50thirdand3rd

Devo – ‘Girl U Want’

Ah, Devo! As well as being quirky, retro-futuristic, geeky, new-wave heroes, Devo could also write a mean and truly intelligent pop song. Girl U Want was the lead single from their 1980 album Freedom Of Choice, but these days it’s often overlooked because the follow up 7” was the band-defining classic, Whip It.

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The synthesizer/guitar hooks on Girl U Want are widely believed to have been inspired by the jagged riffs on The Knack’s My Sharona, though co-writer Gerald Casale has denied this. Coincidental or not, it’s easy to hear the similarity.

What’s more important than where the tune came from is what it does, which is to convey that overpowering feeling of being young and in love with someone, but too chicken shit to tell them.

And then there’s the lyrics:

She sings from somewhere you can’t see
She sits in the top of the greenest tree
She sends out an aroma of undefined love
It drips on down in a mist from above

She’s just the girl, she’s just the girl
The girl you want

You hear her calling everywhere you turn
You know you’re headed for the pleasure burn
But the words get stuck on the tip of your tongue
She’s the real thing but you knew it all along

She’s just the girl, she’s just the girl
The girl you want

That’s just poetry. In combination with the tune, these words saw Devo delivering an original twist on a well-worn theme and a classic piece of art-pop. And you have to say the lyrics on Girl U Want have held up a whole lot better than My Sharona’s “I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind”.


Soundgarden issued a cover of Girl U Want as an extra track on the Rusty Cage EP. Theirs is a sleazy, slowed down version. Unlikely as it seems, Robert Palmer released an interpretation of Girl U Want as a single in 1994. It didn’t do too well. Plenty of other bands have covered it too, but Superchunk’s needle sharp cover for the 1992 compilation Freedom Of Choice is the best by a distance.

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Nick Perry

Nick writes fact, fiction and opinion in various places including
his music blog noisecrumbs.com. His musical tastes cover indie, grunge, golden-era hip hop, punk, funk, psychedelia and a big portion of distortion. You can and should follow him on Twitter @NoiseCrumbs.

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