THE TUBES LOVE BOMB LEAVES A TIMELESS, LASTING MARK ON MUSIC PRODUCTION

The Todd Rundgren produced Love Bomb by the San Francisco band The Tubes. Photo courtesy Capitol Records.

We are reviving a feature on BouleBlog, the Friday Flashback. This gives us a unique opportunity to take a look at albums that were released in the distant past, but still have musical, technological or even social impact on the music horizon, some that even last years later.

This entry is not of any social consequence, but it has technological brilliance unequaled even today. For its time in 1985, it was leaps and bounds beyond anything that came out in that time period. Before things get too convoluted, perhaps some background will put things into perspective.

In terms of musical technology, the eighties were influenced by many technological advances. The most prevalent would be the ability to record and playback ANY sound the human ear could receive, that being sampling. Many various samplers hit the market. Some in the form of stand-alone keyboards, some advanced to the point of having their own computers integrated into the system. The major computer-based instruments were the Synclavier, popularized by the likes of Frank Zappa, the Emu Emulator which was used by Peter Gabriel on occasion, and the Fairlight system which is what was used by then producer and part-time Tube, Todd Rundgren.

Rundgren made a splash with the Fairlight on his own album A Cappella. Taking only his voice and entering it, sampling it and manipulating that sound into any instrument needed for the song. All drums, all sounds, and many other vocal effects were all transmogrified into the pieces you hear on the album. NO conventional instruments at all other than the keyboard attached to the Fairlight system.

Rather than have me blather on about it, let’s have Rundgren demo and explain it:

At the same time as the production of Love Bomb, Rundgren’s Utopia were in upstate NY at Rundgren’s studio writing and recording what would be the bulk of their next (and final full-length studio album) POV. Rundgren was in San Francisco working with the Tubes at their studio, Cavum Soni putting together Love Bomb.

Rundgren was tasked with coming up with a cohesive plan to take the seven members individual ideas and make them all flow together. Some way, some how…

It was Rundgren’s plan to take all the ideas the band had, homogenize them in some fashion and input those ideas into the Fairlight. At that point, all ideas became malleable within the software. Arrangements were finalized, even the songs on side two were threaded into one, continuous piece which, while not seemingly obvious, was no easy feat. There are (seemingly) slower tempo songs, faster tempo songs, even two covers mixed and mated simultaneously into one song!

More on that later…

All of these members had ideas, if not full songs ready to go. It was up to Rundgren to corral all these ideas and concepts into one plastic waffle. Leave it to the coiner of that phrase (plastic waffle) to neatly tuck all these ideas into what is Love Bomb. How they went about it was, the parties involved in the song being worked on, would sit with Rundgren and enter the parts into the computer to be arranged. Once the song was arranged digitally, the band would go back and play along with the Fairlight track, recording live instrumentation alongside of the digital representation of the part. Once the “real” instrument was recorded to match the computer track, the computer track would be muted from the mix. Eventually leading to all the Fairlight parts being overdubbed with real players playing real instruments.

The result is a very slick sounding track.

While the ideas fell into line with the help of the Fairlight, the band itself had some conflict. There was a faction within the band that wanted to stay with producer David Foster who had helmed both The Completion Backward Principle and Outside Inside, arguably their most commercial albums to date. This faction included lead singer Fee Waybill, who went back to Foster to work on his solo album, 1984’s Read My Lips. Then there was the faction of the band that wanted to go back with Rundgren who had produced 1979’s Remote Control. While I myself am an ardent Rundgren fan, from a music business perspective, this seems like a foolish move as Rundgren had sealed the Tubes’ fate with their label at the time, A&M. As time would tell, Rundgren would also bring an end to the Tubes’ Capitol contract as well.

But what a way to go!

I could have practically reviewed this album without listening to it. I have heard it so many times, practiced guitar to it, practiced drums to it, so I KNOW this album. What I chose to review is the Cherry Red re-release that has a totally new mix and master.

The festival of fidelity starts with the single “Piece By Piece”. The annoying glass shatter sample is a touch more subdued on this version. Not nearly as glaring, but when it becomes part of the sampled percussion, it fits in nicely!

The guitars still have their filth, their distortion, their compression making the sequence cut through even the density that is Fee Waybill’s voice. The theme is the old boy-leaves-girl-other-boy-swears-to-fix-girl concept. I mean even the end of the choruses state “What she needs is me”.

Esoteric, no?

Prairie Prince’s drumming is perfectly meshed within the clock tempo. Apropos for his style. Precise, surgical with the ability to throw a curve (check out the beat on Outside/Inside‘s cover of “Monkey Time” for the perfect example).

