During their initial run, The Tubes were one of the finest satirical bands around. The rock-star character Quay Lewd was introduced on the group’s self-titled debut album, in the anthemic “White Punks on Dope.” So-called “shock rock” was a big deal in the 70s, and artists such as KISS and Alice Cooper were highly successful with it. It was kid’s stuff with those guys though. The Tubes went all out, and they had the chops to back it all up. In the end the problem may have been that they were simply too good at what they were did for people to really get it.
Sadly, (if predictably) their popularity grew in direct proportion to their “dumbing down.” Their biggest hit, “She’s A Beauty,” is a great pop song, but not a particularly great Tubes song. Nobody but The Tubes could have come up with something like “Poland Whole”/“Madam I’m Adam.” That tune is one of the highlights of their second album, Young And Rich, from 1976. They certainly beat the sophomore slump jinx with this record.
The stylistic diversity of Young And Rich is the main reason I find for it’s superiority to The Tubes. Right out of they gate they hit with the audacious “Tubes World Tour,” which lists all the (fictitious) highlights of these would be superstars. It’s hilarious all the way through. “Pimp” is where things really get interesting. Guitarist Bill Spooner wrote this one, and it sure helps to have amazing musicians such as Vince Welnick (keyboards), and Prairie Prince (drums) to bring it to fruition. In 1976 it took balls to send-up Steely Dan, who were at the top of their game. The Tubes did it, and the results are great fun.
Fun is what this group were all about, and they really let loose with the classic “Don’t Touch Me There.” This affectionate tribute to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound is just about perfect, at least until you listen to the lyrics and realize that this is a very different song than what it initially appears to be. Young And Rich is like a 1976 time-capsule. When else in history could a group of the whitest dudes (and one chick) get away with a track like “Slipped My Disco?” “Just another white-boy with the disco blues” goes the line, and it is so unfunky that it becomes funky by default.
Anyone who was around that year would be hard pressed to forget the Bicentennial-mania we were subjected to. Like every other band in the land, The Tubes had their American song, “Proud To Be An American.” It is some weirdly-inbred amalgamation of Elvis, redneck country, doo-wop, and Lord knows what else. The whole album is great, and while others will surely disagree, I think Young And Rich represents The Tubes’ finest hour.
The Tubes’ third and final album on the A&M label came out the following year, titled Now. The album is not quite up to the standards set by the previous two, but there are some great tracks on it regardless.
For starters, they chose a fairly obscure tune to cover. This would be “My Head Is My Only House When It Rains,” by Captain Beefheart. Although Don Van Vliet did not appear on the song with them, the recording of it was done under the influence of magic mushrooms (according to the liner notes), which helped provided the necessary weirdness quotient. They did manage to bring the Captain in to blow alto sax on their very own “Cathy’s Clone,” however.
Even with all of this strangeness going on in the studio, The Tubes were tightening up. Although I quite enjoy Now, they were beginning to play it a bit straighter at this point. While “I’m Just A Mess” and “Hit Parade” have clever lyrics, both tend much closer to the pop side of the tracks. And the other cover song they chose, “This Town,” was written by Lee Hazelwood for Frank Sinatra back in the 60s.
All in all, Now is a good, but not great Tubes album. They were definitely searching for the next step, and probably trying to get some sales as well. Taken together though, Young And Rich and Now provide a great peak at one of the great American bands of the era, before they had really sorted everything out. Real Gone have done a nice job here, and if you think that mushrooms story mentioned earlier is something, wait until you read about some of the band’s other antics during that marvelously decadent period we call the 70s.