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Music Playlist: Tuba Madness

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Tuba Madness!

Listen to this playlist while you read by clicking here.

The tuba is the largest and lowest pitched of the brass instruments. When the word “tuba” is uttered it immediately paints an image of a pimply-faced, sousaphone-playing 16 year old member of a high school marching band. Besides its traditional place within the classical orchestra’s brass section and the marching band, the tuba is also the foundation for Bavarian “oom-pah” bands and certain styles of Jazz, most notably New Orleans style Jazz.

In popular music the tuba has been used in rare instances when a rock band translates one of the previously mentioned styles into a more popular context. Such as 1979’s “Tusk” by Fleetwood Mac, which effectively converted marching band music into something cool and brought a tiny bit of validation to band nerds across the nation.

Tuba has also given traditional New Orleans Jazz credibility to a small number of popular music tracks. Leon Redbone’s “Seduced” and “Something Happened To Me Yesterday” by the Rolling Stones come to mind.

The majority of tuba pieces in popular music utilize the simple “oom-pah-pah” bass line technique. Not ground breaking, but there is something about the oom-pah tuba that makes you wanna drink beer and dance like a fool. “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” by Bob Dylan is a great example of this party atmosphere translation of oom-pah into rock music. Complete with hooting and hollering.

Although these uses of the tuba are a breath of fresh air for those who want to hear something different, there are other songs that take the tuba to the next level.

Check out “Play that Country Tuba, Cowboy” by the Vandals from the album “Play Really Bad Original Country Tunes,” which uses the tuba in the context of a traditional country song. The tuba in this instance, is used as a solo instrument in a truly mind blowing fashion. In addition, the song is a story about a classical symphony tuba player saving himself from the crowd in a redneck bar by calming the natives through his musical ability like in the Blues Brothers “Rawhide” scene.

“Well he slammed his fist and spit out his beer and his body language made it
very clear that this wasn’t going to be just another B-flat day, so then he
cocked his thirty-odd-six and boy I let out with some country licks that I
never thought I’d hear my tuba play.
Play that country tuba cowboy
Play that country tuba cowboy”

Another band that brings the tuba to the next level is “Drums and Tuba”. They are definitely worth checking out if you have interest in unique instrumentation or the tuba in general.

Although the list of tuba songs in Rock & Roll is a short one, you owe it to yourself to give the instrument a second chance. Tuba players deserve it. Besides the ridicule, they have to lug that huge thing from around every day!

The Playlist:

“Play That Country Tuba, Cowboy” – The Vandals
“Seduced” – Leon Redbone
“Tusk” – Fleetwood Mac
“Bye Bye Bye” – Jellyfish
“Something Happened To Me Yesterday” – The Rolling Stones
“Sweet Mama Janisse” – Taj Mahal
“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” – Bob Dylan
“Lumpy, Beanpole & Dirt” – Bad Livers
“Samson And Delilah” – Devil In A Woodpile
“Rag Mama Rag” – The Band
“The Sweetest Punch” – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach
“Charlie Dozen” – The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
“Purple Haze” – Frank Zappa
“Greenman” – XTC
“Flickers” – Jackie McLean & Co
“Jugband Blues” – Pink Floyd
“Adventures Of Poo-Poo And Pee-Pee” – Drums & Tuba
“Playboys Of The Western World” – Spanish Fly
“Soul Intro / The Chicken” – Jaco Pastorius
“Save Me A Place” – Camper Van Beethoven

This is obviously not anywhere near a complete list. Won’t you help? Please and tuba songs you are aware of to the comments.

Find hudreds of great playlists at The Rhapsody Radish.

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About Robert of the Radish

  • Kev

    the night they drove old dixie down
    The band

  • RobB

    Can’t beat If Venice is Sinking by Spirit of the West

  • Greg

    “Pyramania” by the Alan Parsons Project has an entire tuba solo.

  • Tony

    “Breakfast In America” by Supertramp has a tuba and a trombone as well as a harmonium.

  • True Bubba

    Go down Gamblin, Blood, Sweat, & Tears

  • Susan Shaw

    How about Plunge – Huff-A-Round from their album Tin Fish Tango, and John Ellis and Double Wide many possibilities – but check out the title track from Puppet Mischief. One more: Matt Perrine & Sunflower City – Segouya from Bayou Road Suite…Oh and Hazmat Modine!!! ( I *love* tubas!!!)

