REWIND: Now playing over the writer’s headphones: DEVO and Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono

I joke about running out of column ideas a lot in the intros to these things. And in the tagline to every column for over a year. And to my RIFF colleagues on Slack. And to my friends and relatives. And sometimes to the dog. It’s become somewhat of a running joke.

But this week? This week is next level. I’ve got absolutely nothing. Our fearless leader Roman says I can’t do yet another column complaining about politics. I want to save my baseball column for Opening Day, and I’ve already done a couple columns about car songs. That’s pretty much everything I enjoy right there. Really cuts down the possibilities.

Noise Pop is coming up, but nearly all the bands are young and hip, which doesn’t really fit the “Rewind” vibe I’ve got going. Mardi Gras is coming up, but I’ve already got plans for New Orleans. It’s starting to feel like spring, but with my luck it’ll be winter again when this runs and I’ll look like an idiot.

So, you know what? Forget a theme. Here are five songs with nothing in common except that I’ve listened to them in the past week. Just try and stop me from starting with Yoko Ono.

Yoko Ono — “Yes, I’m A Witch”

I should probably have warned you that my musical tastes are eclectic. I really do listen to some seriously weird stuff in my day-to-day life.

Anyway, this came on one of Spotify’s Daily Mix playlists on my way to work earlier this week, and it reminded me that I really dig it. It’s super weird and is absolutely not what you’d expect from Yoko Ono, which, to be honest, adds to its appeal.

It also makes you wonder what John Lennon would be doing these days if he was still around. Yoko hasn’t exactly stagnated in style; would he be doing stuff like this? Would we have a Lennon dubstep-inspired single? One can only dream.

Tengger Cavalary — “Lone Wolf”

When you ask extremely dull people what kind of music they like, they usually say, “Oh, you know, everything but rap and country.” But that’s only because they have a very narrow scope of experience.

They don’t mean, for example, Mongolian folk metal. Everything-but-rap-and-country people definitely wouldn’t like Mongolian folk metal. But I love it, and Tengger Cavalry is an under-appreciated gem. Mongolian tradition is as natural a fit for heavy metal as Viking tradition, and yet nobody thinks about Asia.

Well, you didn’t. Now you will. You’re welcome.

Seals & Crofts — “Summer Breeze”

Thursday at my day job I was cleaning data. There’s a lot of that as a data journalist. They don’t teach that in journalism school. They just skip to the fun muckraking analysis where you find the corruption. But in practice, a huge amount of your time is just making the data consistent in an Excel spreadsheet.

It’s exactly as boring as that paragraph makes it sound.

Anyway, I was cleaning data, and it was boring. And boredom makes me tense. And when you’re tense, you rush, which means you make mistakes, which just adds time to data cleaning. So to take the edge off, I was neck-deep in yacht rock. “Summer Breeze” was the song that was on when the clock finally struck time to go home. So it’s been in my head ever since.

I did warn you these songs would be entirely unconnected to each other.

Janelle Monáe — “Django Jane”

I’m pretty stuck in the past, musically speaking. I pretty much just stopped liking new music in the ’90s, for the most part. But that doesn’t mean I’m entirely disconnected from the modern world because then I’d have missed out on Janelle Monáe.

That Monáe isn’t the biggest star in the world is a travesty. The sheer creativity of her albums, not just in terms of diverse genres and brilliant songwriting, but even conceptually, is off the charts. She’s a legit genius, and in 20 years she’s going to be one of those artists who people are baffled didn’t sell better at the time.

What I’m saying is that sometimes you just want to listen to the entirety of Dirty Computer, and that happened to me on Tuesday.

DEVO — “Uncontrollable Urge”

As my colleague Professor Gill so eloquently explained in his column, DEVO is an absolute treasure that’s not nearly as appreciated as it should be in the American musical pantheon. I’m not gonna try to do better than a guy who teaches people the language professionally, so just read that.

What I will say is that it’s a travesty “Whip It” is the song most people have heard because “Uncontrollable Urge” is pure brilliance and “Beautiful World” is one of the best songs ever written. It’s no surprise lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh has made a career scoring movies and writing the theme songs to every show you liked as a kid.

So there you have it, a cross-section of what you’d hear if you borrowed my headphones this week. Next week, we’ll be back to a real themed column with thought put into it.

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at

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