Was (Not Was) played contemporary R&B dance music, with lyrics that ranged from satire to completely bizarre.
The group was led by Detroit-natives David Weiss (David Was) – who wrote those lyrics – and Don Fagenson (Don Was) but fronted at various times by many different singers, including big names like Ozzy Osbourne, Doug Fieger (from The Knack), Mitch Ryder and Mel Torme, to relative-unknowns Sweet Pea Atkinson and Harry Bowens.
There were no permanent musicians to speak of either. Just a bunch of session players who varied from track to track, including (among many others) drummer Yogi Horton, former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, guitarist/singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw and current and former members of Parliament/Funkadelic.
Was (Not Was) first gained notice for a dance single called Wheel Me Out in 1980, although their first (self-titled) album did not reach the charts. The follow-up LP, Born to Laugh at Tornados (1983), did.
Little was heard from the group for five years, who returned in 1988 (thanks to British label Fontana Records buying out the band’s Geffen contract) with What Up, Dog? featuring the number 16 hit Spy in the House of Love and the number seven hit Walk the Dinosaur.
During this period, Don Was had also become a prominent record producer, handling the board for Bonnie Raitt’s Grammy-winning Nick of Time, among many other mainstream pop records.
The fourth Was (Not Was) album, Are You Okay?, appeared in 1990 and was not as commercially successful as What Up, Dog?
After the album’s release, Don Was continued to pursue his production career, which began to increase tensions between him and David. After their 1992 album, Hello Dad . . . I’m In Jail, Was (Not Was) officially parted ways.
An unexpected new album (appropriately titled Boo!) appeared in 2008. The album once again featured Don and David, along with vocalists Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens. The duo were joined by guests including Kris Kristofferson and Booker T Jones.
David Was (Weiss)
Don Was (Fagenson)