Friday, January 11, 2013

Totes Devo About a Lack of Girly Action

I knew when I started this blog that I would have a downtime (sorry about that), and that I would have repeats of bands. I never expected, though, that my first repeat would be the Rolling Stones: a band that I have never really liked.
Satisfaction is a relatively early hit from them, released in 1965, and also their first number one in the US. According to Wikipedia the song was, in the UK, initially only played on pirate radio stations (along with A Walk in the Black Forest) due to its sexual suggestiveness. And this is what I want to talk about here.

The song's main theme is the singers inability to get off with someone. This is exacerbated by his apparent uncoolness as evidenced by the media he consumes. He doesnt connect with the people on his radio and TV. The suggestion being that perhaps, if he kept in line with the social norms, and smoked the same cigarettes then perhaps, just maybe, he'd be able to get a "girl reaction" (or indeed some "girly action" as I first heard it when I was a kid.)
Here's the thing, though. This is Mick Jagger talking. I doubt he's ever had any trouble getting any girly action, particularly not at this stage of his career. Likewise, fashion was being modeled on what he did. And here's the thing: it's a saucy song. He's breathily singing this over the top of a very sexy and dirty riff. The buildup during the "and I try" bit is almost orgasmic, until he's shouting that he can't get no satisfaction even though it sounds like he just did, right then.
I short, it's incongruous, and I don't think that incongruousness is necessarily ironic or intentional.

Skip forward a few years to 1977 and (with Mick Jagger's permission) Devo release this cover of the song:

Musically, this song is everything that the Stones' version isn't. It's jerky and uncomfortable. It's sung with a manic intensity. And, of course, being Devo it's nerdy. It's a nerd, singing to nerdy music, about being a nerd and not fitting in and not getting any poontang (nerdy or otherwise).
In short, it fits. You can believe that everything Mark Mothersbaugh is singing comes straight from personal experience. He knows what it's like to not fit in, he knows what it's like to not be able to get satisfaction and he definitely knows what it's like to try t-t-t-t-try-try. I'm pretty sure he also actually says girly action.

But, aesthetically, their version simply isn't as good. I like Devo, and I don't like the Rolling Stones (if you offered me tickets to go see one or the other - at any point in history - I wouldn't hesitate for a second to see Devo) so I really don't like saying this, but I prefer the original. Why? I think it's just easier to listen to. The cover is TOO frustrated - too frenetic. It has an edge that puts me off. The original is smooth, rocky and cool. And even though that means it doesn't t match the lyrics, it's still a good song.
For what it's worth I think it would be a much different story if it had horns doing the riff, as Keith Richards first intended.


  1. Great post! You've explained both versions really well and even though Devo's version seemed more appropriate for the song, but at the end of the day how something sounds to the listener is the most important thing. And the Stones' version is just a better sounding song.

  2. Having just read this and listening to the original version with Robb's comments in mind I have a theory. I think that Jagger can't get satisfaction because even though he gets girly action he doesn't have the girl reaction, his sexual exploits with the women are physically satisfying but not emotionally fulfilling.But he tries and he tries aaand keeps trying. Hooray for perseverance.
    First time I've heard the Devo version. I prefer it.