"They tell us that we lost our tails
—Devo, "Jocko Homo"
Devo (often spelled DEVO or DEV-O), is a new wave/post-punk group hailing from Akron, Ohio. Most people remember them for their red Energy Dome hats and the 1980 single "Whip It", but their catalogue and achievements extend well beyond that. "Devo" stands for "De-evolution", the band's part-satirical, part-serious take on social and political corruption, bigotry, increasing dependence on consumerism and willful surrender of freedom among the common individual (a.k.a. the "spud"). They were formed by Mark Mothersbaugh, Jerry Casale, and Bob Lewis in 1973 partly as a response to the Kent State shootings (which Jerry Casale personally witnessed).
Their sound, practically from the start, was somewhat blues-influenced but largely brought the synthesizer to the forefront; often in jarring and dissonant ways. Their vocals is of the nasal "geek" variety. Onstage, they make use of visuals and costumes that were and still is outlandish, sci-fi, or just plain devolved. The band's aesthetic blends futuristic themes with primitive ones, emphasizing the role of modern humans as, in their words, "technologically sophisticated cavemen."
The band went through a couple of incarnations as time passed by; Bob Lewis was eventually edged out of the band shortly before the recording of their first album, and a couple of temporary members was loosely attached to the group in the early days, but in 1976 a consistent core group was established, consisting of Mark Mothersbaugh, Jerry Casale, their respective brothers Bob Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale (Bob 1 and Bob 2) and a changing drummer (most prominently Alan Myers (1976-1985) and most recently Josh Freese (1996–present))
The band had a large part to play in the early days of MTV, since so few bands at the time were making music videos and Devo had jumped aboard the idea well before the market really took off in the 80s. Their first "music video", in fact, was independently filmed in 1974 and debuted at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1976. This film, In The Beginning Was The End: The Truth About De-Evolution, contained performances of a warped semi-cover of "Secret Agent Man" and the Devo manifesto, "Jocko Homo" (featuring the repeated chant "Are We Not Men?", a line borrowed from an early movie adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau). The film also introduced two recurring characters in Devo media, Booji Boy - "the infantile spirit of de-evolution", played by Mark Mothersbaugh in a baby mask - and his military father figure, General Boy (played by Mark's dad).
The band soon attracted the attention of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Brian Eno. They eventually wound up with a contract with Warner Bros Records, which they later regretted. Their debut album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! was released in 1978; that same year they appeared on Saturday Night Live in yellow jumpsuits and dark 3-d glasses, playing their infamous cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" and "Jocko Homo". They followed up their debut with Duty Now For The Future in 1979, featuring more songs from their underground years, such as "Wiggly World" and "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA" (the latter being a six-minute synth-punk fest that only picks up in intensity).
In 1980, they broke through to the mainstream with their third album, Freedom of Choice, which produced the hit single "Whip It" and its accompanying video. The new Devo look included the infamous Energy Dome hats, which were often mistaken for flower pots and gave the general public something to mock (Devo always had the last laugh, though).
Their increased output and touring schedule gave them a few solid years of presence, but there were always controversies and setbacks. Devo became very disillusioned with their record company, who - according to the band later on - only wanted another "Whip It". Their sound also switched over from the punkier sound to synth pop, which didn't help critics' opinions of them. 1981's New Traditionalists and 1982's Oh No, It's Devo! fared only moderately, despite being accompanied by very high-tech and innovative promotional tours: the New Traditionalists tour featured the band on treadmills while Oh, No, It's Devo! brought full background videos onstage, synced in time with the band's robotic movements. Following that, they were publicly reduced to nothing, and their 1984 album Shout was their last with Warner Bros. and their last with drummer Alan Myers.
After the band became less active, Mark Mothersbaugh went on to do commercial work and scores for several hit shows, such as Pee-wee's Playhouse and Rugrats, and formed his own music studio Mutato Muzika. Some of his more recent work includes the scores to all of Wes Anderson's films, and the background theme to the Mac vc. PC commercials. Jerry Casale did commercial work as well and directed several music videos, while the other two permanent members Bob Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale joined Mark in scoring. In what the band would later call their own devolutionary period, they recorded two albums with the smaller company Enigma, Total Devo (1988) and Smooth Noodle Maps (1990), both of which went fairly unnoticed, after which the band dissolved in 1991.
