August 1980: Devo Stirs the Nation with "Whip It"

Devo
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When a problem comes along, you must whip it.

READ MORE: May 1980: Devo Releases 'Freedom of Choice'

The punk rock provocateurs behind DEVO were hungry for their next hit following their first two avant-garde albums. Following their 1978 breakthrough with the Brian Eno-produced Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Devo struggled to impress their label, Warner Brothers, with 1989's Duty Now for the Future. For their third album, the band faced a do-or-die situation. 

Leave it to the Midwestern spudboys to defy all odds: the band whipped back to the studio and returned with "Whip It," a single so irresistibly odd that it resurged to the charts after its release in August 1980.

"There was a whole idea to it, that this would be an incessant, dance-oriented energy, but with Devo messages in the lyrics," shared Jerry Casale to Pitchfork

Undoubtedly the band's most recognizable tune, "Whip It" launched DEVO from underground art band to cult tastemaker status as the New Wave anthem took over the airwaves on radio and MTV, propelling the song to No. 14 on the Billboard charts. Tune in below for four facts you should know about this quintessential '80s tune. 

4. The song was politically influenced by President Carter.

As Mark Mothersbaugh recounted to Songfacts, "We had just done our second world tour when we started writing our third album. The one thing that we were impressed with that we noticed everywhere around the world was that everybody was totally freaked out by American politics and American foreign policy. At the time, Jimmy Carter was in charge. I thought of 'Whip It' as kind of a Dale Carnegie, 'You Can Do It' song for Jimmy Carter."

3. The lyrics were inspired by Thomas Pynchon's all-American parodies. 

If imitation is the greatest form of flattery in the creative biz, Casale poured his heart out to Pynchon with the song's cheerleader tone that cheekily poked fun of the Americana cliche "There's nobody else like you - you're No. 1!"

2. The S&M myth behind the music video was inspired by a 1962 magazine called Dude.

The band made the most of their $15,000 budget by capitalizing on the common misconception that the song was centered on sadomasochism. The resulting video, featuring Mothersbaugh whipping off a girl's clothes, was inspired by a 1962 men's girlie mag called Dude that Casale found in a Santa Monica store.

"There was a feature article on a guy who had been an actor and fell on hard times, he wasn't getting parts anymore," recounted Casale to Songfacts. "He moved with his wife to Arizona, opened a dude ranch. Every day at noon in the corral, for entertainment, he'd whip his wife's clothes off with a 12-foot bullwhip. She sewed the costumes and put them together with Velcro. The story was in the magazine about how good he was and how he never hurt her."

He continued, "We had such a big laugh about it, we said, 'OK, that's the basis for the video. We'll have these cowboys drinking beer and cheering Mark on as he's in the barnyard whipping this pioneer women's clothes off while the band plays in the corral.'"

1. "Whip It" marked the red hat boys' only Top 40 hit.

For many, this Devo track gave the American audience its first taste of new wave music as one of the first songs to employ a synthesizer as its foundational sound.

While the tune wasn’t a smashing commercial success, the single brought Devo to uncharted territory when the song reached No. 14 on the Billboard Top 100. Devo would have the last laugh after all: As 1981 wrapped, "Whip It" closed out the year ranked 94th on the Top 100 year-end chart.

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