Every great artist has a signature song, but it’s hard to think of a more epochal pairing than the Rolling Stones and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” With the first blast of Richard’s bratty fuzztone riff, the band finally made the leap from a sloppy, attitudinal R & B covers band into something altogether fiercer and more compelling.
Almost immediately, many fine artists began turning in their own cover versions. But nearly 15 years after it was released, it would be Devo—a surreal, puzzling and unabashedly geeky band from Akron, Ohio—that would truly own it. Unsatisfied with simply stripping down the Stones’ four-chord stomper, Devo instead plunged the song into a vat of caustic industrial waste. What emerged was a jittery, clattering machine, the sound of a Chevy Citation breaking apart in real time. Where was the downbeat? Where was the riff? (On the recorded version, it doesn’t even appear till the final 30 seconds.)
None of this mattered. In Devo’s hands, “Satisfaction” became an anxious, bilious and yet somehow still danceable take on the wasteland of mid-70s America. Within a few years, “Whip It” would cement the band’s place in the pop firmament. But just as it had for the Stones, it would be “Satisfaction” that summed up nearly everything the band had to say in one short, sharp, and perfect blast.
Originally published on Cover Me, July 2018