Psychedelic Rock

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch Series,”where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

This is often misinterpreted as a song celebrating personal freedom. It is actually a commentary on how people really want choices made for them. The song’s statement is made in the last chorus, “Freedom of choice is what you’ve got, freedom from choice is what you want.”

Devo – Album: Freedom Of Choice (1980)

Devo was founded by Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, who met at Kent State University. Here’s what Jerry said in an interview about “Freedom Of Choice”: “We loved that song very much when we were creating it. It was about how people were throwing away their freedom of choice into meaningless choices like between Pepsi and Coke, or pink fur shoes or blue suede shoes. Just mindless consumerism, they’d rather not be free, they’d rather be told what to do, because that’s what appeared to us was the case, especially in the Reagan years. That was a very Devo position – Freedom Of Choice is what you’ve got, Freedom From Choice is what you want.”

The lyrics about the dog in ancient Rome who had two bones are based on an old Aesop’s fable about a dog that’s walking across a bridge with a bone in his mouth. He looks down in the water and sees another dog with a bone, and he gets so upset that he finally goes to attack the other dog and loses his bone. Or, as Mark Mothersbaugh explains, “It could have been about the Cocker Spaniel that lives in my house. There’s two Pugs, and if I give the Cocker Spaniel a treat, she’s happy until I give one to the other dogs, and then she drops hers and can’t believe that they have the treats too. She thinks they’ve gotten her treats, so she’s upset until that’s over.”

This was used in a 2003 commercial for Miller Lite beer. With this playing in the background, people topple over each other like a giant line of dominoes. They keep toppling until the line reaches a bar, where the last guy steps out of the way and orders his Miller Lite. Says Mothersbaugh, “I liked that one as much as the Swiffer one gives me goose bumps of repulsion.”

Devo will allow their songs to be used in commercials only if they can re-record them for the ad. As a result of a bad publishing deal they signed in 1978, they own only half the rights to their songs. Re-recording the songs allows them to keep all the performance rights, and also lets the advertiser change the lyrics. In the Miller Lite commercial, the line “He went in circles ’til he dropped dead” was changed to “He went in circles ’til he dropped down” because the Miller people didn’t want to imply that the people falling like dominoes were dying.

Psychedelic Rock

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “80’s New Wave Bands Edition,” where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

DEVO Whip It

Over 40 years ago, David Bowie called Devo “the band of the future.” What he didn’t realize is just how bleak that future would be—and how right Devo would be about it.

On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a crowd of unarmed Kent State University students protesting the US military bombing of Cambodia. An art student named Gerald Casale was there among the chaos, running to escape the miasma of tear gas and bullets as two of his friends, Alison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, succumbed to gunshots from an M-1 rifle. The incident, which left a total of four dead and nine injured, would go down in history as a cultural loss of innocence, a particularly harrowing example of American political and social unrest during the Vietnam War. It also marked the birth of Devo, the band and multi-disciplinary project that Casale would start with a cast of friends impacted by the shooting in the months that followed.

Though Devo’s synth-heavy sound and driving hooks often see the band billed as a New Wave act, the group occupies a more singular place in pop music’s trajectory, fusing the radical electronic experimentation of Kraftwerk and Bob Moog with punk’s wiry intensity. Some tracks, like “Whip It” and “Beautiful World,” were pop Trojan horses, with their deadpan critiques of American conformity and consumerism subverting infectious riffs and rhythms. Others, like the band’s deconstructed 1978 rendition of The Rolling Stone’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” would be more overtly confrontational—less a cover than a “correction,” as the band described it, bewildering Mick Jagger and television audiences alike with its clanking, mechanical samples and Mothersbaugh’s arhythmic yelps.

“I was at a birthday party earlier this year for some little kids, and they had this clown that the kids were all picking on,” Mothersbaugh, now a composer for filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Phil Lord, recalls at his LA studio on a recent summer afternoon. “He said to one of the little girls, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ And she goes, ‘Rich!’ And then they all went, ‘Yeah!’— and started high-fiving each other.”

As he replays the moment, Mothersbaugh’s eyes widen. Almost half a century after Kent State, he still looks bewildered. “The devolution of humans, you know, it’s continuing,” he says. “We were pessimistic, but not this pessimistic. We didn’t think it was going to move this fast.”

Influences And Recollections if s Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Devo: Q: Are We Not Men?

A: We Are DEVO!

And now for something completely different! It doesn’t get much different than Devo. When they dropped their debut in 1978, the provocatively named Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, the Akron, Ohio based new wave/art rock band brought a flair for the theatrical and established themselves with their matching yellow suits and stiffly mechanical stage moves.

I first saw them on Saturday Night Live doing a memorably intense and completely original take on the Rolling Stones Classic hit (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. They also performed an amazing original called Jocko Homo (probably my all time favorite song of theirs). Needless to say, I was intrigued. Bizarre costumes and a unifying concept about mankind’s de-evolution (we really are regressing in so many ways) coupled with spiky rhythms and quirky vocals all combined to make Devo smart and unique.

Put it on, crank it up, and bounce around the room…it will be fun!

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