Akron weirdos Devo were still looked on with suspicion as they wandered into the halls of Studio 8H in October of 1978. The group’s debut, Q: Are We Not Men?, A: We Are Devo! had only come out three months prior, and the hype surrounding them was surprisingly high for a punk-inspired new wave. That’s because they had managed to impress a number of influential music business figures, including Richard Branson at Virgin Records, producer Brian Eno, and even David Bowie. The latter two worked on the band’s debut album, with Bowie remixing the record’s songs when conflicts arose with Eno.
But Are We Not Men was met with mixed reviews and sold especially poorly in the band’s native country. A slightly warmer critical and commercial reception in the UK didn’t do much for Devo, who were set to undertake an American tour. The good news was the live setting was where Devo made the biggest impression. Featuring costumes, pre-shot films, and powerful delivery of the band’s material, Devo were able to make converts out of even the most sceptical of viewers. This was an essential asset, as the third gig booked for the tour was on Saturday Night Live.
As it so happened, The Rolling Stones were the hosts and musical guests for the premiere episode of season four just a week prior. The Stones were promoting the release of Some Girls, but devoted SNL viewers were probably unaware of the fact that they were going to get a double dose of Stones songs two weeks in a row.
That’s because one of the centrepieces to Devo’s set was their angular and abrasive cover of ‘Satisfaction’. Turning the raunchy riff-heavy rocker into a stilted, mechanical rumble was one of Devo’s most notorious live tracks, and they seemed to revel in the bizarre reactions they would get from the cover (it was hard to tell under the band’s robotic stage antics). Just as the Stones left Studio 8H, Devo swept in with a warped version of the Stones’ signature swagger.
Since SNL were always keen on airing short films, Devo even managed to screen their self-made film The Truth About De-Evolution before the start of their second number, ‘Jocko Homo’. But the wider world got its most pure taste of Devo thanks to ‘Satisfaction’, which seemed to flaunt everything that the Stones’ exuded and turned it on its head: charisma curdled into purposeful stilted awkwardness, groove was transformed into a mechanical rumble, and driving rock and roll gave way to deliberately artificial new wave.
Check out Devo’s take on ‘Satisfaction’ down below.