Monday, January 13, 2014


A few times, I've brought up the band Devo; they've sort of hovered around the fringes of my mind now and then. I've only ever heard their 'Whip it' song, and none of their other material, which I don't particularly want to get into because of what I've read about it, but who knows. I actually used to feel like I should only allow myself to happen upon it randomly on YouTube now and then if it came up, because otherwise I felt weird and maybe silly for looking for it and actively liking it. Like a sort of, "oh, that song, a normal 80s staple, I'll allow myself to listen to it because of that."

Back then I was a part of the imagined mass perception of the song - silly, immature, sexual undertones, things to kind of look down on as childish perhaps. But then again, that's taking it at face value, which people tend to do in lyrics a lot more quickly and easily than to think about them, especially if they sound simple or basic or repetitive (the lyrics of this song are classically all like that). To make a song commercially consumable, or pop, it has to be simple and repetitive and basic. The only issue with that is that while it's easier to digest or listen to, shorter, you take the easy route and decide the sung words are exactly what they mean. Or at least I'm sure most people do, otherwise how could I have generated that view of that Devo hit? On my own, yes, but no doubt likely influenced by public, mass perception.

You can say that I do nothing but rely on Wikipedia, which is true, but it sources very well. Everyone believes 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' by The Beatles is about drug use, when it was actually inspired by a primary school painting Lennon's son Julian did of his classmate Lucy; the press simply decided for itself what it meant. A constant topic that is revisited in interviews with Don Henley of the Eagles is how he 'screwed up' how wine works in the song 'Hotel California;' it's poetic license, not an unintentional error made on the writers' part on the process of wine-making.

According to (yes, Wikipedia), 'Whip it''s lyrics have to do with overcoming adversity from a working class perspective rather than just using a whip, and suggestively. And to prove my reliance on the site isn't always perfect, the article erroneously states that the song is built on a moterik beat - which would apply to 'You Are the Girl' by the Cars, rather, than this song, which has a constant bass drum hitting on the up and down beats. Wikipedia isn't perfect.

I have no issue now saying that I actually quite like the song, and largely for its guitar riff and lead keyboard. All the instruments save for the guitar and (interestingly) the drums are keyboard-created, which was a new thing for the band (originally, other than the guitar, it was the other way around). One thing Wikipedia got right was that the guitar was based on the one in the song 'Pretty Woman' - I looked it up and the little EE-GAD procession matched, in its intro. What Gerald Casale did was expand upon it, gave it a nice catchy ending. It's a good example of making something basic sound very appealing and catchy to the ear. The lead keyboard only plays three notes - D, A, and E - which is basically reversing the notes played by the guitar, in the beats where that instrument is silent.

As I've said in the past, the bridge is the best part for me thanks to the synesthetic image, and it's been with me for a long time - since middle school - and it's nice to return to when I hear it. The E on the keyboard is the big climax for that. I already explained it in-depth in this post.

In the end it's a very basic song that sounds catchy and one of those sounds that goes far in helping me define how I see the 80s synesthetically; generally when I think of it I see black and green, and that goes for the early 80s as well. This is more of a deconstruction than a review, but if I gave it a mark, it would be probably a B+ for the music and a C+ for the lyrics (it's lower because of how simplistic and almost silly they sound even if they have a deeper meaning underneath what people have taken at face value). Still more crazy to me to think about is the fact that the very same guy singing the song and cracking the whip in the music video would go on to create the music of Rugrats in 1990, the show I loved as a young child; how does that go together? I would never think at any point of my childhood or adolescence that, hearing the song, the same person singing it created the opening music for the show I loved. That guy went on to compose virtually everything.

I realize that all these lengthy deconstruction of song notes and beats and riffs probably makes no sense to anyone who doesn't play an instrument or have any interest or knowledge of musical notation. I wish I could find a way to say it better, but I guess you'd have to be interested in music to even be reading this, so I'm in a corner. I wrote a blog about synesthesia and music for school last year; no one in the class understood it at all. Oh well.

Justin C.

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