Studio Gems #2: The Tubes - "What Do You Want From Life"

We’re still in the same era here, 1975 that is. This one is perhaps a bit more obscure, not a big hit single per se, and not a lot written about the production. So this one is more of a listen-and-see-what-you-think and give-your-opinion piece. It’s very personally meaningful to me, so a bit indulgent perhaps, but I think there’s a lot here to appreciate. The Tubes were an act that came out of San Francisco, and were quite original with varied musical styles and a mix of comedy and burlesque (including nudity on stage at times) woven into their act. The lead singer even did some acting for different characters, the most notorious being Quay Lewd, an over-the-top drugged-out rock star caricature standing on ridiculously tall platform shoes.

From their debut album, The Tubes, “What Do You Want From Life” asks the important existential questions that keep us up at night. The deep soul searching of philosophical essays. Nah, it’s way more fun than that, it may even tickle your funny bone! BTW, supposedly the first “rap” ever done was by Blondie on “Rapture” (1977), and while this may simply be spoken/sung word in one part, I think it’s a hell of a verbal spiel.

One interesting note on production is that the producer was Al Kooper, and for those of you that aren’t familiar with The Tubes, you probably know about Al’s work from that era if you follow such things.


Lyrics may be helpful on this one, keep in mind the references are from the mid-1970’s!

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

There you sit, a lump in your chair
Where do you sleep
And what do you wear
When you’re sleepin’?

What do you want from life?
An Indian guru
To show you the inner light

What do you want from life?
A meaningless love affair
With a girl that you met tonight

How can you tell when you’re doin’ alright?
Does your bank account swell
While you’re dreamin’ at night?

How do know when you’re really in love?
Do violins play when you’re touching the one
That you’re lovin’? oh

What do you want from life?
What do you want from life?
Someone to love
And somebody you can trust

What do you want from life?
What do you want from life?
To try and be happy
While you do the nasty things you must

What do you want from life?
What do you want from life?
What do you want from life?
What do you want from life?

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 water bed with polybendum

A foolproof plan and an airtight alibi
Real simulated Indian jewelry
A Gucci shoetree, a year’s supply of antibiotics
A personally autographed picture of Randy Mantooth
And Bob Dylan’s new unlisted phone number
A beautifully restored 3rd Reich swizzle stick
Rosemary’s baby
A dream date in kneepads with Paul Williams

A new Matador, a new mastodon, a Maverick
A Mustang, a Montego, a Merc Montclair
A Mark IV, a meteor, a Mercedes, an MG
Or a Malibu, a Mort Moriarty, a Maserati
A Mac truck, a Mazda, a new Monza, or a moped
A Winnebago, hell, a herd of Winnebagos
We’re giving 'em away
Or how about a McCulloch chainsaw

A Las Vegas wedding, a Mexican divorce
A solid gold Kama Sutra coffee pot
Or a baby’s arm holding an apple?

Huge Tubes fan here… This is one of my favorite songs. Those trombones…!

Other Tubes classics I still listen to regularly include White Punks On Dope and the immortal Don’t Touch Me There…

Excellent! I was concerned I may have veered too far off into Eclectic-ville with this choice. But it called to me for many reasons.

Yes those, and I’m very fond of Mondo Bondage too, another weird song, but the guitar/keys riff is really cool IMO. Off that 2nd album, I also like Slipped My Disco and Proud to Be an American. The band was underrated and/or under-known IMO. They did get more mainstream with the hit single She’s a Beauty in 1983, which lots of people heard on radio and MTV.

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I’ve heard of The Tubes but I wouldn’t be able to name any of their songs or recognize any of their music. I’m not sure if I even know any of their songs at all. I thought they were a New Wave band from the 80’s. Something about the vibe of the song you posted reminds me of Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull. Probably a lot of it is the singing and the vocal harmonies.

To me, the Tubes sounded like the Rocky Horror soundtrack until they made that shift to the much more mainstream, radio-friendly sound in the early 80s. I lost interest in them after that, I very much preferred their theatrical, almost cinematic tunes from their earlier years.

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In a sense, that could be an accurate perception. Their adaption to commercialism in the early 80’s probably moved them toward current music trends at the time. And that’s when they achieved more mainstream success which made more people aware of their existence as a band.

Interesting comparison, I can see some sound similarities there, as well as theatrical elements.

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Very much so. I might even wonder if they were interrelated. I did find this reference which seems to link the two with the “glam rock” influence, which was what The Tubes were categorized as at that time. Glam Rock tended to be quite theatrical in nature. Both fell in the 1975-76 time frame too.

O’Brien conceived and wrote the play set against the backdrop of the glam era that had manifested itself in British popular culture in the 1970s. Allowing his concept to come into being, O’Brien states “glam rock allowed me to be myself more”.

They worked with Todd Rundgren at the turn of the decade, switched record labels from A&M to Capitol, and then worked with more commercially successful producers it seems, as well as Steve Lukather (Toto) and Prince. I had forgotten about the hit they also had with “Talk to Ya Later” (1981).

Woah… blast from the past there… haven’t heard that in an age! Now I gotta go find “White Punks on Dope”… man I haven’t thought about The Tubes in forever. Thanks for the reminder! How do I not have this in my album collection I’ll never know.

You’re welcome! :slightly_smiling_face: Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever bought their albums either, or even a digital version IIRC. I just heard them on the radio a lot ‘back in the day’, and of course now on YouTube etc.