Television created a subgenre of music a few years ago that can be designated as “artificial, nonexistent, techno-pop,” which must be differentiated from the succeeding, garden variety of techno-pop aired today by the human/machine combinations known as the Eurythmics, Flock of Seagulls, etc. The original includes the music of The Monkees, that group of well-scrubbed faces that was put together on the basis of a casting call: musicians need not apply. Mickey, Davy, Mike, and Peter sang and pretended to play, but little did those swooning 13-year-olds who sat transfixed in front of their sets realize that groups of bona fide studio musicians were really behind “The Last Train to Clarksville.” Things really became bizarre a few years later when Archie comics were turned into a Saturday morning cartoon show and Arch, Jug head, and the gang became a rock group. Scratch an oldies-but-goodies package made during the past several years and you’re bound to find the Archie’s big hit, “Sugar, Sugar.” Who cut that record? Never mind.

One of the groups—a term that must be used advisedly—that will undoubtedly become one of the most talked-about (and which, perhaps, will find true success in America: a People cover) is Was (Not Was). It consists of two men, Don Fagenson and David Weiss, who, showing their great senses of humor, sign themselves as Don Was and David Was on their latest album, Born to Laugh at Tornadoes (Geffen Records). Just as Detroit has brought forth “The New Chrysler Corporation,” which is nothing more
than the old one with an up-to-date adjective added, the Motor City is responsible for Was (Not Was), a name with the same amount of sense.

Musically, this is techno-pop at its best (worst?): a pastiche of musical styles driven by such electronic gizmos as the Oberheim OBXA, the Vocorder, and the now-ever-ubiquitous Moog. The results are a Motown-like ballad, “(Return to the Valley of) Out Come the Freaks,” a surf type style on “Smile,” the rhythm-and -blues shouting of “Bow Wow Wow Wow,” and more. The Was persons have their own Monkeesesque support in home-grown musicians including Mitch (“Sally Take a Ride”) Ryder and Marshall Crenshaw. The most interesting cut, “Zaz Turned Blue,” features the voice of the Velvet Fog himself, Mel Torme (who knew David Weiss as a former jazz critic at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner). Torme, one of the best white scat singers, has been vocalizing mellifluous nonsense for years; there is no change here.

According to Weiss, the pair started making music because they were unsuccessful some 10 years ago, when they were teens, in picking up girls on the key suburban cruising strip, Woodward Avenue. That’s true romantic despair for you, circa the late 20th century. Chances are, the lonely boys went home one Friday night, turned on the tube, watched it bleary-eyed all night long, and found their calling the following morning. Even American Bandstand has consequences. (SM)