Lest we forget that this is the last album with a tour where we get to see Bill Spooner play off of Roger Steen, both meeting for the return hook in the bridge, then Spooner supporting Steen, Steen supporting Spooner, how I long for those days…

Any commercial potential this song had would be due to co-writer Tom Snow. He is a leftover from the David Foster era-Tubes. Any potential failure comes from the fact that producer Todd Rundgren had anything to do with it. Before you send poisoned candy hearts to me, know that I am a huge fan of this album and I love everything about it. Some die-hard Tubes fan will disagree. Some of those fans love Remote Control, some think it sounds like Utopia (in what fucking universe?!?!?!), many don’t realize it was also a deal-killer.

But I revisit…

Not getting into the song structure as much on these, but the outro guitar solo at the fade is mixed a tad higher on the remaster. Mostly, the variations of this album are going to be sonic in nature rather than anything earth shattering. If you aren’t familiar with these songs, but you like rock music that’s polished, well here, the polish is blinding.

That familiar riff opens “Stella” (get out all your old movie cliches now) but this is a microexam of that movie concept. But the bridge reminds us this is ‘Stella’ in real life.

The separation of Mike Cotton’s synth stabs during verse two are better separated on this mix. Prince’s drums have also been moved more up front.

It’s a good thing.

The vocals are, of course meticulously coordinated into the cliche ‘SSTTEEELLLAAA’ break, right into the riff one more ‘gain with the sax line added by somebody. Didn’t sound like Rundgren, but he does play it. Complete credits are available at:

Tubes Fan Club

PO Box 6594

San Francisco CA 94101

I have too many reviews back-piled to be doing unnecessary research. If the sax player got paid, maybe he didn’t want his name associated with the pervo-band…?

The ending synth lines really hop around the speakers as the sax solo burns its way wherever it wants. This is all so much more magnified on this release. Just a little quick on the outro fade.

One area Rundgren remains prevalent in would be the backing vocals. You see, while Waybill was AWOL from the project, Rundgren had no problem laying down lead vocal scratch tracks, guides for Waybill to follow on the final tracks. I’ll bet that was a sticking point, if Waybill wanted to do the vocals differently, that must have been fun to deal with… (I really need that motherfucking sarcasm character…)

But the perfect example of Rundgren leaving his mark is  “Come As You Are”. Once you get through the clean, tidy intro, you are met with Waybill and Welnick joining in the fun. But if you give a good listen, you can hear Rundgren’s background vocals prominent in the  mix.

Especially on the title break and thereon. Rundgren may have invented backing vocals just to be all over Waybill’s leads by the sounds of things. He is all over this track. The tight as Prairie Prince’s snare drum rhythm section if the forgotten hero of this song.

Checking the complicated playback. (Standing L to R, Anderson, Steen, Prince, sitting L to R, Rundgren, Welnick). Photo courtesy the obvious

If you want to hear Rundgren’s voice, on the ‘Forever’ and ‘Dying for my love’ lines, that’s him. At the end, the voices are their own symphony. Welnick orchestrates keys brilliantly. Maybe Rundgren forgot that these tunes have to be done live (at least once, the Tubes were dropped from Capitol mid-tour with HEY TALK ABOUT IRONY Utopia).

I managed to catch the Tubes tour for this album. Yeah it was great that Utopia had NO onstage gear, other than the platform for Willie Wilcox’s motorcycle drums. They would open in front of the covered Tubes Completion Backward Principle tour stage set, and Rundgren, keyboardist Roger Powell, and bassist Kasim Sulton had no stage section as their monitors were in-ear, they’re instruments were wireless (save for Powell and a very long midi cable, as he was only playing a small keyboard controller with half-seized keys to ease his oncoming arthritis). When they were done, they were gone after Wilcox’s drums were moved off and the Tubes had their full size stage ready to go.

The reverse gate is eased on Prince’s drum kit at the beginning of “One Good Reason” and that’s good too as it lets the bass drum come through more prominently. And to give Waybill a chance to change outfits for the show, Bill Spooner takes over as vocalist for the rocking tune.

The old indecisive about relationship idea here. The ideas don’t have to be uber-intellectual, they just have to move the music sometimes. That’s all you need for a hit.

When Steen’s hammer-ons bounce between speakers it’s killer. Then you have the more “scholarly” solo from Spooner (Spooner plays off Steen…).

The dead stop beat break emphasizes that the hit was behind the beat slightly. With all that reverse reverb in the original, it was fine. Naturally, you hear Rundgren in the end chorus.

We start off with “Bora Bora 2000” which is precision of the Hawaiian persuasion (hanging with Rundgren too long who was soon to move to Kauii) with the vocal samplings from King Tu Tau (whoever he is) and with some manipulated tick-tock samples, we smack right into the title track “Love Bomb”.

