August 1981: Devo Release NEW TRADITIONALISTS
Thanks to the breakout success of "Whip It" and third studio album, Freedom of Choice, Devo was in the prime position to capitalize on budding pop stardom. In true Devo fashion, the band made a hard turn away from easy accessibility, crafting a darker follow-up album that delved even deeper into the group's "de-evolution" concept.
Devo returned with New Traditionalists on August 26, 1981. The album arrived just a few weeks after animated feature Heavy Metal, which featured a pair of Devo tracks. The movie showcased the lead single from New Traditionalists, "Through Being Cool." The track, an obvious shot at fair weather fans hooked by the pop success of "Whip It," cruised to #32 on the Hot Dance Club Songs track, and as high as #7 on the Billboard Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart.
Also on the Heavy Metal soundtrack Devo's cover version of Lee Dorsey's 1966 hit, "Working in the Coal Mine." The tune peaked at #43 on the Hot 100 in October 1981, making it the highest-charting single from the entire album. The song was pressed onto 45 records and slipped inside the first pressing of New Traditionalists on vinyl.
The next New Traditionalists single, "Beautiful World," arrived with a striking music video that skillfully captures the ethos of "de-evolution," primarily through archival footage of Americana, warts and all.
When the dust settled, New Traditionalists allowed Devo to be Devo, and still climbed as high as #23 on the Billboard 200 for the week of November 7, 1981. The #1 LP in the country that week: the Rolling Stones' Tattoo You. The peak position was just one click behind Freedom of Choice, which topped out at #22.
"I remember going out on promotional interview tours for New Traditionalists, and we were talking about how, 'Hey, it's time for new traditions! You've got to quit believing all of this fundamentalist type of stuff'," Gerald Casale told RHINO in 2015. "And Reagan had kind of empowered the religious right, and they were hugely back in the spotlight and influential with all that kind of fundamentalist, cram-the-morality-down-your-throat Christianity, and we were really getting attacked. You know, 'Are you saying that you don't believe in God? Are you saying that morality doesn't matter?' All this stuff. It was, like, 'No, we aren't saying any of that.' But we were getting really attacked, and we just had a bad feeling about it all." he added.
"In hindsight, I guess you can't argue with that. But at the time, I was fighting the good fight and trying very hard to maintain our aesthetics and be successful," Casale continued. "After all, that intersection, that combination, is the most interesting thing, isn't it? It's easy to be an obscure, artsy weirdo band, and it's easy to be a meaningless baloney mainstream band putting out pap, but it's very hard to be Bob Dylan or the Beatles or David Bowie, where you get the whole enchilada. And at that moment, with Freedom of Choice, we really had it going."