Under-Appreciated Album Of The Day: Devo's "Freedom Of Choice"


For many, the quintessential '80s album is The Cars' self-titled debut effort, which features such timeless classics as "My Best Friend's Girl", "Just What I Needed", and "Good Times Roll". What most people don't realize, or have conveniently forgotten, is that this classic '80s album actually came out in 1978.

The one album that sums up all the best (and worst) aspects of the Me Decade, and was actually released in the '80s would have to be Devo's Freedom Of Choice, best known for containing the smash hit "Whip It". By mere association, both the band and the album from which the song came have been dismissed by many as novelty when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Freedom Of Choice is easily one of the best albums of the decade, systematically encapsulating all the musical hallmarks that the decade had to offer: catchy sing-along hooks, pulsating synthesizers, electronic percussion, all played by guys wearing bright red flower pots. Of course, anyone who bothered to pay attention knows full well that those are actually Aztec energy domes.

Truth be told, those first Devo two albums, Q: Are We Not Men, A: We Are Devo, and Duty Now For The Future, had been largely experimental efforts, On the former, the band hadn't so much covered the Stones' "Satisfaction (I Can't Get No)" as deconstructed it and rebuilt it from the ground up, turning it into an angular nerd-rock anthem. For Duty, they mixed traditional rock chord progressions with odd time signatures, sang of Pink Pussycats, and , then topped it all off with a no-nonsense cover of "Secret Agent Man" that arguably surpassed the original. It was an album that sent mixed signals and, as a result, failed to generate any heat on the charts. By this point, those who were aware of the band were either totally into their schtick, or dismissed the band as a short-lived musical oddity.

For their third effort, Freedom Of Choice, Devo seemed to have either buckled to record company pressure to be more accessible, or simply streamlined their look & sound into a concise, easily digestible package. While "Whip It" was the song that the entire world would come to know by heart, whether they wanted to or not, the rest of the album was anything but the work of some novelty act.

"Ton O' Luv", if played to a room full of unsuspecting strangers, will no doubt incite a rash of robot dancing because, despite the fact that many may be hearing it for the first time, the song itself symbolizes the most innocent and carefree aspects of the '80s. Just like its impossible to frown while riding a Jet Ski, it is impossible to not bust out your goofiest dance moves to this song. The title cut, by comparison, begins with pounding tom toms that soon give way to the guitar and synth interplay of Mark Mothersbaugh and Robert Casale, and is then brought home with one of the tastiest verse hooks known to the man:

"In ancient Rome/There was a poem
About a dog/Who found two bones
He picked at one/He licked the other
He went in circles/He dropped dead."

Slowly, surely, this song has begun to grow in popularity as the new go-to song for capturing that '80s energy and why not? For advertisers hoping to position their brand as new, exciting, the choice of discerning consumers everywhere, a song that urges you to "use your freedom of choice" is what those in the ad biz call a no-brainer. Listen closely, though because, at one point the band can be heard singing, "Freedom from choice is what you want".



"Gates Of Steel", with its chiming guitar intro and tribal beat, is perhaps the album's best song and one that, even today, sounds like it could be a hit. Granted, some might consider it too retro, as it contains actual singing and playing of instruments, yet, if a Lady Gaga vocal were to be laid atop the original musical backing, a nation of "little monsters" would call it the greatest thing since the new Sliced Bread app for the iPhone.

Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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