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 (you can thank Rick Wakeman for that). 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?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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”).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Tubes: What Do You Want From Live (1978)

Kronomyth 4.0: BUGGER NIGHTS. Among the sunkissed memories of my past are the two odd-dozen 8-tracks I had purchased as a youth, shortly after acquiring an all-in-one Lenoxx stereo system for my birthday. It was a candybox collection for a child: David Bowie, The Moody Blues, ELO, Iggy Pop, Jethro Tull, Eric Clapton, Genesis and, as fate would have it, The Tubes. What Do You Want From Live was my introduction to The Tubes, and it wasn’t long after listening to it that I purchased their first album. Who could resist them after hearing “Boy Crazy,” “Mondo Bondage” and “White Punks On Dope?” In fact, I’m pretty sure I played the fourth track of that cassette (a meaningless reference to anyone under forty) until it broke. At the time of its release, the concert double-album was a rite of passage for rock bands, beginning with the success of records like Kiss Alive and Frampton Comes Alive. The Tubes might have seemed an unusual choice for the honor, since they weren’t a household name and their last album, Now, had been a commercial and critical disappointment. Their live show, however, had always been a source of strength for the band: an outrageous mixture of spectacle, sarcasm and soft porn. Of course, you would never know any of this from the album cover, which inexplicably appeared as though the real cover had been scrapped at the last minute and replaced with a censored version. (As a band of artists, they were sometimes too smart for their own good.) Once purchased and opened, all was revealed, but you have to wonder how many more copies of this record would have sold if Fee, Re and the girls had appeared on the cover. Recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, What Do You Want From Live is both an excellent introduction to The Tubes and a nice supplement to their first three records that includes about half a dozen songs, covers and medleys not available elsewhere. Highlights include everything from the first album, an extended version of “Smoke” that now makes perfect sense and Roger Steen’s “Show Me A Reason.” An honorable mention goes to the Johnny Bugger performance at the end featuring a rip-roaring version of “I Saw Her Standing There” and the original “I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk.” As a relic from a bygone era, What Do You Want From Live deserves a good remastering with some bonus tracks. Someone, anyone?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Tubes: The Completion Backward Principle (1981)

Kronomyth 6.0: THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS. Honestly, I tuned out after The Tubes’ second album (I have a short attention span), and tuned back in when I heard “Talk To Ya Later” on the radio. I never liked the song (I was pretty bored with most of the stuff on the radio in the 80s), although I was happy to hear the band cash in on their talent. The Completion Backward Principle benefits from good packaging (the band re-envisioned as a business, which wasn’t much of a stretch at this point) and great production from David Foster, who also cowrote many of the songs. It isn’t a concept album like their last, just a collection of songs that seem to take their inspiration from a bad day of tv programming (are you getting the sense they were watching too much television?): serial killers, giant women, amnesia. The opening is a little tough to swallow, as the band leads with their readymade hit (which was made before most of The Tubes had even showed up in the studio) and the truly tasteless “Sushi Girl.” Fortunately, the likeable “Amnesia” wipes the slate clean and, from there, it’s not so much different than their last record. Bill Spooner’s big ballad, “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore,” is the heart of the album, and would have felt equally at home on the Rundgrenesque Remote Control. “Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman” and “A Matter of Pride” are also highlights. Is The Completion Backward Principle a sellout? The answer probably depends on who you ask. Capitol didn’t bring in David Foster to make another convoluted concept album, yet The Tubes weren’t ready to become Toto 2.0 just yet. That said, lampooning the business side of the music business doesn’t change the fact that The Completion Backward Principle is (good) product.

Continue reading

The Tubes: Outside Inside (1983)

Welcome to U-toto-pia. Population: you and some guy wearing a “Back to the Future” t-shirt. If the two of you are feeling silly, relax. Back to the Future was a great film and Outside Inside is a great album. Not great-for-the-ages great, but great for the eighties. The Tubes, after all, were not just another band of middle-aged top fortysomethings. They challenged musical normalcy in the beginning, then masked their affection for it in concepts and, finally, embraced it. The Completion Backward Principle marked the beginning of the embracing: “Talk To Ya Later,” “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore.” It worked and the world embraced back. Outside Inside is a second hug, stronger than before. They slip us a kiss with the hits (“She’s a Beauty,” “Tip of My Tongue”), and whisper weird things in our ear but briefly (“Drums,” “Wild Women of Wongo”). The result was their most successful album, and The Tubes promptly became victims of their own success: Fee Waybill released a solo stinker and their next album bombed. Funny thing is, they sound invincible on Outside Inside. Whether they’re playing Utopian pop or modern R&B, it’s done with such aplomb (that’s right, I wrote “aplomb”) that The Tubes connect on every track. It’s professionally played, probably product, and perpendicular to their past, but a party is a party. Like Utopia, you’ll give yourself a headache trying to connect the dots between “Trapped” and “Mated,” “Mondo Bondage” and “The Monkey Time.” Leave the art-rock baggage at the door, listen to the music and treat your inner monkey right.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading