Monday, March 1, 2010

They want their DirecTV!

The Tubes helped Dfine "wretched Xcess" in rock'n'roll back in the late '70s.
Never sure if they were sposta B a satirical rock-group send-up or some kinda twisted, over-the-top Broadway song&dance revue, they released a series of disappointing-selling albums on A&M. The critics sorta grudgingly admired the vitality & outrage of the group's stage show -- in which singer Fee Waybill sometimes appeared as glam-rocker "Quay Lewd," perched atop 3-foot-tall platform boots while surrounded by mostly-naked women dancers.... Meanwhile the same critics zinged the sneering cynicism of mosta the band's songs.
Summa the songs were kinda funny, tho I didn't hear them til later -- the outrageous "White Punks on Dope," "What Do You Want From Life?," "Don't Touch Me There," & the then-topical "Slipped My Disco."
But every1 knows satire's the stuff that dies in Peoria. Tho the 1st album mayB sold OK, the follow-ups YOUNG AND RICH & NOW wasted no time appearing in the cutout bins. Obviously the effectiveness of the stage show didn't translate 2 the albums.
After the WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM LIVE album failed 2 make them stars, the band returned 2 the studio late in '78 & recorded a pop concept album called REMOTE CONTROL. Todd Rundgren produced in his usual punchy, splashy, highly-commercial style. The result was, I think, the band's most successful studio album. "Artistically," at least.
The album's about TV addiction. Obsession, U might even say. But sevral of the songs R strong enuf that the concept doesn't even matter. Everywhere there's punchy instrumentation & catchy choruses & lotsa Xcited-sounding group vocals & it all Cms very NRgetic -- probly bigger than it really needed 2 B. Might even have made a great stage show.
From the cover photo, in which a baby stares helplessly at 1 of those old "futuristic" astronaut-helmet TV screens from the late '70s -- with a baby-bottle nipple attached 2 the front of it (the band appears in the old Hollywood Squares game-show tic-tac-toe set on the back-cover), it's obvious that TV's the album's topic. Specifically, the theme is TV's impact on "normal, middle-class" late-'70s America.
"Turn Me On" is a rockin' fast-paced curtain-raiser w/ bouncy synthesizers & lotsa forceful group vocals. "TV is King" amplifies the theme a bit more, & tho the punchy group vocals on the rather-good choruses help, it's probly the weakest song on the 1st side. But 1nce they get going....
"Prime Time" is a smooth, almost seductive duet featuring Waybill & dancer/singer Re Styles. She sorta plays the role of the seductive TV, if U can buy that. & if U can buy a love song 2 a TV, U might even like it. Coulda bn a hit, especially w/ those clever, underplayed chorus lines: "You get my prime time/I'm saving my prime time for you...."
Then it gets better. "I Want it All Now" appears 2 B about a TV character trying 2 imagine growing-up in then-current middle-class America. & tho it's the best structured, most dramatic piece here, it also has summa the album's sourest, most cynical lyrics:

"What is it like to kiss a real girl,
To say you're in love and get married to her,
Have lots of children and grow fat and old,
And die like a fish on the end of a pole...."

After a list of standard daily socializing habits & rituals recited moronically in unison by the group, the song turns a corner & moves in2 a drama-building call&response chorus Nding that's really marvelous. Coulda bn another hit! They mighta had 2 tone-down the sneering lyrics, tho....
The side-closer "No Way Out" follows mayB the same TV character who can't escape from Bhind the TV screen. Overall, a pretty punchy side. Not Xactly Music 4 The Ages, but catchy & memrable enuf, even w/ the sometimes cynical lyrics.
The 2nd side isn't as good, tho there's 1 standout. A coupla rather unpleasant, cold & brutal life-is-tough-in-capitalist-middle-America message songs un4tun8ly have titles that remind me of better songs by other artists: "No Mercy" (Nils Lofgren) & "Only the Strong Survive" (REO Speedwagon). This may B why I can't actually remember "Getoverture" or "Be Mine Tonight" at all. "Telecide" wraps up the album w/ a sorta medley of all the previous songs.
But then there's the standout: "Love's a Mystery (I Don't Understand)" sounds 2 me like yr standard broken-hearted Big Rundgren Ballad (he co-wrote it w/ the band), mellow & moody w/ big, heartfelt group-sung choruses, in the patented style Todd does on his own albums. It also sounds like a sorta dry-run 4 the Tubes' later big-ballad hit "I Don't Want to Wait Anymore." But it's punchy & dramatic & very good 4 what it is, if U like big ballads. What it has 2 do w/ the TV concept I couldn't tell ya....
So, 1 pretty solid side & 6 good songs outta 11. Not bad? Better than they'd ever do again. (& thank Ghod these folks apparently never Got Cable....)
After this the Tubes moved over 2 Capitol Records & smoothed-out w/ producer David Foster, who scored them minor hits like the obnoxious-but-funny "Talk to Ya Later," "Don't Want to Wait Anymore," & the just-obnoxious "She's a Beauty." The songs weren't as funny -- the liner notes on their 1st Capitol album THE COMPLETION BACKWARDS PRINCIPLE R funnier than NE of the lyrics.... Not sure what happened 2 the band after that. Drummer Prairie Prince was a touring member of the Grateful Dead 4 awhile....
A&M responded 2 the Tubes' latter-day success w/ a best-of collection called TRASH -- TUBES RARITIES AND SMASH HITS, w/ a photo of a garbage can on the cover. Funny, eh? That's where I 1st heard "White Punks on Dope" & "What Do You Want From Life?" But A&M could probly do what they wanted w/ that old material -- there was a rumor going around 4 awhile that the Tubes owed A&M $1 million....
I might notta thota writing-up REMOTE CONTROL, but some1 voted 4 it in Mark Prindle's recent "Top 7-3 Survey" of the best rock albums ever. REMOTE CONTROL was also 1 of the albums we played most heavily back in my 1st days working at the record store, so it has a special place in my heart. Summa the other albums we played constantly in the spring of '79 included the Rollers' ELEVATOR, the Records' 1st, Tarney/Spencer Band's RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, New England's 1st, the Jam's SETTING SONS, the Headboys' 1st, Shoes' PRESENT TENSE, 1994:'s PLEASE STAND BY, Jethro Tull's STORMWATCH.... None of 'em sold all that much, but they still sound pretty good 2 me, & they sure bring the time back....

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