The Tubes - The A&M Years album review

Not punk, definitely dope: early years’ effervescence

Cover art for The Tubes - The A&M Years album

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It’s strange that glam, punk, prog and art-rock aren’t all fighting over who claims The Tubes as heroes of their own. In the 80s, the wonderfully theatrical San Francisco porno-politico collective smoothed out their live shock tactics to gain radio play, but their first five years were a riot of satire, excess and misdirection.

This often inspired box set brings together their four opening studio salvos, plus What Do You Want From Live?, recorded during a whole week of shows at Hammersmith Odeon. (Yes, they were that big; they headlined Knebworth in ’78.)

White Punks On Dope, the finale of their 1975 self-titled debut album, was cunningly pitched as a punk anthem in the UK two years later, but by ’79, their other notional hit here, Prime Time, was an ironically slick love duet. Their minds moved too quickly to let an audience settle.

So there are plenty of thrills and wry chuckles here, as even the revolving producers – Al Kooper, Ken ‘Ziggy’ Scott, Roxy/ Genesis man John Anthony and Todd Rundgren – scream 70s rock invention.

That debut revels in sci-fi and trash culture; Young And Rich is wilfully sleazy; Now sees them anxiously covering Beefheart and Lee Hazlewood; Remote Control is an immaculate skewering of TV addicts.

Turn on The Tubes again.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.