Whip It

Composed by Gerald V. Casale / Mark Mothersbaugh

Song Review by

The only American chart single for Akron, OH, new wave pioneers Devo, "Whip It" was a substantial hit in 1980, never actually reaching the Top Ten but making up for it with chart longevity and sales of over one million copies (the latter an achievement duplicated by the accompanying album, Freedom of Choice). Driven by simple but catchy instrumental riffs, an up-tempo mechanical beat, and synthesized whipping sound effects, the song had an irresistibly odd novelty appeal that was enhanced by the visually striking video: Devo performed the robotic, synth-driven song in an incongruously natural and wholesome farm setting, wearing pseudo-futuristic "energy dome" hats (which resembled upside-down flowerpots with a stair-step design) while leader Mark Mothersbaugh -- the only member not penned up like livestock -- used his whip to remove articles of clothing from the audience. But even though most of the listening public took "Whip It" as just a catchy bit of weirdness with nonsensical lyrics about a vaguely sexy topic, the song's actual purpose -- like much of Devo's work -- was social satire. Putting the somewhat abstract lyrics together, "Whip It" emerges as a sardonic portrait of a general, problematic aspect of the American psyche: the predilection for using force and violence to solve problems, vent frustration, and prove oneself to others ("when something's going wrong, you must whip it/when a good time turns around, you must whip it/you will never live it down unless you whip it"). In fact, the first track on Devo's follow-up album, New Traditionalists, "Through Being Cool," betrays the band's resentment that most listeners didn't get the whole point behind "Whip It."

