There wasn’t a lot of love for Devo in the early 1990s. The pioneering New Wave act probably felt they reached rock bottom when their 1988 effort Total Devo peaked at Number 189 on the charts, but then they faced the indignity of witnessing 1990s Smooth Noodle Maps – which contained the rather sad song “Devo Has Feelings Too” – not even chart at all. They attempted to support it with a club tour, but split in March of 1991 when they concluded the whole exercise was just hopeless.
Just one month later, Nirvana played a gig at the OK Hotel in Seattle that’s become the stuff of rock legend since it was the evening they debuted a new track called “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” A little earlier in the night, Kurt Cobain announced they were going to play a Devo song to very scattered applause. They then busted out “Turn Around,” the B side to Devo’s 1980 breakthrough hit “Whip It.” Nirvana first played it the previous October at the North Shore Surf Club in Olympia, Washington, and then they dug it out again in London later that month at a show that was partially broadcast on John Peel’s radio show.
Few in the audience at the OK Hotel seemed to recognize the song, but Cobain was delighted to pay tribute to a band he loved as a teenager. “Of all the bands who came from the underground and made it in the mainstream, Devo were the most challenging and subversive of all,” he said in 1992. “They’re just awesome. I love them.” That same year, Nirvana released their cover, which they slightly renamed “Turnaround,” on their 1992 compilation LP, Incesticide.
Devo didn’t get around to reforming until 1996 when they agreed to play at the Sundance Film Festival and Lollapalooza. By that point, the alternative revolution was sputtering to a close and interest in them remained relatively minimal. But they continued to tour and slowly won over a new generation of fans. In 2010, they finally cut a new album, the criminally underrated Something for Everybody. They’ve been almost completely inactive since 2014 and are effectively on indefinite hiatus. And at no point on their many tours since the reformation have they played “Turn Around.” If they ever did, many in the crowd might think they were covering Nirvana.