Monday, January 07, 2008
I'm listening to an old favorite of mine, "Remote Control" by The Tubes. Produced by Todd Rundgren and released in 1979, it's a bit too poppy-dancy for some, but I always loved it. I know a lot more about music theory and composition now than I did back in the 70s, and now I see how rich and layered it really is. In fact, I double-dog-dare my most educated friends to try and transcribe these songs. You'll learn a whole lot about polychords and harmony, I guarantee. Yet, even for non-musicians, the songs shine on their brilliant funny lyrics and compelling beats.
The whole album is a concept story about a "couch potato", a guy who has been so glued to his TV that he only knows the outside world from what he's seen on the tube. The opening song is "Turn Me On", about the joy his TV brings him. "TV Is King" further illustrates how much he loves his TV, and in "Prime Time" it sings seductively back to him with punny lyrics like "I give you my prime time" and "I have had my eye on you", a cute reference to the CBS logo (or maybe the Neilson ratings). At some point he starts to wonder about the outside world, and in "I Want It All Now" he begins to realize he's got to get up and get out somehow to that wonderful world he's seen on TV. "No Way Out" is tinged with desperation as he realizes the depths of his TV addiction. In a brilliant and perfect move, side 1 of the vinyl ends there; side 2 picks up with "Getoverture", an instrumental intermission that picks up the major themes of the songs in the album and prepares the listener for our hero's introduction to the brutal outside world in the song "No Mercy". Then in "Only The Strong Survive", someone else (possibly a co-worker) sings back to him in hard-bitten tones that he'd better get used to it, real life ain't easy. In "Be Mine Tonight", he sees a girl and is smitten by love at first sight. He makes a sweet clumsy plea for her affection, but we see in the next song that it didn't go well. "Love's a Mystery" is so plaintive and sweet - the poor guy was totally unprepared for the devastation of love gone bad (if it ever came together at all is unclear). He couldn't handle it, as shown in the frantic and cynical "Telecide", the last song on the album. The news anchor sings with an apparent leer, "This one is so juicy, we've pre-empted Lucy". A female voice, possibly his love interest, says "I used to know him, he seemed like a regular guy". The final moments are a glorious anthem with angelic choir as he apparently rises to heaven (maybe to watch TV).
Even the cover art shows great wit - a baby in a seat that molds smoothly into a TV just inches from his face. The TV is in a case roughly like a human head, and on the front of the screen is a big rubber nipple. What's on the screen? "Hollywood Squares". The back cover was a photo of all eight Tubes members sitting in the Hollywood Squares set.
It's hard to write one good coherent song, but to put a whole album together with a story, a cast (knowing The Tubes, I can only imagine how theatrical the stage show must have been) and all that great music... well, it's just a masterpiece. Check it out.