Another raucous rocker with a tasty riff and some neato keyboard sounds, and sung again by Bill Spooner (I wonder if Spooner was Team Todd or not?). The staccato bridge vocals into the ‘bang zoom’ break and through the ‘Love bomb’ chorus are really prominent. The remixers took one of Rundgren’s more subtle contributions and pushed it up in the mix.

This version is magic, especially to hear Rick Anderson’s grindy bass lines in the pre-percussion-clock break are awesome. More of this Tiki Lounge break and we are back into the ‘Love bomb’ chorus with vocals at the lead.

You hear less of King Tu Tau’s contributions on this track, shame, they were well placed. You really hear Welnick run up the keyboard at the end of this one! Less of the reverb.

It’s at this point in the review I stop and realize I have to be baked to deal with this next side. It’s all one long song! If you focus in on the beginning bass synth notes, they sort of tip you off to the prevailing tempo of the song(s).

Smoke ’em if you got ’em…

The parade of misfit song segments begins with a surprise lead vocal from synthplayer/noisemaker/digital percussionist/group co-conceptual artist with drummer Prairie Prince, Mike Cotton’s “Night People” setting the stage for the next twenty minutes of your life. The story of those of us who would rather function and function better at night. Regardless of the function, we just feel better with exposure to less light, more moon.

The vibrato whole-note break sounds killer with Spooner and Anderson, and speaking of Anderson, the flanged bass sounds alive! When Spooner kicks in whole notes (or is it Steen? You can never tell with these two).

Once the sparkling synth and flange show ends, we bop right into “Say Hey” with funkiness on the keys, Anderson’s bass in your face, the goofy ad-lib vocals are too clear, thank you. The sample vocals are extra-clean and extra loud! You can pick out the loop points.

I love this shit I may move to San Fransisco!!

The word break is trippy on a surround system. You can hear Prince’s accents on synth drums, also highlighted. The ‘gang’ vocal is hysterical. The stretched ‘Then I say hey’ leads us smack into Steen-fronted “Eyes”. Good to hear from Roger! Vince answers and leads Steen’s vocals.

Rundgren makes more backing vocals.

This song was based on a former Tubes girl. She knows who she is. The other Tubes girl from the Love Bomb tour? Currently Mrs. Todd Rundgren. Nepotism Now, what the fuck?!?!? Talk about a tight social circle…

Rundgrens ‘response’ vocal rises in the mix through all breaks and just rises up. But so does the Welnick-sampled word ‘Muscle’ which is the lovely intro and hook sample over which Vince Welnick, (keyboardist and nutty extraordinaire) is scatting his way through the tune. Granted he’s no Satchmo (Google shit, people), but it’s entertaining as hell!!!

In typical Tubes logic, the only thing connecting what’s going on musically and the title, “Muscle Girls”,  is the repetition of that ‘Muscle’ sample. Outside of that, it’s a wacky free-for-all with some insane time changes, wacky effects, and technological noodlings. The double time break is just looney, shit’s swirling around in the mix, damn. Then before you can catch your breath the “blast down” double-time break start a looney sort of march to a muted spoken word part (Prairie?) dictating ‘You know what we are? Things that make things happen”, only far more manipulated than can be understood in text.

I mean, the average person reading this HAS to be familiar with the album in order to understand the pure lunacy that the Firelight allowed these wacky shitheads! If you haven’t heard it, I am so sorry…

I am sorry to have to unleash the description I alluded to earlier this revue: “Theme From A Wooley Place (Wooly Bully/Theme From A Summer Place)”.  Now if you looked at that on the surface, you’d say well, they found a way to go from playing one song then into the other, a two song medley.

You would be wrong. But then again, the things they did with that Fairlight were both good and horrifying at the same time.

To explain “Theme From A Wooley Place”, you have to think in stereo mode. You have your left, you have your right. Well this sicko version plays “Wooley Booley” sung by Spooner (?) in the left, and the compu/synth line on the right joyfully blares out what sounds like torturous elevator music but is in fact “Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith (again, Google things!).

No, they do NOT play one AFTER the other, no no. That clever motherfucker Rundgren time fudged the “Sam The Sham and The Pharros” cover (at least I think he did, or the Tubes are great at playing in run-down mode…) and made the “…Summer Place” tempo match it. It is some of the weirdest shit I have ever heard, and I listen to another San Fran band, The Residents.

More Google-worthy name dropping.

But the side-by-side lunacy doesn’t stay long and the Fairlight has them gliding right into a song about the cost of love, “For A Song”. A very delicate song sung pleadingly by Waybill. That’s another characteristic of Waybill’s voice: The ability to convey protagonist emotions and change not only costumes on stage, but vocal personae as well!

The Rundgren ‘Ruin it with something cool’ rule has differing samples popping in and out in between Waybill’s vocals. Some oddball shit that sounds KILLER with a good hi-fi system. You will lose it on a laptop or an iPad. Not enough separation between channels. The more separation you have, the more fun this album gets.

