The cover for the first DEVO album was “inspired” by the logo of golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez
The enduring vogue for tribute compilations can probably be traced back to an origin in the late ‘80s, when the Johnny Cash tribute ‘Til Things Are Brighter and the Neil Young tribute The Bridge both earned critical raves and much college radio spinnage. But though the concept didn’t catch real fire until almost the turn of the ‘90s, it had been around. Witness 1979’s Devotees Album, the DEVO tribute album produced by L.A.‘s legendary radio station KROQ.
The album differs substantially from most tribute comps, which are typically heavily curated affairs, like the popular and long-running “Red Hot and [whatever]” series. The aforementioned Johnny Cash trib was assembled as a labor of love by members of the Fall and the Mekons, years before Cash’s resurgence in popularity. But this DEVO tribute is basically a collection of fan art! KROQ invited listeners to submit DEVO covers, and the selections that made it to the comp were determined in a contest. So instead of marquee names, you have a lot of genuine weirdo shit, crafted by creative obsessives, few of whom were ever heard from again. As such, it’s a mixed bag, ranging from shitty-but-endearing efforts you maybe never need to hear more than once in a blue moon, to totally brilliant mix-tape staples.
Another effect of its mob-sourced curation is that there are repeaters, which is usually a tribute comp no-no: the album contains three versions each of fan favorites “Mongoloid” and “Jocko Homo.” Amusingly, two of the “Jocko Homos” included music played on touch tone telephones. The first was “Jocko Bozo,” a clown-themed sendup by the Firemen. Some YouTube smartass dubbed that cut over some actual DEVO live footage, and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about that, but you can watch it here. The second was by the Touch Tone Tuners, who, true to their name, played ALL their track’s music on a phone. Embeddable media for that one seems nonexistent, but the ever-helpful WFMU has an MP3 of it online.
Another big winner is the Bakersfield Boogie Boys’ version of “Okie from Muskogee,” the presence of which is a bit of a headscratcher—did DEVO ever do that song? I can find no evidence that they did, but that hardly matters, as this track was so well received that Rhino gave that band an EP all their own, which is so ridiculously DEVO-ish in its robotic affect and squared-off synth textures, I’m sure someone out there thought the BBBs were actually just DEVO playing a prank.
Finding the LP in its entirety online is difficult, or I’d have just streamed the whole damn thing for you. It’s never come out on CD, which is amazing, not just because it’s DEVO-related, but because the original LP was released by the reissue-happy Rhino Records. Fortunately, re-sale prices for the LP on Amazon and Discogs are perfectly reasonable. But despite the paucity of sharable tracks, there is an illuminating contrast yet to draw—two versions of “Mongoloid,” one a fairly straight, if silly, take, and the next a disturbingly lysergic “Revolution #9”-ish mishmash, redolent of dorm room delirium tremens.