The Center presents
Blondie & Devo
Whip it to Shreds Tour
at the Palladium
Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 7:30pm
Blondie first gained fame in the late 1970s, and has so far sold over 60 million records with hits including "Heart of Glass," "Call Me," and "The Tide is High." The band was a pioneer in the early American punk rock and New Wave scenes. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall in 2006.
Devo was one of new wave's most innovative and (for a time) successful bands, while also perhaps one of its most misunderstood. Formed in Akron, OH, in 1972, Devo became a cult sensation, helped in part by their concurrent emphasis on highly stylized visuals, and broke through to the mainstream with the smash single "Whip It," whose accompanying video was made a staple by the MTV network.
Together, while the pioneering bands of new wave music played different styles during their heyday, they've found common ground for a short U.S. tour that vibrates with 1980s nostalgia.
About the Artists
Someone forgot to tell Blondie that New Wave bands weren’t supposed to have hit records. Blondie broke the Top 40 barrier with the Number One hit “Heart of Glass” in 1979. Their conquest was no minor feat, as it meant overcoming music-industry wariness about punk and New Wave, which challenged the established order. Blondie seemed more accessible than some of their radical colleagues because they drew upon Sixties subgenres - girl-group pop and garage rock - that had a still-familiar ring. At the same time, they spiked their songs with New Wave freshness, vibrancy and attitude. In so doing, Blondie helped usher in a changing of the guard.
One of the most popular bands of the New Wave era, Blondie hit the scene with visually arresting frontwoman Debbie Harry. Her bleached-blonde hair and full, pouty lips made her look the part of a new age Marilyn Monroe with a hint of punk hauteur (which paved the way for Madonna’s more risqué approach). “Looks have been one of the most saleable things ever,” Harry told journalist Karen Davis. “When I woke up to that, mine helped a lot.” Blondie’s striking visual image was bolstered by hooky, retro-chic pop tunes and canny art-rock leanings.
During the late Seventies and early Eighties, Blondie had eight Top 40 hits, including four that went to Number One: “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture.” No other New Wave group had that many chart-topping singles. Striking a balance between edginess and catchiness, Blondie enjoyed hit records and artistic credibility – a best-of-both-worlds situation that few others (the Police, the Cars and Talking Heads come to mind) pulled off in that era. Blondie could number Robert Fripp and David Bowie among their pals, and they fearlessly dabbled in such genres as reggae, rap, disco and a touch of the avant-garde. Yet they also maintained ties to the tuneful, ear-catching Sixties pop aesthetic.
Blondie’s origins lay in the glam rock era of the early Seventies, when Bowie, the New York Dolls and Lou Reed were jolting the rock scene with sexual ambiguity and campy behavior. In 1973, Harry - who’d worked as a Playboy bunny and tended bar at Max’s Kansas City - joined the Stilettos, a group fronted by three female singers. When Chris Stein joined, the seeds were sown for Blondie, which began performing under that name at CBGB’s in 1975. The lineup stabilized with vocalist Harry, guitarist Stein, keyboardist Jimmy Destri, bassist Gary Valentine and drummer Clem Burke.
They signed with the independent Private Stock label and issued a single (“X-Offender”) and album (Blondie) that were produced by Sixties-rock veteran Richard Gottehrer. Driven by Destri’s Farfisa organ and Burke’s energetic drumming, the album had a Sixties sound and a Seventies sensibility. Although it sold poorly, the Chrysalis label - a more well-established independent - could hear Blondie’s potential and bought out their contract for $500,000. Blondie’s second album, Plastic Letters (1978), attracted attention for such memorably tuneful songs as “Denis” (a remake of the doo-wop hit “Denise,” which Harry partly sang in French) and “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence Dear.” Bassist Valentine left during the recording of Plastic Letters, and guitarist Frank Infante and bassist Nigel Harrison subsequently joined, making Blondie a sextet. At this point, Blondie was more popular abroad than at home, with Plastic Letters entering the U.K. Top 10 while only reaching Number 72 in the U.S.
