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Sep 27 2017

How Devo made a classic its own

Introduction

Because The Rolling Srones will be performing in The Netherlands within three days, I will publish my 10 best (Dutch) Stones singles within two days and because 40 years ago this month Devo released their cover of their own, highly original, version of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, this inserted article.

Devo (Janet Macoska)

Devo

Devo

Devo is an American band that was formed in 1973 in Akron, Ohio. The name is derived from their ‘de-evolution’ concept, the idea that mankind is no longer evolving, rather it is going back in time, which, among other things, is proven by the herd mentality of American society.

Devo made its first impact when the short film The Truth About De-Evolution (1976) won a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. David Bowie got interested and went about to work to get the band a deal with Warner Bros. He once introduced the band at a concert by stating that they were “the band of the future”. In 1977 Devo was asked to play a part in the Neil Young movie Human Highway (which was released in 1982).

Devo (I Can't Get Me No) Satisfaction (Booji Boy) (45cat.com)

Devo (I Can’t Get Me No) Satisfaction (Booji Boy)

The band released their first single Mongoloid in March of 1977 on their own Booji Boy Records. In September of the same year their second single was released, a cover of the big 1966 Rolling Stones hit (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

The recommendations of David Bowie (and Iggy Pop) convinced Warner Bros. in 1978. The first Devo album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, was produced by Brian Eno and contained the first two singles (re-recordeed). On October 14th, 1978, Devo were broadcast across the nation as part of the late-night show Saturday Night Live (a week after The Rolling Stones were there). They played their first two singles.

The first album was succeeded by Duty Now For The Future in 1979, which was more electronic than its predecessor. With the album Freedom Of Choice, my personal favorite by the band, in 1980 Devo gained a much wider audience. Ther best-known hit, Whip It, very quickly shot into the Top 40. The band’s sound was now almost enitirely electronic, except for the drums and guitar.

At a later time more on Devo, and the fabulous album Freedom Of Choice in particular.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

One afternoon in 1978 Devo members Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale were on their way to Peter Rudge’s office in Manhattan. He was manager for The Rolling Stones and they were to meet Mick Jagger there to let him listen to their weird cover of The Rolling Stones classic (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Warner Bros., where the band had recently signed, thought the song to be so weird, that they wanted Jagger’s blessing, before releasing it on their label. Mothersbaugh put the tape in the player and hit Play. The first sounds filled the room. What Jagger heard didn’t even remotely resemble the song he had written. Richards’ familiar riff was gone, as was the song’s entire original melody. For about a half a minute nothing happened. Everyone quietly listened to the spastic, robotic funk, when suddenly Jagger got up and started dancing, calling “I like it, I like it”. Both Devo members were overjoyed. Not only did they get to meet their hero, but he thought what they were doing was cool!

Devo - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Video stills (haringmatrix.us)

Devo – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Video stills

Somewhere around January of 1977 guitar player Bob Casale came up with a riff, the opening for the future (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and the replacement for the iconic opening riff of the original. Drummer Alan Myers joined in with a typical Devo beat. The bass part that was added resembled a kind of reggae riff. Singer Mark Mothersbaugh started singing the words to Paint It Black. But the lyrics didn’t fit. When Mothersbaugh started adding the lyrics to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction to the music it matched perfectly.

The band immediately knew that the song would help them get their de-evolution philosophy out there. They didn´t cover the song, they corrected it. It started off as a mid-tempo song that lasted too long, making it more funny than good. Experiencing a show by The Ramones and The Damned convinced them they could speed it up.

The song is nothing like the original. It’s the lyrics that give it away. It’s a primary example of how to cover a song and adding to it and consequently creating something new and unique.

The video

Devo - (I Can't Get Me No) Satisfaction - Video (youtube.com)

Devo – (I Can’t Get Me No) Satisfaction – Video

After the band signed a contract with Warner Bros., they let the band know they had a $ 5,000 budget for promotion. The band requested to use it for a music video, a fairly new phenomenon at the time. The first thing the band did was acquire the right clothing for the video. But they didn’t want to look like stars. The solution was found in a catalogue for janitor’s clothing. They found yellow throw-away waste suits. That’s what the band would wear in the video: “The yellow suits were great, because they had this look that was totally the opposite of something that hugged your balls or your butt, or showed off your physique in any way. It was kind of the opposite: they hid us”. Devo recorded the video in a theatre in Akron, Ohio.

The video is hilarious. The band moves robotically while playbacking the song. The performance gets interrupted by sketches making abundantly clear that no satisfaction is to be had and a kind of epileptic dancer who throws himself on the ground in an unparalleled manner.

Warner Bros. earned their money back very quickly. In 1981 MTV started. At the time there were few bands that had video’s. The result was that Devo’s video was played over and over again by the network.

In closing

What do you think of the cover by Devo? Do you like it just as much? Let me know!

 

Compliments/remarks? I´d love to hear them!