Flashback Video: 'Whip It' by Devo

Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another.


This issue we will cover "Whip It" by Devo. "Whip It" was the second single released from their 1980 album Freedom of Choice. The unique song caught on and became an unanticipated hit in the U.S. and several other countries. "Whip It" peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 1980. When it was first released, some listeners incorrectly assumed the lyrics were double entendres for masturbation or sadomasochism, but that could've added to the song's intrigue. At first, Devo attempted to deny this assumption but they eventually gave in and even helped reinforce these misinterpretations believing a song about taboo subjects might receive more attention and sell more copies.


Part of this reinforcement came from the music video the band created for "Whip It". It was actually their sixth music video they had made, but the first one that gained much attention. The music video for "Whip It" was directed by Devo band-member Gerald Casale and was shot on a set built inside the band's rehearsal studio. I always remember this video particularly because it was the first time I saw the "energy domes". Those are the red hats that look like upside down flower pots. Wearing those along with the sleeveless black turtle necks made quite an impression on me.


The video is set on a dude ranch where cowboys and cowgirls are watching Mark Mothersbaugh whip the clothing from a cigarette-smoking woman. A cross-eyed woman and a middle-aged woman making whipped cream watch from a ranch house while the other members of Devo perform the song in a cattle pen. According to the band, the idea for the video actually came from an article in a 1962 issue of an obscure girly magazine they came across in a vintage store which revolved around a former stuntman who married a stripper and moved to a dude ranch in Arizona. For daily entertainment, the man would use a whip to remove the clothes from his wife (without ever hurting her). You take a quirky song, one of the first hit songs to feature a synthesizer, and add a quirky look in a quirky video and you have one of the most memorable songs of the early '80s. It certainly is one of my favorites because it transports me back there in an instant. Check out the music video for "Whip It" by Devo...



When MTV launched in 1981, they had very few videos to choose from. Some European and Australian artists had been making videos, but very few came from U.S. artists, and most of those were concert videos. Devo had been making interesting videos for a while because they thought Laser Discs were going to catch on and wanted to make film shorts with music soundtracks that people could watch on them. They also sometimes played them as background on stage for live performances. Laser Discs never caught on, but MTV sure did, which gave this video lots of exposure especially in those early days. MTV gave the video so much exposure that it temporarily revived the song's popularity almost a year after it had peaked on the charts. I will also always remember the song being used for commercials and theme music for our local UHF channel's version of "Kung Fu Theater" well into the mid-80s.


Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!


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