Duty now: Top 5 Devo albums
Our Devo podcast is coming soon, and I'm knee-deep in Spud-land, prepping for the band interview by reading the excellent biography We Are Devo by Jade Dellinger and David Giffels. (Man, I wish I could catch their live shows this week at SXSW!) So I asked uber-Devo fan Doug Arthur to come up with his own primer, and he has delivered. Enjoy his take on ...
THE TOP 5 DEVO ALBUMS:
5. SHOUT (1984) One of their most maligned albums, but there are a lot of hidden gems on this album. Includes their devolved version of the Jimi Hendrix classic, Are You Experienced? My key cuts here include C'mon, The Fourth Dimension and The Jurisdiction Of Love.
4. NEW TRADITIONALISTS (1981) The followup to Freedom of Choice includes the classics Beautiful World, Jerkin' Back And Forth, Working In The Coalmine, We're Through Being Cool and my personal fave, Going Under. This was the album where they slipped deeper into the electronics, eschewing the guitars and drum kit for a more fully robotic and synthesized sound.
3. FREEDOM OF CHOICE (1980) If people only have one Devo album, it is usually this one. Whip It is actually one of the weaker songs on this collection. This has the great title track, Gates Of Steel, Ton O' Luv and Girl U Want. This album features an almost even mix of real instruments and electronics.
2. Q: ARE WE NOT MEN? A: WE ARE DEVO! (1978). This is the one that burst them onto the scene. At the height of disco and punk this was a clarion call to the New Wave. An odd mixture of punk rock, avant-garde electronics and science fiction. Strangely danceable, too! Key tracks here include the Island of Dr. Moreau-influenced Jocko Homo, Uncontrollable Urge, Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy and Too Much Paranoias.
1. DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE (1979) Shucking away the gloss and sheen of Brian Eno's production on their first album, the spud boys unleashed a sonic assault worthy of their claim that they were the "sound of things falling apart." Starting with the deceptively plaintive instrumental Devo Corporate Anthem, it suddenly lurches into the furtive punk of Clockout, and doesn't slow down much after that. Key tracks here include Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA, Blockhead, The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize, Wiggly World and Pink Pussycat ... not to mention their devolved cover of the Johnny Rivers classic Secret Agent Man. As General Boy famously said back in one of their early, groundbreaking videos, "We must need what we want, we must want what we need, and what we need is Duty Now For The Future!"
Honorable mentions go to OH, NO! IT'S DEVO (1982), easily the most synth- and drum machine-based of all their albums. Notable for the song I Desire, which got them in trouble with the FBI because they used one of John Hinkley Jr.'s poems to Jodie Foster as the basis for the lyrics. For the heavy-duty fan, Hardcore Devo Volume 1 and Volume 2 are a must-have as these feature a lot of very polished basement tapes and recordings from their early years, 1974-1977.
I'd be remiss to not mention 1987's TOTAL DEVO, which is not without its charms, but is more noteworthy as it features much of the music that was used for the soundtrack to Revenge of the Nerds 2. Also fun is the 1986 Rykodisc release, DEVO EZ LISTENING DISC, which features muzak versions of all their greatest hits recorded by the band! If you can find it, the soundtrack to their CD-ROM game The Adventures Of The Smart Patrol features a couple of new tracks amidst what is essentially a greatest hits package.
And, dear God, whatever you do, stay away from Smooth Noodle Maps (1990)! There are maybe two good songs on this one. A true disappointment. They seemingly disappeared after this, but continued
to pump out some songs for soundtracks and popped up in weird places like South Park: Chef Aid, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Powerpuff Girls and the Jackie Chan movie SUPERCOP (which featured two songs including their insane cover of Nine Inch Nails' Head Like A Hole).
And there you have it 80's fans. A brief roundup. Most of this stuff can be found on iTunes, so give it a listen, and you'll find a lot more to like than just Whip It and the other usual suspects. And when
you are done, you'll be scratching your head and saying, "Why the hell are these guys in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame"?
Douglas "The General" Arthur
(Actual military service not implied. Your mileage may vary.)