1980s – DEVO – WHIP IT
If you want to say Devo was just a new wave act that was never quite as good as the Talking Heads, I won’t really push back too hard. But where most non-Talking Heads' new wave acts grew pretty dull pretty fast, Devo remained interesting long after most of those who saw them in 1980 thought they would. That first time for many of us was in 1978, on an episode of Saturday Night Live, when they did a wacky cover of the Stones' “Satisfaction,” and a bewildering mechanical number by the name of “Jocko Homo,” with its refrain “Are we not men – we are Devo.” More than 45 years later I can still remember that.
“Whip It” came out a few years later, on their third album and climbed all the way to 14 in the US. It was their only top-40 hit. (They had more success in New Zealand – those wacky Kiwis!) But those first several albums are filled with punchy new wave. Though Devo sold themselves as mechanical, their music, especially early on, never devolved into the ennui of so much new wave.
“Uncontrollable Urge,” from the first album, bristles with manic energy while “Girl U Want,” which kicked off the “Whip It” album is prototypical new wave pop. “Mongoloid” might be a Ray Davies song if the Kinks grew up in Akron, Ohio, as the Mothersbaugh brothers did. Even as they did grow more and more mechanized after the “Whip It” success, synth songs like “Through Being Cool” and “Faster and Faster” were worthy of attention. True, they weren’t the Talking Heads. They were Devo.