72-year-old Hillard ‘Sweet Pea’ Atkinson is back with a new album after 35 years. Sweet Pea is probably best remembered for the campy 1980s MTV hit “Walk the Dinosaur” by the group Was (Not Was). The track featured the Detroit singer’s distinctive growl, and the accompanying music video cemented his dapper image with his wide lapels and trademark fedora.
Sweet Pea Atkinson and the band’s biggest hit came with the release of the album What Up, Dog? in 1988. Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens shared vocal duties on that record, most famously on the funk track “Walk The Dinosaur,” a tune that became a top 10 Hit and a MTV mainstay due to its imaginative video.
The Was Brothers moved on to work on different projects in the 1990s. Atkinson also remained active, though mainly as a much in demand backing vocalist.
Since then, Sweet Pea Atkinson has kept a lower profile, serving as a background vocalist for numerous artists: Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and others.
Now, at 72, Sweet Pea Atkinson is back with a solo album of covers that span funk, blues and soul. It’s titled Get What You Deserve, and it’s his first in 35 years. Hear Atkinson and producer and former bandmate Don Was discuss the record at the audio link above.
According to a soultracks review, ‘Get What You Deserve’ is a record that showcases the diversity of blues and classic soul music, while also confirming that the blues can hold its own with any genre when it comes to spinning a great story that contains strong lyrical content. The record features the driving blues funk of the Keb Mo penned “Slow Down,” and Atkinson’s gravely baritone brings humor and wisdom to a number that finds him reflecting on the advice he ignored and took as he moved from reckless youth to family man.
The mournful blues/country ballad “Just Another Lonely Night” serves, as ballads often do, as a test to determine of Atkinson retains his vocal chops. Bringing the tempo of a song down puts weakness in the vocal game on full display. And while Atkinson can’t reach the soaring heights of his younger days – go back and listen to Atkinson add butter to his remake of the do-wop classic “So In Love” from his 1982 solo debut – the singer retains a great deal of vocal elasticity. “Last Two Dollars,” is a life weary blues number that is the perfect vehicle for a man who has seen it all and a voice that has sung it all. The cut is a classic blues story of a guy lending an ear and a couple of bucks to a woman who blew through her cash at the local casino while looking for her straying man.
Naming an album and song ‘Get What You Deserve’ serves as a reminder that there is a force in the world, called God by some and karma by others, ensuring that history’s long arc does indeed bend toward justice. Atkinson is a great backing vocalist, but it didn’t seem like justice that he’d never get a chance to be the lead singer on a major label release, and he makes the most of it. Recommended, soultracks concludes.