"Mongoloid" b/w "Jocko Homo" picture sleeve
The name “Devo” comes “from their concept of ‘de-evolution’ – the idea that instead of evolving, mankind has actually regressed, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.” Kent State University art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis developed this idea as a joke as far back as the late 1960s. Casale and Lewis created a number of art pieces satirically based on the theme of de-evolution. At the time, Casale was performing with local band 15-60-75 (The Numbers Band). The two met Mark Mothersbaugh, who introduced them to the pamphlet “Jocko Homo Heavenbound”, which eventually inspired the song “Jocko Homo”. The Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970 were cited as the impetus for forming Devo. The initial Devo lineup consisted of Casale, Lewis and Mothersbaugh, as well as Gerald’s brother Bob on guitar, Rod Reisman on drums and Fred Weber on vocals. Their only live performance with this lineup was at the 1973 Kent State performing arts festival. They performed at the university’s 1974 Creative Arts Festival with a lineup consisting of the Casale brothers, Lewis, Mark Mothersbaugh and his brother Jim on drums. Devo later reformed as a quartet, retaining Jim and Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale from the previous lineup, and adding Bob Mothersbaugh (Jim and Mark’s brother) on guitar. This lineup remained intact until 1976, when Jim left the band. Bob Casale rejoined the band at this point on guitar, and the band also found a new drummer, Alan Myers. The band gained some fame that year when the film “The Truth About De-Evolution” by Chuck Statler won a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. That year, they also released their first single, “Mongoloid” b/w “Jocko Homo”. This is today’s featured single.
“Mongoloid” opens with a relatively simple riff played on a guitar (soon accompanied by a synthesizer), which gives the song a garage rock feel to it, showing the contrast between the early Devo and the Devo of the “Freedom of Choice” era. The lyrics tell the story of an unfortunate man who nonetheless lives a relatively normal live: “Monogoloid he was a mongoloid/Happier than you and me/ Mongoloid he was a mongoloid/And it determined what he could see/Mongoloid he was a mongoloid/One chromosome too many”. But “he wore a hat/And he had a job/And he brought home the bacon/So that no one knew”. Notably nobody is singing lead vocals; the harmonized vocals of the band members enhance the mechanized feel of Devo’s music here, as does the electronic-sounding drum beat and Mark Mothersbaugh’s synthesizer. Yet at the same time, the distorted guitars and pounding bass line make the song sound like a punk anthem, the result being a song that is a punk and new wave hybrid. The band’s sound was cutting edge, but cutting edge music doesn’t always translate into sales, and “Mongoloid” was not a hit. Nonetheless, the song is generally acknowledged as one of the band’s early classics. The song was re-recorded for Devo’s debut album, “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” (1978).
The B-side, “Jocko Homo” is probably the better-known of the two songs on this single. “Jocko Homo” crams a lot of ideas into 3 minutes and 22 seconds: the lyrics primarily concern themselves with de-evolution, with the song title taken from a 1924 anti-evolution tract called “Jocko Homo Heavenbound” by B.H. Shadduck. Most versions include a bridge that begins with “God made man, but he used the monkey to do it.” There are also several call and response choruses, including the repeated chant “Are we not men?/We are Devo!”. [The line “Are we not men?” is supposedly lifted from the 1932 film “Island of Lost Souls”.] The song begins with the unusual signature time of 7/8, but switches partway through to 4/4 time for the call and response sections. The rising and falling guitar riff also distinguish this song, as well as its denigration of civilized society: “Monkey men all/In business suit/Teachers and critics/All dance the poot”. Like “Mongoloid”, “Jocko Homo” is equal parts punk and new wave, and the descending guitar riff gives the song a garage rock feel to it; combined with the synthesizer it provides an almost hypnotic-sounding melody for the band’s de-evolution lesson. The video for the song, featured in the short film “The Truth About De-Evolution”, features Mark Mothersbaugh as a professor lecturing to a group of students, who, as the song progresses, begin to riot. While performed live, “Jocko Homo” is often the centerpiece of the show, and early performances could go on for 20 minutes or more, until, as Mark Mothersbaugh said in an interview, ” people were actually fighting with us, trying to make us stop playing the song.” A faster-paced version of the song was recorded for the band’s debut album; the original version was released on Stiff Records in the U.K. (with “Jocko Homo” as the A-side instead of “Mongoloid”) and peaked at #62 on the U.K. Singles Chart.
The single (catalog #: 7033-14) was released on the band’s own Booji Boy label. A picture sleeve was issued with this single (shown above). It was also released in the U.K. on Stiff Records (catalog #: DEV 1). Devo caught the attention of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who championed the band and helped them secure a contract with Warner Bros. Records, who released their debut album, “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” (1978). Their second album, “Duty Now for the Future” (1979), but reached a new level of popularity with their third album, “Freedom of Choice” (1980), which reached #22 on the Billboard album chart and spawned the single “Whip It” (#14 U.S. #62 U.K.). This proved to be the commercial peak of the band, as subsequent albums “New Traditionalists” (1981), “Oh No! It’s Devo” (1982) and “Shout” (1984) resulted in diminishing returns. “Shout” peaked at #83 on the Billboard album chart, and soon after it’s release, Warner Bros. dropped Devo from its label. Alan Myers left the band soon afterwards, and Devo went on hiatus for a brief period. In 1987, Devo reformed with a new drummer, David Kendrick; this lineup produced an album, “Total Devo” (1988), released on Enigma Records. “Total Devo” was a commercial and critical failure, but the tour in support of the album became the basis for the live album “Now It Can Be Told: Devo at the Palace” (1989). Their next studio album, “Smooth Noodle Maps” (1990) was also a commercial dud, and a European tour had to be cancelled due to lack of ticket sales. The band had a falling out and broke up in 1991. Mark Mothersbaugh formed Mutato Musika, a commercial music production studio, enlisting the help of Bob Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale. Over the next two decades, there would be sporadic Devo reunions (with Josh Freese on drums, but with the remainder of the original lineup otherwise intact), but they would not release a new album until “Something for Everybody” (2010).