Have you ever met anybody who didn’t like the song “Whip It”? No, of course you haven’t. And on the off chance you did meet such a person, did you ever speak to them again once you knew how they felt? No, of course you didn’t. There’s something about Whip It that instantly demands and holds the listener’s attention; I remember hearing it for the first time in fifth or sixth grade and knowing instantly it would be a timeless classic. And that was before I realized it was one of the most hopeful, optimistic songs about personal progress ever recorded. And the video, well…the fact that Devo was strange and immediately identifiable didn’t seem to hurt.
For some reason though, I never ended up with any Devo in my music collection beyond the Whip It single. I corrected that oversight and downloaded Freedom of Choice a couple weeks ago. To my surprise, Linus and Lily (and I) loved the entire record; it’s now in heavy rotation day and night in our house.
I showed them some Devo videos on YouTube. I wanted to impress upon them how bizarre Devo was, because that was my first impression of the band. I saw their original appearance on SNL in 1978 or so with my parents. They wore the yellow jumpsuits and sang “We Are Devo” and “Satisfaction”. My parents didn’t quite know what to say and neither did I, but it made an impression. Unfortunately, because SNL and NBC keep tight wraps on their material I couldn’t find that appearance on YouTube, but there was plenty of footage from their two appearances in Fridays (a treasure trove of live music from the early ’80s from that show on YouTube; some great Clash and Pretenders footage, among others). So we looked at that, as well as the Whip It and Freedom of Choice videos (which is very rare and its own kind of weird).
But unlike me in 1978, they didn’t see anything unusual about Devo, other than the red hats. And the only thing they thought was strange about the hats was that they found five of them to wear. But having seen plenty of videos on YouTube, or Flaming Lips in concert (in Linus’s case) has taken quite a bit of the edge off of Devo in 2008. To them, Devo is just another band with keyboards and funny hats playing some kick-ass songs. I tried to assure them that in 1978 and 1980, Devo wasn’t like other bands.
As for why Devo works so well, I’m not sure, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they strip the music down to the essentials of guitar, a real drum kit, hard beats, and a few electronic gadgets to fill in the space…but there is a lot of space in between the sounds, similar to Spoon in a lot of ways. Guitar, drums, and beats…can’t go wrong there. And the hats help.
But I still maintain Devo is wonderfully strange, and I submit the following as proof: