Devo was formed in Akron, Ohio (the rubber town 40 miles away from Cleveland) in 1972 by Kent State art students Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh. From the early 70’s they had been known as The De-Evolution Band, before sensibly abbreviating the name to Devo.
Clearly having spent too much time inhaling the black smoke of the Goodyear factory and drinking from the black waters of the Cuyahoga had spiked the minds of this bunch of weirdos, who issued two obscure 45s on their own indie label, Booji Boy, which were heavily imported into Britain through Stiff late in 1977.
Early in 1978, both the double-A sided Mongoloid b/w Jocko Homo and a hilarious electrified rendition of The Rolling Stones‘ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction were re-pressed due to popular demand, the singles subsequently becoming minor chart hits.
After a third classic, Be Stiff, also hit the UK Top 75, the flowerpot-headed, potato-faced futurists secured a record deal with Virgin (Warner’s in the USA) and continued to inject quirky humour into the usually po-faced New Wave movement.
While other New Wave acts adopted jerky rhythms as a dance-stance re-working of punk’s pogo, Devo presented such uniformity as a march-step life-track for the de-evolved modern human.
A debut album entitled Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978) was released a month later to a confused but appreciative audience who propelled the Brian Eno-produced record into the Top 20 in the UK and Top 100 in the US.
Their follow-up release, Duty Now For The Future (1979), suffered a slight backlash, with the novelty wearing thin without the benefit of a hit single. 1980s Freedom Of Choice would have suffered a similar fate but for a freak US Top 20 single, Whip It, which became a staple feature of the nascent MTV video.
Sporting black shorts, polo-necks and red energy-dome flowerpot hats (actually meant to look like Aztec temples or ziggurats), the band cracked whips as a solution to society’s ills as handsome cowboy couples swigged Bud and looked on, oblivious to their own de-evolution.
Even as they railed against Reaganism with songs like Freedom Of Choice and Through Being Cool, Devo slowly but steadily capitulated to the record-biz way of doing things.
They’d sold two million albums by 1981, but this just made Warners increase the pressure in the hope of harvesting an even bigger return on their investment.
Following the commercial failure of Shout (1984), the label dropped Devo. Shortly after, claiming to feel creatively uninspired, Alan Myers left the band.
1990 saw the release of Smooth Noodle Maps, which would be Devo’s last album for twenty years. It was not a commercial success and the band ended a European tour early because of poor ticket sales. The band had a falling out soon after but played two shows in 1991 before breaking up.
The band re-formed and toured in 2006 and 2007, paunchy, middle-aged, their ontological hectoring more terrifying than ever.