Record Review: Was (Not Was) – “Walk The Dinosaur” US 12″

was (not was) walk the diinosaur cover art
Chrysalis | US | 12″ | 1988 | 4V9 43332

Was (Not Was): Walk The Dinosaur – US – 12″ [1988]

  1. Walk The Dinosaur [New York Dangerous Mix] 6:58
  2. Walk The Dinosaur [Bruce’s Prehistoric Dub] 6:43
  3. Walk The Dinosaur [The Debunking Of Uri Geller Mix] 4:30
  4. Walk The Dinosaur [7″ Version] 3:38

Yet another specter of “Novelty Rock” reared its scaly head last week when commenter Tim offered that Was (Not Was) sole hit single in America was, as much as he loved the band, novelty music. Inasmuch as Was (Not Was) pursued a willfully perverse mixture of Zappa -meets-James-Brown/P-Funk as filtered through their potent wiseguy filters for two albums, only to find them pursuing a goofy soulfunk single on their third album might meet such criteria.

Especially with the album offering the most psychotic mix of styles than ever before. People have compared “Dad, I’m In Jail” to The Butthole Surfers and the Butthole Surfers wished! Elsewhere the band let Sweet Pea Atkinson beat Sam + Dave at their own game. Say what you will about “Walk The Dinosaur,” but it actually worked. The single went top 10 in the UK first and then the USA once Chrysalis USA released the album here.

The four mixes here kicked off with one that played its cards close to its vest. The “New York Dangerous Mix” was the one for those who liked the album track but wanted to hear it expanded. The mix opened with David Was’ curmudgeon vocal from the bridge, transposed right up front. The deephook backing vocal chant was the key to the song’s success. It was Was (Not Was) trying for [and succeeding] at something on the order of George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” hook. It was probably the hit’s calling card yet it was decidedly different here. It was a completely different vocal take with the uniform power we had come to expect sacrificed for a frisky sense of humor in undermining our anticipation.

The mix had more percussion with the rhythm out in front. All sorts of 808 percussion was added here and the vocals of Sir Harry Bowens and Sweet Pea were EQ’d very differently. The vocals took a step back from the proscenium in the mix and were flattened as all sorts of synth filigree joined the horns to fill the space more aggressively. The sax solo managed to avoid the sax cliche’s of the 80s pretty easily. The mix climaxed with the song’s distinctive chant extended and turned inside out as the vocals were all pitched differently for a drastic change to the hit version.

The dub version sounded like it was really taking advantage of the new-ish MIDI technology of the day that made generating remixes easier than ever. The MIDI files recorded the timing and attack of any synth playing and one could easily change the envelope that it was played back with easily. This meant that you could swap out the synth bass sounds with ease. You could change a Hammond Organ patch to a Render Rhodes electric piano, or anything in between.

But the mix sounded like it was based on the New York Dangerous Mix as Bruce Forest was responsible for both mixes. These mixes were dub only in that vocals were almost completely absent, with only scant amounts of the backing vocal chant joining in at the climax; syncopated with the horns. Anyone hoping for real dub technique and minimalism would cast a jaundiced eye at this mix. I did like the breakdown at the end where the vocals outlasted the music bed and the first second of reversed drums from Siouxsie + The Banshees’ “Peek-A-Boo” was dropped in at the last possible second.

The Debunking Of Uri Geller Mix was one of the more radical remixes that Was (Not Was) loved to indulge in. At the time, they were dipping into Acid House and this mix was another of their complete reworks in the style. The bursts of machine gun fire and women screaming let us know that we’re not in Kansas anymore. The whole track has been rebuilt by Don Was and Jamie Muhoberac. The backing vocal chant is the same as on the New York Dangerous Mix but further adlibs liberally thrown into the mix. There’s a new sampled hook used liberally throughout with a White Man from the 1930s/40s saying “how can you look at people and lie like that?” to which an impudent youngster responded “eat s***!”

Sampled vocal effects and videogame percussion rubbed shoulder pads with the acid house sequencers. When bits of Harry Bowens from the chorus popped up and sang, that would be as much as we got from the original vocalists. Sweet Pea was completely out of the picture. The Hammond solo became electric piano with a weird envelope here; sounding not unlike the wicked, jazzy soloing of Harry Casey on “Get Down Tonight.” The solo was far closer to something that Mike Garson would have contributed. The radical but brief mix was a succinct 4:30. Gimmicky as can but but not overstaying its welcome by too much.