The story does not end there, though. Devo reunited and started touring again in 1996, and the same year the pretty ill received Full Motion Video pc game The Adventures of the Smart Patrol was released in collaboration with Inscape. The reunion tour was, however, a success, and Devo would continue during sporadic tours for the next many years to come. In 2006, Devo 2.0, a collaboration project between Disney and Devo, saw the light of day. It featured a band of preteens, playing some of Devo's songs with altered lyrics, as Disney hoped to peddle the band to a kid audience. The old Devo fans was pretty unhappy about this, and Devo 2.0 never really managed to catch on with their intended audience, and when their first album, DEV2.0, tanked, the band dissolved. Devo took it all in stride, musing that the whole affair perhaps was the ultimate proof of de-evolution.
Recently, Devo has been very active. Other side projects include a de-evolved surf album as "The Wipeouters", a country single as "The Big Dirty Farmers", and a Jerry Casale solo effort as "Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers", playing up the blues influence and rendering a video for "Army Girls Gone Wild." In 2010, Devo made a series of YouTube videos, satirizing the entertainment industry's use of focus groups, in order to promote their ninth studio album. That album, Something for Everybody, was released on June 15, 2010 (after a couple years in Development Hell) and it garnered good reception from fans and critics.
- AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: Most people pronounce the band's name "DEE-voh," but the band members themselves insist it's "dee-VOH." The latter pronunciation appears in "Jocko Homo", but can be considered a case of accentuating the wrong syllable to keep the rhythm (we ARE de-VO).
- All Men Are Perverts: In "Soo Bawlz" every man is absolutely drooling over the titular mistress ("Ain't a man in town who wouldn't have her for his daughter/they'd all trade their brains for one taste of her toilet water").
- In "Penetration in the Centrefold" a similar craze happens over a new porn magazine ("All the guys are talking, it's the best they ever found").
- Author Catchphrase: Several. While some of these appear in song lyrics and album titles, many were established in concert, interviews, etc. well before those songs appeared on an album.
- Some of these catch phrases are borrowed from sources that inspired Devo. "Are we not men?" is from from The Island of Dr. Moreau. The De-evolutionary Oath is paraphrased from B. H. Shadduck's pamphlet Jocko Homo Heavenbound, and "The beginning was the end" comes from Oscar Kiss Maerth's book of the same name.
- "Choose your mutations carefully."
- "Toil is stupid."
- "It is not nuclear bombs we must fear, but the human mind itself - or lack of it - on this planet." Used twice by General Boy and once by Nu-Tra.
- These have been used for bidding farewell: "Duty now for the future!", "Be happy or not!", and "We're all Devo!"
- Jerry: "How many people here tonight believe that de-evolution is real?"
- "If the spud fits, wear it."
- Bastard Girlfriend: "Space Girl Blues" and "Soo Bawlz."
- Blatant Lies: In the band's early days, the local clubs and bars in Akron were only interested in hiring cover bands. Devo would claim to be a cover band, but when they actually got on stage, they'd immediately launch into their usual material, provoking angry reactions from the crowds.
- Blind Without'Em: Mark Mothersbaugh claims he's legally blind without his Nerd Glasses.
- Bowdlerization: Disney made the band soften some of their lyrics for the Devo 2.0 project, often leading to their messages and extensive use of Irony getting lost in the process. Go to the Wikipedia article for specific examples.
- Broken Record: "We must repeat!"
- Mark does a very rapid one in their cover of "Satisfaction": "Tell me, baby-baby-baby-baby-baby-baby-baby-baby-baby-baby-baby..." etc.
- "Pink Pussycat": "I'm so stroooooooft! I'm so stroft, I'm so strooooooft!"
- The title is repeated in this fashion at the end of "Red Eye Express" and "Wiggly World".
- Call Back: A few riffs and lyrics were recycled from their demos into album tracks.
- The synth solo from "Stop, Look, and Listen" was used later in "Big Mess."
- The somewhat atonal synths from "Chango" were reworked into the pop ballad "Plain Truth."
- "All of Us" became "Going Under."
- Something for Everybody is full of callbacks to earlier albums, notably the "Whip It" drums in "Sumthin'."
