Nov 212011

"You had me at Dick Clark as Hitler."

Once a year I try to listen to my lone Devo album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! I want to love it. I begin to chuckle over it before I even drop the needle. Once I do, however, musically there’s not enough there for me to care about, no matter how much I try. I inevitably skip ahead to get my requisite laughs out of the song “Jocko Homo” before logging onto YouTube to marvel at their videos. Devo videos are amazing!

As an impressionable college freshman I got into The Residents. I bought Third Reich ‘n Roll and Meet the Residents as soon as I saw the album covers, without ever hearing a note of the band’s music. (Actually, come to think of it, I stole both records before ever hearing a note of the band’s music, but that’s a long story I might have shared once and I will probably share once more in the future…) The Residents’ album covers and concepts are amazing! I dig their “classic” albums enough to actually feel compelled to rank their musical output and cite “turning points” in their development, but without the record covers and overriding concepts, what would be the point of ever listening to The Residents? Without the medium of the 12-inch vinyl album cover could The Residents have ever existed? I don’t think so. What 18-year-old kid is going to log into the iTunes Store to sample and download a Residents album?

I’ve never liked KISS, but I’ve got to give them credit for their visual appeal. Sans makeup and pyrotechnics would KISS have been anything more than a “1-hit wonder” like Brownsville Station?

What artists are you attracted to primarily for their visual appeal, even long after you’ve bought and dug their records?

Previously: Music That’s Better With the Sound Turned Off: Devo


  18 Responses to “See Me, Hear Me”

  1. Happiness Stan

    I thought I must be the only person in the world who thought that Devo records were less interesting than the covers and videos. Not sure I agree about the Residents, I bought their albums because I liked the music, and enjoyed hearing Duck Stab/Buster and Glen again recently.

    Going to have to think harder about the question, but I honestly believe that I have never heard any song by Kiss, although obviously I know the visuals.

  2. To be clear, I like the music of The Residents – and you just cited what I believe to be their best musical album (or twofer ep, if we want to be nerdy)! What I was getting at, though, was could the band have ever garnered any interest without the visuals/concepts provided by their old 12-inch sleeves? When Residents albums started appearing on CD, with the reduced graphics, it was never the same. For me, at least.

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    I went to see an El Vez show a few years back, and it was amazing. There is NO FREAKING WAY I would ever buy an El Vez album.

  4. hrrundivbakshi

    In contrast, you might expect me to only love my boys the Upper Crust for the visual schtick. But no! I totally dig their music, and own every note of it.

    For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, once again, here they are:

  5. Southern Culture on the Skids is one of those bands I get a big kick out of when I see a video — I like most of the music but it seems secondary.

    The Cramps (Love the cover of A Date With Elvis — but how many times can you listen to it? — especially not in mixed company.)

    What about the B-52s? I do like the first EP and the first album, but didn’t they become more about the look as time went on.

  6. I’ve probably spent more time admiring the cover of the first Jam album than I have actually listening to The Jam.

  7. Nice one I hadn’t considered!

  8. The B-52s are an excellent example! Their music perfectly matched their Look, when they came out – and I think it was as good as their Look – but you’re right, after a while the Look was the brand.

  9. misterioso

    Well, I think Devo is best served in relatively small doses and on compilations, but they are brilliant within their limitations. I am light years from having ever understood the appeal of The Residents, except in theory, but their lp covers are clever. I don’t want to say that I don’t care about cool record covers, ’cause I do, but I don’t feel like it much enters into whether I like a record or a performer. Nor does the reverse apply: it isn’t as if I hate Dirty Work because the cover is hideous–it just happens that the cover is a match for the crappy music. As much as I enjoy the discussions of “look” in rock in the end I don’t really care all that much. It’s a nice bonus when a cool look accompanies cool music, but it ain’t essential, and no amount of cool looks is going to make crappy music sound better to my ears.

  10. Happiness Stan

    Over here they were known by people whose lives revolved around staying in and listening to the radio before the pubs closed because John Peel used to play their records, long before they were readily available to buy. I had to order that album from the US, and hadn’t seen the cover, nor any of the other albums. Absolutely the covers are brilliant, and it’s questionable how much interest there actually was in them in the UK until Devo records started being released, (again because Peelie played them), which sort of opened the floodgates for stuff which was a lot weirder to come along as well, the fact that they had great graphics was a bonus.

  11. For me: Throbbing Gristle….all the peripherals were more memorable than (at least) 90% of the music.

    To a certain extent, The Butthole Surfers kind of fall into this category for me, as well, but I can still listen to more of their material than I can TG’s.

    I disagree about S.C.O.T.S. – I don’t find anything secondary about their music: they can play their asses off!

    Also disagree about the Cramps, esp. the mixed company bit. Listened to that album probably thousands of times since it came out, & nearly every woman I’ve known loves ’em…..and don’t forget; all their material (in fact, everything about the band) was generated by a husband & wife team.

    I think the B-52’s were closer to the reverse of what was stated; if anything, they relied more on image when they started. That’s not to say I think their material got better over time, or they were a better band later, when they pulled in more accomplished players as sidemen/women…because I don’t. Instrumental proficiency just doesn’t always equal more interesting or exciting rock & roll. I definitely think they toned down the image as they went on.

  12. cliff sovinsanity

    I agree with misterioso about Devo in small doses, but that doesn’t forgive the fact that I’ve listened to KISS more often than Devo. That being shamefully admitted, I don’t think KISS would have even had a hit, let alone them being a 1 hit wonder. The production on the first 2 albums was so shoddy, no radio station would have considered giving them airplay. They would have been dropped by the label long before finding the winning pop formula found on Destroyer and Love Gun. Then again Casablanca was deep in the red anyways so they might have stuck it out with these losers. Regardless, no one label would have signed these ugly bastards to begin with. Except Paul Stanley, he was dreamy.

  13. Throbbing Gristle and Butthole Surfers are great examples!

  14. tonyola

    I saw Devo live in 1980 in their Aztec-flowerpot hat stage – a free outdoor concert at the University of Florida shortly after Freedom of Choice was released. They were good – I very much enjoyed the show even without chemical alterations.

  15. cliff sovinsanity

    And did the Floridians welcome these new revolutionaries?

  16. 2000 Man

    I really like that first Devo album. I like it for a lot of reasons, but Alan Myers’ drumming is incredible. That guy could give Bernard Purdie a run for his money, and I’d bet Purdie couldn’t have played on a Devo album, but Myers could play for Steely Dan. It’s not just the drumming, it’s everything. I’ll agree that their videos are terrific, but no one in 1978 was doing what Devo was, and man, if you liked them you were in for a world of ridicule around here. I don’t think I could listen to a boxed set or anything, but I can toss on the first album and the last album anytime.

  17. I’m with you all the way on this one.

  18. Oh, yeah – very enthusiastic crowd. It was a college, after all.

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