Eight great musical works of Mark Mothersbaugh (other than ‘Whip It’)

Photo: Mark Mothersbaugh
Mark Mothersbaugh

On Thursday, Oct. 30, Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art will open the first major retrospective of the life and work of DEVO frontman, film score composer and visual artist Mark Mothersbaugh.

Running through April 12, "Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia" is a collection of the Ohio artist's four-decade body of work, including drawings, sculptures, photographs, videos, prints and rugs along with selections from his music.

Mothersbaugh's influence on popular and independent music through DEVO and his film/television score work has been widespread, though he may only be known to the uninitiated for the 1980 hit "Whip It."

To commemorate the opening of "Myopia" in Denver, we've highlighted some of Motherbaugh's best music moments for newcomers -- including some music you may have heard a million times without knowing who wrote it.

Check out further coverage on the opening of "Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia" from the CPR Arts Bureau.

"Jocko Homo" (1977)

The first DEVO single was "Mongoloid," written by bass and synthesizer player Gerard Casale. Its B-side was this Mothersbaugh-penned mission statement featuring the immortal call-and-response: "Are we not men? / We are DEVO!"

The song takes its title from a piece of creationist literature from 1924 that also gave the Akron, Ohio, group its name.

"(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction" (1977)

Earlier this year, Mothersbaugh recalled playing his cover of this Rolling Stones staple to Mick Jagger in person; the latter responded by dancing along and proclaiming it was his favorite version of the song.

The cover churns the original version's classic three-note riff through the DEVO machinery until it reaches a new, endearingly unrecognizable form, later used to great effect in a particularly hairy scene of Martin Scorsese's "Casino."

"Gates of Steel" (1980)

DEVO's third album, "Freedom of Choice," increased the use of synthesizers, resulting in the international Top 40 hit "Whip It." There was plenty more to love on the record, though, including the energetic guitar number "Gates of Steel," co-written by fellow Akronites Chi-Pig.

"Beautiful World" (1981)

DEVO was among the first bands to champion the music video as an art form. In selections like "Beautiful World," the visual components inform and influence the music, a tactic Mothersbaugh would soon apply to his film and television scores.

Listening to "Beautiful World" on its own, the band seems overly optimistic, but accompanied by the footage of crying children and the Ku Klux Klan in its music video, Mothersbaugh's words take on a new sinister meaning.

"Pee-wee’s Playhouse" (1986)

While on hiatus with DEVO, Mothersbaugh was enlisted by "Pee-wee's Playhouse" star Paul Reubens to compose the theme for the children's show, as well as the soundtrack to accompany the wacky goings-on of many episodes.

The singer of Mothersbaugh's opening theme is credited as "Ellen Shaw," which was later revealed as a pseudonym for '80s pop star Cyndi Lauper.

"Rugrats" (1991)

The long-running Nickelodeon show based on the adventures of a group of toddlers features one of the most recognizable themes of any children's show. Mothersbaugh's tune is a simple piece in C major adorned with juvenile synthesizer sounds that recall the whimsical nature of childhood.

Music wasn't the only influence Mothersbaugh had on the Emmy-winning program: the Chucky Finster character's appearance was based on him as well.

"The Life Aquatic" soundtrack (2004)

Mothersbaugh maintained a long working relationship with film director Wes Anderson, scoring his first four films.

Of these collaborations, 2004's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" soundtrack might have the most profound effect on its film companion. Mothersbaugh provides a techno-driven otherworldliness to the marine setting, and a warm yet melancholy backdrop to the title character's narration in scenes like the one below.

The DEVO song "Gut Feeling" also intensifies a fast-paced montage scene typical of Anderson's visual style.

"The Lego Movie" soundtrack (2014)

The third-highest grossing movie of 2014 features the musical handiwork of Mothersbaugh, who composed the original score and lent his hand in the production of the film's memorable "Everything is AWESOME!!!," a song with sarcastic political parallels to "Beautiful World."