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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!
“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.