Record Review: Was (Not Was) – Robot Girl [remix]

Mercury ‎| UK | 12″ | 1986 | WASR 112

Was (Not Was): Robot Girl [remix] UK 12″ [1986]

  1. Robot Girl [Paris Mix]
  2. Earth To Doris
  3. Robot Girl [East Grinstead Mix]
  4. Where Did Your Heart Go

The errant path of Was (Not Was) had been a tale of an album for this label, followed by a break and another album for a different label a few years later. Born on Ze, picked up [and dropped] by Geffen, 1986 found The Brothers testing the waters with Mercury/Phonogram. The first single from their tentative new alliance was the funky R+B of “Robot Girl.” This band knew how to cook a funk groove and perhaps with their fate hanging in the balance, the good this time out were slightly less skewed than could normally be found on their Funkadelic-Meets-Zappa platters. Sir Harry Bowens took the lead vocals here. I bought a promo 12″ of the initial 12″ released in the UK over 11 years ago. I recently purchased this second remix 12″ in January. I have yet to hear the first 12″ I bought, but I was determined not to let nearly a dozen years pass before listening to this latest 12″ single.

The Paris Mix was a hard beat variant on the straight single version with the normal rhythm section ripped out by the roots and replaced with a hyper aggressive 3D beatbox. The Liberace piano solo before the breakdown was deliciously ornate. When the beat finally hit the drop, David Was was given a drop-in voice over that I had not heard on the song before.

“Robot Girl…do these sunglasses go with my shoes?” – David Was

With that the track broke down with a welter of party ad-libs. David Was then took center stage on the hilarious one-night stand psychodrama “Earth To Doris.” This track was one of the best, most twisted B-sides ever! With a music bed that sounded like a psychotic variant on cheese-laden 50’s stripper accompaniment, Was recounted a lo-rent shack-up that made “Third Rate Romance” by The Amazing Rhythm Aces seem like Jane Austen in comparison! This simply must be heard to be believed. David Was related the tale in the first person with a palpable sneer that positively reeked of stale cigarette butts and coffee grounds. Even if the rest of this single were dog meat, I’d treasure it for this track alone.

The East Grinstead Mix of “Robot Girl” indulged in some flavor-of-the-month timeliness in its mix, which was a variation on the “Paris Mix.” Since this record came out in 1986 [a full two years prior to the subsequent Was (Not Was) album, “What Up Dog”] it set its sights on Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” as its archetype. Deceptively, after the opening jazzy horns kicked off the tune, the synth bass and congas fed into Miss Jackson’s familiar “gimme a beat” sampled, chopped, sliced, diced, and practically julienned as the big beat itself [possibly also sampled from “Nasty”] slammed into the listener using EQ for even more harsh impact. I have to admit, that it sounded even more brash that the Paris Mix. The rhythm guitars were up in the mix as well, meaning that the midrange spectrum of the song was strictly for vocals. The music bed was either hard bass or tinkling treble. The beatbox work on this track was extremely in one’s face. I’d not heard anything this vehement since Keith LeBlanc’s tremendous work on “How To Be A Zillionaire,” but this was an ever harder slamming colossus.

Sweetpea Atkinson

Finally, an old Was (Not Was) tune from the archive was dusted off to make this into a 4 track EP. “Where Did Your Heart Go” dated from the band’s primordial Ze Records era. I had wondered if this was a new recording or not, since the copyright information placed the song in 1986 ©-space. But hard listening to both the first Was (Not Was) album track and this cut from 12” revealed that these were the same recordings. The romantic, yet twisted ballad had fun juxtaposing the smooth saxes with the gruff soul vocals of the almighty Sweetpea Atkinson. The man is truly a national treasure, even is The Brothers Was steadfastly refused to write those “bedroom songs” that Sweetpea always hoped for. That’s just not how these wiseguys rolled. David and Don were always trying to see how far they could get in their mission to subvert R+B and funk into something far more disturbing and surreal than was normal in those genres.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

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9 Responses to Record Review: Was (Not Was) – Robot Girl [remix]

  1. Tim says:

    Orquestra Was is quite underrated and veers kinda close to the bedroom songs. My favorite track by them will always be Somewhere in America, which while a fine song probably wouldn’t lend itself to a dedicated post.

    Are we on the start of a Was (Not Was) binge? I would be very interested in a similar piece on Out Comes The Freaks in all of it iterations.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – We could probably post a week long thread on “Out Come The Freaks” but I don’t have any of the “level 2” remixes. Those are difficult singles to purchase!

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      • Tim says:

        For a while I was a bit of an “Out Comes The Freaks” completionist.
        What are the level 2 mixes? Just curious, I may have them.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Here they are:

          • Geffen UK 12″ TA 4178 | (Return To The Valley Of) Out Come The Freaks (extended remix) 8:49 +
          (Predominantly Funk Version) Out Come The Freaks 12:20

          • Geffen UK 7″ A 4178 | (Return To The Valley Of) Out Come The Freaks 3:45 +
          (Predominantly Funk Version) Out Come The Freaks 5:10

          Three mixes. The long and short Predominantly Funk Versions have different mixing credits.

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          • Tim says:

            Hmmm….I don’t think that I have those. There’s so many of them but I am pretty sure that a) all of mine are from vinyl and b) all of that vinyl is US.

            To add a further wrinkle to any gestating Freak post there is an early US 12” for “Tell Me That I’m Dreaming” and I am pretty sure those are early takes on the OCtF song. I bought the 12er off of eBay years ago and I’d have to revisit the songs but if my memory is right the OCtF DNA is there.

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  2. ISTR that you played me “Earth to Doris” and another track (almost certainly “Hi Dad, I’m in Jail”) and we just busted a gut laughing. This was performance art disguised as music, and whole three-act plays have been built on much less than what’s packed into those two songs!

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