40 Years Ago: The Tubes Clean Up Their ‘She’s a Beauty’ Video
"She's a Beauty" was the Tubes' only Top 10 hit – and that was quite an achievement for the former art rockers from San Francisco. They'd spent years offering outrageous performances and decidedly non-commercial material like "White Punks on Dope," "Mondo Bondage" and "Cathy's Clone."
The accompanying video for "She's a Beauty" actually hinted at those outsider beginnings, with its carnival of carnality. It would have been even more hardcore if the Tubes had been allowed to film their original idea.
The brass at Capitol Records told them to make a video for "She's a Beauty," correctly figuring that getting MTV behind the song would send it up the singles chart. According to singer Fee Waybill, the band's initial concept for the video was in line with their reputation as purveyors of the willfully weird.
"One of our favorite movies is one from 1932 called Freaks, made by a guy named Tod Browning," he told Vintage Rock in 2022. "Freaks was a movie about a sideshow. It had all these freaks – Schlitzie the Pinhead and the Chicken Woman and the Bearded Lady. We wanted to make a video with freaks and geeks. It was pretty twisted."
They got a local low-end southern California outfit called Circus Vargas to agree to set up their tents, rides and, yes, freak shows in a back lot for a planned video shoot. Then the band took a storyboard of their concept to Capitol and received a less-than-enthusiastic response.
"They just went, 'What, are you crazy?'" Waybill remembered. "'No way – you can't do this! No! … It's way too weird. Way too weird and not politically correct.'"
Watch the Tubes' 'She's a Beauty' Video
Instead, the label set them up with a "Plan B," a video of a boy taking a carnival ride through a much tamer-than-planned series of circus scenes, including a little girl ballerina, a female acrobat, prehistoric women in cages, a mermaid, and, of course, the Tubes themselves performing the song. Still, the band felt held back by label interference.
"They just censored us left and right," Waybill said. "We had a woman in an aquarium, like a mermaid, in the video and originally she was topless. They went, 'Oh, no, you can't do that. She can't be topless.' And then the last shot is the thing crashing through a big paper screen that had a gigantic breast that was airbrushed on it and they went, 'No, you can't do it.' They fuzzy-focused the whole thing. 'You can't have breasts on MTV!'"
"She's a Beauty" became the Tubes' biggest hit, rising to No. 1 on Billboard's mainstream rock chart and staying there for five weeks. Decades later, the paper-screen breast could be seen in the version of the video uploaded to YouTube – and Prairie Prince's kick drums were likewise adorned with painted-on nipples.