In 1977, Devo, who was being courted by Virgin Records, and Warner Brothers, was contacted by Brian Eno. He offered to help them record an album at Conrad Plank's studio in Germany. Devo, of course, accepted, and so they were flown out on Warner's dime, and set up with some spending money (some of which was spent on a neat little thing I will mention later). Gerald V. Casale missed the flight, and arrived a day late, so for the first day the band jammed with Conny Plank, and Brain Eno, as well as doing some instrument shopping with Warner's money.
Devo and Brian Eno did not get along very well. Devo entered the studio with both their first and second album planned, based entirely on material that had been refined through years of touring and practice. The tracklisting, according to the book Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! for the first album was to be "Satisfaction", "Too Much Paranoias", "Praying Hands", "Uncontrollable Urge", "Mongoloid", "Jocko Homo", "Social Fools", "Be Stiff", "Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy", "Sloppy", and "Come Back Jonee". For the most part, this was accurate, though "Be Stiff" and "Social Fools" were used as a single on Stiff Records instead. The heavliy planned approach Devo brought to the studio conflicted with Brian Eno's style of production, which was to force bands to re-evaluate aspects of their production. Devo brought tapes of demos and things, and asked Eno to help them piece together a sound based on aspects from the tapes. Despite the conflicts, the album managed to be recorded without too much incident. However, Eno did remove the sharper edge of the band's sound, which would not be remedied until Duty Now For The Future.
The album was released in the US on Warner Brothers, and in the rest of the world on Virgin Records. The American and UK versions differ in their covers, with the Virgin release using stills from The Complete Truth About De-Evolution film for the front and back. A picture disc was also released of the album using those stills. This picture disk included a flexi-disc single titled Flismy Wrap, which is simply someone talking over the end of a radio broadcast of a Devo concert.
In the US, the cover was originally set to be an image of golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez from the packaging of a golf club cover. The President of Warner Brothers, however, was an avid golf fan, and felt the cover was mocking Rodriguez. He proposed an alternate cover with a similar design, omitting the band Chi Chi's hat, and changing the eyes. When the band rejected this, he suggested that a composite image be used. Meanwhile, Chi Chi had signed off the rights to the image to Devo, in exchange for a couple records. However, word did not reach Warner Brothers, and the image used on the album was not Chi Chi Rodriguez. Fortunately, the real Chi Chi was not upset, and sent the band several autographed pictures.
The first track, Uncontrollable Urge, as tes wrote, is about sexual frustration. The odd chiming sound near the end of the track comes from a bizarre German guitar amplifier, Bob 1 bought. When the end of a guitar cord is touched, the amp emitted that bizarre chime, to which the band immediately decided it must use.
The cover of the Rolling Stones' (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, came from rehearsals in Devo's bunker/studio in Akron. The studio was located behind a car wash, and so they would have to pay 50 cents to jam. In winter, this resulted in their car being covered with a thick sheet of ice. At one of these sessions, they had come up with this simple riff and drum beat, to which Jerry had began singing "Paint It Black" over. Mark Mothersbaugh, noticing that "Paint It Black" just didn't work, started singing "Satisfaction". It worked.
Praying Hands was obliquely about masturbation, and the religious considerations about it. Praying Hands would, in live performances, culminate in Mark running into the audience and interrogating random people what their right or left hand was doing.
Space Junk, originally planned for the second album, is one of Devo's more human songs. It channels the rage of a technophobic person upset at the loss of his girl from crashing, well, space junk. Some also view this song as a stylistic precurser to The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise
Mongoloid, and Jocko Homo are two of Devo's oldest songs, going back to their first, self-produced single. Mongoloid is a ballad to the common man, who despite his handicap, manages to be a productive member of society. It's working class imagery was a staple of early Devo songs. Jocko Homo, of course, was Devo's anthem (as opposed to the Devo Corporate Anthem). The title for the song comes from an obscure religious pamphlet, Jocko Homo Heavenbound, which is considered Devo's Old Testament
Too Much Paranoias is a simple critique of advertising and its pervasiveness into modern culture. The lyrics include a chant from a Burger King ad, "Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders don't upset us. All we ask is that you let us serve it your way." This also is another example of the working class imagery Devo used.
Gut Feeling (Slap Your Mammy) is more unrequited love. It's a thematic precursor to Devo's classic Girl U Want, only with the protagonist of the song realizing he's in for a bump ride. Slap Your Mammy, along with Sloppy probably the closest on any album Devo has gotten to their early, raw, punkish sound.
Come Back Jonee uses 50s rock and roll metaphors to mourn the passing of John F. Kennedy. This actually comes from Gerald Casale himself in the commentary on The Complete Truth About De-Evolution.
Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin') is a track about the consumer society. Lyrics like "She spent her money on a car / She spent her money on a brand new car / It didn't get her very far / No it didn't get her very far" cry out against the consumer culture which weakened the art society.
Finally, Shrivel-Up, is perhaps a more oblique view of devolution than the band has done before or since. Devolution is inevitable, irreversable, and permanent. There's nothing you can do - "It's a God given fact", so enjoy the ride.
Despite the issues with production, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! is a powerful, influential, and unique album. It deserves a higher accolate in music than it has gotten.