Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
Warner Bros. Records Inc.
By 1980, I was acquiring a lot of vinyl. Every weekend I’d drive to my local record store to dig through crates looking for the latest LPs. The Clash’s London Calling was my first taste of ‘punk,’ although now I don’t consider it punk at all – its just straight up rock. But in those bygone days it did open my doors of musical perception.
The definitions of subgenres within rock music have always been confusing especially to consumers. In the late ’70s, the term ‘punk’ incited a visceral reaction in your average top-40 listener with images of Johnny Rotten spitting on his audience so new bands like the Cars needed a safer tag and “New Wave” seemed to work.
According to a passage in Wikepedia, here’s one theory on the genesis of the term “New Wave”:
In November 1976 Caroline Coon used Malcolm McLaren’s term “new wave” to designate music by bands not exactly punk, but related to the same musical scene. The term was also used in that sense by music journalist Charles Shaar Murray in his comments about the Boomtown Rats. For a period of time in 1976 and 1977, the terms new wave and punk were somewhat interchangeable. By the end of 1977, “new wave” had replaced “punk” as the definition for new underground music in the UK.
In 1978 Devo’s first LP, Q: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo! was considered a ‘novelty,’ but I think it fit squarely into the New Wave subgenre.
Recently finding this record was a coup for me because their quirky song, Jocko Homo (which barely got any radio airplay back in ’78), has been an earworm of mine forever. I just haven’t been able to secure the record even though its probably not too hard to find.
I remember Devo doing Jocko Homo on SNL back in ’79 and thinking they were certifiable and weird. But I also remember my parents actually being outraged at the performance, which is crazy because Devo didn’t do anything salacious – they were just wacked.
Now, some 40 years later, the album, which was produced by Brian Eno, sounds more akin to Talking Heads. In fact, Talking Heads released More Songs About Buildings and Food the same year and it was also produced by Eno. Hence the similarities.
Hearing the record on vinyl is a sonic kick – its rich and filled with strange noises like the ‘calculator’ sound found in the first cut Uncontrollable Urge.
The LP is also subversive. Listen to their cover of the Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. It roboticizes the Jagger swagger, which makes the already suggestive song sound dirtier. And its funny to hear Devo kill it better than the Stones.
Side two is raucous and loud and actually contains some lengthy (by Devo standards) guitar solos, not to mention dissonant guitar blips juxtaposed next to some beautifully rendered guitar passages as well as some Chuck Berry riffing going on. The whole LP is a stew of weirdness and style in the making.
The jacket’s artwork provided no clue as to what the band was actually like. Illustrated by Joe Heiner, the image is based on a picture of golfer Chi-Chi Rodriguez. Its a compelling graphic and seems to satirize…something. Golf? Corporate image-making? Candy-coated fun? The suburban sporting life? Hard to say, but the jacket artwork is worthy of framing.
So – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! is one of those records that if you see it and don’t have it, grab it.
© 2017 Chris Barry