Saturday, December 25, 2010

December 25: Devo, "Jocko Homo"

Artist: Devo
Song: "Jocko Homo"
Album: Mongoloid (single)
Year: 1977

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (single) (will open in new tab)

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (album) (will open in new tab)

Though most critics do not readily accept its existence until around 1979, the fact of the matter is, at the same time that punk rock was exploding across the globe, the sound that would be called "post punk" was also already present.  Furthermore, it is not very hard to find this sound in that brief time period, as one of the most important bands in the development of both post-punk and what would be termed "new wave' released what is without question their finest album in July of 1978.  Having already released a few singles, the world of music was forever changed when Akron, Ohio's own Devo gave to the world their absolutely unparalleled and indescribable debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!  Bringing a strong base in the punk rock ethos, yet playing a sound that was unlike anything else previously heard, many will correctly argue that the only way to accurately describe the sound of Devo is to define it by the name of the band itself.  Filled with wild tempos and shifts in speed, heavy synthesizers, and quirky, yet mesmerizing lyrics, Devo quickly proved that much like any other genre, there were no limitations as to what could be achieved in the name of punk rock, as long as one refused to give in to the norms set forth by the masses.  Though every song on that album has its own unique feel, there is perhaps no other song in their entire catalog that better defines them than Devo's earlier single, 1977's, "Jocko Homo."

From the moment that "Jocko Homo" begins, it is clear that this band has very little in common with anything that had been recorded previously.  The in-your-face, wild, almost intimidating keyboard riff that opens the song immediately sets it apart, and it is also in this riff that one can completely understand everything that makes the sound of Devo so amazing.  Played by band founder Mark Mothersbaugh, there is an off-kilter, unsettling feel to it that shows the other side of what could be done with the instrument.  The almost mechanical sounding guitars from Bob Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale also defines the bands sound, as the strict, jerky sounds created here give the song an almost futuristic feel.  This is made even more prominent by the rhythm section of bassist Gerald Casale and drummer Alan Myers, and it is this pairing that stands today as one of the greatest teams in history.  The way in which the entire band comes together on "Jocko Homo" is nothing short of stunning, as their almost robotic precision and the somewhat "geeky" feel to their music is what would kick-start the entire "new wave" movement.  Furthermore, the band fits in perfectly with the other "post punk" bands, as though they sound nothing like their peers sonically, there is a dark mood that runs throughout their music that fits perfectly with this style.  There is no other song in the Devo catalog that holds the same place as "Jocko Homo," and more than thirty years later, it remains fresh and perhaps the most beloved song in the bands' catalog.

While there have been many singers who can be instantly recognized, few can do so in the same manner as Mark Mothersbaugh.  Though he presents a rather wide range of vocal ability, his staggered, dry sound usually perfectly mimics the sound which the band has put forth.  His voice also almost always contains the same nervous, unsettling feeling, and yet there is something about his voice that makes his performances completely captivating.  However, even in his unique vocal brilliance, there is something about his performance that is very "everyman" in nature, and this is perhaps the reason that Devo gained such a dedicated following, as there is something about the band and their music that is far more accessible that most other bands.  Along with his fantastic vocals, Mothersbaugh is never short of witty lyrical content, and "Jocko Homo" leaves very little to the imagination as he critiques many aspects of modern life.  As the song progresses, Mothersbaugh gets sharper with his attacks, pointing to the idea that as humans, we have evolved little from apes.  He goes as far as saying, "...god made man, but he used the monkey to do it, apes in the plan, we're all here to prove it..."  It is also on this song that he drops one of his most iconic lyrics, when he sings, "...monkey men all, in business suits..."  It is this theme that defines Devo's sound and "mission," and one can easily make the case that "Jocko Homo" features Mothersbaugh at his finest.

Truth be told, there are at least two distinctive studio versions of "Jocko Homo."  The first was released as the b-side to 1977's Mongoloid single, and following its success, the band re-recorded a faster, more polished version for their 1978 full length debut record.  While both of these two versions follow the same musical path, the earlier take has a rough edge that is missing from the latter, and many see this as the reason the first is far superior.  Regardless of which version one hears, perhaps the most intriguing and distinctive aspect of the song is the mind-boggling 7/8 time in which a majority of the song is played, with a brief shift to the more traditional 4/4 during the bridge section.  The fact that Devo was able to use this rather awkward time signature and in it, craft such a masterpiece, serves as a testament to their exceptional level of talent, as well as just how much they disregarded very notion of what could be done within the punk rock style.  Furthermore, it is this fact alone that cements their place within punk rock, as the true spirit of the sound is that of not accepting the limitations of others and completely committing to your own vision.  Few bands have been able to pack as much meaning and musical brilliance into as compact a song as one finds here, and it is much the reason that more than thirty years later, Devo's 1977 song, "Jocko Homo" remains completely unrivaled and defines the sheer genius that cements their place as true music icons.

No comments: