I had forgotten how much I like Devo.
The Akron, Ohio, band was formed in the '70s as an art-project joke, driven by the idea of de-evolution and a regressive society. It was spastic, angular nerd rock that was too off-the-wall weird to ever be cool, but so completely original, satirical and subversive it found a cult following that remains to this day.
I was reminded of how much I like Devo by the death of the band's guitarist Bob Casale, who died Monday at the age of 61.
Casale, known as "Bob 2" by fans, was an original member of the band and instrumental in developing its sound. His passing will likely mean the end of Devo. Devo's longtime drummer Alan Myers died last year.
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In honor of Casale, I offer my Devo favorites playlist (though now that I'm forced to write them down, it's hard to choose just five):
1. "Whip It": Obviously, the best known song in the Devo catalog. The video was an MTV smash when it was released in 1981, and it set the band up as a one-hit wonder.
My high school band got a chance to cover "Whip It" for a ska-band tribute compilation called "Mashing Potatoes" released in 1998. It was our first published recording.
We were amazed no one else wanted to cover the song. We were equally amazed by how odd the song was to actually play. You can hear our version (along with the full compilation) on Soundcloud at www.soundcloud.com/middagh-goodwin/sets/mashin-potatoes-a-tribute-to
2. "Uncontrollable Urge": While Devo is known for its spastic off-beat new-wave, the band was best when it played stripped down, raw rock 'n' roll.
"Uncontrollable Urge" is as rock as it comes.
Useless trivia: Disney Records used this song as part of Devo 2.0, a quintet of child actors who sang, danced and mimed playing instruments along to Devo songs. The lyrics were changed to be more child-friendly.
What was that uncontrollable urge? A craving for snack foods.
3. "Freedom of Choice": From the 1980 album of the same name, "Freedom of Choice" displays the kind of subversive, satirical wordplay the band was so good at. It is commentary on our attitudes about personal freedom hidden inside a song celebrating our personal freedoms. It is as relevant in today's intellectual landscape as it was then.
"Freedom of choice is what you got.
"Freedom from choice is what you want."
4. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction: Talk about subversive. Devo took a Rolling Stones classic and rendered it almost unrecognizable. When Mark Mothersbaugh spits out the word "baby" for a full 10 seconds toward the end of the song, it's a play on Mick Jagger's intonation on the original lyric. It's also utterly audacious and one of my favorite moments of recorded music.
5. "Jocko Homo": Everything you need to know about Devo is summed up in this song. It begins in some wacky 7/8 time signature, then switches to a normal 4/4 rhythm partway through before devolving (no pun intended) into a a wash of guitar noise and a call-and-response from Mothersbaugh.
"Are we not men?
"We are DEVO!"