Devo De-Evolves the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”: See Their Groundbreaking Music Video and Saturday Night Live Performance (1978)

In 1978, the debut album by a force­ful­ly idio­syn­crat­ic new wave band out of Akron, Ohio both asked and answered a ques­tion: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! When we look back on the still-active group’s career more than 40 years lat­er, we may still ask our­selves who, or what, Devo are. Giv­en that they’re a rock band — albeit only just rec­og­niz­able as one at the time they hit it big — we could define them by their songs. Were Devo made Devo by their their first sin­gle, “Mon­goloid”? Or was it “Whip It,” their biggest hit and the Devo song we all know today?

There’s also a case to be made that few of us would ever have heard of Devo if they had­n’t record­ed their cov­er of anoth­er band’s defin­ing song: the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Sat­is­fac­tion.” Devo’s “wicked decon­struc­tion,” writes All­mu­sic crit­ic Steve Huey, “reworks the orig­i­nal’s alien­ation into a spas­tic freak-out that’s near­ly unrec­og­niz­able.” At The New York­er, Ron Pad­gett tells the sto­ry of the record­ing and release of Devo’s “Sat­is­fac­tion,” a process that began with a rhythm track co-founder Ger­ald Casale calls “some kind of mutat­ed devolved reg­gae.” Aes­thet­i­cal­ly, this tied neat­ly in with the band’s cen­tral con­cept: “that instead of evolv­ing, soci­ety was in fact regress­ing (‘de-evolv­ing’) as humans embraced their baser instincts.”

It was Casale, by day a cat­a­log design­er for a jan­i­to­r­i­al sup­ply com­pa­ny, who dis­cov­ered the bag­gy yel­low waste-dis­pos­al suits Devo would wear in the “Sat­is­fac­tion” music video — a dar­ing enough medi­um to begin with, giv­en the pauci­ty of venues for such pro­duc­tions in the late 70s. But “when MTV launched, in 1981,” writes Pad­gett, “very few bands had videos ready for the net­work to play. As a result, Devo’s ‘Sat­is­fac­tion’ video earned end­less rota­tions.” But the big break came “when they per­formed the song on Sat­ur­day Night Live, wear­ing the suits and pitch-black sun­glass­es, and doing the same jerky robo-motions, as in the video.”

You can see their SNL per­for­mance, intro­duced by the late Fred Willard, in the clip above.  Nego­ti­at­ed by the band’s man­ag­er Elliot Roberts in exchange for bring­ing Neil Young on a lat­er broad­cast, the appear­ance exposed Devo to an audi­ence that includ­ed no few view­ers hun­gry for just the kind of sub­ver­sive­ness the band’s music exud­ed. All this only hap­pened because Mick Jag­ger him­self had giv­en Devo’s spas­tic freak­out his bless­ing — and, as record­ed in the book Devo: Unmasked, some­how man­aged to dance to it as he did so. Lat­er, as Casale remem­bers it, Roberts claimed to have sug­gest­ed in advance to Jag­ger’s peo­ple that he “just says he likes it, because it’s going to make him a lot of mon­ey.” Or could that liv­ing embod­i­ment of rock star­dom be a clos­et sub­scriber to the the­o­ry of de-evo­lu­tion?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Phi­los­o­phy & Music of Devo, the Avant-Garde Art Project Ded­i­cat­ed to Reveal­ing the Truth About De-Evo­lu­tion

The Mas­ter­mind of Devo, Mark Moth­ers­baugh, Presents His Per­son­al Syn­the­siz­er Col­lec­tion

DEVO Is Now Sell­ing COVID-19 Per­son­al Pro­tec­tive Equip­ment: Ener­gy Dome Face Shields

Watch Phish Play All of The Rolling Stones’ Clas­sic Album, Exile on Main Street, Live in Con­cert

The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shel­ter” Played by Musi­cians Around the World

A Big 44-Hour Chrono­log­i­cal Playlist of Rolling Stones Albums: Stream 613 Tracks

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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