Parallel Lines was Blondie’s breakthrough and one of the milestone recordings of the era. Produced by Mike Chapman - a pop-loving Englishman who’d previously worked with Sweet, Gary Glitter and Suzy Quatro - the album opened the commercial floodgates for New Wave music. It yielded two hit singles: “Heart of Glass” (whose working titles had been “The Disco Song” and “Once I Had a Love”) and “One Way or Another.” Blondie took the pulse of the age in “Heart of Glass,” which Lester Bangs described as “an anthem for the emotionally attenuated Seventies.” In topping the charts, “Heart of Glass” helped legitimize disco in the rock world (and vice versa).
The bridge they built would again pay dividends when Blondie recorded the title track for the film American Gigilo. Produced by Giorgio Moroder - the top Eurodisco producer - “Call Me” became Blondie’s second Number One single and stayed on top for six weeks.
All of a sudden, a Lower East Side band who’d come up through the ramshackle CBGB’s scene found themselves with two Number One disco hits, which occasioned some backlash. Blondie stuck to their guns.
“We really tried to vary our music and not mimic ourselves,” Harry told Billboard. “We tried to be a little daring.” That venturesome spirit was further evident on Eat to the Beat (1979) and Autoamerican (1980). The latter album took a wide-angle view of popular music, and their fearless cross-pollination earned them two more chart-toppers: “The Tide Is High” (originally by Jamaica’s Paragons) and “Rapture” (which did for rap what “Heart of Glass” had done for disco). The inspiration for Harry’s offbeat rap was the campy science-fiction film Attack of the Giant Ants. Rap had theretofore been an underground phenomenon in and around New York, and Blondie’s hybrid rock-rap gave many listeners their first exposure to the genre.
Blondie subsequently released The Best of Blondie (1981) and their most uncommercial album, The Hunter (1982). Debbie Harry also squeezed in an edgy, dance-oriented solo album, Koo Koo, which was produced by Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers. A planned hiatus turned into a full-fledged disbanding when Chris Stein was diagnosed with a rare skin disease, from which it took several years to recover.
In 1986, Stein cowrote three songs for Harry’s Rockbird solo album. Harry would release a few more solo albums: Def, Dumb and Blonde (1989) and Debravation (1993). A full-fledged Blondie reunion yielded a new album (No Exit) and single (“Maria”) in 1999. The latter entered the British charts at Number One, proving that after all these years, Blondie still had the magic.
"Thirty years ago, people said that we were cynical, that we had a bad attitude," says Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh. "But now, when you ask people if de-evolution is real, they understand that there was something to what we were saying. Its not the kind of thing you want to see proven right, but it does make it easier to talk about."
"The world is in sync with Devo," says his band-mate and co-writer Gerald Casale. "Were not the guys who freak people out and scare them were like the house band on the Titanic, entertaining everybody as we go down."
And so, now is the time. More than three decades after the release of its visionary debut, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo, and a full 20 years since its last studio album, Devo is back with the aptly titled Something for Everybody. The long rumored, wildly anticipated album (which was launched with a memorable performance in Vancouver at the Winter Olympics) features the band's classic line-up Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, Gerald and Bob Casale joined by drummer Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, Guns n' Roses). Produced by Greg Kurstin (The Bird & The Bee), the album also includes contributions from John Hill and Santi White (better known as hip-hop star Santigold), John King of the Dust Brothers, and the Teddybears.
Though the 12 songs on Something for Everybody are built on Devo's signature mechanized swing, the recording and presentation of the album saw the band experimenting with an entirely new approach. Greg Scholl was brought in to serve as COO for Devo, Inc., and working with the advertising agency Mother LA conducted a series of studies through the www.clubdevo.com site to help the band with its creative decisions, from color selection to song mixes.
