The Rubinoos

May 04, 2021


recording their breakout self-titled debut album

BERKELEY, Calif. — On November 2, 1976, Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States. The events of November 3 were less earth-shaking, although it was the day the power pop pioneers The Rubinoos recorded this album. The group walked into CBS Studios on Folsom Street in San Francisco to, as band co-founder and singer Jon Rubin recollects, “have a ‘set up and get comfortable in the studio’ kind of affair.” Guitarist Tommy Dunbar, who started the group more than 50 years ago with his childhood pal Rubin, recalls they were told “something like, ‘okay, the tape is going to run, just go ahead and play anything you want’.”

The CBS Tapes (due out on June 25, 2021 on Yep Roc Records) chronicles that occasion, and its previously unreleased 11 tracks certainly reveal a wildly diverse set list that includes, yet reaches beyond, the power pop that the band is well known for. Selections range from the Modern Lovers (“Government Center”) to the Meters (“Cissy Strut”); King Curtis (“Memphis Soul Stew”) to the DeFranco Family (“Heartbeat, It’s a Love Beat”). The Rubinoos also tackle the bubblegum classic “Sugar, Sugar,” the iconic surf instrumental “Walk Don’t Run,” and a couple Beatles tunes (“She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”), along with a trio of now-rare originals  (“All Excited,” “I Want Her So Bad,” and “Nooshna Kavolta”). 

The CBS Tapes captures something unusual — a look into the recording process before it begins in earnest. This isn’t a lo-fi sloppy rehearsal tape, a stripped-down demo, or a polished finished product. Done without second takes and overdubs, the band’s loose, unencumbered live performances exude a joyful energy that embodies the band’s spirit. These recordings do benefit from Glenn Kolotkin’s engineering and mixing on the fly. By 1976, Kolotkin had already worked with acts like Janis Joplin, Journey, and Jimi Hendrix, and would go on to produce Santana, Joan Jett, and the Ramones. 

The Rubinoos’ performances also are rather rude and juvenile; not really surprising since Rubin, Dunbar, and drummer Donn Spindtwere still in their teens,only bassist Royse Ader had finished high school. Listening to these tapes after so many years made Dunbar think, “What a bunch of foul-mouthed little punks we were,” while Rubin felt their obnoxious behavior and crude language reflect the irreverent, bratty attitude that has always been part of the Rubinoos’ makeup.

Although still teenagers in 1976, these guys weren’t inexperienced. Dunbar and Rubin first formed the Rubinoos as 13-year-olds in 1970, so they could play a dance at their school, Bay High School in Berkeley, California. Spindt took over on drums a year later while Ader became the bassist in 1974. The band joined the fabled U.S. indie label Beserkley Records (Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Greg Kihn), through Dunbar’s brother Robbie, the guitarist in Beserkley’s first signee, Bay Area rock stars Earth Quake. The Rubinoos’ cover of the DeFranco Family’s “Gorilla” appeared on Beserkley’s Chartbusters sampler. 

The Rubinoos’ 1977 self-titled debut attracted a good deal of attention and accolades. New York Rocker proclaimed it “the best pop album of the decade.” The group appeared on American Bandstand and their version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” reached no. 45 on the Billboard Top 100 and in the Top 40 in Cashbox. Just last year, the New York Times’ Brian Raftery included the closing track, “I Never Thought It Would Happen,” in his piece “12 Essential Lesser-Known Power-Pop Songs.”  

Success continued with the Rubinoos’ second album, Back to the Drawing Board, featuring the hit single "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” and the band opened for Elvis Costello on his Armed Forces U.S. tour. The ’80s began with an ill-fated third album whose demos were released on 1994’s critically lauded Basement Tapes. The Todd Rundgren-produced mini-LP, Party of Two, contained the popular "If I Had You Back.” The Rubinoos returned triumphantly  in 1999 with Paleophonic, which Allmusic described as a “delicious platter [that] picks up where their classic recordings left off.” 

The 21st century has seen the Rubinoos still going strong. They have released three studio albums (Automatic Toaster, Twist Pop Sin, and 45), an all-covers album (Crimes Against Music), a children’s music album (Biff-Boff-Boing), three live albums, and several compilations, including a 63-song retrospective Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Rubinoos.  