- "The Super Thing" drums are used in "Watch Us Work It."
- Their cover of "Are You Experienced?" opens with a sound effect from "Too Much Paranoias."
- Christian Rock: Parodied with Devo's alter-ego band, Dove (The Band of Love).
- Crap Saccharine World: "Beautiful World" describes our culture and society in glowing terms with upbeat lyrics—until the end of the song; "It's a beautiful world for you/For you/For you... it's not for me".
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Devo is usually quite blatant about this. Certain entendres can be found in "Praying Hands," "Uncontrollable Urge," and "Jerking Back 'N' Forth." Songs very obviously about jerking the root include "Be Stiff," "Fountain of Filth," and "Penetration in the Centrefold." Time out for fun indeed.
- Dead Baby Comedy: Some of their material is funny in a very disturbing way.
- Case in point: the music video for their cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced". A Jimi lookalike jumps out of a coffin to play the guitar onstage with Devo, and then goes back in and down. Hendrix's estate's reaction made this video hard to find.
- "I Desire" from Oh, No! It's Devo. The lyrics come from a love poem written by John Hinckley, Jr. for Jodie Foster (this just a year after Hinckley's assassination attempt on President Reagan).
- A more literal example can be found in the character of Booji Boy (sticking a fork in a toaster, getting his head crushed, etc.).
- Deadpan Snarker: Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale, in interviews.
- Demoted to Extra: Alan Myers was made practically obsolete by the time Shout was released due to the use of drum machines, and he left essentially out of creative boredom.
- Arguably this happened to Bob 1 on the albums of the late 80s. He himself has said he was unhappy while recording them because he was simply copying the sequencer lines that Mark and Jerry had written for him.
- Disobey This Message: Deconstructed in "Social Fools," which seems to explore the paradox of how rebellion inevitably becomes conformity.
If you take society's tools
- The Eighties
- Everything's Better with Bob: Heck, they got two of them!
- Not to mention Bob Lewis and Mark's reverence to J. R. "Bob" Dobbs. Heck, General Boy is played by Robert Mothersbaugh, Sr.
- Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Turkey Monkey, the villain of Adventures of the Smart Patrol, is a mutant hybrid resulting from a Freak Lab Accident involving Recombo DNA. The huboon from "Huboon Stomp" is implied to have been created through some sort of botched operation, and Booji Boy apparently shares a similar origin.
- Genre Busting: While many of their albums after Duty Now may be accurately described as New Wave or synthpop, the earlier one goes back in Devo's history the harder they become to classify. Their pre-Warner Bros. style seems to defy a specific genre; the band used to jokingly refer to it as "Chinese digital rock and roll."
- Green-Skinned Space Babe: "Space Girl Blues."
- Godwin's Law: "Triumph of the Will," and Booji Boy's book My Struggle.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: The general theme running throughout their work.
- I Choose to Stay: "Planet Earth": "On Planet Earth/I'll probably stay/On Planet Earth/It's a place to live your life."
- I'm a Man! I Can't Help It!: Mocked in "Triumph of the Will," in which a rapist uses this idea to excuse his crime.
- An alternate interpretation of this song is All Women Are Lustful.
- I Have Boobs - You Must Obey!: in "Soft Things": "I acted so neurotic/I thought it idiotic/Her dance was so technotic/She became hypnotic." Guess what "soft things" are in this case.
- Intercourse with You: Frequently coupled with awkward, over-the-top euphemisms. Examples include: "Goo Goo Itch," "Clockout," "Pink Pussycat," "Don't You Know," "Going Under," "Race of Doom," "The Super Thing," "Blow Up," "When We Do It," "Part of You," "Please Baby Please."
- Love Hurts: A recurring theme throughout their work ("Gut Feeling," "It's Not Right," "Cold War," "Please Please," etc.) and heavily featured on Total Devo ("Baby Doll," "I'd Cry if You Died").
- Love Makes You Dumb: Another common theme, employed especially in "Ton o' Love," "Love Without Anger," "The Jurisdiction of Love," and "Mind Games."
- "The Satisfied Mind" tells us that "lucky ones learn that love is blind."
- Lyrical Dissonance: Used throughout their career, but perhaps most notably in "Beautiful World", which is so upbeat-sounding that people sometimes failed to realize it was actually an ironic ode to complacent superficiality.
