When the song “White Punks On Dope” by The Tubes came out in 1975, I was living in San Francisco. The song became an underground hit. It would be played in the middle of the night on college radio stations. I don’t know what so was offensive about the song other then possibly the word “white”.
When I was in high school in San Francisco from 1979 to 1983, I would see the word WPOD stenciled on various walls and buildings near the corresponding boys high school to the girls high school I attended. Boys wanted WPOD on jackets or t shirts because they wanted to be part of a white gang, but there was no a white gang. As far as I knew there was no gang activity near me. It was safe to walk around the city and night in the 70’s and no one thought it was dangerous. I knew what WPOD meant because I had heard the song. I taped it with my cassette radio player, so I did not have to buy it.
The Tubes claim White Punks on Dope was about San Francisco, but the lyrics of the song were about rich kids in Beverly Hills that were on drugs. The only thing that makes sense about WPOD was kids with more spending money had more access to illegal drugs. In Hollywood culture many drugs were consumed in the 70’s. It’s likely children of the Hollywood Elite could buy drugs from the same dealers their parents frequented. Poor kids were not more likely to be on drugs then rich kids. It has to do with the moral character of the child and not with the parent’s income. I think there is less drug use now because of the Internet we know more about what the real dangers of drugs. Anti Drug messages are not just the scare campaigns such as Dare to Keep Kids Off Drugs. These messages were counter productive. By over stating the dangers of drugs, the entire message came off as a big lie.
The song was a satire with lyrics like “I can’t clean up, but I know I should.” We took it to mean drugs were cool. The “ride until you die attitude” was prevalent in the 70s even before Ride or Die became a thing in the 90’s. Just like the song White Lines by Grandmaster Flash was a pro-drug song disguised as an anti-drug song. I wondered later if the Tubes themselves were responsible for the graffiti as publicity stunt? Even in the 60’s there were pro drug songs around but they were always hidden by lyrics that about being high on love instead of drugs. The song was about not quitting drugs and going straight but continuing to take drugs until it killed you. And owning the feeling, not apologizing for that attitude. The reasons for this feeling were multiple such as the world was not in good shape, and there was a lack of good jobs that were not dead end and boring. Just repeating what our parents had done, getting jobs and raising kids was unthinkable. We wanted more out of life.
At the end of the song there is a long fade out which is a heavenly chorus of angels because the singer has taken so many drugs that he is in fact closer to God. I assume the drugs he was taking were dissociatives. I did know one boy in high school who was rumored to be strung out on drugs, and he was sent away to reform camp and never heard from again. The kids I knew did not take drugs and wanted good grades and good jobs, but some of them did drink too much. I thought to myself that these boys were likely putting on airs when they called themselves WPODs, because none of them were Hollywood style rich. But, they liked thinking that their parents were wealthy. WPOD was never played at High School dances, and the song soon faded away. It does not get played on Sirus/XM. The song remains an interesting and quirky bit of history, that is largely forgotten. It never became a classic rock song such as More Than a Feeling by Boston.
There are several live versions of WPOD on You Tube without high view counts. Based on the make up and outfits worn by the singer he appears to be copying David Bowie’s 1973 Aladdin Sane Album. A track from that album called Lady Grinning Soul features a jazz piano, but it works when Bowie does it. When the Tubes added the Jazz Piano they are throwing in everything but the kitchen sink to make the song trendy. The Jazz Piano does not blend into the rest of the song not even as a demented counterpoint. The strongest point of the song is the guitar riffs. The vocals are in your face in the style of the Ramones. The Tubes apparently had live shows as well, but I never heard anything about those while living in San Francisco. They did not make the San Chronicle Pink Section and probably were word of mouth promoted. I would have noticed if they had something like WPOD Tour coming the to Cow Palace. The Tube’s one MTV song She’s A Beauty felt like a punishment to watch or listen to, and I felt it was misogynistic. “Talk to Ya Later” sounds like a cheap imitation of Loverboy’s Turn Me Loose, but arguably its the Tube’s best song. Then I noticed they used two hit makers to write the “Talk to Ya Later” David Foster and Steve Lukather . “Sushi Girl” is just a horrible gross song, and it turns out the Tubes have a pornographic connection appear in a Mitchell Brothers Movie. Based on this I can say I really hate the Tubes, and the only thing of any value they have done is the guitar riffs on WPOD. The lead singer also dressed like a Nazi and other offensive characters he made up Tubes Live Shows. I know this type of person well, they don’t want to create anything unless it is in some way offensive or disgusting which lights up a pleasure center in their brain. And they they want the pubic to support them, so they can live like millionaire rock stars and go on creating their repulsive “art”.
PS I made a big deal about how the keyboard track does not fit in the song and how it ruins the song, only to discover the keyboardist Vince Welnick committed suicide. However the suicide had nothing to do with his playing with the Tubes. SF Gate states his suicide was caused by depression and ill health. I found an interview with him from 1992 which clears up many things. I just found out the Tubes also did “Don’t Touch Me There,” another torture I was forced to listen to on the radio when the song could not be avoided. I wonder how many more terrible songs they punished me with, but I really don’t want to know.