In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
Let’s start with the basics: Both Jermaine Jackson and the members of Devo came of age in dying industrial centers in the American Midwest—Jackson in Gary, Indiana, Devo in Akron, Ohio. Music eventually kept Jackson and Devo out of the steel mill and the rubber plant, respectively, but that shared Rust Belt background would inform their artistic output: As a bassist-vocalist for The Jackson 5 and as a solo artist, Jackson was beholden to Berry Gordy’s notions of running Motown Records with the efficiency and quality control of an assembly line; Devo’s back catalog is rife with industrial allusions and the automated rhythms of a factory.
So, yes, the two made strange bedfellows on Jackson’s 1982 single “Let Me Tickle Your Fancy,” but nowhere near as strange as the pairing appears on its surface. And nothing Devo has ever done should be given a superficial read; just imagine the amount of pent-up sexual frustration that would’ve gone into the verses of “Let Me Tickle Your Fancy” if it were sung by Mark Mothersbaugh or Jerry Casale. The Jackson-fronted version of the song retains its innocence, however, offering a coyer blend of slinky grooves and synth squiggles than the R&B/new-wave hybrids Prince was humping out at the same time. “Let Me Tickle Your Fancy” certainly doesn’t best any track from Controversy or 1999, but it does demonstrate a fundamental understanding between musicians raised in the shadows of smoke stacks.
Also, a lip-synced performance of the song on a Dick Clark Productions Halloween special makes for one hell of a “WTF?” YouTube clip 30-plus years later.