalists Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens along with guests as diverse as Leonard Cohen, Mel Torme and Ozzy Osbourne, the band specialized in bizarre, often poetic lyrics bolstered by hip shaking grooves seemingly at odds with the words. Cross-label licensing hassles delayed a comprehensive anthology of the group’s work until now, but this comprehensive 19 track, 74 minute overview illuminates the breadth, humor and subversive experimental underpinnings that helped make Was (Not Was) a cult phenomenon. The cartoon cover illustration captures the music’s playful qualities and reflects the lighthearted/edgy dichotomy at its core. It’s an artful ying/yang that creates an enduring, even timeless individuality. Some rarities, a few as terrific as the hits, help make this the definitive recap of one of Detroit’s and this generation’s lost treasures.