DEVO: Whip It!

The first time I saw Devo perform live, I saw four guys who came out with flower pots on their heads and thought: 'Well, this is stupid," and began to leave when their promo guy stopped me and said, "Hang on Donnie, these guys are going to be stars." Well, it kind of depends on your definition of "Stars," but they did score a hit, #14 on the Hot 100 in 1980 with the song WHIP IT.

 

The original lineup was a quartet with two sets of brothers the Mothersbaughs (Mark and Bob) and the Casales (Gerald and Bob), out of the Akron, OH area. The idea and name for the band according to Gerald Casales comes from their concept of 'de-evolution'—the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. (They were ahead of their time).

 

So Devo's music and stage shows "would mingle kitsch science fiction themes, deadpan surrealist humor and mordantly satirical social commentary." The deal was though: they were tight and since coming out of Kent State University they'd toured the surrounding area for several years but didn't get a recording contract. Then they made a short film that caught the attention of David Bowie, and along with Iggy Pop they secured the boys a contract with Warner Music Group in 1976.

 

Bowie was going to produce them, but he had other commitments. So in a perfect move, Brian Eno--an Arty Guy himself--took over the reins to produce DEVO's first album: "Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!" One of their singles was a weird cover of The Stones, "Satisfaction," that had little relation to the original, so they had a meeting with Mick Jagger to get his permission to use his copyright.

 

For a while Mick sat there in kind of a stupor and didn't react, then suddenly he started doing his rooster dance and shouting, "I like it,  I like it." In a coincidence they performed the tune on Saturday Night Live a week before the Stones appeared and got a lot of exposure, but it wasn't a hit.

 

Then in 1980 they released the album "Freedom of Choice," it was electronically driven, with acoustic guitar and drums, and threw off the single "Whip It," which got a lot of Top 40 airplay and put them on the map. In a serendipitous moment, MTV was born and needed videos. Devo jumped on it, and made a video with the band doing their robotic moves and red hats pioneering the new music video format.

 

The clip got very heavy play (since there weren't many other videos yet and theirs was strange) and television made them real stars. Devo continued on in various forms and had several more chart records, but "Whip It" was the peak of their career. So here's the original video as seen on MTV with quality picture and great audio. @therealdonrocks
 

A version of this post originally appeared on The Don Rocks Facebook page. For more stories like these every day, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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