Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Tubes


Amidst all the bally-hoo and pretentiousness of prog, the music of my teen years wasn't limited to 20 minute songs that would feel at home in the Italian Rennaisance. There was the blues of Humble Pie, The whole Laurel Canyon scene, of course (although I hadn't fully discovered it yet), there was Led Zeppelin and Elton John and a plethora of music that wasn't even remotely proggy. And then there was The Tubes.

Spawned in the arid nothingness of late-60s Arizona, Fee Waybill and his band wove a crazed concoction of twin guitar harmonies, weird noises, flamenco diddles, castanets, and angelic choirs into an instantly lovable debut. Not unlike The Dictators'  Go Girl Crazy! and Godley Creme, the eponymous debut album provides a bridge between multiple rock styles with comedic zigzags at every turn. 

The bright spots for The Tubes were very bright.  "Haloes" in particular and "Space Baby" sparkle with a Ziggy-esque strut and a myriad of guitar histrionics.  Blurts of synth-funk and boogie-woogie piano make man's search for meaning a lot more fun in "What Do You Want from Life?"  And of course, the iconic "White Punks on Dope" eclipses every anthem since cavemen began banging on rocks. If there is criticism, it's obvious that this is a soundtrack to performance art; much of it simply had to be experienced in a visual medium for full appreciation. Simply put, they garnered none of the reputation yet the Tubes broke as many barriers as Iggy, Bowie and Zappa. They may well be the most underrated band in rock history.

The Tubes were discovered by the legendary Al Kooper, who also produced the album. Kooper is the most influential person in rock 'n' roll that no one has ever heard of. Without him The Tubes wouldn't exist, nor would Lynyrd Skynyrd. Dylan's "Like A Rollin' Stone" wouldn't have its classic organ, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" would pale without the piano and French horn at its ontset, and [umpteen other examples]. In the mid 70s such complex, background rich production was uncommon (replaced by synthesizers and tricks), and this, coupled with the band's, "strange bend" made The Tubes  a standout debut. While many knew and remember the Tubes for their over the top outrageousness, there was a plethora of awesome musicians: Prairie Prince on drums, Roger Allen Steed and the incomparable Bill Spooner on guitars, and of course, Fee Waybill's lyrics and delivery were one of a kind.

Though panned by critics, The Tubes second LP, Young and Rich, was a stunning if flawed sophomore follow-up, continuing the complexities while retaining the humor. "Young and Rich," though, suffers from the plight of a performance band: it's hard to decipher the Zappa-influenced brilliance of "Tubes World Tour" amidst the dark, Waitsian tragedy in tunes like "Pimp" and "Brighter Day." Maybe it's overstimulus, too much going on at once, but the comedy is there and What Do You Want From Live would proof the pudding. Couple Young and Rich in a mixed tape with Now to piece together the real brilliance of the Band; indeed, Zappa brilliance. From off Now take "Smoke," "You’re No Fun," "My Head Is My Only House Unless it Rains" (from Captain Beefheart), "Strung Out on Strings" and "Hit Parade" and mix them up with "Pimp," "Brighter Day" and "Young and Rich" and you've got a complex album that exemplifies L.A. in the 70s: cars, cigarettes, cocaine, decadence;  this is Henry Miller pop, or Bukowski - truly strung out on strings.

The next step, the perfect Tubesian playlist for those unfortunates who never saw them live: 1. "Haloes," 2. "Pimp," 3. "Brighter Day," 4. "Young and Rich," 5. "Space Baby," 6. "Hit Parade," 7. "My Head is My Only House When it Rains," 8. "Strung out on Strings," 9. "Boy Crazy," 10. "You’re No Fun," 11. "White Punks on Dope"