Pioneers Who Got Scalped is a two-disc musical anthology of the career of the influential New Wave band Devo. It was released in 2000 by Warner Bros. and Rhino Records and totals one hundred fifty four minutes and thirty nine seconds in length over fifty tracks.
This set is another entry in the ongoing collaboration between Warner Bros and Rhino Records; Rhino is re-releasing a great number of the albums sitting in the Warner archives and releasing them again, some of them for the first time on CD. This anthology is the result of a renewed interest in Devo in modern times, as witnessed by the number of recent pop cultural references to the band that can be found in as diverse places as The Simpsons, Muppets Tonight, and SportsCenter.
Devo themselves were a very influential early New Wave group that had one strong mainstream hit, Whip It. Underground, however, their music had a lot of influence in shaping the New Wave sound and altering how electronic elements are made in music, and had a huge visual impact with their clever music videos and visual elements. The group used a lot of pop, rock, and electronic elements to produce paeans of sexual frustration and commentaries on the de-evolution of society and culture, writing a lot of clever and thought provoking music along the way.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the two-disc anthology, besides the huge assortment of songs, is the wonderful fifty-two page insert booklet that, visually and in words, tells the story of the band, its evolution throughout the years, and the impact that it had. Every page is glossy and in full color, capping off an already well-executed project.
But, as always, the music is the real treat, and we are not disappointed here. It would make for an extremely long and dull writeup if I were to commentate on every track, so instead I'll try to summarize and only point out individually some of the more notable songs.
The first disc starts off with a short audio clip from the band's 1977 short film In The Beginning Was The End, We're All Devo!, that features the voice of the band's mascot, Booji Boy. In this piece, Booji Boy utters the famous line that would be the catchphrase of the band throughout their career: "We're all devo!"
The music begins on the second track with the Booji Boy version of Jocko Homo, the band's first single. This also shows off one reason why this anthology does a great job looking back at the career of Devo; the makers of the anthology knew which versions of the songs to include on the collection, and almost always selected the most enjoyable one. Jocko Homo is no exception; this one loses the Brian Eno manipulation of the version from their first album and instead is a straight forward pop-rock classic.
The third track is the b-side of Jocko Homo, and again we have a Booji Boy version. Mongoloid here opens with a very subdued electric guitar that stays on throughout the track, creating a subdued feel that fits the song's tale of a genetically defected man trying to survive in the modern world quite well.
The fourth track is the previously unreleased on CD third single of the group, Be Stiff, which is followed by four songs from their first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!: Uncontrollable Urge, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, Too Much Paranoias, and Come Back Jonee. These provide a look at the earlier, more rock-oriented Devo before their later experimentation with synthesizers and eletronic elements.
The next four tracks represent Devo's 1979 album Duty Now For The Future, which continues the earlier sound with a slightly more electric touch. The featured tracks include Triumph of the Will, the excellent Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA, a cover of the Johnny Rivers' classic Secret Agent Man, and The Day My Baby Gave Me A Suprize.
Two more tracks detail the gap between Duty Now For The Future and their biggest hit album, Freedom Of Choice, where the band was just beginning to experiment with electronic sounds in their music. Soo-Bawlz is the b-side of Secret Agent Man in the UK and is a great example of a group just discovering a new technique. They refine it a bit on the song It Takes A Worried Man, performed for their appearance in the little-seen Neil Young movie Human Highway, which immediately proceeded his odd attempt at electronic music, Trans.
In 1980, Devo's biggest selling album was released, and it is well represented here by six tracks. Girl U Want, Freedom of Choice, Whip It (their biggest mainstream hit, which cracked the top twenty in the US), and Snowball were the singles from the album; two excellent album tracks, Gates of Steel and Mr. B's Ballroom, are also included. This, along with their next album, is best described as Devo's electronic phase, and is the music that most people identify the group with.
The rest of the first disc represents the follow-up to Freedom of Choice, 1981's New Traditionalists. Included are five songs: the minor hit Workin' In A Coal Mine, Love Without Anger, Through Being Cool, Jerkin Back 'N' Forth, and perhaps their best song, Beautiful World, a gorgeous anthem about the world in general, which was released along with an equally good and startling black and white video depicting book burnings and KKK rallies. The disc closes with a message from "New Traditionalist Man," entitled Nu-Tra Speaks.
The second disc opens well, but goes on to cover the low moments in Devo's recorded career. The first track is an oddly Devo-ized version of some of the classic pieces of the film Apocalypse Now entitled, appropriately enough, General Boy Visits Apocalypse Now. The disc goes on to represent three tracks and one outtake from their 1982 album, Oh No! It's Devo!: the clever Peek-A-Boo!, That's Good, and Big Mess appear on the album, and One Dumb Thing appears here for the first time, a song actually better than much of the album. The trend of knowing the best stuff to pick definitely continues here as their career starts to slide.
The summer of 1983 saw Devo give their last gasp of mainstream success with Theme From Dr. Detroit, the theme song from the largely-forgettable film starring Dan Aykroyd. It was to be their last charting single, a clever little dance number.
1984 saw the release of their final coherent album, and their last one on Warner Bros., Shout. Again, the gems from the album find their way here: Shout, Here To Go, and a cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic, Are You Experienced?. Unfortunately, this is pretty much the end of the top-quality stuff that the band would do.
The next four years without a label saw Devo do several songs for various projects and soundtracks, some of which are included here: I Wouldn't Do That To You, a cover of the 1964 hit Bread and Butter, Let's Talk, and another cover, this time of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.
The band signed with Enigma in 1988 and released another album, Total Devo. This album is represented here by three songs, Baby Doll, Disco Dancer, and Some Things Never Change, the three singles from the album, all of which failed to chart; also included is a live version of the album track, It Doesn't Matter To Me. These are perhaps the best songs of Devo's later years.
Their final album, 1990's Smoothnoodlemaps, is the least represented album on the anthology, and with reason; it wasn't very good. The only song of merit, Stuck in a Loop, is found here, along with Post-Post-Modern Man. After this and a failed tour, the band largely retired, only peeking out to record a cover of Nine Inch Nail's Head Like A Hole in 1996 for the film Supercop, which appears here, as well as two songs for the 1997 movie Meet Wally Sparks, both of which are here: Thanks To You and Communication Break-Up.
The album closes with another spoken bit, entitled Duty Now For The Future, and the best new Devo song in many years, The Words Get Stuck In My Throat, a remade version of one of their earliest concert staples. It's a very nice way to close out the album, with a good new track to cap off the career retrospective.
In my opinion, this is undoubtedly the best retrospective of the career of Devo available, far better than their "greatest hits" discs still floating around on the market. It includes the usually superior single versions of their major hits and packs a significant chunk of all of their albums into two and a half hours of music, and the first disc and a half of the music is largely excellent. Add in the wonderful insert booklet and this package becomes an immediate choice for someone interested in Devo. If you enjoy this compilation, the best place for more Devo is to purchase their albums, starting with Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Freedom of Choice, and New Traditionalists.