Jheri Curl June: Was (Not Was)’ “Walk the Dinosaur”

Is jheri curl music still jheri curl music when it’s self-aware? This is the existential question raised by “Walk the Dinosaur,” the hit 1988 single by Detroit new-wavers Was (Not Was). It has all the ingredients of a great late-period jheri-curl song: clattering synthesized percussion, a bassline that pops all over the place, soulful vocals by singers Harry Bowens and “Sweet Pea” Atkinson. But it’s also coated with the thick layer of ironic detachment that comes with the territory of white art-school types like David and Don Was (born David Weiss and Don Fagenson) interloping in African American culture (see also: Beck, Jack White, Dystopian Dance Party). Indeed, the campy, Flintstones-inspired music video, whose line-dancing cavegirls set off a short-lived late-’80s dance craze, threatens to take the song directly into novelty territory.

Fortunately, however, the “brothers” Was were both dedicated pastiche artists and certifiable pop-music geeks with a genuine love for the styles they imitated; these are the same guys, after all, who employed P-Funk musicians years before Talking Heads, and sounded more like the real thing in the process. So yes, “Walk the Dinosaur” is both an arch postmodern jest that uses contemporary R&B as a vehicle for ironic visions of nuclear apocalypse, and a goofy novelty dance number; but it’s also, at least as far as I’m concerned, a good-ass song, and a worthy addition to the annals of jheri curl music history. Let’s, uh, just try not to think about that 1993 cover by George Clinton.

We’ll be back tomorrow with another Jheri Curl June Special about the other titan of jheri curl music. In the meantime, check on that playlist after the jump!


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