The Tubes were getting close to finishing what would become their sixth studio album, The Completion Backward Principle, when producer David Foster went to lead singer and frontman Fee Waybill and said, “We really don’t have a rock radio song on this record.”
The band was making its first album for Capitol Records in the fall of 1980 after having been released by A&M Records. They had recorded a big power ballad, “Don’t Want to Wait Anymore,” co-written by Foster and the band members, which Capitol had decided to release as the first single.
Band members had a couple of songs they had submitted to Foster for consideration, but none of them were what he was looking for in a rock radio song to fill out the album.
“So David asked me what I thought about meeting Steve Lukather of Toto,” said Waybill. Foster and Lukather had worked together in mid-1979 as session musicians on the “I Am” album by Earth, Wind & Fire, featuring the hit single, “Boogie Wonderland,” which reached reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart and No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart.
“David said Steve was a great guitar player, was very quick and had great ideas. And I said fine, no problem,” said Waybill.
The Tubes were coming in for a 4 p.m. to midnight recording session at Record One Studios in Los Angeles to finish the album, but Foster asked Waybill to meet him and Lukather at the studio at 10 a.m. that day to work on what they hoped would be the rock radio song that Foster believed the album needed.
“So we met, bullshitted for a little while and then it didn’t take five minutes for Lukather to come up with the opening lick,” said Waybill. “David heard it and said, ‘That’s it, right there. Go with that.’ But usually lyrics take a while for me. I sit there and listen to the track and try to figure is it happy, is it sad, what is it? And I wait for some kind of muse to hit me.”
But as he sat there with his notepad, nothing was coming to Waybill . . . until the album’s engineer, Humberto Gatica, provided some inspiration.
“This was the first record we had done with David, so everybody in the band was asking a lot of questions,” said Waybill. “In general, working with Foster and Lukather was a huge step up for us in terms of electronics and in terms of technique in the studio. So we were all asking questions all the time.”
Apparently, all those questions didn’t sit too well with the engineer.
“Humberto got into the habit of not wanting to answer any of the questions, so he’d say, ‘I’ll talk to you later, man’ in his Chilean accent. In other words, ‘I’m too busy and I don’t need it,’” said Waybill. “And as I’m sitting there writing this song, I keep coming back to ‘talk to you later,’ and it fit perfectly.
The song “Talk To Ya Later” was finished by the time rest of the Tubes got to the studio that day.
“We played it for the band, and they all went, ‘Whoa.’ But to be honest, I think the band was a little miffed that we did it without them. I understood that,” said Waybill. “I think it’s a great song, and I think Foster thought so, too. And I didn’t think anybody was going to shoot us down because we (the band) didn’t write every note on the song.”
Those instincts proved to be correct. “Talk to Ya Later” reached No. 7 in the U.S. on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks — and was No. 1 in 17 other countries — and “Don’t Want to Wait Anymore” made it into the Top 40 checking in at No. 35 on both the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart and the Cashbox Top 100 Singles chart. The Completion Backward Principle became a Top 40 album for the Tubes, reaching No. 36 on the Billboard chart and No. 37 on the Cashbox chart.
That history will be on full display as the Tubes embark on their latest tour, where they will perform The Completion Backward Principle album in its entirety — along with the band’s other classic songs — that includes a northeast swings with stops Oct. 25 at the Borgata in Atlantic City and the Iridium in New York City for two shows Oct. 30 and Oct. 31.
Waybill said the band decided to do The Completion Backward Principle on this tour for a couple of reasons: One, because he believes it was the best record the band ever did; and two, because when it was first released in 1981, the album was a parody of corporate rock and formulaic corporate rock bands of that era, something that Waybill thinks is still relevant today.
“Even though we’re maybe not parodying corporate music today, there is a world of big corporations now and political doublespeak,” said Waybill. “We’re getting so used to political doublespeak these days, I just thought it (the album) was still so relevant and current.”
In addition to Waybill, the the San Francisco-based Tubes still feature three other original members, including world-class drummer Prairie Prince, guitarist Roger Steen and bassist Rick Anderson. Rounding out the group is keyboardist and vocalist David Medd.
Waybill said for this tour, which will feature two of his alter-ego characters — Quay Lewd and Mr. Hate — the band had to re-learn a couple of songs from The Completion Backward Principle — “Let’s Make Some Noise,” which they hadn’t played live since the 1980s; and the opening track on Side 2 of the album, “Think About Me,” which they hadn’t done in about 15 years in concert.
He’s also looking forward to the upcoming shows, particularly the two at the Iridium, at 1650 Broadway in New York City. Beginning in 1994, the club featured weekly performances by Les Paul, a jazz, country and blues guitarist and one of the pioneers of solid-body electric guitars, until his death in 2009.
“I’ve been waiting to play Broadway my whole life,” said Waybill. “Even though I’m not acting on Broadway — which is what I really want to do, and I am gonna act on Broadway before I die — at least we’re playing Broadway at the Iridium. I want to fill that place out, I want it to be standing room only for the Tubes on Broadway.”
Fee also believes the Tubes are a better band today than they were in the 1980s.
“We all grew up and we all stopped taking drugs,” said Waybill. “Roger (Steen) just sits there and plays his guitar all day long, and he’s ridiculously good. Prairie (Prince) is so good that everybody wants him to play with them. And we haven’t changed the key of any songs. My voice is better than it’s ever been, mainly because I’m not beating it to death like I used to.”
Waybill believes that it’s his purpose in life to bring joy to the people who come see the Tubes in concert.
“That’s what I try to do every night. Be funny, be stupid, be scary, be tragic — all those things,” he said. “The payoff, especially when we do smaller venues like the Iridium, is that you can see the sparkle in the eyes of the people there, when they’re saying to themselves, ‘Oh my God, this guy is insane.’ I can’t wait to get back out there.”