Monday, January 19, 2009

From Dumbo to a Soulful Ballad

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

The rock list, alphabetically speaking, begins here.

SONG: Baby Mine
Bonnie Raitt and Was (Not Was)
SONGWRITERS: Ned Washington / Frank Churchill
ALBUM: Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Various Disney Films

I loved working with Don Was.
(Bonnie Raitt)

In 1990, A&M Records put together a diverse group of performers on an album of classic songs from Walt Disney films. The results were mixed. Some were good (Aaron Neville doing the theme to the Mickey Mouse Club) and some were bad (having Tom Waits do “Hi Ho, Hi Ho (Dwarfs’ Marching Song)” might sound like a good idea, but it came out very weak).

On this album Bonnie Raitt teamed for the first time with Don Was, the bass player/producer of the eclectic funk/fun group Was (Not Was), on “Baby Mine.” The song, originally from the movie Dumbo, was the best cut on the album and one of the classic performances in Raitt’s career. It also began a relationship with Was that would lead Raitt into the land of multi-platinum sales and Grammy awards.

The song, originally from the movie Dumbo, was the best cut on the album and one of the classic performances in Raitt’s career. Raitt put her heart and soul into the song while the sweet voices of Sir Harry Bowens and Sweet Pea Atkinson provide beautiful backing vocals. It is gorgeous, soulful, and priceless.

Bonnie Raitt and Was (Not Was) would continue their relationship on Nick of Time, Luck of the Draw, Longing in Their Hearts, and Road Tested. The musical partnership netted seven Grammy awards. That award-winning partnership began right here with an exceptional song that needs to be found and heard. With a song this good, you envy Dumbo for his big ears!


“Runaway” (from Sweet Forgiveness) – the Del Shannon classic is turned into a mournful blues tune complete with Norton Buffalo’s killer harmonica playing. This is classic Bonnie Raitt.

“Sweet Forgiveness” (from Sweet Forgiveness) – listening to this two-speed song only serves to make one wonder just why it took Bonnie so long to move from cult star to superstar.

“Angel From Montgomery (from Streetlights, live duet with John Prine available on Prine’s Great Days anthology) – a fabulous John Prine song made more incredible with Raitt’s powerhouse vocals. The duet with Prine on Prine’s Great Days is worth the price of that anthology alone.

“Love Has No Pride” (from Give It Up) – if the only version you know is Linda Ronstadt’s, treat yourself to Riatt’s knockout version.


“(Return to the Valley of) Out Come the Freaks” (from Born to Laugh at Tornadoes) – this song became a running joke of sorts, appearing on every Was (Not Was) album in the 80s and 90s. This version is far and away the best.

“Smile” (from Born to Laugh at Tornadoes) – featuring the Knack’s Doug Fieger on lead vocals, the Was brothers turn out a great song combining funk and synth.

“Love Can Be Bad Luck” (from What Up, Dog) – soul singing is not out of style, thanks to the dual lead vocalists of Sir Harry Bowens and Sweet Pea Atkinson. This is a beautiful song, co-written with Marshall Crenshaw. (If that sounds like strange bedfellows, remember that both Was (Not Was) and Crenshaw are from Detroit.)

“I Feel Better Than James Brown” (from Are You Okay?) – David Was is to Was (Not Was) what the late Country Dick Montana was to the Beat Farmers – comic relief. This comical tune with a brilliantly hilarious title shows David at his silliest.

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