Top 10 Devo Songs
Devo are a totally original creation in the history of rock music — maybe in the history of music in general. You might be able to trace certain roots of their music to specific areas, but the way it all comes together is totally original. And the thing is, they were doing it in Akron way back in 1972, long before other bands around the world would explore similar paths. Neil Young loved them. So did David Bowie. And it’s easy to hear why. We put on our thinking caps — or rather, our energy domes — and came up with a list of the Top 10 Devo Songs.
‘Freedom of Choice’
When you think of mighty riffs, classic rockers like AC/DC and Black Sabbath usually come to mind. But Devo had their own stash of them, like the one that fuels the title track of their 1980 album, ‘Freedom of Choice.’ The riff drives the song while the lyrics deliver a sarcastic view of the main subject: “In ancient Rome, there was a poem about a dog who found two bones / He picked at one, he licked the other / He went in circles, he dropped dead.“
Devo cemented their status as one of the most distinct bands on the planet with their second album. Even more manic than their debut at times, ‘Duty Now for the Future’ takes ‘Are We Not Men?”s blueprint and mutates it way out of shape. ‘Wiggly World,’ a highlight, sets the band’s signature style on overdrive and doesn’t let up.
‘Jerkin’ Back N’ Forth’
By 1981, the musical landscape had changed enough that Devo were no longer viewed as the weirdest band in the world. But they were still as forward-thinking and individual as ever, and their fourth album reshaped their sound to a degree, building on the foundations set in earlier cuts like ‘Freedom of Choice’ and ‘Whip It’ (see elsewhere on our list of the Top 10 Devo Songs). The band worked with cleaner production and more synthesizers on ‘New Traditionalists.’ ‘Jerkin Back N’ Forth’ is Devo at their poppiest, revealing a relatively accessible band with its solid melody, catchy riff and tight performance.
‘Girl U Want’
Like ‘Freedom of Choice’ (see No. 10 on our list of the Top 10 Devo Songs), ‘Girl U Want’ packs a mighty riff. It’s also about as catchy as Devo songs come, leaping out of the grooves. The lyrics are a typical balance of the traditional crashing into the unexpected: “She sings from somewhere you can’t see / She sits in the top of the greenest tree / She sends out an aroma of undefined love / It drips on down in a mist from above / She’s just the girl u want.“
‘The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise’
‘The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise’ includes elements of pop music from the ’50s and ’60s, all filtered through some kind of retro-futuristic kaleidoscope of sound. The stark, upfront production fits the track perfectly. But what’s the surprise Mark Mothersbaugh is singing about? Is his girlfriend waking from a coma after a horrific accident? Or is it something else? Who knows. The track’s robotic rhythms merge with the profoundly human parts.
The almost-evil bass line that opens this song from the group’s debut album lures listeners in before the slapping drums, jagged guitars and swirling synths whisk them away. ‘Mongoloid’ originally appeared in a different version on the band’s first, self-issued single. Either way, this is early Devo in full flight. With ace production by Brian Eno and a slightly faster tempo than that found on the single, the album version sounds more urgent. The song is about being one face in a crowd of millions — typical Devo stuff.
Somehow, one of the weirdest bands of the 20th century scored a genuine hit single in 1980. It certainly helped that ‘Whip It’ came with a video crammed with cowboys, cowgirls, mashed potatoes, whips and Devo doing a bunch of weird Devo things. Contrary to popular interpretation, the song isn’t about sadomasochism or masturbation. Rather, it’s an observation (penned by bassist Gerald Casale) on the struggles of the common man, woman and mutant.
The lead track from Devo’s debut album features another great riff and even some pop backing vocals. But it’s the late Alan Myers (often referred to as the human metronome) and his commanding drums that drive ‘Uncontrollable Urge’ — a highlight of live shows, since the band worked out some serious synchronized moves to accompany the number.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’
Devo’s stunning take on the Rolling Stones classic didn’t exactly win them a lot of rock fans back in the day. The song’s signature riff (maybe the most popular in rock history) is replaced by a robotic drum pattern and disjointed guitar rhythms, and Devo, in turn, make ‘Satisfaction’ their own. There’s still no middle ground: People either love it or hate it. We happen to think it’s great.
In the spring of 1977, Devo self-released their first single, ‘Mongoloid’ (see No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Devo Songs). The flip side, ‘Jocko Homo,’ became the band’s unofficial theme song and official declaration of their philosophy, which they lay out in three minutes. Musically, ‘Jocko Homo’ is deceptively simple, but lyrically, it’s fascinating. The song’s title and concept stem from B.H. Shadduck’s sarcastic 1924 anti-evolution work ‘Jocko-Homo Heavenbound’ and the “arbitrary nature of the laws of evolution.” The song would be rerecorded for their debut LP, but the original single version is the better one.