Thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1988, Was (Not Was) released the album What Up, Dog? Officially the third full-length from the group, the album showed up just as one of the two individuals who adopted the last name Was was experiencing an elevated presence in the music industry. Within the next year, Don Was took the producer or co-producer credit on Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time and Cosmic Thing from the B-52’s, both massive, career-redefining records. Here, he was simply one part of a team that cooked up a decidedly strange and careening album.
What Up, Dog? largely eschewed the gimmickry of its predecessor, Born to Laugh at Tornadoes, which recruited an oddball assortment of guest lead vocalists. Instead, those duties were largely given to Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens, terrifically talented soul singers who’d never gotten much of a break previously. And then the Was boys went to work crafting songs that were maybe tongue in cheek, maybe sweetly earnest, maybe some loopy amalgamation of both.
At my college radio station, the songs that tipped toward novelty got the most airplay, especially “I’m in Jail,” which layered screeching vocals atop music that sounded like a malfunctioning video game with an acid jazz combo inside. But when it felt like prying eyes weren’t around — so round about 1:30 a.m. of my weekly late night shift — I found myself gravitating to the track that shimmered with classic pop polish, as if the band harbored a secret desire to revive Burt Bacharach lush lullabies with a modernized nervous system. It was the sillier material that eventually paid off big for Was (Not Was), but remain most enamored with the cuts that are the ideal playlist additions for the elegant version of Top 40 radio that’s never existed. If it had, “Somewhere in America There’s a Street Named After My Dad” would surely have been a chart-topper.
Listen or download —> Was (Not Was), “Somewhere in America There’s a Street Named After My Dad”
(Disclaimer: Is What Up, Dog? available in a physical format that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensate both the original artist and the proprietor of said shop? Beats me! It doesn’t look like it, but that seems a little implausible, since it contains the group’s one significant hit. Regardless, the track is shared here not as an alternative to commerce, but rather as encouragement for such an exchange of currency to receive musical art. If not this record, then think about getting something else that one of the Was fellows put his fingerprints on. I believe I’m operating under the legal principle of fair use, but I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this song from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)