“It was not only an act of supreme generosity on [Leonard Cohen’s ] part but a flawless reading of the song“
Those reports of unprecedented quantities of energy emanating from the Triangle area of North Carolina need not trigger concern that, say, a local nuclear power plant has gone Chernobyl. This phenomenon can instead be ascribed to DrHGuy finding a message from Don Was, world class musician and Grammy-winning record producer,1 in his inbox:
hi allan –
just stumbled upon your video for our song “Elvis’ Rolls Royce”….i really love it! It’s exactly what I visualized when we wrote the song and seeing your video 20 plus years after we recorded the track gave me a renewed sense of how surreally awesome it was that leonard agreed to do the vocal for us…it was not only an act of supreme generosity on his part but a flawless reading of the song…thanks for putting so much work into the video….i hope everyone on earth gets to see it!
OK, let’s make that “Don Was, world class musician, Grammy-winning record producer, and one heck of a guy.”
Update: Read David Was on Leonard Cohen at Leonard Cohen Smiles Down on Us From the ‘Tower of Song’ by David Weiss (Newsweek: Nov 11, 2016)
Leonard Cohen, Was (Not Was), Elvis’ Rolls Royce, & The Video
Who remembers Was (Not Was)?
Need a hint? OK, perhaps you recall their one Top 40 hit, a 1988 dance ditty called Walk The Dinosaur. It had a contagious chorus that, once it infected ones brain, would nest in a sulcus, triggering its host to begin singing these lines2 at especially inappropriate times over the next several years:
Open the door, get on the floor
Everybody walk the dinosaur
I won’t ask who else, besides me, liked the song, because I know you too cool for school sorts won’t fess up to perpetually humming it from 1988 to 1996. Admit it, though. You would like to hear it just one more time, wouldn’t you? Maybe even see that silly music video? Well, I’m no spoilsport. Check it out.
It’s OK. Go ahead. I won’t tell anyone.
Was (Not Was) – Walk The Dinosaur
Was (Not Was) deserved more hits but, while they managed to release four albums from 1981 through 1990 as well as the occasional single and to develop a cult following, especially around their hometown of Detroit, they were never superstars. (Ongoing recording-contract problems may have had something to do with that.)
They specialized in R&B and funk, often played at an upbeat dance tempo, routinely integrating other musical genres, including but not limited to jazz, pop, hip-hop, hard rock, Motown soul, and spoken word poetry into the mix.
Their strength, however, in my estimation, was the humor and clever lyrics of their songs. How could anyone not like I Feel Better Than James Brown with its tune and lyrics (including the line, “And Fidel and I open a chain of Kentucky Fried Chicken shops”) that play off James Brown’s I Feel Good? And I couldn’t resist smiling every time I heard the the lines in Somewhere In America that described a neighborhood with “no saber-tooth neighbors” and “no day care Felinis.”
Was (Not Was) was also known for their guest vocalists, including Ozzie Osborne, Elvis Costello, Mel Torme, Marshall Crenshaw, Doug Feiger (The Knack), and Frank Sinatra, Jr.
They also cut a track on one of their albums with a fellow named Leonard Cohen, which brings us to …
Elvis’ Rolls Royce
In 1990 Was (Not Was) published the album, Are You Okay?, which included the song, “Elvis’ Rolls Royce” with Leonard Cohen as lead vocalist (and Iggy Pop contributing backing vocals). One suspects that it was fun to produce, and it’s clearly fun to hear. It seemed only fitting that it should have a fun video as well. That’s where DrHGuy, master of the cut and paste flick, came into the picture.
Considerable poetic license was involved in the composition of “Elvis’ Rolls Royce,” but Elvis did own a Rolls Royce:
January 1961: Elvis signed a 5 year contract with Hal Wallis. To celebrate he went out and bought a Rolls Royce Phantom V from a Beverly Hills dealer only to bring it home and have his mothers’ chickens peck away at their reflections in the elegant finish. Most people would have just shot the birds but Elvis just chose to have the car repainted four or five times.3
That Rolls Royce is the one featured in the extraordinarily rare4 photo of Elvis, Leonard, & the Rolls atop this section of the post. Elvis also owned a 1966 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud.
In any case, images in the accompanying video are likewise “inspired by” rather than “based on” Elvis’ cars. Viewers are advised to rev up their “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith;”5 a literal-minded perspective may result in significant cognitive whiplash.
Video: Leonard Cohen & Was (Not Was) – Elvis’ Rolls Royce
Video by Allan Showalter
I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted at 1HeckOfAGuy.com on posts dated Jan 24, 2007, Nov 18, 2011, and Apr 8, 2014.
- Don Was has produced every Rolling Stones album since 1993, co-led the 1980s group Was (Not Was), was appointed president of the jazz record label, Blue Note Records, in 2012, served as music director for a batch of movies (e.g., Thelma and Louise, The Rainmaker, Hope Floats), and has recorded with – well, just about everyone, including Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, John Mayer, Ziggy Marley, Bob Seger, Al Green, Lucinda Williams, Garth Brooks, Ringo Starr, Iggy Pop, Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson, Joe Cocker, Hootie and The Blowfish, Amos Lee, Willie Nelson Elton John, Stevie Nicks, George Clinton, Randy Newman, The Black Crowes, Carly Simon, Travis Tritt, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, The Barenaked Ladies, Old Crow Medicine Show, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Richie Sambora, The Presidents of the United States of America, B.B. King, Paul Westerberg, Kurt Elling, Poison, Cheb Khaled, The B-52’s, Zucchero, Todd Snider, Elizabeth Cook, Jill Sobule and Solomon Burke. [↩]
- The complete lyrics of Walk The Dinosaur follow:
Boom boom acka-lacka lacka boom
Boom boom acka-lacka boom boom
It was a night like this forty million years ago
I lit a cigarette, picked up a monkey skull to go
The sun was spitting fire, the sky was blue as ice
I felt a little tired, so I watched Miami Vice
And Walked the dinosaur, I walked the dinosaur
Open the door, get on the floor
Everybody walk the dinosaur
I met you in a cave, you were painting buffalo
I said I’d be your slave, follow you wherever you go
That night we split a rattlesnake and danced beneath the stars
You fell asleep, I stayed awake and watched the passing cars
And walked the dinosaur, I walked the dinosaur
*One night I dreamed of New York
You and I roasting blue pork
In the Statue of Liberty’s torch
Elvis landed in a rocket ship
Healed a couple of lepers and disappeared
But where was his beard?????*
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
I killed the dinosaur, I killed the dinosaur [↩]
- ElvisPresleyNews.com [↩]
- It is so extraordinarily rare that it was, in fact, nonexistent in the pre-Photoshop world [↩]
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1817 [↩]