For some reason I’ve been thinking about Devo lately. Not in any profound way, just thinking about listening when I got a chance. I got a chance today while making dinner. On goes Are We Not Men? We are Devo, which starts with the brilliant Uncontrollable Urge, moves onto (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, which I owned on 7″ long before the elpee came out, and then goes all over the freaking place. And I do mean freaking.
Remembering, at the time, I grouped the band with the Talking Heads, who had a similar angular geeky-ness, and the Tubes, who had an over the top theatricality. When I listen now I hear mostly classic rock moves, filtered through a novel lens, a lens which made it both surprising the band existed and that they then made hits with mainstream success and surprising that we didn’t see just how inevitable that was on first listen.
I think what I mean is, we knew weird. We loved Zappa, dug Alice Cooper, admired Captain Beefheart, but each of those personalities carved out his own space on the edges of taste and sensibility. They had some pop exposure, but they were happy to exist as novelties.
Devo carved out that space, then tried to bring the whole dang world into it. They were weird, uncompromising, and ambitiously popular, not content to reside on the sidelines with the other freaks. That was cool.
So, while listening to their first elpee tonight, I was struck by how strong the songs are. How little there is that is thrown away. Maybe none of it. And as I went from song to song I said to myself, That’s a great tune. Then, Oh, that’s a good one. Oooh, love it. Which got me thinking that maybe we all have different favorite songs from Are We Not Men? We Are Devo.
I’m laying claim to Mongoloid. It was the first Devo song I heard, it is the one I know all the words to and compulsively sing along to, but I’m pretty sure there are strong cases for others. What’s your favorite song on Devo’s first album?
Satisfaction. Used to dance the fuck out of that.
I’ll always remember the black guys in the warehouse I ran back in the day were crazy about Devo’s Satisfaction. All of them loved it. Here’s my fave, which is not punky or funky or new-wavey at all. It’s straight up classic rock:
I guess it is new-wavey.
Most interesting post to me, not by me, in a long time.
It’s a toughie, but my vote is “Come Back Jonee.” The percolating “Teen Angel” story, the weirded-out Chuck Berry solo – perfecto.
This album was in my Top 50 for sure. And why shouldn’t it rate as a truly top great album of all time? Great songs? Check. Innovation? Check.
I’ll tell you why. Because it’s not Dylan or the Rolling Stones (well, a little) or The Clash. It doesn’t have any jazz influence or African rhythms or other cultural bullshit necessary for a TRULY great album.
Found Christgau’s original B+ conclusion on Wiki and this kind of sums it up for the snoots:
“In small doses it’s as good as novelty music ever gets, and there isn’t a really bad cut on this album. But it leads nowhere.”
What the fuck does that mean, Robert? “I really like this album, but it’s not up to my cultural snoot standards.”
So, as Rolling Stone magazine goes up for sale today, and the accepted wisdom is that Jann and Son stuck with Dylan and the Stones for way too long, becoming the Mojo/RnR HOF mag of choice. That is, the choice of olds.
But Are We Not Men is music of olds, too. Shouldn’t we be past that?
If we aren’t, my issue with Gut Feeling is the first half feels like an Eno track. The rest of it? Freakin’ great. (Also, the Eno first part is great, but feels a little external.) I don’t care that Eno is in there, the music counts more than anything else. Gut Feeling is great.
So is Come Back Jonee. God, could I only listen to this elpee the rest of my days?
That’s why I asked.
Top 50 of all time? Right now, I’m in. But that takes a lot of winnowing. Plus, I hate lists.
Which Devo do you love?
Gut Feeling? One can hardly beat “Something ’bout the way you taste, makes me wanna clear my throat” for an opening line.
I love the entire first album (so does Christgau, but only in “small doses” – liar). Could easily listen to it once a week.
A trick to Devo is not to go forward (second album is very good, but not AWNM, from there on, it gets increasingly sketchy) but backward. Lots of crazy, weird, innovative, great stuff before this.
For sure, I’m with the olds, but not quite the old-olds, and I know it. The rap my kids listen to makes no sense to me and it makes no sense to me what my whitebread daughters and her friends get out of hearing about the escapades of black men, to no real music, just beat and noises. One of the many reasons I know this world has passed me by and I’m ready for what comes next.
My question is who would buy Rolling Stone?
I agree with Christgau that there’s a heavy novelty element in Devo’s “herky-jerky rock and roll,” but where does he expect it to lead? Utopia? Oh wait, utopia is the Greek word for “nowhere.” Now I get it.
I end up at the local mall some way or another every couple weeks and our mall has a Barnes & Noble where I faithfully read but never buy Rolling Stone. It takes me about 10 minutes. Classic Rock is my music mag of choice (big surprise).