I think I’ve mentioned somewhere here my early tendency toward completism with bands – wanting to hear and own everything, not an unusual way of interacting with music. I may even have mentioned my strange nearly complete collection of Tubes records (strange because, on a scale out of ten, I like the Tubes three. I like a few Tubes songs a lot. The ratio is way off.) Well, it’s time to talk about them.
I wanted to like them more. They’re my kind of band in many ways: subversive, arty, funny, funky, punky, weird. So after I discovered my brother’s The Completion Backwards Principle and fell in love with it and then bought Inside/Outside and fell in love with it, I kind of kept going. I bought their records (used, cheap) over time. But I didn’t fall in love with much else. My relationship with the band did not change after that – the Tubes records in my collection became occasions for laughter among my musical friends.
But I enjoy going back and trying to understand what I liked about things I no longer like much. In doing so with The Tubes, my tastes flipped but did not expand. To explain:
In the 1980s, when I heard The Tubes, they were entering a second phase in their career. They had been a very arty band in San Francisco in the 1970s, an art school band who sometimes put on shows in collaboration with a young Katherine Bigelow and LOOKUP. They were famous for outrageously theatrical rock shows – pornographically B-movie theatrical stagecraft from the pre-giant-screen era. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa. They had some known songs, if not hits - most notably “White Punks on Dope.”
But in the 1980s, well, it was a new goddam morning in America. All kinds of road bands with multiple boring rock records found new producers and labels and sweet new songwriter friends and just changed. Other examples include J. Geils Band, Styx, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner. Some of it was just pop-conciseness, but mostly it was about moving “ballads” and engaging a more female audience. It was almost a sure shot. At some point Mötley Crüe and Van Halen had “ballads” on the charts. The Tubes never sold a ballad successfully and didn’t try too hard. But the songs were hookier, shorter, and more radio-focused. Thank you, David Foster.
The Tubes’ Completion Backwards Principle was still subversive – I found it very funny at 12 and 13. They dressed in suits. They called themselves The Tubes Group. The cover boasted a slogan: CREDIBILITY GROWTH DIRECTION. A corporate-video narrator suggested listeners “Please play both sides at one meeting.”
And the songs were funny: “Sushi Girl” was funny just because “sushi” in 1982. “Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman” was funny and musically fun. “Mr. Hate”? Come on. And they rocked. The Tubes were good players, tight and funky, and their vocals are top-notch. They’re good at pastiche, which I dig. Heavier pop rock, crunchy guitars, melodic.
There is a stink on the record, and it is mostly the stink of David Foster. David Foster – well, Google him. He’s famous and rich and loves to pose with his Grammys. I think he had a reality show.
In the early 80s he was still coming up, and he produced/participated in schlock like Chicago singles and the For-Africa-But-Canadian “Tears Are Not Enough” single. He looooved that shitty bell-keyboard sound. His taste is so slick it makes me puke. And you can hear it on The Completion Backwards Principle, most purely on “I Don’t Want to Wait Anymore.” Once you notice it, you notice it. I never put this record on anymore.
Outside/Inside has a track on it that I predict I will ALWAYS love, called “Wild Women of Wongo.” It’s another B-movie homage, but really funky and amazingly arranged. Aside from that, I can say I like the sound of this record better; sadly I like the songs less. There are no schlocky ballads – just the “She’s a Beauty” single, which I find grating and kind of tiring.
So: reassessing The Tubes cost me the band, except that I found a couple of songs from the pre-80s era that I love. I’m not throwing the LPs away – no point – but I’m not putting them on.
Not from the 80s and actually “found” many decades after I bought the records, I can also recommend a couple of other Tubes jams (I’ve already shared one, up top). Here’s the other genuinely great song. Who knows, maybe you yourself will embark on the first steps of your own long, mostly uninteresting journey of decades.
That is all. I love you all equally.
Peace out -
Right on and thank you! Looking forward to checking out that playlist!
Nice piece, jep! I, too, was in on the Tubes back in the day. Not everything, but they were certainly a band worth going, "Hmmm, wonder what they're doing on THIS record!"
As a longtime fan of Todd Rundgren (even at the time), I was especially interested to see what he did when he produced the Tubes' "Remote Control" in '79, and their last for A&M, before starting their Capitol career with your mentioned "TCBP" album, produced by the nefarious David Foster!
You might find two things interesting: 1) Former Tube-ers, Vince Welnick (keyboards) and Prairie Prince (drums), performed on Todd's "Nearly Human" album in 1989. Their collabbed "The Want of a Nail" song is featured on my latest GBE Playlist: https://bradkyle.substack.com/p/grow-bigger-ears-11-the-audio-autopsy, if you'll pardon the link.
2) Plus, a 25-year-old David Foster was music director and keyboard player for FR&B's Stephen Michael Schwartz's second RCA album sessions in '75 (Stephen describes what went down, in his own words, plus supplies rare, exclusive in-studio photos from his personal collection, including a couple of Foster, and Elton John's rhythm section, recently fired by La Elton!): https://bradkyle.substack.com/p/musical-storm-the-stephen-michael
Thanks for the rare Tubes shout-out! 'Twas fun seeing and hearing "White Punks" again!