Devo is a band that has been doing its thing since its formation in 1973. Along with Alan Myers, the classic line-up was made up of two sets of brothers, Mark and Bob Motherbaugh and Gerald and Bob Casales (now sadly deceased). They are known for their hit 1980 single “Whip It” which is what got them mainstream popularity; however, their incredibly unique career contains so much more than that. Along with making very interesting music that stands out from the rest of the pack, Devo has always been incredibly entertaining on a live and visual scale. Their incorporation of science fiction themes as well as deadpan satirical humor has made them an amusing band to listen to as well as a brilliant one.
Devo is without a doubt gods within the new wave/post-punk sphere of music. They arguably played these genres before they even existed, even before punk existed. Also, with their aforementioned visual aspect, they were at one-time ground-breakers within the medium of the music video, with “Whip It” being a massive rating puller during the early days of MTV. So, with all that said, let’s look at the ten best from the gods of geek rock…
# 10 – Freedom of Choice
Kicking off this top 10 Devo Songs list is the title track from the band’s third album released in 1980. A song that lyrically deals with the concept of free will, when Devo released the song as a single they cleverly used their quirky sense of humor to have no defined A or B side, instead instructing the listener to use their “freedom of choice” to decide which side the song was on. Upon its release, it charted at number eight in the US Hot Club Dance songs.
# 9 – Jerkin Back n Forth
Next is a track from the band’s fourth album New Traditionalists released in 1981. This was the point where Devo started to enjoy the commercial success that they would continue to have for a considerably long time afterward. The record had a noticeably cleaner production and perhaps as a result of this, the music itself was going in a more pop direction. This track is a classic example of that.
# 8 – Gut Feeling
Here is a pure slice of classic early Devo taken from their 1978 debut “Q: Are we not men? A: We are Devo! The album was produced by Brian Eno and received a rather mixed response from critics; however, it did do rather well commercially, reaching number twelve on the UK charts and number seventy-eight on Billboard. This song has the sound that much of the post-punk bands had at the time, it has a rather British feel to it, resembling bands such as the Teardrop Explodes.
# 7 – Gates of Steel
Here we have a song that was first released on the band’s 1987 compilation album E-Z Listening Disc. The album mostly consisted of tracks that were previously only available on the two E-Z Listening Muzak cassette tapes. The album got a re-release in 2016 and is now available as both a double album and a two-disc set. This track is a stand-out on it, being a classic piece of late eighties power pop.
# 6 – The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise
This song from 1979’s Duty Now for the Future puts a futuristic spin on a sound clearly influenced by the fifties and sixties. This album is considered to be a seminal synth-pop release as it is often thought to be one of the first to make heavy use of synthesizers. It charted on the Billboard where it remained for ten weeks, peaking at number seventy-three. However, it was considerably less well-received critically.
# 5 – I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Starting the second half of this list, we have a cover of the Rolling Stones classic which, it’s safe to say is not a straightforward cover by any stretch, but then what do you expect from Devo? Taken from the first album, it turns the song very much into a Devo number. The cover famously had to be heard by Mick Jagger in order to be approved for release. The band was rather nervous at first, but surprisingly he liked it and let them put it out. One would have never thought such a classic Rolling Stones song would ever get this type of treatment.
# 4 – Mongoloid
Here is the band’s first ever single released in 1977 which has a title that is pretty safe to say would not be considered to be very politically correct today. However, a closer look at the lyrics would suggest that it is not mocking the mentally handicapped, rather it is talking about a man with Down’s Syndrome who still manages to live a normal life. Nevertheless, it is a staple of the band’s live shows and one of their most covered songs.
# 3 – Beautiful World
This song appears on the band’s fourth album New Traditionalists released in 1981. The album is notably different to all the other songs on the album. Whereas they are much darker than all of the band’s previous albums at that point, this one starts of more optimistic but changes as it goes on. This was demonstrated by its promo video which sees a character watching video archives first of pleasant things, then of things such as war and famine.
# 2 – Whip It
Just off the top spot is one of the band’s most famous songs taken from 1980’s Freedom of Choice. Although they chose to release it as the second single from the album, it was not expected to be a hit due to its weird tempo and lyrics. However, this was not the case as it reached number fourteen on the Billboard Hot 100. Some thought that the song was about sexually explicit themes, which the music video further hinted at.
# 1 – Jocko
At the top spot is the B side to “Mongoloid.” It was later recorded for the first album and a line in it (“We are not men. We are Devo!) provided the basis for the record’s title. The original reached number sixty-two on the Uk Singles Chart and it is often considered to be the band’s definitive song. This is a very justified opinion as it has everything a Devo fan could want: nonsensical lyrics, weird instrumentation, and just general oddball greatness.
Top 10 Devo Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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