Category Archives: Tubes

The Tubes Discography

The Tubes were a theatrical art-rock troupe that built a cult following in San Francisco before scoring a major-label contract with A&M Records. Their elaborate stageshow carried over onto their records, which featured high-production numbers such as “What Do You Want From Life?,” “Mondo Bondage,” “White Punks On Dope” and “Tubes World Tour.” Their debut, produced by Al Kooper, was one of the best records of 1975, and suggested a cross between Utopia and Chicago. Their next album, Young And Rich, was slightly less ambitious in scope but still impressive.

The revolving producer’s chair backfired on Now, but the band steadied themselves on the Todd Rundgren-produced concept album, Remote Control, which sounded uncannily like a Utopia album. In the 1980s, the band switched to Capitol Records and began making more commercial music. The band’s commercial overtures coincided nicely with the growing interest in music videos, a natural fit for the visually minded Tubes. “Talk To Ya  Later” (from The Completion Backward Principle) and “She’s A Beauty” (from Outside Inside) introduced The Tubes to a wider audience. Finally, The Tubes were on top.

The band’s fortunes began to wane, however, with the prophetically titled Love Bomb. The band lost its contract with Capitol and folded soon after, with Fee Waybill and Bill Spooner each releasing solo albums around this time. In the 90s, the band reunited briefly and recorded a new album, Genius of America. I liked it, but what do I know?

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The Tubes (1975)

“Their self-titled debut from 1975 is probably the best-sounding record I ever made. I wanted a sound like a Broadway Original Cast album with strings and horns but retaining a rock’n’roll feel.” – Al Kooper, in a 2016 interview.

The best band to emerge (on vinyl anyway) in 1975 was a seven-piece rock band formerly known as The Radar Men From Uranus. The Tubes sounded like a heavenly mix of Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, ELO and Chicago. On stage, well, it was like a Rocky Horror Picture Show after-party. Produced by Al Kooper, the band’s first album is perfectly contained chaos: heroic, decadent, orchestral, orgasmic. The opening “Up From The Deep” serves as an introduction to the unique world of The Tubes: ideas are introduced, explored, expunged in a swirling mass of creation that somehow never hits a sour note. Thirty seconds into “Haloes,” you’re convinced that The Tubes have discovered the Utopia that Rundgren was after. But if art rock was all the band was after, The Tubes might have become boring. Instead, they undergo a series of clever costume changes, from mondo mariachi band (“Malaguena Salerosa”) to perverts (“Mondo Bondage”) to proto-punks (“Boy Crazy,” “White Punks On Dope”). By album’s end, you’re convinced there isn’t anything that The Tubes can’t do and do well. Although the album didn’t chart well, the world wasn’t ready for The Tubes. I was surprised when Mobile Fidelity released the original master of this album; it has to be one of the lowest-charting albums to appear as an MFSL remaster. It’s also one of the most expertly produced albums you’ll ever hear; Kooper himself ranks it as his best, and I can’t argue with the man. The Tubes is not just the band’s magnum opus, it’s one of the greatest theatrical rock albums ever made.

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The Tubes: Young And Rich (1976)

Kronomyth 2.0: CARTE BLANCHE. The zany rock & roll adventures of The Tubes continue on Young And Rich. Featuring a few leftover ideas (“Brighter Day,” “Stand Up And Shout,” “Proud To Be An American”) and a new producer (Ken Scott), their second album puts the band and their instruments front and center, which results in a crisper (if not as conceptually stunning) sound. Had this been their debut album, I suspect I would have simply transferred the superlatives from their first over to here. But, invariably, I find myself comparing Young And Rich to their first record and wondering what the theatrically minded “Pimp,” “Poland Whole/Madam I’m Adam” and “Tubes World Tour” might have sounded like under Al Kooper’s care. Not that Ken Scott’s production isn’t excellent—it’s surprisingly clean and uncluttered, all things considered—but the band comes off sounding like mid-period Zappa (c. Zoot Allures) or Utopia (Oops! Wrong Planet), where there first album sounded like a wonderful prog/punk version of Chicago. It’s still a well-staged album with some memorable cuts, including “Don’t Touch Me There” (a song that could have stepped straight from Rocky Horror Picture Show) and the readymade road extravaganza, “Tubes World Tour.” Some people actually prefer this to their first record, presumably those people who enjoy their silliness with a side order of instrumental soloing, since this album does feature actual guitar and synthesizer solos. Really, the band’s first two records are required listening for fans of Frank Zappa and Utopia, even if Young And Rich does come dangerously close to being a novelty record in the middle (“Don’t Touch Me There,” “Slipped My Disco,” “Proud To Be An American”).

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The Tubes: Now (1977)

Kronomyth 3.0: NO, NOT NOW. Yeah, I know, third album, charm. Not here. The band allegedly booted producer John Anthony from the studio and proceeded to hoist themselves by their own self-produced petard. The band was getting bigger, egos too, and Now now featured songs written by members and peripheral members alike as well as cover songs (“This Town,” “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains”). It must be something in the San Francisco water that makes musical bands approach life and songwriting communally. Individually, the songs aren’t that far removed from their first two albums. “Smoke,” “I’m Just A Mess,” “Strung Out On Strings” and “You’re No Fun” might have worked extremely well in the hands of a capable producer. With no such hands in attendance, however, the organic oddness of their first two records feels forced as the band adds layers of synthesizers and percussion in lieu of proper orchestration. The addition of Mingo Lewis is interesting in so far as anything that Mingo does is interesting, here contributing one fusion instrumental, “God-Bird-Change,” that would have worked better in the company of Al Di Meola (okay, so what wouldn’t sound better with Al D in the mix?). Also included is another Jane Dornacker song, “Cathy’s Clone,” featuring Captain Beefheart on saxophone and suggesting that Jane had the pop smarts to become her own new wave heroine. Bill Spooner adds a couple of autobiographical songs, “Strung Out On Strings” and “Golden Boy” (the latter written about original drummer, Bob McIntosh). There’s no denying The Tubes are an intelligent and talented band, but you wonder if they weren’t becoming too smart for their own good. I mean, jazz fusion, Captain Beefheart and Frank Sinatra covers and songs dedicated to Edith Piaf don’t belong in the same era, let alone on the same album. Again, a brilliant producer might have pulled it all together, but, absent one, Now falls apart.

