Synopsis of Pop Music
"Now whip it, into shape,
Shape it up, get straight,
Go forward, move ahead,
Try to detect it, it's not too late,
To whip it, whip it good..."
Casual pop fans often mistake Devo for a novelty act. It’s easy to understand why: After all, these are the guys who wore red plastic flowerpots on their heads and sang songs like “Whip It” and “Peek-A-Boo.” Just the same, this prominent use of humor shouldn’t override the fact that Devo was one of the most adventurous pop groups of the late 1970’s and early 80’s. They combined a unique satirical outlook on the world with space-age sounds and good old-fashioned pop songwriting skills to create a series of albums that have influenced technology-minded rockers ever since. They also influenced how music is marketed with their pioneering work in music videos.
The Devo story began in the heartland of America (Ohio, to be specific), when art-school students Mark Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale met during the early 1970’s. They united over their skewed takes on art, music and American society and decided to form a band. They named the band Devo after a concept called ‘de-evolution’ that proposed that mankind was regressing instead of moving forward. To back up their heady ideas, they also developed a stage show that combined rock music with electronic experimentation and theatrical antics that extended to masks, costumes and special stage sets. In the process, they penned a slew of punk-pop classics like their early anthem “Jocko Homo” and a tribute to mutation called “Mongoloid.”
In 1976, Devo produced a short film called The Truth About De-Evolution. It became a prizewinning attraction at that year’s Ann Arbor Film Festival in Michigan and was seen by visiting rock legends David Bowie and Iggy Pop. They were impressed and helped Devo get a record contract. In 1978, Devo made their vision known to the world with the classic album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo. It included many of their early self-penned classics, plus a jittery punk deconstruction of the Rolling Stones classic “Satisfaction” that became a radio favorite. By the end of the year, Devo had become the critical darlings of new rock press.
Devo continued to develop their sound on record in 1979 with Duty Now For The Future. They also appeared in Neil Young’s concert movie Rust Never Sleeps that year. However, Devo’s true breakthrough arrived in 1980 with Freedom Of Choice, a dynamic album that polished their mixture of pop, punk and electronics to a new level of refinement. It also gave them their first hit single with “Whip It,” a tribute to determination punctuated by a danceable beat and spiky synthesizers. This song also boasted a racy, funny video that depicted lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh using a whip to strip the clothes from a woman. This clip became a staple of MTV when it debuted the next year.
In 1981, Devo released their next album, New Traditionalists. This album contained their new-wave update of the r&b classic “Working In A Coal Mine,” which was also used the animated cult film Heavy Metal. The album single "Love Without Anger" also became another MTV favorite, thanks to a video chronicling the ugly goings-on under the roof of Barbie's Dream House.
The next year, Devo released one of their finest albums in Oh No It’s Devo!, a tight collection of new-wave pop highlighted by tunes like “That’s Good” and “Peek-A-Boo.” These songs also became favorites on MTV thanks to nifty videos that incorporated computer animation. The band also promoted this album with an appearance on the sitcom Square Pegs. In 1983, the band did the theme song for the Dan Aykroyd’s cult-classic comedy Doctor Detroit. Its video also became popular on MTV (no surprise there).
In 1984, Devo released Shout!, an album containing a typically wacky techno-deconstruction of the Jimi Hendrix classic “Are You Experienced?” It was their last album for a while, as the group’s members took a break and turned to other projects. Mark Mothersbaugh in particular became quite successful with his soundtrack work, which included the kid-television hit Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Devo returned in 1988 with Total Devo, an album that proved Devo’s satirical edge was still strong on tracks like “Disco Dancer.” They followed it up in 1990 with Smooth Noodle Maps, which got some college-radio airplay with the catchy “Post Post Modern Man.”
Since then, Devo has intermittently regrouped to record the occasional track. For instance, they did an amusingly goofy remake of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like A Hole” for the soundtrack of Supercop. Mark Mothersbaugh remains successful in the soundtrack world with credits like the TV show Rugrats and the film Rushmore. He has also formed a successful soundtrack company, Mutato Muzika, with other Devo members. Meanwhile, Devo’s classics remain popular with adventurous pop fans and have been covered by everyone from Robert Palmer to Nirvana. This continued popularity is proof positive that ‘we’re all Devo.’
Artist Release History06/78 - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo
07/79 - Duty Now For The Future
07/80 - Freedom Of Choice
1981 - Dev-O Live
1981 - New Traditionalists
1982 - Oh, No! It’s Devo
1984 - Shout
1987 - E-Z Listening Disc
1988 - Total Devo
1988 - Now It Can Be Told (Devo At The Palace 12/9/88)
06/90 - Smooth Noodle Maps
08/90 - Hardcore Devo, Vol. 1: 74-77
12/90 - Greatest Hits
12/90 - Greatest Misses
08/91 - Hardcore Devo, Vol. 2: 1974-1977
10/92 - Devo Live: The Mongoloid Years
08/96 - Adventures Of The Smart Patrol
05/99 - Pioneers Who Got Scalped: The Anthology
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsQ: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo (Warner Bros.)
Band MembersMark Mothersbaugh vocals, synthesizer
Jerry Casale bass, vocals
Bob Mothersbaugh guitar, vocals
Bob Casale guitar
Alan Myers drums