A significant contribution to the new wave of music that was bubbling up from the underground in 1975, in both Europe and America, came from the San Francisco sound of the larger-than-life Tubes. Here we reDiscover the band’s self-titled debut album, released in June 1975.
The Tubes teamed the flamboyant group, fronted by Fee Waybill, with the production skills of widely-travelled rocker Al Kooper. The group had come together in San Francisco from origins among school friends in two bands, the Beans and the Red, White and Blues Band, back in Arizona.
Drummer Prairie Prince, born in Charlotte, North Carolina on 7 May 1950, is also an accomplished artist, typifying the band’s broad palette. As the Tubes, their colourful songs and stage delivery soon won them a live audience, all the more so when the album was released and reached No. 113, in an 18-week run on the American charts.
The tongue-in-cheek and deliberately over-the-top ‘White Punks On Dope’ would go on to be one of the songs that united the British and American new wave movements. It became a top 30 UK hit single in 1977, the year that that the band recorded their celebrated What Do You Want From Live album at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. The stirring ‘White Punks’ later inspired a cover by Mötley Crüe.
“It’s about a bunch of rich kids we knew,” said co-writer and Tubes guitarist Bill Spooner. “You see all those ads on TV about drugs in the ghetto, and they say, it’s not their fault. They were born poor, and all they had to turn to was drugs. Well, in San Francisco, we know a whole bunch of these kids that are so rich, and they’re all strung out, and they’re total derelicts. So you don’t have to be poor to be a derelict.”
Kooper later said that he produced The Tubes as if it was the score for an imaginary Broadway musical. From the outset of ‘Up From The Deep,’ it’s an endearingly oddball, episodic soundscape with myriad influences, tempo changes, big strings and much more.
‘Haloes,’ for example, has a melodic and edgy urgency somewhat reminiscent of Todd Rundgren, with a great drum pattern from our birthday guest of honour, Charles ‘Prairie’ Prince. The gentler elements and vocals of ‘Space Baby,’ meanwhile, recall Steely Dan. They typify a notable recording debut by a band who never took themselves too seriously, but had huge talent to reinforce their individuality.