The "White Punks on Dope" single
The Tubes was a band formed by high school friends from Phoenix, Arizona. The Beans and The Red White and Blues band relocated to San Francisco in 1969 and merged, forming The Tubes. The original lineup consisted of Fee Waybill (vocals), Bill “Sputnik” Spooner (guitar, vocals), Roger Steen (guitar), Prairie Prince (a.k.a. Charles L. Prince, guitar), Michael Cotten (synthesizer), Vince Welnick (piano), and Rick Anderson (bass guitar). Re Styles (vocals) and Mingo Lewis (percussion) were also fixtures of the early Tubes. Their forte was in being media savvy and having theatrical skills, and several of their numbers (e.g. “Mondo Bondage”, “Sushi Girl”) turned into full-fledged theatrical productions in their live shows. One critic even went as far to note that The Tubes were born to create rock video, but arrived several years too early. (Jakubowski and Tobler, “MTV’s Who’s Who in Rock Video”) In 1973, The Tubes opened for the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop and Led Zeppelin; the following year, they recorded a demo for A and M Records, who signed them and released their debut album in April 1975. That album spawned today’s featured single: “White Punks on Dope” b/w “What Do You Want from Life?”.
“White Punks on Dope” was supposedly written as a “tribute” to their rich, white fan base in San Francisco, and it definitely ranks as one of The Tubes’ early classics. It starts off with a guitar-driven, synthesizer-laden opening, which sets the tone for Fee Waybill’s unconventional vocals (at times the lyrics are barely sung, and he conveys the sense of the main protagonist’s desperation while delivering lines like: “Other dudes are living in the ghetto/But born in Pacific Heights don’t seem much betto”. Listening to this track, one senses that radio stations must have had a hard time figuring out exactly where on the musical spectrum The Tubes reside. They certainly have the punk attitude, which is probably why they were selected as the opening act for the New York Dolls and Iggy Pop, but they sound much more musically proficient than most punk bands (which perhaps explains why they opened for Zeppelin). And their elaborate stage act evokes comparisons to Alice Cooper and Slade, although musically they seem quite a bit different than those bands. Although Cotten’s synthesizer plays a prominent role on some of the band’s tracks, here the guitars are the driving force behind the track, and the synthesizer compliments the track rather than providing the back bone for the sound. The late Vince Welnick’s piano is also there, clearly audible and also playing a complimentary role in filling out The Tubes’ wall of sound. The message of the song – that being a white rich kid on drugs isn’t much fun is driven home with lyrics like these: “I go crazy ’cause my folks are so f**king rich/Have to score when I get that rich white punk itch/Sounds real classy, living in a chateau/So lonely, all the other kids will never know”. There’s a nice false ending to the song, before the song fades back in, and the music stops, giving way to someone babbling in Japanese. Even though the running time of the track is 6 minutes and 49 seconds long, the single contains an unedited version of the song, and how cool is that? The anthology “T.R.A.S.H. (Tubes Rarities and Smash Hits”) contained a 3 minute long version of the song (with the F word expurgated) that I assume a radio edit version. Al Kooper’s production, by the way, is flawless, giving the song a clean, professional sound.
The B-side of this single, “What Do You Want from Life?”, was also an early Tubes classic and a staple of their live show. The song opens with Cotten’s synthesizer – it plays a more prominent role than in “White Punks On Dope” – giving way to a melody provided mainly by the rhythm section (Anderson and Lewis). Welnick’s piano, sounding like a rollicking, barroom piano, punctuates the music at appropriate points. The theme of the song – an attack on American materialism – is explored brilliantly in the lyrics: What do you want from life/To kidnap an heiress/Or threaten her with a knife/What do you want from life/To get cable TV/And watch it every night”. But for me, the real highlight of the song is the laundry list of consumer items listed at the end of the song: “Well, you can’t have that, but if you’re an American citizen you are entitled to: a heated kidney shaped pool/A microwave oven–don’t watch the food cook/A Dyna-Gym–I’ll personally demonstrate it in the privacy of your own home/A king-size Titanic unsinkable Molly Brown waterbed with polybendum” – and so on. This was expanded on in the live version of this song included on the “What Do You Want From Live” in which the band plucked a fan from the crowd and offered her prizes, simulating a game show; offering her a lifetime supply of 7-Up, Waybill promised her “cavities for the rest of your life”. But even though the song is well-suited to Waybill’s ad-libbing on stage, the studio version is quite good, unlike many of the other songs on the debut LP, in which some of the songs consciously created for the stage ultimately fall flat.
The single (catalog #: 8591-S) was issued without a picture sleeve. I couldn’t find a picture of the original single (the one pictured is a reissue), but I assume it would have had the arch-style A and M letters in the background with the song title across the top and the band’s name across the bottom (above a smaller A and M logo).
The Tubes performing White Punks on Dope in London
The Tubes performing What Do You Want from Life live in 2007