The 7″ mix was the album track trimmed by a little over a minute and given a laserlike focus on delivering those hooks like the pros they were. The vocals were pushed forward and glossier on the EQ. Like any great single, it left you wanting more. When it popped up on MTV I certainly bought a copy of “What Up, Dog” as soon as I saw the CD. This was the first Was (Not Was) album to make it to CD and fortunately, its success allowed for the first two to join their younger, more successful sibling on the silver disc.


At the end of the day, I have reservations at calling anything that brings Sweet Pea Atkinson to the masses a “novelty song.” Unless by that you mean the novelty of hearing the Last Soul Singer in the context of an era of plastic cyberfunk gone amok; with NFL cheerleaders who can’t sing challenging Madonna for domination of the charts. And Madonna couldn’t even lead a cheer. So the New Work Dangerous Mix and the classic 7″ are still Mutant Funk for my ears. After all, embedded within the seeming trifle were nuclear apocalypse metaphors [according to co-writer Randy Jacobs] slipped in for the kiddies.

A shadow from the sky, much too big to be a bird

A screaming, crashing noise louder than I’ve ever heard

It looked like two big silver trees that somehow learned to soar

Suddenly a summer breeze and a mighty lion’s roar

“Walk The Dinosaur”

BONUS ROUND!

When researching this one I did run across something that was a novelty song. One ironically performed by the aforementioned George Clinton! And still produced by [wait for it] Don Was! I honestly had no idea…

the goombas and george clinton - walk the dinosaur cover art
Capitol Records | UK | 7″ | 1993 | CLP 693

The Goombas [Featuring George Clinton]: Walk The Dinosaur – UK – 7″ [1993]

  1. Walk The Dinosaur [Single Version]
  2. Walk The Dinosaur [Club Mix Edit]

This little freakshow was commissioned five years later to wring another hit out of the chestnut in the service of the ill-starred “Super Mario Brothers” movie that was supposed to revolutionize the cinema by being the first videogame-based movie. Yeah, we all saw how that trend worked out. Hearing the chant transposed to “Goom-Goom-Acka-Lacka-Lacka-Goom! Goom-Goom-Acka-Lacka-Goom-ba!” managed to really take the wind out of my sails. I still added it to the Infinite Wantlist® for the WTF-ness of it all. Your mileage may vary.

-30-

About postpunkmonk

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5 Responses to Record Review: Was (Not Was) – “Walk The Dinosaur” US 12″

  1. Echorich says:

    it’s hard to believe that Walk The Dinosaur is from the late 80s. Everything that I have ever appreciated from Was Not Was was very much early 80s. But having said that, Walk The Dinosaur fits perfectly well into their sonic oeuvre. It’s too good at being funky to be a novelty. They may have moved on to the big time, but Was Not Was as still a band that grew from the fertile soil of Ze Records, so they would always deserve my attention. I can almost guarantee I have a mixtape stashed away in a box that has Walk The Dinosaur followed by Cameo’s Word Up, Scritti Politti’s Boom! There She Was and Chaka Khan’s Love Of A Lifetime…

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – You hit the nail on the head. “Too good at being funky to be a novelty.” I need to replicate that mix tape RIGHT NOW! Their 1988 album was definitely moving with the times while not being nailed to them. It was my pick for fave album of 1988, as I recall. The debut is still largely a late 70s album. “Born To Laugh At Tornados” captured the incipient end of New Wave and Post-Punk while cranking up the wiseguy factor from the relatively theoretical debut.

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  2. One of my favorite interviews I have ever conducted was Don Was back in… 2008{?} and I got him to sign my Was (Not Was) CDs. I heard the stories behind “Walk The Dinosaur” and “Dad, I’m In Jail” and was able to gush to him about their version of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” among other things. It was a great conversation and I would love to have a memoir from him. As for this song, well, I wish I had the 12″. Even when they were just literally messing around and not trying they could churn out some brilliance. The Mario Bros. version is horrible. No thanks.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      postpostmoderndad – Don’t taunt us! Where’s the link to that interview? I once bought a “Robot Girl” UK 12” and when I was at the counter checking out the clerk and I noticed that Don Was had autographed it in blue marker! I wanted so badly to go to their concert in Orlando that year but the friend I asked said “I don’t like rap music….!” They appeared in 1990 in Orlando one more time as part of the “Club MTV” package tour that I felt was worth passing up. Was (Not Was) and Information Society along with Paula Abdul, Lisa Lisa + Cult Jam, Tone Lōc, and (wait for it…) Milli Vanilli.

      I was thrilled when they reactivated in 2008 with “Boo!” It was a CD I pre-ordered at my local store and had on day one. The youthful hipsters who run that joint had no clues about Was (Not Was)!

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