In the liner notes for the Tubes’ The Best of the Tubes, Sal Nunziato writes, “If John Waters had invented a rock band, it would have been the Tubes.” That pretty much hits the nail on the head for these over-the-top art-rockers who’s outrageous stage performances and bizarre songs made them cult favorites during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Melding the wit of Frank Zappa and the feel of Todd Rundgren, The Tubes mixed pop music and social commentary with the best of them.
The Tubes formed in San Francisco in 1975 and their wild live performances highlighted by lead singer Fee Waybill’s outlandish on-stage personas such as Dr. Strangekiss (the crippled Nazi) and Qauy Lewd (the drugged-up British rock star) quickly earned the band a large live following and they soon signed to A&M Records. Their self-titled debut album was produced by the legendary Al Kooper and included the minor hit “White Punks on Dope”, but did not capture the raw energy of their live shows and ended up selling poorly. The Best of the Tubes includes two other songs from their debut album, “What Do You Want From Life”, (which became a FM radio staple in the late ‘70s) and the outrageous humor of “Mondo Bondage”.
The Tubes second album, Young and Rich featured the satirical “Don’t Touch Me There” and “Slipped My Disco”,” both of which are included here. While “Don’t Touch Me” hits it’s mark, “Disco” comes off as a bad parody destined for the Doctor Demento radio show. The band hooked up with producer Todd Rundgren for their fourth album, Remote Control, a concept piece exploring the influence on TV on modern life. While the songs “Turn Me On”, “Prime Time”, and “All I Want Now”, deftly skewer the shallowness of the “me decade” and benefited greatly from Rundgren’s pop-touch, they met with the same limited commercial fate as their predecessors and The Tubes were shortly dropped from A&M.
The obvious limitation of The Best of the Tubes is that it only includes their work for A&M, which sadly doesn’t include their biggest hits for Capitol Records such as “Talk To You Later” and “She’s a Beauty”. I always find it funny when labels release “Best of” albums by bands that they dropped from their roster years earlier for lack of sales. But while the Tubes reached their biggest commercial success in the ‘80s after leaving A&M, The Best of collection is a good document of their more outlandish and lesser-known antics in the ‘70s.