Take Five: The Tubes’ Fee Waybill
Tubes lead singer and founding member Fee Waybill celebrated his 72nd birthday on September 17. Founded in 1972 and still performing today, The Tubes were among the most outrageous bands of the 1970s; their music combined satire with art rock, and their uproarious live shows flirted with the edges of good taste. Complex and ambitious arrangements bridged the gap between punk and progressive rock, and their witty lyrics managed to amuse while commenting acerbically on popular culture. Here are five of The Tubes’ most overlooked gems, all featuring the lead vocals of Fee Waybill.
“What Do You Want From Life?” Co-written by guitarist Bill Spooner, this classic takes sharp aim at television game shows and the vacuity of rampant consumerism. The studio version on The Tubes’ 1975 debut album is great, but the live version captured at London’s Hammersmith Odeon is even better, showcasing the wild and unpredictable side of the group.
“Don’t Touch Me There” The extravagant production style of Phil Spector is ripe for pastiche and parody. But The Tubes took it several steps beyond when they crafted this tune for their second LP, Young and Rich. The group even enlisted Spector’s associate Jack Nitzsche to arrange the song. But while Spector’s productions adorned comparatively innocent songs, this number is a racy tale. Onstage and on the record, Waybill was joined by vocalist Re Styles, and props included a real motorcycle.
“You’re No Fun” The Tubes were masters of combining different styles, and this track off their third album (1977’s Now) is an exemplar of that versatility. It combines Vegas-y lounge music, funky soul, sweeping progressive rock and even a bit of comedy, poking fun at The Ramones (listen for Waybill mimicking Dee Dee’s trademark count-in).
“T.V. is King” For their fourth album, the Tubes worked with producer Todd Rundgren. The result was Remote Control, a brilliant near-concept album that chose American’s obsession with television as its target. A band co-write with Rundgren, this song finds Waybill in the role of a man in love… with his television set.
“Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” After being dropped by A&M Records, The Tubes streamlined their live act and signed with Capitol. There they finally enjoyed commercial success commensurate with the critical plaudits they had long since earned. 1981’s The Completion Backward Principle was the group’s breakthrough, featuring the hit “Talk to Ya Later.” But this deep album cut shows the band’s gift for satire, hilariously skewering 1950s sci-fi movies with a uniquely saucy Tubes twist.