    Since you started this thread years ago – I wonder whether it is still “alive”?

  • glv

    Peter Gabriel: Excuse Me

    Carly Simon: Hotcakes

  • ivo

    breakfast in america – supertramp? Best use of tuba in classic rock.

  • JJ

    The National Anthem – Radiohead

    ’nuff said.

  • Lou Reed – Make Up. Of course.

  • Steve Kelley

    Great list. Looking forward to getting some of the recordings mentioned.

    Harry Connick, Jr. occasionally features tuba solos, most notably “With Imagination” (on the Red Light/Blue Light” album) and “Wink and a Smile” (on the Sleepless in Seattle soundrack).

  • tom smith

    Howard Johnson and Gravity are playing on prairie home companion on Dec. 9, 2006

  • jonathan dorn

    check out my recorrdings especially with leon redbone.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    The tuba band Gravity is awesome. An all-Star ensemble of tubists led by Howard Johnson, they still play together infrequently in New York and have backed the singer Taj Mahal (that’s Howard on the above-listed “Sweet Mama Janisse”).

    I wrote about them here:

  • By the way, I forgot pasted the link website, you could check the URL to check the concert

  • As a tuba solist Micky Wrobleski Manager, I am quite confident about the popularity of this instrument. That why we are closely recording his CD,I am sure it will give some suprises to the tuba fans.

    Recently, he just played Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra in the Beijing Forbidden Concert Hall, and gained a huge success. China Radio International did a intensive and in-depth report about this concert and him which was boradcasting aroud word during the weekend goden time. Guys you can go to the link below, so you can listen if you wanne, it with voice , pics and article.

    Also the most well-known newpaper in China China Daily also did a special interview with him. And Put him on the cover of the newspaper with a huge photo. It title as “Tuba for the masses, one man’s mission to poularize the much forgetten instrument”, I think it is such nice tittle. Tuba is such nice instrument, why we shoud let it follow by piano or violin or cello.

    I pasted the original article from the China Daily, and we should support the instrument we love.

    Bring brass to the people
    Muscian Talks to Lin Shu Juan about his love for his instrument and his mission to popularize it

    2005-10-14 08:19

    It was September 18, when according to the Chinese lunar calendar, it was the Full Moon Festival, traditionally an occasion for Chinese people to celebrate family union. However, that night the Beijing Forbidden City Concert Hall was as full as ever with an audience anticipating a rare tuba concert in China.

    Micky Wrobleski, the principal tuba with Beijing Symphony Orchestra, was to perform the “Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra” written by John Williams.
    When he finished playing the last note, the tuba player was greeted with thundering applause, excited whistles and ardent requests for encores.

    With mixed metres, constantly shifting tonalities and a flurry of notes, Wrobleski has demonstrated that the tuba can take the solo spotlight just as easily and display just as much virtuosity as other instruments.
    At the end of the show, a member of the audience came over to give his congratulations: “I can’t believe the tuba could have been played this way,” he enthused.

    The Minnesota-born musician answered with a smirk, (he would have shrugged if there were not a tuba over his shoulder): “Me, either before I started to learn (to play) it.”
    Wrobleski picked up the tuba at the age of 16. By then, he had played the saxophone for three years.

    The shift of instruments was an accidental yet natural happening.
    “At that time, I was kind of stuck with the saxophone. I wouldn’t make any more progress and I hated to practise it,” recalled Wrobleski. “Then I was transferring to another high school and they needed someone to play the tuba. I jumped at the chance.”
    Probably because of the pressure from his parents, the new convert practised really hard with the tuba and became instantly hooked.
    “I was so excited and so in love with the sound it made,” Wrobleski said. “By the end of the first day, I knew for sure that this was the instrument I wanted to play for the rest of my life.”
    Yet it was after three years in China that he realized what his life-long cause should be.
    Wrobleski developed a strong desire for Asia while learning taekwondo as a child. This desire led him to China.
    In 2002 when the Shanghai Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra invited him to be the principal tuba, he jumped at the chance.
    At that time, he had graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied tuba with Jerry Young for five years. The following seven years saw him play principal tuba with several of the orchestras in the Chicago region, including that of the Chicago Civic Orchestra, the training orchestra of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
    Wrobleski stayed in Shanghai for around a year before he came to Beijing to assume the principal tuba position with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, a turning point in his professional career as a musician.
    Tan Lihua, the chief conductor and art director of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, is one of China’s top and innovative conductors. He has maintained an exciting and challenging combination of repertoire for the orchestra that has the tuba well incorporated. The recent debuted concert in the Forbidden Concert Hall is just one of these.
    With all his talent and passion for the instrument, two years after his co-operation with the orchestra in Beijing, Wrobleski’s tuba-related life vision has broadened.
    “In China, the tuba is a terribly misunderstood, infrequently used and a rarely heard instrument,” said the musician, frowning a little. “I hope to change it.”
    He maintains an active schedule balanced with orchestral performances, solo performances, composing, teaching, studio recording and spending time with his English bulldog, Bully.

