Remembering Devo’s cover of The Rolling Stones ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’
We’re dipping into the Far Out vault to take a look back at two opposite ends of the rock and roll spectrum colliding as Devo take on The Rolling Stones
Once heralded by David Bowie as “the band of the future”, one of Devo’s purest moments was looking back to the past as Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale and their robotic new wave vision was applied to The Rolling Stones’ iconic hit ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. Today it remains one of the band’s most subversive moments.
The single was originally self-released by the new-wave band in 1977 on their own label Booji Boy Records. It saw the band lay out their foundations for a new style of rock and roll. The track then got that extra flourish when it was mixed by the wonderful Brian Eno as part of their debut album.
But, with Warner Brothers Records now at the helm of the production, the song needed to have a little extra vetting and security measures were quickly put in place. In short, they wanted Mick Jagger’s approval on the track. A somewhat tense meeting is reflected upon by Devo founder Gerald Casale in The New Yorker.
Casale remembers: “He was just looking down at the floor swirling his glass of red wine,” going on to add “He didn’t even have shoes on, just socks and some velour pants. I don’t know what his habits were then, but this was early afternoon and it looked like he had just gotten up.”
The trepidation the band must have felt when playing their version must have felt excruciatingly paralysing. As one of the world’s most prominent rock stars dissected a cover that barely resembled his iconic hit, the scenery of the day must have felt overwhelming. Add into that mix that Devo cite Jagger and The Rolling Stones as major influences and there’s a chance for a complete meltdown. But the duo held on.
They were major fans, speaking of ‘Satisfaction’, Mothersbaugh said: “I think those are some of the most amazing lyrics that were ever written in rock and roll, dealing with conspicuous consumption and the stupidity of capitalism and sexual frustration all in one song. It pretty much encapsulated what was going on with kids at that time, much more than any of the hippie songs, as far as I was concerned.”
Devo was the future of rock and roll according to much of the music press and Bowie, something that is quite hard to argue with. Their special brand of electrified rock and roll felt decisively modern in 1978 and this cover was the furthest anyone would’ve dared take the track and have the gall to play it back to him. But Devo aren’t like every other band.
So as the band sat down in silence across from a velour-attired Mick Jagger they let their cover play out across the stereo.
As detailed in the New Yorker Casale said of Jagger “He suddenly stood up and started dancing around on this Afghan rug in front of the fireplace, the sort of rooster-man dance he used to do, and saying” doing his best Jagger impression “‘I like it, I like it.’ Mark and I lit up, big smiles on our faces, like in ‘Wayne’s World’: ‘We’re not worthy!’ To see your icon that you grew up admiring, that you had seen in concert, dancing around like Mick Jagger being Mick Jagger. It was unbelievable.”
So while this dreamy idea of the entirety of Devo sat across from a gyrating Mick Jagger continues to swirl around your head sit down and watch the band performing a rare early live version of the cover. Below that is the polished 1978 release which pays better service to the band’s vision. But whichever way you cut it, Devo’s cover of The Rolling Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ was a robo-rock dream