Devo “Freedom of Choice” released on this date, May 16th, 1980. Their third album, Freedom of Choice was a huge hit, reaching #22 on the US album chart (#47 in the UK) with its synth-forward polished new wave sound and hit singles. The first single Devo released was “Girl U Want” wasn’t exactly a hit – it failed to chart in the US – making it only to #57 in the UK, but in hindsight it is “one of the most overlooked gems to surface from the early 80′s new wave movement…the stiff yet irresistible main synth riff, doubled with guitar, is instantly catchy and memorable.” (Allmusic) The second single was the monster smash – “Whip It” – which spent 25 weeks on the US charts, peaking at #14. The song was unusual for its distinct tempo and weird lyrics (that were supposed to be a pep talk for President Jimmy Carter running for re-election against Ronald Reagan but most listeners figured the song referred to masturbation). “Whip It” was also unforgettable; “It’s hard to find anyone between the ages of 30 and 50 who does not have a vivid recollection of ‘Whip It’…the kind of unusual track that made listeners want to bop their heads and break into a herky-jerky dance.“ (Brent Mann – writing this several years ago so I’d adjust the ages to between 40-60.) I was 9 years old and in 4th grade when “Whip It” was the national craze and my vivid recollection is being at a slumber party with a bunch of other 9 and 10 year old girls dancing manically around the living room while the 45 of “Whip It” spun repeatedly on the birthday girl’s turntable. The other two singles released from Freedom of Choice were “Gates of Steel” and the title track “Freedom of Choice.” I don’t think “Gates of Steel” charted but “Freedom of Choice” had some mild success on the dance charts, hitting #8 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart in late ‘80.
Allmusic says about Freedom of Choice: With Freedom of Choice, Devo completed their transition into a full-fledged synth-pop group, producing arguably their most musically cohesive effort in the process. Synthesizers are now fully integrated into the band’s sound, frequently dominating the arrangements and at least sharing equal time with the guitars. Everything is played with a cool, polished precision that mirrors the stylized uniformity of the band’s visuals; the dissonance is more subdued than in the past, and the uptight rhythms are no longer jarring, instead locking the band into a rigidly even keel. Oddly, even though the music is the least human-sounding Devo had yet produced, their social observations were growing less insular and more sympathetic. Several tunes – like the oft-covered "Girl U Want” – have a geeky (but pragmatic) romantic angst that was new to Devo albums, although the band’s view of relationships is occasionally colored by their cultural themes of competition and domination. Those preoccupations also inform their breakthrough hit single, “Whip It,” but elsewhere, they’re finding enough connection with the rest of the world to moderate their cynicism, at least a little bit. Songs like “Gates of Steel,” “Planet Earth,” and the title track reveal a frustrated idealism under their irony, one that can’t quite understand why Americans don’t use more of their freedom to search for happiness. Altogether, there’s a little less of the debut’s energy, and a little less variety as well. But the songwriting is a match for consistent quality, and moreover, the music on Freedom of Choice is the sound that defines Devo in the minds of many. In the end, that makes it the band’s only other truly necessary album.