The overlooked backing vocals on some lines is Rundgren again. Almost a duet. Almost. The vocoded voice, the backing vocals, the polished rhythm track, the lead vocal, all in great form, with the intruding samples at their own tempo and cue. Then the funky guitar break with the chorused backing vocals and vocoder, the dynamic is misleading.

Then the guys throw a break at us before we hear something so holy to me, I could hear it over and over and over. But Bill Spooner’s vocal version only. But first the almost “Sports Fans”-like “Say Hey (Pt 2)”, cheerleading approach hand clap over some tight rapid keyboard chords dance around the acoustics, Prince’s drums are a thrill in this mix! The vocal sample reprise met with the gang vocal taking over from the sample ‘Say Hey’. This version, along with full machismo, features the percussion proper!

It needs to be as it has a very important job at this juncture. You see (*gets up on editorial box*) when I first got the vinyl, I loved “Feel It”. It, to me, was one of those songs that should have done WAY better than Completion Backward Principle‘s “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore”. Yes, I have Rundgren’s version (he’s a co-writer as is Welnick’s widow Laurie). But this version stirs me, even to this day.

But the main tick with the first CD release was, they had botched the transfer from “Say Hey (Pt 2)” to “Feel It”. I was devastated! The ultimate Bill Spooner vocal track on the album, ruined by apathetic mastering. Well this version made it right. But in this song’s case, it made right beautiful.

I will wipe the tears away from the computer and get right for the (unfortunately) last song. Gets me every time! One more time…

Some slippery, tempo fixing fills from Prince and the full regalia “Night People (Reprise)” marches down our tear-drenched streets as it marches out of our lives.

On the 2012 Cherry Records reissue, there are two bonus tracks; “Piece By Piece” The U.S. 7″ edit, single A-side, and “Night People” Parts 1 and 2, the B side of that same 7″ single. Basically some digitally edited versions of the above songs. I will advise the bridge between Night People Part 1 and Part 2 is rough.

The particulars of this version are here: CDMRED 521 = disc label number; infonet@cherryred.co.uk = email; http://www.cherryred.co.uk = website; Distributed by Essential if that helps. I list said particulars because if you are a Tubes fan, this is a necessary addition to your collection. The remix audio is worth it alone. The expanded booklet detailing the process and consequence that was Love Bomb for the Tubes, Todd Rundgren, and even Utopia, is reason number two, and I’ll toss in those ‘bonus’ tracks as reason number three to get this version. Instead of one good reason, I give you three!!

BUY THIS DISC!!!!!

And while you’re at it, head over to WWW.THETUBES.COM to see if you can buy this disc there, or a link to it. But definitely check out what the band are up to now. Maybe fill in some missing pieces to your Tubes collection… Maybe get info on an upcoming tour date near you… Maybe check out their recent work…

BUY THIS DISC!!!!!

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4 Responses to “THE TUBES LOVE BOMB LEAVES A TIMELESS, LASTING MARK ON MUSIC PRODUCTION”

  1. Fast Eddie Golinski Says:

    The tubes are by far one of the greatest band ever why they’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yet I’ll never know the greatest show I’ve ever seen

    Like

  2. Nicole Spooner Says:

    I agree, this is the best album and yet got no play. It’s hard to make sense of it all. At least we can enjoy it 🙂

    Like

  3. David Vawter Says:

    Putative breakthroughs in recording techniques notwithstanding, this is one of the worst sounding records I’ve listened to since I was old enough to buy records. I don’t know if it’s the remastering or what, but everything is so heavily compressed it sounds like it was recorded through a dial-up modem. It’s certainly the worst sounding record I’ve ever heard with the name Todd Rundgren attached to it. There’s none of the warmth or sense of being in a live room of the first two Tubes records, or the sheen of Remote Control. The fact that the songs themselves are so much less interesting than those found on any of those records is for another conversation.

    Out of love and loyalty for both Todd and the Tubes I’ve avoided listening to this album for over 30 years. I know now that I wasn’t missing anything.

    Like

    • BouleBlog Says:

      If you thought “Love Bomb” was the most sterile TR product, may I direct your hilarity towards “State” or “Global” or “Something/Anything”… Hey, I have an opinion too. Everything else in your post, spot on. From a musician standpoint it was a fascinating process. But as you note recording with 44khz in mind, and utilizing the Fairlight for a lot of the arrangements, etc., does sterilize the sound. But I will disagree with your point about the songs. Remember, they were coming off the David Foster era. They couldn’t afford to be prog at this point (they thought they were with side two). Didn’t help them though, another label lost by the Tubes on account of Rundgren.

      Like

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