    Whenever he finds time, he compiles some of the world’s classics for the tuba and also composes some himself.
    At present, he is recording his first CD, which is due for release in both China and the United States later this year. Eight works have been selected from a wild palette of compositional styles with which Wrobleski hopes to showcase the versatility of the tuba in different settings.

    Among them is the Chinese guzheng masterpiece “A Floral, Moonlit Night on A Spring River (Chun Jiang Hua Yue Ye),” in which he pushes boundaries to incorporate the tuba with the Chinese traditional instrument, guzheng.
    By introducing music Chinese people can easily relate to, Wrobleski hopes to get China more acquainted with the tuba, which, in his words, “heavy and seemingly formidable, yet not that difficult.”

    “I have been blessed to be a tuba musician. It is something I am thankful for, every day of my life. There is not one morning where I wake up and think, ‘I really don’t want to go to work today,'” Wrobleski said. “I am privileged to be doing what I am doing. So I have picked the tuba, which is just as fun to perform, as it is to listen to.”

    Sometimes when he comes back early in the morning after a whole night of studio recording, Wrobleski takes a stroll in the hutong area, resting somewhere at a doorstep, “more than ever, I feel quite at home,” he said.

    (China Daily 10/13/2005 page18)

  • Oh dude, you missed the coolest rock and roll tuba ever, Elvis Costello’s “Chewing Gum” with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The tuba speaks pretty well on behalf of the boorish husand.

  • there’s also an early Bill Frisell album where the tuba takes the place of the bass.

    oh, and nice tune pick bhw. those early Springsteen records are great.

  • bhw

    “Wild Billy’s Circus Story,” Springsteen

    The tuba is a beautiful instrument. It’s unfortunate that it is only popularly known for the um-pah-pahs.

  • While not a comprehensive list of tuba in “pop” music, TubaNews.com has a good listing of solo tuba albums.

    TubaNews.com is a good place to learn about tuba in general. Hope some of you find it helpful.

    Todd Cranson
    Co-editor, TubaNews.com

  • a guy i used to know had a record with somebody playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” on the tuba.

    very impressive.

  • HW Saxton

    Hmm,no mention of Martin Mull’s “Dueling

    SFC Ski’s absofugginlutely kee-rect on
    the DDBB. To nitpick though it is not a
    Tuba they are using but a Sousaphone.It
    is similar in sound and shape bit still
    a little different.

    The best Tuba player in N’Awlins was the
    late Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen who sadly
    passed last year. He played in a who’s
    who of Brass bands in N.O but is maybe
    best known for the fluid and funky “bass
    lines” he achieved on his instrument on
    the recordings he did with The Rebirth
    Brass Band & The Chosen Few Brass Band.

  • HW Saxton

    Hmm,no mention of Martin Mull’s “Dueling

    SFC Ski’s absofugginlutely kee-rect on
    the DDBB. To nitpick though it is not a
    Tuba they are using but a Sousaphone.It
    is similar in sound and shape bit still
    a little different.

    The best Tuba player in N’Awlins was the
    late Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen who sadly
    passed last year. He played in a who’s
    who of Brass bands in N.O but is maybe
    best known for the fluid and funky “bass
    lines” he achieved on his instrument on
    the recordings he did with The Rebirth
    Brass Band & The Chosen Few Brass Band.


    YOu should add the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s first album to this list, that is a showcase for some real rockin’ tuba playing.