No other band did such a terrific job of creating its own backstory as DEVO. The gimmick was that the group had issues with evolution and wanted to reverse the natural order of things. They felt robbed, alienated and they wanted their tails back. They were champions of de-evolution. Thus, DEVO. They called themselves Spud Boys and ran around in boiler suits and industrial eye goggles. This experiment in high concept and techno punk created some of the most entertaining records of the new wave era.
Here is an offering of ten outstanding songs by DEVO:
1. Jocko Homo – The best declaratory anthem by any band from the post-punk years. This is from the 1978 album titled “Are We Not Men?” produced by the always inventive Brian Eno. Reduced to bare minimal four note techno repetitions, the rant goes “They tell us that we lost our tails evolving up from little snails. I say it’s all just wind in sails. Are we not men? We are DEVO!” The only thing coming close to such a “We’re here and we’re weird” musical statement is “Ant Music” by Adam Ant.
2. Uncontrollable Urge – This track has a hilarious assist from background singers who confirm, “He’s got an uncontrollable urge.”
3. Slap Your Mammy – Techno punk to the tenth power.
4. Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Getting’) – This recording, also from the “Are We Not Men?” album, puts you in mind of early Talking Heads, with DEVO lead singer and song writer Mark Mothersbaugh sounding remarkably like David Byrne. The resemblance is not completely surprising, given Brian Eno’s imaginative production collaboration with that group as well.
5. Whip It – “When a problem comes along, you must whip it. Before the cream sets out too long, you must whip it. When something’s going wrong, you must whip it.” DEVO songs are either about nothing at all or they are a great deal more than they seem. There is no middle ground.
6. Freedom of Choice – This title song from their self-produced 1980 album is an outstanding example of what a great straight-ahead punk bank DEVO would have been. No techno embellishments here, just pure guitar and drum head banging. The lesson being taught is depressingly true, especially in any given election year. “Freedom of choice is what you got. Freedom from choice is what you want.”
7. That’s Pep! – A deeply ironic and surprisingly complicated song. “Vigor, vim, vitality and punch. The ability to act on a sudden hunch. Knows to tackle the hottest thing. Feet that climb and hands that cling. A heart that never forgets to sing. That’s pep!” This can put you in mind of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “I wish I was like you: easily amused.”
8. Girl U Want – This clinical love song is directed from one jocko homo to another, with the girl as a distant object.
9. Jerkin’ Back ‘N’ Forth – “I know I let you tell me what to do. You were confident you knew best. Now things aren’t working like you want them to. Your confidence is what I detest.” DEVO had really arrived when this self-produced 1981 album titled “New Traditionalists” was released. The inner sleeve of the record offered a full range of DEVO gift items. In addition to T-shirts and posters, your could order an Energy Dome, “a special red vacu-form hat designed and worn by DEVO in concert, on TV and in airports.” Better yet was the New Traditionalist Pomp, a strap-on hard plastic hairdoo. “When the circumstances call for pomp, be ready with your DEVO-DOO; fabricated from durable A.B.S. plastic and designed with you in mind. (Basic black, one size fits all.)” The tracks on this album have a mature sound and clean production values.
10. Through Being Cool – “We’re though being cool. Eliminate the minis and the Twist. Going to bang some heads. Going to beat some butts. Time to show those evil Spuds what’s what. We’re through being cool. Put the tape on erase. Rearrange your face. We always liked Picasso anyway.” This would be the perfect song for the conclusion of the DEVO experiment.