It’s basically common knowledge that 70 years ago corporate America — which has morphed into big tech — cunningly sold the illusory “American Dream” to a vulnerable population after many years of depression and war. Artificial sunshine on a frost-ridden flower. Oppression clothed in prosperity. Anything to make that flower grow. You gotta pitch, close the deal. Sell baby, sell. Bob and Alice America are buying.
So it isn’t surprising that the creative and rebellious minds in American society began warning us of the “dark side” of corporate America through their art. Explaining how the American experience had mutated into a society with a ceaseless appetite for material trophies used to fill a void that never really existed; an experience skillfully manipulated by a corporate oligarchy.
And in 1981, San Francisco Bay Area rock band, the Tubes, chimed in on this exploitation of mind and soul bringing the world “The Completion Backward Principle.”
The album’s lyrics and aesthetics were informing us, or reminding us, about a sham dream life that was being sold to society.
“We found this record in a record bin in San Francisco that was called The Completion Backward Principle and it was a sales record from the ‘50s and this guy used to go around — Stanley Patterson was his name — with this album and play it for sales forces,” said Fee Waybill, the long-time vocalist for the band in an interview with For The Love Of Bands. “This was back in the ‘50s when a company would go door-to-door.”
Combining style statements of both eras — the group donned smart grey suits and Ray-Ban Wayfarers (or were those Vuarnet shades) — their new persona showcased in videos and shows. Properly dressed and deftly recorded, the Tubes were ready to bring the message.
“His concept was ‘imagination creates reality.’ You would imagine the completed sale before you ever walked up to the door and work backwards from there. The Completion Backward Principle,” Waybill said.
Completion Backward Principle was arguably the Tubes watershed moment creatively and certainly commercially catapulting the band — with a little help from MTV — on an upward trajectory.
Spawning a couple of hits — “Talk To Ya Later” (Billboard Rock Songs #7) and “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore” (Billboard Rock Songs #22) and a lineup of solid compositions the album sits atop their respectable catalogue.
Listen to The Tubes – Talk To Ya Later on YouTube
When the Tubes, appreciably known for its dramatic stage act, set out to record “The Completion Backward Principle” they were in transition. Having been let go by A&M after four studio albums they were in search of a new label. Fee Waybill said that initially they were embraced by A&M — 1975 — who were searching for a band to give them some street cred.
Fee Waybill about A&M
“Our relationship with A&M was like…it was weird. Because Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, the A&M guys, they loved our band…but we didn’t really fit into their roster,” Waybill elucidated. “I mean they had the Carpenters, Captain & Tennille…and they had Herb playing his horn and they had a bunch of kinda super commercial kind of bands and we weren’t.”
Except for label mates Head East, who signed around the same time as the Tubes and whose first album had some musical similarities with the Bay Area band, A&M’s stable of artists, including the aforementioned Captain & Tennille and Carpenters, Pablo Cruise and yes, Peter Frampton, were not edgy or establishment shakers.
What garnered attention though was the group’s stage act. By the ‘70s, theatrical elements had become a crucial part of popular music (Rocky Horror Picture Show) and many-a-band’s identity and appeal — Kiss, Queen, Alice Cooper, Parliament/Funkadelic.
“We were a cult band and we were weird. We had this live reputation that preceded us wherever we went and people said, ‘Oh my God, they’re X-rated and they’re doing sex onstage.’ They just exaggerated it to the nth degree.”– Fee Waybill
Despite some singles at the Alpert and Moss label — “What Do You Want From Life,” “Don’t Touch Me There,” “White Punks On Dope,” “Prime Time” — he said their musical reputation always stood in the shadow of their live one. Alas, the Tubes didn’t really contribute to A&M’s profit margin and by the end of 1979, they were sacked.
“It was kind of a shock to us,” Fee Waybill said. “I guess they got kinda tired of the cute cult band that kind of made them hip. Made their label seem hip but didn’t make them any money.”
The band then embarked on a shopping mission for a label. And soon enough they met Bobby Colomby — the original drummer for Blood, Sweat and Tears — at Capitol Records. Waybill said Colomby saw the Tubes commercial potential and believed it was just a matter of hooking them up with the right producer.
They ended up with David Foster who had just completed “Boogie Wonderland” with Earth, Wind & Fire.
“He had never done a rock ‘n’ roll album before and we had just finished working with Todd Rundgren and they couldn’t be more different in terms of their production style,” Waybill commented.
While Rundgren was chill in the studio and quantified recording-processes through feeling, the taskmaster Foster was perfection personified.
“He wanted it to be perfect. He didn’t wanna do three tracks of three guys singing background vocals to just kind of thicken everything up because one of the parts wasn’t perfect. He wanted to do it once and have every part be perfect all the way through.”
Waybill admitted that Foster pushed the band hard. And that played a significant role in “The Completion Backward Principle” being their most successful commercial release.
He said if a band member was struggling with a part he wouldn’t hesitate to bring in a hired hand. Randy Jackson, yes, that Randy Jackson, played on the record as did guitarist Steve Lukather of Toto.
“I remember the first vocal I did for David Foster was ‘Amnesia.’ I sang that song for four days. Again, and again and again and again. One line at a time. It really made me a better singer…I think Completion Backward Principle is the best album we ever did for sure.”
With its two hits and lack of filler that is hard to dispute. Waybill indicated that “Talk To Ya Later” was one of his preferred tracks from the album.
“Obviously, I loved ‘Talk To Ya Later.’ It’s pretty much been our encore for the last 10 years or so or more. And now we’ve started the show with it.”
But interestingly, his favorite song from CBP is one with a compelling history.
“I think my favorite song is probably ‘Mr. Hate.’ I kinda turn into this psycho killer where I sing ‘Mr. Hate,’ which was also a true story.”
Mr. Hate was in reference to Mark McDermand, a man living in the San Francisco Bay Area, who had been accused of killing his mother and brother. McDermand was a fugitive for 12 days and during that time penned letters to several Bay Area newspapers claiming his innocence. The Tubes formulated some of Mr. Hate’s lyrics by glomming content from McDermand’s letters.
“It was kind of like the Unabomber or something…and he had all these people on his side and he would sign them Mr. Hate,” Fee Waybill explained. “And everyone thought he was innocent and then it turns out, no, he actually did it. And he was all full of shit. Which is even more perfect for the album.”
Each Tubes tour, a different theme is used to convey the band’s art to fans—and of course, entertain them. Early last year, the current lineup of the Tubes convened in San Francisco deciding to revisit the record and perform it in its entirety with the accurate sequencing for their 2019 tour dates.
“And this year’s a presidential year…all the Democrats were touting and selling and the president was pretty much selling us a bill of goods in my opinion and we thought this is so perfect,” Waybill remarked. “Here we are once again. We’ve got 1984 George Orwell doublespeak. Everybody’s trying to sell you something.”
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