The song's main riff alternately ascends and descends, at first repeated by synth, guitar, and bass alike; minor variations occur as the song moves toward its chorus, with the synth beginning to hold some notes behind a busier, more prominent guitar lick that harmonizes with the main line instead of simply echoing it. Mothersbaugh and Casale alternate vocal lines, the latter's nasal drawl contrasting with the former's powerful cartoonishness. The chorus (if that's the appropriate word for a section that's less melodic than the verses) is composed of slogans that are more command than encouragement ("Now whip it into shape! Shape it up! Get straight! Go forward! Move ahead!"), which Mothersbaugh delivers in a sort of robot-drill-sergeant bark as the synth alternates between two notes half a step apart from each other, producing a disorienting aural effect. The instrumental interlude in the middle of the song squeezes the main riff into a 6/4 time signature (non-standard time being a Devo specialty), just different enough to throw the listener's ear off balance. The song has remained in the public consciousness thanks in part to MTV's extensive airplay for the video, as well as the "retro-'80s" new wave nostalgia that overtook twentysomething listeners during the late '90s, and it remains Devo's signature song, as well as one of the best arguments that punk ideology didn't necessarily lose its bite when placed in the more pop-oriented musical context of new wave.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Freedom of Choice 1980 Rhino
DEV-O Live 1981 2:48
E-Z Listening Disc 1987 Rykodisc 3:01
No Image 1989 Rhino / Warner Bros. 2:38
Now It Can Be Told: Devo at the Palace 12/9/88 1989 Enigma Records 2:37
Greatest Hits 1990 Warner Bros. 2:41
No Image 1990 Rhino/Warner Bros.
Devo Live: The Mongoloid Years 1992 Warner Bros. 2:52
Rock the First, Vol. 3 1992
Various Artists
Sandstone Music
Hot Potatoes: The Best of Devo 1993 Virgin / EMI Music Distribution 2:38
Rock of the 80's, Vol. 1 1994
Various Artists
Priority 2:36
Only Dance: 1980-1984 1995
Various Artists
Rhino / JCI Associated Labels 2:37
Alterno-Daze: Origin of the Species -- 2000 BC To ? 1995
Various Artists
Rebound Records 2:40
Sounds of the Eighties: The Rolling Stone Collection, 1980-1981 1995
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 2:41
No Image 1996
Various Artists
Rhino 2:41
No Image 1996
Various Artists
EMI
Adventures of the Smart Patrol 1996 Discovery 2:38
Retro Night 1996
Various Artists
Warner Music
18 Rock Classics, Vol. 3 1997
Various Artists
JCI Associated Labels / Warner Bros.
No Image 1997
Various Artists
Flashback Records
VH1: More of the Big 80's 1997
Various Artists
Rhino 2:41
More Music from the Motion Picture: Romy & Michele's High School Reunion 1997
Original Soundtrack
Hollywood 2:38
Everybody Wants Some 1997
Various Artists
Warner Bros. 2:41
Double Feature: Romy & Michele's/More Romy & Michele's 1997
Original Soundtrack
Hollywood 2:38
The Ongoing History of New Music, Vol. 2 1997
Various Artists
Warner Music 2:38
Basketball's Greatest Hoop Hits 1998
Various Artists
Rhino
Greatest Hits [BMG] 1998 BMG Special Products 2:39
Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2 1998
Various Artists
WEA International 2:39
Thump'n New Wave Rock-N-Ingles 1999
Various Artists
Thump Records 2:37
Instant Party Disc: Regular Strength 1999
Various Artists
Rhino 2:38
Poptronica: Sci-Fi 1999
Various Artists
Buddha Records 2:43
Millennium: 80's New Wave Party 1999
Various Artists
Rhino 2:39
Rock on 1980 1999
Various Artists
Excelsior Recordings
Pioneers Who Got Scalped: The Anthology 2000 Rhino 2:40
Recombo DNA 2000 Rhino 2:38
It Came from the 80's 2001
Various Artists
Thump Records 2:17
Alterno-Daze 2001
Various Artists
Special Product / MCA
Hit Me With Your 80's Box 2002
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:39
The Essentials 2002 Warner Bros. / Warner Strategic Marketing 2:39
The Sound of the Crowd 2002
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 2:37
One Step Beyond: The Best of New Wave 2002
Various Artists
Flashback Gold / Rhino 2:41
Best 80s Modern Rock Album 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:40
Totally New Romantic 2002
Various Artists
EMI
All the 80's 2003
Various Artists
Warner Music
No Image 2003
Various Artists
Festival Records
X-Treme Rock 2003
Various Artists
Flashback Records / Rhino Flashback 2:40
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of '80s New Wave 2003
Various Artists
Universal International 2:40
The Complete Truth About De-Evolution [Video] 2003 MVD
80's Pop Music for Dummies 2003
Various Artists
Superb Records 2:39
No Image 2003
Various Artists
Disky
Ultimate 80s [Madacy] 2004
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:39
80s Alternative 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:40
Temptation: 18 New Romantic Classics 2004
Various Artists
EMI 2:40
Then: Totally Oldies '80s Again, Vol. 7 2004
Various Artists
Varèse Sarabande 2:40
Raising Helen 2004
Original Soundtrack
Hollywood 2:39
Live in the Land of the Rising Sun 2004 Dashiki Clout / Music Video Distribution
Big Shiny 80's [Muchmusic] 2004
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
No Image 2005
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
Real 80's: Hits and Extended Mixes 2005
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:37
Live 1980 2005 MVD 2:42
Live 2005 Warner Bros. 2:46
Complete Truth About De-Evolution/DEV-O Live 2005 WEA International
Let's Get Loud [Disky] 2005
Various Artists
Disky 2:40
Ultimate 16: Retro '80s 2005
Various Artists
Madacy 2:38
All the Beer Songs 2005
Various Artists
Warner Bros.
Ultimate Hits: Ultimate 80's 2005
Various Artists
Madacy 2:39
Absolute Very Best of the World's Best Ever Beer Songs [CD] 2005
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
TBS Tunes: Fun Tracks, Wisecracks 2006
Various Artists
Rhino 2:40
The Best of the 80s [Madacy Box Set] 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 2:40
Old School Nation, Vol. 3 2006
Various Artists
Hi-Bias Records 2:38
Office Party [2006] 2006
Various Artists
Warner Bros.
The Greatest 80's Hits of All Time 2006
Various Artists
Rhino 2:40
Top Hits of the 80s: Biggest Hits 2007
Various Artists
Collectables 2:40
The Original Electro-Pop Box Set 2007
Various Artists
EMI 2:39
The Edge of the 80's 2008
Various Artists
BMG 2:40
Trailblazers of 80's New Wave 2008
Various Artists
EMI / EMI Music Distribution 2:38
Ultimate 80s Collection [Collectables] 2008
Various Artists
Collectables 2:40
The World's Best Ever Beer Songs: 10th Anniversary 2008
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:37
Anthems: Electronic '80s 2009
Various Artists
Ministry of Sound 2:37
101 Punk & New Wave Anthems 2010
Various Artists
EMI 2:38
Going Underground 2011
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 2:37
100 Hits: Punk & New Wave 2011
Various Artists
100 Hits / Bertus (H'art) / Demon Music Group 2:39
Top of the Pops: New Romantic 2013
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:39
New Traditionalists: Live 1981 Seattle 2013 Booji Boy 2:43
Greatest Ever! Electric Eighties 2013
Various Artists
Greatest Ever 2:40
No Image 2014
Various Artists
Warner Music 2:39
Synth Pop 2015
Various Artists
Sony Music 2:39
Triple J: 40 Years of Music 2015
Various Artists
ABC 2:39
EZ Listening Muzak 2016 Futurismo / Light in the Attic Records 3:00
Molly: Counting Down the Hits 2016
Various Artists
Liberation 2:38
100 Essential Tracks: Alternative
Various Artists
Sony Music
80's Top 40 Hits
Various Artists
Warner Music 2:41
No Image
Various Artists
Metacom 2:41
Best of 1980: 20th Century Masters
Various Artists
Strategic Marketing 2:40
CAPS: Campus and Pub Songs
Various Artists
Mood Media Entertainment 2:39
Everybody Wants Some!! [Music from the Motion Picture]
Various Artists
Warner Bros.
No Image
Various Artists
Greatest Ever: Alternative 80s [USM]
Various Artists
Greatest Ever
Lust for Life: The Music That Changed a Generation
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 2:38
No Image
Various Artists
Razor & Tie
Massive Hits! Punk Rock
Various Artists
EMI 2:38
Party Playlist: 80's
Various Artists
EMI / Somerset 2:40
Roller Rink Rewind
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution / Universal Music / Warner Music 2:38
The  New Romantics [EMI 2009]
Various Artists
Mixed Repertoire 2:38
Ultimate New-Wave
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
Whata' Wonderful 80's
Various Artists
Warner Music 2:41
Whata' Wonderful One Hit Wonders
Various Artists
Warner Music 2:41
Whip It/Turn Around Rhino / Warner Bros. 2:38
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