Wednesday, April 22, 2009

One Hit Wonder Or One Hit Blunder

Today's Subject: "Whip It" by Devo

"Crack that whip!" Everyone at this point knows that line and all the synth sounds surrounding it. One of the greatest opening lines to one of the best 80's hits by a group that does not deserve to be in the one hit wonder category but, like most forward thinkers and innovators, they were ahead of their time. Lucky for them, the one hit they had was a very memorable one.
Welcome to 1980. Disco, for the most part, is on the way out the door. The New York Punk scene of the 70's has been spruced up with Phil Spector production and African rhythms while late 70's era Disco helped create early Hip Hop singles. Punk has moved onto L.A.'s warm weather and club scene. Hardcore is starting to come up from the underground to fight against the next four years of Reagan and 80's consumerism and New Wave is beginning its attack on the mainstream with its catchy synth sounds and image.

From the middle of all of this comes an ode to S and M...or is it a poppy number about problem solving. Perhaps, it is both. Despite the meaning, this nearly 30-year-old track still gets airplay thanks to its awesomeness. It is a song filled with hi-hats, synths, cracking whips and Mark Motherbaugh's vocals that is short enough to remember and catchy enough to at least hum along. Then, there's the video.

Without a doubt, one of the dirtiest and most amusing videos to receive airplay in the early years of MTV. Clothes are whipped off, a cowboy makes it with a woman in a window after being slapped on the ass and before being told "ride 'em cowboy" and, sexiest of all, an older woman whipping cream as Devo plays on a ranch. As a kid, I never knew what this video was about and now I know. It's about the life of a ranch hand, right?

The video and song are cool. This is true. It's a Devo song with everything you could ask for and this a good thing?

Due to the song's popularity, it has lived on through countless ads ("when a problem comes along, you must Swifer) and, worst of all, Devo 2.0. Granted, the song was used in a very funny episode of The Simpsons but all of the ads and re-recording part of it for a broom/mop combo is bad. Very, very bad. It cheapens the coolness of the song to the point that it's just a whorish tactic to remind people that the song existed. I'm still waiting to see a Direct TV ad with Devo performing "Whip It" only for Mark Mothersbaugh to begin talking about whipping problems with Direct TV. That will be the death of the song.

Catchy hook.
Memorable lyrics.
Awesome video about ranch-style sex or something like that.
It's Devo...enough said.
"Crack that whip."

A one hit wonder that became the band's trademark song despite making great singles before and after it ("Jocko Homo," "Beautiful World," "Girl U Want").
Countless usage in TV ads (Pringles, Swifer, Twix...cringe).
Devo 2.0 (had there never been a hit song, this might have not happened).

It's still a hit with just a hint of sadness lingering in its wake. I still love the song and love Devo. They were pioneers and this song proves that they could write an ambiguous, catchy song better than most of their peers. Too bad this song would help sell candy and chips along with a mop to clean up the mess you'll make after eating.

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