The Rubinoos reached another career high point with 2019’s From Home. Their Yep Roc debut (and first national release in 40 years) featured the band’s steady lineup since 1980: Rubin, Dunbar, Spindt, and bassist Al ChanFrom Home was instigated by acclaimed indie rock troubadour and lifelong Rubinoos fan Chuck Prophet. Together, they created a set of songs that American Songwriter’s Hal Horowitz called “pure, unadulterated, unfiltered, industrial-strength power pop sung by adults who never lost their boyish innocence.” 

Now with The CBS Tapes, you can experience the Rubinoos’ unadulterated boyish innocence in all its unfiltered glory.

Jon & Tommy’s Song Comments

Side One

All Excited:

Jon: Actually sincere sentiment about Rock and Roll … I still get all excited when I hear the likes of Mr. Penniman, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Cooke and Mr. Presley.

Tommy: Primordial Rubes. One of the first originals where all 4 guys sang. You know, not yelling, but actual notes.

Sugar Sugar: 

Jon: Obnoxious punks trying to get a rise out of the audience. Then we realized we love that song.

Tommy: Wasn’t “Sugar, Sugar” the A side of “Melody Hill”? Fun factoid: I was paid $3 for writing a story which appeared in the Betty and Veronica/Archie Club News. Beginning and end of the journalism career.

Memphis Soul Stew/Pepsi Generation: 

Jon: Funky with an artificial sweetener? My main memory of this song is being pelted with bananas by the irate audience at Winterland (opening for the Jefferson Starship in 1974).

Tommy: You remember how “Cold Sweat” had “Cold Sweat Part 2” if you flipped it over? A lot of people don’t know that King Curtis’s “Memphis Soul Stew”’s Part 2 was “The Pepsi Generation”. That’s a public service message for all you kids. 

I Want Her So Bad: 

Jon: Proto punk song written by Tommy for The Psycotic [sic] Pineapple.

Tommy: Light the candles, pour the wine ... and then slip on “I Want Her So Bad” ... If she or he runs screaming from the room, then you’ll know it wasn’t meant to be — Dating advice from “Ask the Rubinoos,” America’s #1 advice to the lovelorn column.

Nooshna Kavolta: 

Jon: We were going for Otis Redding meets the Volga Boatmen. Not quite? Shouldn’t the title of this song be printed in Cyrillic? 

Tommy: This is the song that got us that stint as the United Nations house band. “Tip your interpreter, we’ll be here all week.

She Loves You: 

Jon: Wanted to help this unknown band by covering one of their songs.

Tommy: I think we pulled this off pretty well, considering that we’d never heard it and were sight-reading the sheet music. We edited out the drum solo ’cause we didn’t want to scare you.


Side Two

Walk Don’t Run: 

Jon: This is just part of our California DNA. Added to the set to feature our dance moves … Watch out J5!

Tommy: For all you young bands out there, may I recommend this song as a great way to rest your voices during a long set. Years later we got to open for The Ventures, which was a thrill.

Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat

Jon: A guilty pleasure or a great pop song?  Fun Fact! The DeFranco Family was the progenitor of our first single “Gorilla.”

Tommy: You can’t have too many DeFranco Family songs in your set list, no matter what the audience says.

I Want To Hold Your Hand: 

Jon: We always loved playing Beatles songs and, unlike the rest of the world, we were big fans.

Tommy: Oh my, we seem to have one of the chords wrong. Good thing it only occurs 10 times in the song!

Cissy Strut: 

Jon: We are from Berkeley, California and I believe, at that time, it was required that all bands cover this Meters song. Even a Power Pop band.

Tommy: I seem to remember hecklers yelling, “Hey, what did that song ever do to YOU?”

Government Center

Jon: Jonathan Richman’s “I Think We’re Alone Now”? You be the Judge.

Tommy: Man, what happened to the lead vocal mic here? It sounds like it’s got cockroaches running all over it! Or someone’s been gargling with nails.

 Pre-order linkhttps://ffm.to/rubinooscbstapes 


# # #