Our Humble Origins
Dance, Dance, Dance
This is the story of a dance company - that became something else.
The Cosmopolitans, a dance-troupe-turned-rock-combo, surfed the New Wave as a leader of the pack of party bands as the 1970s bled into the 1980s. With their Shangri-Las attitude, Hullabaloo choreography, Sam the Sham spirit, and deadpan lyrics, the group delivered dance music - frantic and fun - decked out in matching outfits with fringe, sequins, chartreuse fake furs, and Keds. The group is best remembered for cutting one of the most infectious singles of the era: "(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy" b/w "Wild Moose Party" and "Dancin' Lesson."
When the group broke into the New York rock scene in 1979, the Village Voice described them as "New Wave pom-pom girls with brains." "[It] Sounds like they walked off the set of a John Waters movie," quipped Lisa Robinson in the New York Post. Next magazine touted their mix of "innocence and perversity."
The Cosmopolitans' origins date back to 1975, when Jamie K. Sims founded the North Carolina Progressive Dance Troop [sic], a rogue dance/theater company, while finishing her music composition degree at UNC - Chapel Hill. Two years later she moved the dance company to NYC and facetiously renamed them the Cosmopolitan Dance Troop [sic]. They performed both serious and satire Sims pieces in theaters and art galleries. As a sideline, the group - then consisting of both guys and gals - go-go danced onstage with rock-scene friends the dB's and the Fleshtones at clubs Irving Plaza, CBGB's, Maxwell's, and TR3. They also hosted dance lessons at Club 57, teaching New York denizens retro dance moves like the Jerk, the Watusi, and the Boogaloo, as well as originals such as the T(alking) H(eads) Tromp and the Fleshtone Flankstep.
In 1979 a benefit concert was thrown for the struggling dance group at CBGB's. The bill included Bobby "Boris" (Monster Mash) Pickett, the dB's, the Fleshtones, Information, and Big Help. At show's end the Cosmopolitan Dance Troop (with Nel Moore Nichols, Harry Gantz, Glen Tig, Catherine Petrillo, and Jamie) performed one of their own song and dance numbers. It was an instant hit with the CB's crowd. Jamie shortened their name to the Cosmopolitans, and from then on began booking them at clubs instead of theaters. Cool and ridiculous, the Cosmopolitans were a welcome antidote to the often self-serious side of Punk and New Wave.
By 1980 the boys were out of the group and the Cosmopolitans were an all-girl threesome of Jamie, Nel, and Leslie Levinson. They performed Sims's songs and a wild assortment of covers to taped backing tracks recorded by Sims and fellow North Carolina luminaries Mitch Easter and Chris Stamey. For live shows, drummer Will Rigby often sat in to augment the taped tracks. Levinson left later that year, and the Cosmopolitans forged on as Jamie, Nel, Will, and The Tape.
In the summer of 1980, Jamie and Nel headed down to Mitch Easter's Drive-In Studio (in Winston-Salem, N.C.) to record a booking demo of three of Jamie's songs. Mitch and Jamie produced the session, with Mitch on drums and guitar. Jamie provided vocals, keyboards, percussion, and harmonica, with Nel also on vocals, harmonica, and percussion. Back in New York, Alan Betrock was taken with what he heard and released the tracks on his Shake Records label in October 1980. "(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy" and "Wild Moose Party" both became radio and dance-club hits. Robert Palmer, writing in The New York Times, referred to "(How to Keep Your) Husband Happy" as a "very funny dance number [with] originality and wit." Goldmine wrote that the songs had "an infectious beat, a wild sense of humor .... The spunky chorus and the band's cynical musical complement makes this record priceless!"
The songs were given robust airplay on New York's WNEW-FM and WBLS-FM, and for two months held the #1 position on the intercollegiate Wave Breaker chart. The record also received international airplay from Europe to South America, and was especially popular on BBC's Radio One. In 1981 Albion Records released "Husband Happy" in the U.K. with a new tune, "Chevy Baby."
A short time after the Shake Records release, additional musicians were added and the Cosmopolitans evolved into a tape-free live band. Jamie and Nel provided the group with vocals, percussion, and choreography. Jamie often added Acetone organ, and Nel wailed on harmonica. The longest-lived lineup of live Cosmopolitans included drummer Evan "Funk" Davies, guitarist/vocalist David "Itch" Britsch, and keyboardist Jeff Dedrick. Robert Crenshaw stepped in as drummer in late 1981. In 1982 the final touring/live band added Neil Winograd on drums and Judy Monteleone on guitar and vocals. The group performed at New York's most high-profile rock clubs - including Hurrah, Max's Kansas City, the Mudd Club, the Ritz, the Peppermint Lounge, CBGB's, and Irving Plaza - and toured up and down the East Coast.
In 1982, Jamie was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr and disbanded the group.
In November 2006, Lee Joseph of Dionysus Records released a Cosmopolitans retrospective CD on the Bacchus Archives label, Wild Moose Party - New Wave Pom Pom Girls Gone Go-Go, NYC 1980-1981. The CD featured unreleased studio and live tapes, plus the original Shake recordings. During the archaeological dig for old tapes, a pre-MTV video of "Husband Happy," directed by Mike Dugan, was also unearthed and was included on the CD.
On August 1, 2009, the Cosmopolitans performed a reunion concert to a packed house at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, N.C. - their first show in 27 years. The reunion band enlisted Jamie, Nel, Evan, Cathy Harrington (keyboards/vocals), Corey Sims (guitar/vocals), and Don Dixon (bass). Mitch guested on "Husband Happy." David and Judy were unable to make the show for health reasons. Two actual doctors - Mac Smith, M.D., and Thad Williamson, Ph.D., guested on "Rockin' Doctors." Both Don and Mitch also played solo sets.
"Husband Happy" is also used as part of the soundtrack for Mothers of the Revolution (Universal Pictures), the 2021 nuclear protest documentary by filmmaker Briar March.
And now Beloved has brought the Cosmopolitans sound back to vinyl with the release of "PARTY BOY" - seven songs: including two of the original songs mastered by Bob Ludwig in 1980, and two previously unheard recordings of Cosmopolitans standards. Also included is a 32-page historical fanzine from dance troop to dance band.