This is often misinterpreted as a song celebrating personal freedom. It is actually a commentary on how people really want choices made for them. The song's statement is made in the last chorus, "Freedom of choice is what you've got, freedom from choice is what you want."
Devo was founded by Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh
, who met at Kent State University. Here's what Jerry told us about this song: "We loved that song very much when we were creating it. It was about how people were throwing away their freedom of choice into meaningless choices like between Pepsi and Coke, or pink fur shoes or blue suede shoes. Just mindless consumerism, they'd rather not be free, they'd rather be told what to do, because that's what appeared to us was the case, especially in the Reagan years. That was a very Devo position - Freedom Of Choice is what you've got, Freedom From Choice is what you want."
The lyrics about the dog in ancient Rome who had two bones are based on an old Aesop's fable about a dog that's walking across a bridge with a bone in his mouth. He looks down in the water and sees another dog with a bone, and he gets so upset that he finally goes to attack the other dog and loses his bone. Or, as Mark Mothersbaugh explains, "It could have been about the Cocker Spaniel that lives in my house. There's two Pugs, and if I give the Cocker Spaniel a treat, she's happy until I give one to the other dogs, and then she drops hers and can't believe that they have the treats too. She thinks they've gotten her treats, so she's upset until that's over."
This was used in a 2003 commercial for Miller Lite beer. With this playing in the background, people topple over each other like a giant line of dominoes. They keep toppling until the line reaches a bar, where the last guy steps out of the way and orders his Miller Lite. Says Mothersbaugh, "I liked that one as much as the Swiffer one gives me goose bumps of repulsion."
Devo will allow their songs to be used in commercials only if they can re-record them for the ad. As a result of a bad publishing deal they signed in 1978, they own only half the rights to their songs. Re-recording the songs allows them to keep all the performance rights, and also lets the advertiser change the lyrics. In the Miller Lite commercial, the line "He went in circles 'til he dropped dead" was changed to "He went in circles 'til he dropped down" because the Miller people didn't want to imply that the people falling like dominoes were dying.
Jerry Casale: "Today, when people use Devo's music in commercials, they either completely miss the point or excise the irony on purpose. Target used 'It's A Beautiful World,' and of course, left out the line 'For you, for you, but not for me.' They just made it a beautiful world straight up. That Freedom Of Choice ad by Miller Lite shows a guy making his Freedom Of Choice by stepping out of the way of this line of human dominoes that has been falling for 30 seconds. He's finally smart enough to back up and let it pass him by as he grabs his beer. The same with "Whip It
," which has been used to sell Swiffer."
Several bands have covered this, including Kelly's Heroes and Psychotica. Nirvana used to play it at some of their shows.
This was released as the follow-up to "Whip It," which was their only hit. After "Whip It," MTV abandoned them and most radio stations didn't play this, so it never charted. Devo broke up after two more albums. Members of the band later formed Mutato Muzika, a company that makes music for films, TV shows and commercials.