Today marks the anniversary of DEVO’s 1978 appearance on Saturday Night Live, which really put the band on the mainstream’s radar and set them on the road to becoming, for better or worse, actual rock stars. The few years immediately after punk were an indulgent period in which to be trailblazers, and DEVO certainly benefitted from that audience shift towards openness to new ideas, but while SNL was known for taking some artistic chances with their musical bookings, DEVO were not initially of any interest at all to the show’s producer Lorne Michaels, and it took some maneuvering to get them on.
Ad found on DevoObsesso
Last summer, at a DEVO public art unveiling in the band’s hometown of Akron, OH, bassist Jerry Casale spoke frankly about the behind-the-scenes machinations that finally got them the slot on SNL that they had so coveted:
We had been sending videotapes to Saturday Night Live since 1976, after we did the Truth About De-Evolution ten minute movie, and we thought “Dan Aykroyd will get us on the show, John Belushi’ll get us on the show!” And we kept sending it with letters, and I’m sure it just went in a trash bin. These people were big time, and I’m sure they were thinking “Who ARE these weirdos?” So it was me not wanting to take no for an answer, and I just kept it up.
When we were interviewing managers, and we met Elliott Roberts, who was Neil Young’s manager, he said two good things—“I don’t want a piece of your publishing,” and “I don’t want you to sign a deal, we’ll shake hands and you give me 30 days notice when you say it’s over and I’ll give you the same.” I said “That’s great, but there’s one thing you gotta do! You have to get us on Saturday Night Live, and you have to make them let us show a piece of our movie.” And he goes “Oh my GOD.”
And he did it, because he dangled Neil Young as bait, saying “You’ll take these guys, Lorne—Lorne did NOT care about DEVO—and we’ll get you Neil Young. And then he dropped the bomb about the film, and that was almost a deal breaker. But it all worked out, and we went from playing in from 200-300 people a night to 3,000-5,000 people a night. We had to stop the tour and re-book it after Saturday Night Live.
The band’s association with Neil Young continued to bear fruit, notably in the form of the 1982 film Human Highway. But here’s that SNL appearance, introduced by the episode’s host, Fred Willard, and shared by PB user jwdoom.