The Meaning Behind “She’s a Beauty” by The Tubes and the Real-Life Peep Show that Inspired It

You could argue that cult bands are cult bands, and hit bands are hit bands, and never the twain shall meet. But The Tubes proved that you can indeed make the leap from “adored by few” to “loved by many.” They did so on their 1983 single “She’s a Beauty.”

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What is the song about? How did the writers come together to create the song? And what experience inspired Tubes’ Fee Waybill to come up with the lyrics? Get ready to take a peek back at “She’s a Beauty.” Just remember: Don’t fall in love.

Looking for that Big Hit

Cult-band status is nice, but, sadly, it doesn’t often pay the bills. So The Tubes found out. They emerged from San Francisco with an irreverent melding of rock, pop, and punk, along with a reputation for unpredictably wild live performances. But their record deal went kaput when their record sales stayed stubbornly low.

They received a big break in the early ’80s when they started working with producer David Foster. Foster simply had a knack for what went into a hit song in that era, which is why he was so in demand. Not only did his expertise help out The Tubes, but he also brought with him Toto guitarist Steve Lukather on the songwriting front.

Lukather was toying with his guitar in the studio with Tubes singer Fee Waybill when he came up with the ripsnorting riff that opens up “She’s a Beauty.” Waybill jumped in, and then Foster helped to assemble the different parts that the duo had created into a forceful, engaging whole. Now, the thing just needed some words.

San Franciscan Nights

Something in the music written by the trio of men inspired Waybill to look back to time spent in a red-light district in San Francisco known as the Tenderloin. In particular, he recalled a kind of peep show that was there, as he explained to this author for the book Playing Back the ’80s: A Decade of Unstoppable Hits:

“They used to have a thing called, ‘Pay a Dollar, Talk to a Naked Girl.’ It was like an outdoor phone booth in front of a massage parlor, only the phone booth, it was all enclosed, except for the front. And you put in a dollar, and this screen would come down and there’s a semi-clad woman kind of teasing you and pretending to take off clothes. Only she didn’t really take off much. She’d take off a little bit, and then you gotta put in another dollar.”

Waybill tried to reason with the woman that her time might be better spent doing something else. But she stayed in character and just kept beckoning him to come into the massage parlor. The combination of his feeling sorry for her and the bizarre nature of the situation spurred him on to put a twist on the experience in “She’s a Beauty.”

What is the Meaning of “She’s a Beauty”?

In “She’s a Beauty,” Waybill imagines himself as the carnival barker hailing passersby to see this beautiful woman. But they don’t get to do it for free: She’ll give you every penny’s worth / But it will cost you a dollar’s worth. And they don’t get anything other than a look: You can say anything you like / But you can’t touch the merchandise.

Waybill does a wonderful job making this seem as alluring as possible: You can look inside another world / You get to talk to a pretty girl / She’s everything you dream about. But he also gives you hints that his spiel is not to be fully believed. After all, the people who ask, Why would I lie, tend to be the ones who lie the most.

“She’s a Beauty” benefited from a clever video that allowed Waybill to give visual life to the character he plays in the song. The Tubes had their big hit, enough to endow this band with a longevity and name recognition that few other cult bands ever get to enjoy.

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Photo by Mike Prior/Redferns/Getty Images

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