"We decided to actively seek comment and criticism from outside people and use that as a tool, rather than shunning or ignoring it," says Gerald Casale. "Our experiences participating in secondary creativity things like corporate consensus building, focus groupsmake you appreciate the connection that an artist has to society."
"In the past, Devo was very insular," says Mark Mothersbaugh. "This time, I became intrigued with the idea of having people who understood Devo actually work on the songs, and to do to our songs what we did to 'Satisfaction' on our first record. Dont put any boundaries on their production style, let them bring what they needed to make Devo be what it should be after waking up from suspended animation for 20 years."
His revelation came when the Teddybears did a remix of the song "Watch Us Work It," an idea initiated by the Mother agency. "They took Josh Freeses drums off and put on a sample from something we did back in, like, 1982. And I thought, 'That actually is better!' That was when I first really saw that Devo had something to absorb, as well as something to impart.
Certainly Devo has had plenty to convey since Gerald Casale founded the group in Akron, Ohio, in 1973. The band was an extension of a multi-media exploration of the concept that mankind's progress had ceased, and the process of de-evolution had begun. Devo's early work caught the attention of such icons as Neil Young and David Bowie, and, with such hits as "Whip It" and "Girl U Want," and the accompanying, revolutionary music videos, the group became one of the defining acts of the 1980s.
Devo's sound, style, and philosophy have been an influence on artists from Rage Against the Machine to Lady Gaga. Kurt Cobain once said, "Of all the bands who came from the underground and actually made it in the mainstream, Devo is the most challenging and subversive of all."
In 1990, Devo morphed from a recording and concert act to putting more focus on individual pursuits and various creative enterprises. Mark Mothersbaugh, along with brother Bob, and Bob Casale, began making music for films and television, working on Pee-Wee's Playhouse and Rugrats and the movies of Wes Anderson. Gerald Casale directed scores of commercials and music videos for the likes of Miller Lite Beer and Mrs. Butterworths to Rush, The Foo Fighters, and Soundgarden respectively. ("Everything weve done outside of Devo is basically a permutation on the theme we started with," says Mark Mothersbaugh.) Meanwhile, Devo's music remained a staple in movies, commercials, and videogames.
After appearing sporadically in concert and working on 2006's Devo 2.0 projectwith kids providing the vocals to Devo songsthe band began the stop-and-start project of making new music. "It was now or never," says Gerald Casale. "Were all still alive, and we can all play and singprobably better than we ever did in the past. These new songs, like 'Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)' or 'What We Do,' are as Devo as anything Devo has ever done."
Especially notable on Something for Everybody is the focus its songs bring to the vapid absurdity of so much contemporary speech (dont miss the closing wail of Dont tase me, bro! on Dont Shoot). Mark Mothersbaugh points out that, for all the attention usually given to Devos funky robot sound, this has always been a central aspect of its work.
We grew up in a time when we saw hippies become hip capitalists, when the real punks truly destroyed themselves, and we came to the conclusion that rebellion was obsolete, he says. We saw subversion as the most successful form of change, so we always had an attraction to loaded phrases that you can reshape and subvert to fit your own needs.
Gerald Casale adds that Devo really was looking at todays world when writing the new songs. The tautology of a line like What we do is what we do' is taken straight from hip-hop, he says. And words like 'bro and 'dude'we're surrounded by it all the time, 20-year-olds dont even see any irony in it anymore.
A Devo for our times. A band that evolves, even as the world around them confirms the decay they have long suspected. With Something for Everybody, Devo has gained from experience, honed its attack, and stands ready to sound the alarm for another generation.
As angry young men who have been validated, we have the possibility to do something that resonates like it did back in the early days, says Mark Mothersbaugh. Its the same car, just now with air bags, power brakes, and steering.
We're inspired by reality, says Gerald Casale, because the world is so ridiculous and stupid. DE-EVOLUTION IS REAL.