What Up, Dog?

Was (Not Was)

Chrysalis Records, 1988

REVIEW BY: Alicia St. Rose

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/27/1999

Somehow I missed this album in 1988. Maybe I was too busy shaking my head to "Sweet Child o' Mine" or hitting the dance floor with "Funky Cold Medina." Whatever the case, there just wasn't room for that "adult contemporary stuff" -- and wasn't Don Was a big shot producer, not a recording artist? I probably only heard snippets of the two singles from What Up Dog? and got a fleeting glimpse of the video for "Walk The Dinosaur." I wasn't impressed.

I recently found the cassette in my possession and decide to give it a shot on the deck. Wow! Perhaps I'm older now and can appreciate a wider range of music styles or perhaps Was (Not Was) is one of those bands that once you've got it pegged, it screams, "Not!" with an album full of witty, humorous and totally unexpected gems. As much as I tried to shove this album under the heading of "adult contemporary," I found that it was pretty much impossible with such alternative and down right strange "songs" like "Earth To Doris" and "Dad I'm In Jail" and writing credits by Marshall Crenshaw and Elvis Costello.

The album starts out with a smooth, jazzy number called "Somewhere In America There's a Street Named After My Dad", a song about escaping from the greed, corruption and artificiality of society and living a life of integrity: "No more bland TV dinners / No ten car collisions / No showbiz beginners /Making global decisions."my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The lyrics to "Spy In The House Of Love" are too damn clever: "I told her I am a spy in the house of love / Gathering clues to be used in a war of the affections / I am a spy in the house of love / I won't be refused, I'm waiting for your heart's defection." It's also got a driving tempo that'll have you shakin' it on the living room rug within seconds.

"Out Come The Freaks" is an early hint at the dark side that surfaces on a lot of the songs. The song introduces us to a few incorrigible lowlifes such as Tara Venus, the rent-a-stripper, Bobby Maggot, the big attorney and a rapist. The dysfunction of "Earth To Doris" is almost palpable. It's a spoken word piece that opens up with "trashy" brass dripping with seediness. You'll be shaking your head trying to dislodge the images it's planted. There are two more of these "tone poems": "What Up Dog?" and "Dad I'm In Jail." The former is about a depraved individual who uses his pit bull as a credit card to get what he wants and the latter is a phone call from the clink.

"Wedding Vows In Vegas" features Frank Sinatra Jr. on vocal duties. He has a bit of a lisp but that doesn't detract too much from the great lyrics and ethereal lounge effect. It almost comes off as a novelty song. "Boy's Gone Crazy" and "Walk The Dinosaur" are good carpet cutters. If your head's not bobbin' to the opening lines of "Dinosaur" than you need to see a chiropractor.

"Anytime Lisa" is a poignant and beautiful song with a doo wop feel to it. The lyrics reveal a sensitivity towards a young woman's self esteem problems: "Anytime Lisa / Just couldn't refuse them / A girl wants love / And the guys just abuse them / To be in their arms beats being alone / But it wasn't like having / Someone of her own."

The calypso-sounding "Shadow And Jimmy" was co-written by Elvis Costello and is a great ditty about two guys on the fringe who just can't get women: "Men without women are like fish without / Water to swim in / With their eyes bugging out / They flop on the beach / And look up at the girls / Who are just out of reach." There's a cover of Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose" that seriously competes with the fire and vivaciousness of the original.

The only song I found which didn't work well was "Love Can Be Bad Luck". This song was co-written by Marshall Crenshaw. It just seemed to drag and was probably recorded at half the tempo of any Crenshaw song I've ever heard.

Overall, this is an impressive little nugget from the '80s by a band who decided to find it's own niche and fill it with some pretty quirky stuff. Give it a spin in your disc player. It'll do it some good.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1999 Alicia St. Rose and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Chrysalis Records, and is used for informational purposes only.