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The Tubes
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The Tubes

The Tubes are a San Francisco-based theater rock band, popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, legendary (and/or infamous) for early live performances that combined lewd quasi-pornography with wild satires of media, consumerism and politics.

Early versions of the band started in and around the University of Arizona in the late 1960s, then took root in San Francisco in 1972. The core band membership remained largely intact for more than a decade: Fee Waybill (vocals), Re Styles (real name Marie MacLeod) (vocals), Bill "Sputnik" Spooner (guitar, vocals), Roger Steen (guitar), Prairie Prince (drums), Michael Cotton (synthesizer), Vince Welnick (piano), and Rick Anderson (bass). Ex-Santana percussionist Mingo Lewis was also a fixture for much of the band's history.

Showbiz excess was a common theme of the band's early work, with Waybill assuming the onstage persona of "Quay Lewd", a drunk, drugged-out, barely coherent lead singer, decked out with flashing glasses and impossibly tall platform shoes (quite probably lampooning Elton John's "Captain Fantastic" character). "White Punks on Dope", from their debut album, was an absurd anthem of wretched excess, and a parody of heavy metal (at least what it sounded like circa 1975).

In some ways, The Tubes have become the Aristophanes of rock, as some of their stylistic parodies are only funny after you read the footnotes. "Haloes" is a parody of early-1970s David Bowie, while "Stand Up And Shout" rattles off the somewhat forgotten anthems it parodies ("Rhinestone Cowboy", "Young Americans", "All You Young Dudes", etc.), and "Madam, I'm Adam" goofs on Andrew Lloyd Webber's biblical musicals.

Parodies gave way to thematic experimentation with Now, and Remote Control, the latter a concept album produced by Todd Rundgren about a television-addicted idiot savant. The cover of "Remote Control" is also a classic, showing a baby watching Hollywood Squares in a specially-made "Vidi-Trainer".

One critic noted that with their media savvy and theatrical skills, The Tubes were born to create rock video, but arrived several years too early. Instead, they put their creativity and art skills into their live performances, in which songs could be full-fledged production numbers, from a beach-movie parody for "Sushi Girl", to leather-clad S&M; hijinks in "Mondo Bondage", to the game show antics of "What Do You Want From Life?"

In the early 1980s, the band left A&M Records; and moved to Capitol Records. The live shows were scaled back and the band tried to reposition itself as a straight-laced rock band. "The Completion Backward Principle", another concept album, posited itself as a motivational business document, complete with shocking pictures of the band members cleaned up and wearing suits. "Outside Inside" followed a few years later, and these two albums contain the band's classic rock war-horses, "Talk To Ya Later" and "She's A Beauty".

1985's Rundgren-produced Love Bomb went nowhere -- Spooner once told a concert audience the record company executives couldn't promote it because they kept "dying of hemorrhoids" -- and became the last new Tubes album for over a decade. 1996 brought "Genius of America" and a re-formed lineup, minus Welnick, who had joined the Grateful Dead, and Spooner.

Selected Discography