In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of Amanda And Jack Palmer’s covers album, we’re picking some of our favorite cover songs.
Devo, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1977)
By Mick Jagger’s own account, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was the song that promoted the Rolling Stones to “huge, monster band” status. And rightly so. With a great guitar line and memorable title, it’s as catchy and confident a song ever written about living under a perpetual miasma of sexual frustration and consumer dissatisfaction.
Who better to cover a song about alienation than Akron’s very own punk robots, Devo? The band’s entire mythology, indeed their very name, originates from the idea of de-evolution: that humanity has stopped evolving and begun moving backward. Devo’s version heightens the theme of alienation by creating an anxiety-driven riff on the original. That guitar line is now augmented by a high, nervous riff and fuzzy electronic scramble. Jagger’s passion has been replaced by lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh’s halting, constipated vocal style. The whole song has a frayed-nerve energy compared to the original’s low, thrumming certainty.
It’s difficult to see Mick Jagger as a man on the outside. The original “Satisfaction” is a fantastic song, but Jagger is incapable of divorcing himself from the swagger he infuses into every performance. Mothersbaugh, plunking on a home-kitted Telecaster taped up with a frequency pedal, whose scrawny, delicate body must be protected from the world’s harmful rays by goggles and a billowing yellow Tyvek radiation suit, makes a more convincing argument as a person thwarted by both love and capitalism.