Tag Archives: Was (Not Was)

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Where Did Your Heart Go?” by Was (Not Was)

Was (N0t Was) were a passion shared between my father and I during the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Detroit natives David Weiss and Don Ferguson (who changed their professional names to “Was”) were childhood friends from the suburbs. Due in part to Don’s impoverished life at the time,they duo came together to form Was (Not Was) in 1979. The pair composed the music and wrote the lyrics,while two vocalists in Sir Harry Bowens and “Sweet Pea” Atkinson rounded out the quartet. Was (Not Was) became one of the most important and unique musical collectives of the 80’s and early 90’s.

Don Was would become a well known producer for artists such as Bonnie Raitt,Stevie Nicks,Carly Simon,Ziggy Marley,Bob Dylan and Hootie & The Blowfish. His own band on the other hand specialized in a funky stew of music that often placed guest singers in unexpected musical settings. As for Sweet Pea Atkinson,he seems to be a bit of a mystery man. But its his birthday today. And vocally speaking,he’s one of my personal favorite aspects of Was (Not Was)’s sound. One of his highlights with the group came via their self titled 1981 album. It was entitled “Where Did You Your Heart Go?”.

Sweet Pea opens the song singing the lead chorus of the song as a swinging drum brush plays through in the back round along with Johnny Allen’s string arrangements and a counter melody by sax player David McMurray. The jazzy funk bass lines of Jervonny Collier kind of create the main body of the song from this point onward. All led into by McMurray’s sax and a slow crawling drum/percussion based groove. Between the refrain to chorus transitions,a high brittle melodic synthesizer and a string synth with more polyphony play a lead role. After another sax solo,the chorus brings the song to its end.

One thing my father and I both agreed on listening to this album was the strength of this song. Sweet Pea Atkinson’s strong,rangy and idiosyncratic vocal inflections are part of what carries it. Even more so,Don and David actually crafted this song specifically to his style-fashioning a sophistifunk number with the melodic modulations of an mid 20th century American pop standard. As Henrique Hopkins recently pointed out to me,Wham! covered the song in 1986. And hi Henrique’s case,that’s what he thought was the original version. Shows you how melodically strong funk/soul songwriting always finds its place.

 

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Filed under 1980's, David McMurray, David Was, Don Was, drums, Funk Bass, Jervonny Callier, Johnny Allen, percussion, Saxophone, string synthesizer, Sweet Pea Atkinson, synthesizers, Was (Not Was)

Anatomy of THE Groove 03/27/15 Rique’s Pick : “Out Come the Freaks” by Was (Not Was)

It’s been fairly well documented how the Kingdoms of Funk and Disco splintered off into many different factions around 1980 or so. In truth, there were always several different approaches to both genre’s, mainly tied to region. One of the great ironies of the early ’80s era is that even after the terms “Disco” and to a lesser but signifigant degree, “Funk”, fell out of favor in the marketing and description of music, the Funk itself survived in many different guises. Early ’80s genre’s such as Post Punk, Dance Punk, New Wave, Electro, Boogie and Post Disco all kept people on the dance floors as well as the sound systems rocking. One of the primary influence’s it seemed, for anybody touching Funk in the early ’80s, was the sleek, sophisticated funky sound introduced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. “Out Come the Freaks” by the Detroit band Was (Not Was), is a excellent stomping example of this early ’80s Funk groove. Was (Not Was) led by Motor city friends Dave and Don Was, was a very diverse ’80s group that always included the funk very prominently in it’s mix. “Out Come the Freaks” is a tight, slick funky song with a dance floor seducing beat and much more lyrical depth than most songs of it’s era.

The song begins with accapella choral vocals repeating the songs hook and chorus, “Woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks.” After several repetitions of the title, a synthesizer makes a deep resonant tone that revs up the groove. The groove that’s introduced is uptempo and dancefloor based in the tradition of Chic, with a tight bass groove that was the first thing that caught my attention. The song also features funky rhythm guitars scratching in the back in fine Chic style. The combination of solid up front bass and rhythm guitar gives the song it’s sophistifunkated Chic feeling. When the groove kicks in a prototypical early ’80s rap does as well. The rap features a smooth conversational voice with a nice rhythmic syncopation, that could almost be jazz poetry like Oscar Brown Jr, but is a little bit more rhytmically aggressive. The rap carries the idea of the song, starting off in a manner that would influence Whodini’s classic, ‘The Freaks Come Out at Night”, “When the sun comes down/they hit the streets/in the bars/the try to meet/some other stranger/to ease the pain/of living alone/till it drives them insane.” They go on to paint cautionary tales of singles playing the dating game, again highlighting the underlying danger that accompanies the night life. They paint an early ’80s landscape that features young men suffering from Vietnam War PTSD and women out chasing rich men “even if they have no hair (don’t worry she’ll get him a toupe). This slice of life lyrical imagery and lyricism is paired to very funky, well produced, clean music, with nice touches like a saxophone riffing during the dance breaks.

“Out Come the Freaks” became a recurring motif Was (Not Was) would use to illuminate the absurdity of people in their life times, with the group recording three versions spanning 1981 to 1988. Every time they do it they add new lyrics and new sad yet realistic characters around the idea of “woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks.” Don Was, the bass player and co founder of the group, has moved on to being a seminally important producer, producing quality albums and songs for many artists who generally carry that high honor of being considered “legends” in the music industry. But 1981’s “Out Come the Freaks” shows that even by the early ’80s, the Funky beat was still considered a conduit for both moving people physically and describing the times in which we live in. And the image of “The Freak”, popular in disco and funk, from social dances to songs like Chic’s “Le Freak” and Funkadelic’s “Freak of the Week”, would go on to become one of the defining subject matters of ’80s urban music, from “I Need a Freak”, to Whodini’s aforementioned “The Freaks Come out at Night.” In the hands of Was (Not Was) “The Freak” was not just a supreme lover, but also, a representative of our troubled times.

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