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The Tubes: “Prime Time” (1979)

Kronomyth 5.1: RUNDGREN CONTROL. Apparently, it wasn’t enough that Todd Rundgren sounded like Todd Rundgren and Utopia sounded like Todd Rundgren, now The Tubes had to too. “Prime Time” has all the earmarks of a Rundgren ballad, rendered in synthetic disco with Re Styles joining Fee on lead vocals. The album track “No Way Out” appears on the backside and at least rocks out a little, though again the Utopia comparisons hold. Remote Control is actually a really good record, but “Prime Time” may be the least interesting thing about it. The band also recorded a video for this, featuring Fee and Re in a reprise of their “Don’t Touch Me There” roles.

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The Tubes: Remote Control (1979)

Kronomyth 5.0: TUBETOPIA. Produced by Todd Rundgren, Remote Control is a concept album that could be seen as the next installment in Utopia, so similar are the two. Rundgren is credited with cowriting two songs (“Love’s A Mystery,” TV Is King”), but his fingerprints are all over Remote Control, from the high-register choruses to the compressed and sped-up arrangements. Of course, sounding like Utopia isn’t a bad thing; in fact, this is probably my favorite Tubes album after their first. The album generated a legitimate hit (okay, in the UK) with “Prime Time,” and should have had a second with “Love’s A Mystery (I Don’t Understand).” If the reports are true that the band entered the studio with a concept but without any songs, then this record is a testament to the band’s creativity because there isn’t a bad song in the batch. The opening “Turn Me On” immediately pulls you into the story, and Remote Control keeps changing the channel without losing its audience: “I Want It All Now,” “No Way Out,” “Only The Strong Survive,” “Be Mine Tonight.” The closing “Telecide” is a breathless rocker that mixes clever, rapid-fire wordplay (could Michael Stipe have been a closet Tubes fan?) and nihilistic rock to bring the curtains crashing down. A&M had no reason to be disappointed with the results; the record charted as well as Adventures In Utopia and restored faith in the band’s ability to harness their talent. Along with Adventures In Utopia, Healing and Swing To The Right, Remote Control represents a sort of Rundgren renaissance for art pop fans between 1979 and 1982. The Tubes never made another album like it, and they never made a better one after it. If you haven’t heard this or the three Utopia/Rundgren records I just mentioned, turn off the tv tonight and turn on to some great music instead.

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The Tubes: “The Monkey Time” (1983)

Kronomyth 7.2: MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DUET. If you had told me that Fee Waybill and Martha Davis of The Motels would one day cover an old Major Lance hit written by Curtis Mayfield, I probably would have fallen asleep somewhere around the word “Motels.” No falling asleep during this song, though. It’s a hoot as Martha and the boys dial the wayback machine to Monkey Time and Tubularize it with their groovalicity. There may be some subtle differences between this and the elpee version (e.g., Martha’s voice is given an echo treatment on the single), so stay tuned for that magical day off in the distance when I actually have time to listen to the two versions and compare notes. The B side is a nonalbum track that missed the cut for the majors, but has inexplicably attached itself to two Best Ofs all the same. Go, Tubes, go… figure.

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The Best of The Tubes 1981-1987 (1991)

Kronomyth 9.3: COMPLETELY OUTSIDE THE BEST OF THE TUBES. If I had to make a career choice between working as a musical archivist for Capitol’s Special Markets division or scraping caked-on vomit from the walls of Hell’s torture chambers with a rusty fork, the decision would probably come down to the quality of the dental plan, such is my distaste for CEMA’s duplicitous doings. First of all, this isn’t the best of anything but two albums: The Completion Backwards Principle and Outside Inside. In other words, The Best of The Tubes 1981-1983, at which point their best music lay well behind them. Nothing from 1985’s Love Bomb is included and, while I never imagined I would be in a position to defend that album, surely “Piece By Piece” or “Eyes” would have been better than the nonalbum B side “Sports Fans,” a song that has the rare distinction of being the worst idea on an album that already contains “Sushi Girl.” The rest of the choices are solid given the narrow view: “Talk To You Later,” “She’s a Beauty,” “Tip of My Tongue,” “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore,” “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman.” Of course, the nefarious agents of CEMA have limited this to ten tracks, part of their shameless “10 Best Series,” which would seem to promise that someone, somewhere, took the trouble to distill the band’s best ten songs as opposed to, say, throwing a dart at the back of two album covers and tacking on a nonalbum B side to entice fans. As infernal pukescraping gigs are apparently hard to come by, idle hands have also issued The Best of The Tubes in 1992, Attack of the Tubes in 1993 and Extended Versions in 2001 (which I actually bought, but then I’m kind of a glutton for punishment).

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