- Lyric Swap: In "Jocko Homo" at least.
- The Merch: They have been called the "thinking man's KISS" partly for this reason. Much of their live gear was made available through Club Devo, and their vinyl albums often came with a catalogue.
- Mission from God: Apparently Devo signed with Enigma Records because "Bob" Dobbs from The Church Of The Subgenius told them to do so. No, seriously!
- Morning Routine: In "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)": "I get up every day/It's a miracle, I'm told/Somehow I live to work/So I hit the road."
- Nerd Glasses: Mark Mothersbaugh sports them, though his frames are actually quite stylish.
- Nice Hat - Energy Domes. They claim the domes are "orgone collectors" that gather energy released out of the top of one's head and redirect it back into the body. Mark once said that they don't wear them all the time, but some people do and will probably live 150 years because of it. (They're probably just being sarcastic, but it can be really hard to tell with these guys.)
- Non-Appearing Title: "S. I. B. (Swelling Itching Brain)" is a peculiar example, as the phrases "painful swelling brain" and "swelling itching pain" are constantly used in the studio version but never combined as in the title.
- Notable Music Videos: Mostly entering Surreal Music Video. (they were even parodied by Weird Al, and copied - specially because the director was Jerry Casale - by the Foo Fighters)
- Off-the-Shelf FX: In some of their early videos. And then there's their "mascot" character Booji Boy, who is effectively unnerving specifically because he's clearly a grown man in a creepily disproportionate store-bought rubber little boy mask speaking in a high pitched voice.
- It's worth noting Booji Boy represents the de-evolution of Man to Man Child, hence the high-pitched voice.
- One-Hit Wonder: An interesting case. Whereas they indeed only had one Top 40 hit in the US ("Whip It"), American retrospectives on one hit wonders always seem to go out of their way to mention Devo's other music, influence on other musicians and devoted fanbase.
- The Pete Best: Bob Lewis, the third co-founder of Devo, who was edged out of the band shortly before the release of Q/A. Demanding credits for his contributions, he successfully sued Warner Brothers Records and the band for an undisclosed six-figure sum.
- Poe's Law: Rolling Stone once compared a Devo concert to a Nuremburg rally.
- While this review of Duty Now for the Future fully acknowledges the trope:
"Triumph of the Will" embraces fascism as a satirical target without bothering to make it sound as if they disapprove.
- Popcultural Osmosis
- Pop Star Composer: Mark Mothersbaugh is a successful TV, movie and video game composer.
- Portmanteau: Huboon (from "human" and "baboon") in "Huboon Stomp" ("I'm a cross between a human and an ape") and "Soo Bawlz" ("She's got all the huboons crying her name").
- Promoted Fanboy: Josh Freese started his drumming career by playing along to Devo records.
- Michael Pilmer may also count, as he was promoted from obsessive fanboy to being the band's official archivist and webmaster. Just check out his massive collection of spudwazz!
- Proud to Be a Geek: Openly declared in "Through Being Cool." One of the first mainstream bands to make this trope a central part of their aesthetic.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Most of their lyrics.
- Though, the track "If the Shoe Fits" off Jerry Casale's solo album is probably the most vitriolic thing the band's ever done. Sample lyrics: "Well I guess you wouldn't know / With your ugly twisted head / Shoved so far up your butt."
- Recurring Riff: A brief synth fanfare, heard in the spoken track "Nu-tra Speaks," General Boy's concert intro, and the song "Happy Guy."
- Revival: Releasing their first new album in 20 years after several years of almost exclusively being a touring act.
- Refrain From Assuming: Their biggest hit is just "Whip It," not "Whip It Good" in spite of the trope name.
- Running Gag: They kept referring to "Recombo DNA labs," saying they hoped to get one of their own. They even had a song called "Recombo DNA."
- The Seventies
- Sex Is Good: "When We Do It," among others.
- The Barbie Doll character in "Speed Racer": "I'm a Barbie Doll but I've got brains!/I've got brains and I like sex!"
- Shaped Like Itself: "With a mind that's satisfied/The satisfied mind is satisfied."
- "What we do is what we do," and by the same token, "I must do what I must do."
