At least six years before Frankie goes To Hollywood’s hit Relax with its simulated sex video, The Tubes did it bigger, better and live on stage.
In 1977 they achieved the almost unique feat of selling out a whole week at Hammersmith Odeon without even having a hit single. That was probably in part attributed to their highly risque stage show which, apart from simulated sex, exploding televisions, mock bondage habits, semi nude dancers, a chainsaw and a lead singer on stilts standing 12 foot high.
They began as a bunch of school friends in two different areas of Arizona. They were in two different bands called The Beans and The Red, White & Blues band who in 1969 relocated to San Francisco and merged to become the Tubes. The line up consisted of lead singer Fee Waybee (b: John Waybill), guitarist Bill Spooner, another guitarist Roger Steen, Michael Cotten on synthesizer, Rick Anderson on bass, Vince Welnick on piano and Praire Prince (b: Charles Prince) on drums.
They released their eponymous first album in 1975 which was produced by Al Kooper and contained the song White Punks on Dope which eventually charted in the UK in 1977. It failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 album chart, but the 1976 follow-up Young and Rich made number 46. Their 1978 release What Do You Want From Live became their first UK hit album. This was followed by the 1979 album Remote Control which contained the melodic Prime Time. It was produced by the Todd Rundgren and was a concept album about a television-addicted idiot savant which was based on the Jerzy Kosinski book Being There.
The cover of the album showed a baby sitting in a carry chair watching Celebrity Squares (or Hollywood Squares as it was originally called in the US) on a novelty television set. The Celebrity Squares image was replicated for the Prime Time single which also came in yellow, blue, green, red, white, black and multicoloured vinyl. In the 1970s, Waybill, Spooner and Steen actually were invited to appear on the show.
Around the time Prime Time was released, the band had just finished headlining with Frank Zappa and Peter Gabriel at the Knebworth Festival of 1978. They had also performed in the Cher Special, a TV musical and comedy revue and in another show which included Cher, Dolly Parton, and Rod Stewart, The Tubes were in the part where the forces of good and evil were battling for Cher’s soul. Dolly Parton appeared as an angel with a backing choir who tried to steer Cher to Heaven.
After the Tubes split, Fee moved to L.A to start an acting career, but hated it, he said, “To the film industry, you’re just a piece of meat.” He had a small part in the 1989 film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure playing one of ‘The Three Most Important People In The World’ alongside Martha Davis and the E-Street Band’s Clarence Clemons. Later the same year, he became a staff writer for Warner Chappell and was teamed with the then-unknown Richard Marx where together they wrote Edge Of A Broken Heart for the all-girl group Vixen as well as Marx’s own early singles. Spooner now teaches song writing at the San Francisco Blue Bear School Of Music. Prince and Cotten both run an art business and have worked with Bonnie Raitt and Gloria Estefan. Steen continued as lead singer with the Tubes and is still out touring and releasing pretty much an album a year with their latest being 2009s Mondo Birthmark.