FRANK ZAPPA and The MOTHERS of INVENTION – ” Burnt Weeny Sandwich ” Released 9th February 1970

Posted: February 10, 2022 in MUSIC

A classic album by Frank Zappa has recently been reissued in a quite fine form. That album, the amusingly titled “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” originally came out on the relative heels of Zappa‘s groundbreaking 1969 release with The Mothers of Invention called “Uncle Meat“. Together those records stand as (arguably) the pinnacle of music created by that era of Zappa’s band. Some Zappa-philes prefer “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” for its concise single-disc presentation of the band and what they were capable of doing. Ever prolific, Frank Zappa barely took a breath between the release of “Hot Rats”, on October 10th, 1969, and “Burnt Weeny Sandwich“, on Released February 9th, 1970. (Indeed, that album would be followed six months later by “Weasels Ripped My Flesh“.) Actually credited to The Mothers Of Invention, “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” picked up from where “Hot Rats” left off, pushing the boundaries of jazz fusion and experimental, avant-garde rock.

Where others prevaricated and agonized over studio techniques, Zappa, was more interested in composition and immediate results, and was equally as drawn to the experimental classicists as he was the visceral, open-chested drive of doo-wop (not to mention its frantic absurdity). As such, “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” is bookended by two terrific doo-wop tunes: The Four Deuces’ “WPLJ” (standing for “white port and lemon juice”) is a glorious romp, as is the closing take on Jackie And The Starlites’ “Valarie” (released as a single with “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama” on the flip).

The album’s centerpiece is diametrically opposite: the lengthy “Little House I Used To Live In” gives the band full rein for a thrilling work-out. The last portion of this song was recorded during a performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall, in June 1969, and the track sees Zappa indulge in put-down banter with the audience, remarking that “everyone in this room is wearing a uniform.” He also plays a storming organ solo alongside a dual piano part, while Jimmy Carl Black, Ian Underwood, the horn-playing Gardner brothers, and Don “Sugarcane” Harris attain heights most rock bands simply could not achieve.

Back in the LA studio, future Little Feat main man Lowell George joined the party again, adding guitar and vocals, while Roy Estrada (who would later join George in the Little Feat) chipped in with bass and vocals, including the Pachuco rap on “WPLJ.”

Showcasing Zappa’s playful nature, “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” doesn’t outstay its welcome. The fragment tracks, “Igor’s Boogie, Phase One” and “Overture To A Holiday In Berlin” move the mood seamlessly. “Theme From Burnt Weeny Sandwich,” meanwhile, was re-modeled from a guitar part on “Lonely Little Girl” (from the 1967 sessions for We’re Only In It For The Money), so there’s a good chance Billy Mundi played the drums here. It is a fruitful piece of recycling, with Zappa and percussionist Art Tripp adding new layers of rhythm.

From Zappa’s website, here is the technical crux of this biscuit: “Supervised by the ZFT, the record was specially mastered for this release by Bernie Grundman with all analogue production and cut directly from the 1970 ¼” stereo safety master tape in 2018. Unavailable on vinyl for more than three decades, Zappa last released this on vinyl in 1986 in the rare Old Masters Box Two. The LP, which will be pressed at Pallas in Germany, will feature the album’s distinctive original cover art by frequent Zappa collaborator Cal Schenkel and include the original album’s black and white poster, which has never been reproduced in any of the album’s CD editions. A limited edition coloured vinyl version is also in the works to be released at a later date.” 

Original vinyl pressings of “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” included a large black-and-white fold-out poster – triple-folded and double-sided – that remains a collectors’ item today. The anarchic graphic artist Cal Schenkel provided the cover artwork again (his stunning résumé also includes the artworks for “Uncle Meat, Cruising With Ruben And The Jets“, and many others), adapting a punky-looking montage.

How does this new reissue sound? There is a sense of presence on this particular version which was not apparent on my earlier (blue label Bizarre Records original) pressing. The vinyl is wonderfully quiet and the album well centered, so no issues there. This was very important for me at the end of side one on the track “Aybe Sea” which mostly features Ian Underwood‘s harpsichord and piano plus Zappa‘s acoustic guitar parts. On my original and most every other pressing I’ve heard this sequence has been marred by slightly off centre pressings. This pressing is pretty much perfect so there is no swing ‘n sway so the resulting music is just beautiful. The acoustic guitars sound especially realistic and woody.  And, it is a wonder to just enjoy the surface-noise-free silence as the whisper-quiet final piano notes close out the side. 

The drums and woodwinds on “Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown” sound remarkable and present —  I’ve never really heard them quite like this before. I’ll dare to even use the word “revelatory” in describing the rich details we can now hear so clearly. 

Given the all-analogue production of the record there is one teensy-tiny anomaly which you may want to know about: there is a wee-brief tape speed fluctuation about 50 seconds into the first song, “WPLJ.” I suspect this is an instance of the original tape stretching over time while in storage. I reached out to Zappa Vault-meister Joe Travers who confirmed its existence as something they needed to live with. Indeed, in the grand scheme of things its not something to fret over. While it might have been fixable in the digital domain, keeping this project pure to the truer-sounding all-analogue production aesthetic requires not messing with the tapes along the way. 

Apparently, this issue has been around for a while. I listened to the 2012 CD quality version streaming up on Tidal and indeed the fluctuation is audible if you listen closely; it is just a bit more up front on the relatively sonically un-compromised new edition. Really, if you’ve never heard an early version of this album, then this issue is moot and is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. After a couple listens I even got used to it (its a lighthearted Doo Wop flavoured rock song after all). 

Otherwise, the new “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” sounds pretty tasty and arguably much better than my original pressing and was never the quietest pressing to begin with.

Oh, about the name of the album which I’ve marked with an asterisk up at the start of this review, here comes the reference for those who are not familiar with its origin. “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” refers to a favourite late nite snack Zappa used to apparently make in the wee hours when taking a break from his overnight recording sessions. From the wiki:The album’s unusual title, Zappa would later say in an interview, comes from an actual snack that he enjoyed eating, consisting of a burnt Hebrew National hot dog sandwiched between two pieces of bread with mustard.” I seem to remember reading somewhere that Frank would toast his tasty weenies indoor-campfire style, sticking a fork in it and holding it over an open burner on the stove — burnt weeny science!

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