- Significant Anagram: Devo would sometimes perform their own warm-up act as "Dove (The Band of Love)", a parody of Christian Rock bands.
- Shout-Out: The song "Uncontrollable Urge" on their first album begins with the riff from The Beatles hit "I Want To Hold Your Hand", and the main riff in the song is from "Misty Mountain Hop" by Led Zeppelin.
- The main riff of "Praying Hands" seems to be a shout-out to the surf tune "Wipeout"; likewise is the drumroll in "Clockout".
- The "oohs" in "Mongoloid" are likely a shout-out to the "aahs" in The Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout."
- Then there are further Beatles references in "The 4th Dimension", which quotes the riff from "Day Tripper" wholesale in the instrumental bridge and "Some Things Never Change", which borrows the opening lyrics from "A Day in the Life".
- The middle of "Soo Bawlz" has the countoff, "One, two, three four, tell the people what she wore!" lifted straight from Brian Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini."
- "Devo Corporate Anthem" and its accompanying video is a shout-out to the 1975 film Rollerball.
- In addition to being the band's theme song, "Jocko Homo" is both a shout-out to Island Of Lost Souls (a movie adaptation of H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau) and a bizarre creationist pamphlet by B. H. Shadduck called Jocko-Homo Heavenbound. Said pamphlet was also the source of four out of the five rules of the Devolutionary Oath.
- The Devo concept itself appears to have taken an issue of Wonder Woman as one of its primary sources.
Devolution was a combination of a Wonder Woman comic book and the movie lsland of Lost Souls. [...] That was various things I’d been thinking about devolution, of going ahead to go back, things falling apart, entropy. It grabbed every piece of information and gave it some kind of cohesive presence- it was a package. Just as our music and our identity exist as technique rather than a style.
—Jerry Casale, 1978
- Their trademark "energy domes" are a shout-out to Wilhelm Reich.
- The lyrics to "Space Girl Blues" were inspired by an issue of DC's Mystery in Space.
- "The Shadow" has references to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Shadow serials ("Who knows what lurks in the hearts of man?"), and T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Man."
- Safe, Sane, and Consensual: BSDM is glorified in the music video for "Whip It" and the album covers of Hardcore Devo.
- Something Something Leonard Bernstein: Good luck making out any lyrics of "Be Stiff" other than the title without a lyric sheet.
- Same goes for "U Got Me Bugged" (the version without re-dubbed vocals). The robotic effect on Booji's Boy's voice and general lo-finess renders the song completely unintelligible.
- Stalker with a Crush: "Strange Pursuit" ("Always kept your distance when you felt my presence near you," "Fly in retreat I would follow without shame")
- Owing to the author of the lyrics, "I Desire."
- Take That: After being propelled into mainstream popularity by "Whip It", the opening track on their next album was called "Through Being Cool".
- Devo almost never mentions their satirical targets by name, but made an exception for Jim and Tammy Bakker (Jim was a televangelist involved in a sex scandal at the time) in "The Shadow":
Reverend Jimmy and Tammy Belle,
- Jerry Casale's solo project, Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers, contains a lot of slams on the Bush era, particularly in "If the Shoe Fits" ("Well, I guess you wouldn't know/With your boots stuck in the mud/And your cowboy brains glued shut").
- Devo also loved sticking it to their corporate masters via the character of Rod Rooter, an executive for Big Entertainment who totally didn't get it.
- They Killed Kenny: Booji Boy has meet many a gruesome end, including electrocution, having his head crushed in a machine, and being beheaded by Osama Bin Laden, but he always manages to come back.
- Three Dimensional Episode: The disastrous "3-Devo" pay-per-view concert in 1982. Not only did their backing track go out of sync with their rear-projected film, the lighting made the 3-D effects ineffective. Good job, the executive who thought this up!
- Vocal Tag Team: Mark and Jerry.
- Whip It Good: Trope Namer
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: Frequently used in song titles: "Soo Bawlz," "Can U Take It?," "U Got Me Bugged," "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprize," "Girl U Want," "Luv-Luv," "Sexi Luv," "A Change is Gonna Cum," "Dawghaus," "Luv & Such."
- Their cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" has been variously spelled "Are U" and "R U."
- Booji Boy's name was a misspelling of "Boogie Boy" that they just decided to go with.