Posts Tagged ‘Frank Zappa’

Frank Zappa: Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show: Soft Pak 2CD

The first posthumous archival release from the ’88 touring band focuses on the historic last show Frank Zappa ever played in the U.S., at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY, with live concert material taken from that show plus additional performances from Providence, RI and Towson, MD, all newly remixed from the 48-track digital master tapes. It features the first official release of “The Beatles Medley” along with over 25 unreleased performances and liner notes by FZ’s drummer, Chad Wackerman and Vaultmeister, Joe Travers. Available June 18th on stream/download; on 2-CD; or a 4-LP 180-gram black vinyl box set.

As Travers writes in the liner notes, “Start with the fulcrum of the 1981-1984 touring bands (Robert, Scott & Chad), bring back Ike Willis, add the Synclavier digital workstation, a 5-piece horn section with multi-instrumentalist Mike Keneally and you have what FZ famously described as “The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life.” While saying “never heard” might have been a bit of hyperbole, it wasn’t far off as the short-lived band (four months of rehearsal in 1987/1988, followed by a tour from February through June 1988) only played a few dozen shows on the East Coast and Europe before disbanding. Nonetheless, the shows they did play together were electrifying and a masterclass in musicianship

With Zappa on lead guitar, vocals, and wielding his new obsession the Synclavier, he led the proceedings through a career-spanning set, backed by a stellar cast of veteran band members and newly added members: Mike Keneally (guitar, synth, vocals), Scott Thunes (electric bass, Minimoog), Ike Willis (rhythm guitar, synth, vocals), Chad Wackerman (drums, electronic percussion), Ed Mann (vibes, marimba, electronic percussion), Robert Martin (keyboards, vocals) and the cracking horn section of Walt Fowler (trumpet, flugel horn, synth), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Paul Carman (alto, soprano and baritone sax), Albert Wing (tenor sax) and Kurt McGettrick (baritone and bass sax, contrabass clarinet).

Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show includes all of this and many more highlights such as fan favourites, “Peaches In Regalia,” “The Black Page” “Inca Roads,” “Sharleena” “Sofa #1” and “Pound For A Brown.” It also includes a horn-laden cover of The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus,” and the first official release of the highly sought after “The Beatles Medley,” which features the band performing the music of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” with the lyrics completely changed to reflect the then-recent sex scandal of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. The bawdy lyrics poke fun at the hypocritical minister and was part of Zappa’s agenda to demystify televangelists.

Just how Zappa felt it was important to rail against toxically prude self-appointed culture protectors and whatever hypocrisy or hypocrite rankled him that day, he was also a motivator of positive action, passionate about causes, especially voting rights, making it his mission to get his audiences to register to vote. With a presidential election looming, Zappa offered voter registration on the tour, aided by The League of Women Voters. Fans were encouraged to vote before the show or during a special 20-minute intermission in the middle of the two-hour plus concert, which would start with Zappa triggering the Synclavier to play a piece of music. In Uniondale it was “One Man, One Vote.” Notably, the version here is a different mix than the studio version released on Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention. Zappa 88: The Last U.S. Show kicks off with Zappa extolling the importance of voting and encouraging the unregistered to sign up at the show by registering someone live on stage. It was followed by a representative from Governor Mario Cuomo’s office reading a message congratulating “Mr. Zappa for the important work you are doing encouraging your audiences and others to register and vote.”

“Sadly after the European run was over,” as Travers pens in the liners, “Frank Zappa chose to disband the group and cancel the rest of the tour, reportedly forfeiting $400,000.00 in revenue and depriving additional audiences the opportunity to witness how special this group really was. With all of the time and money spent to prepare and promote the tour, not to mention the potential within the talented band and crew, now in 2021, it’s an even more historic loss considering FZ was to never tour again.”

Fortunately, Zappa’s final U.S. show, like so many others of his, was documented and can now be experienced in its glory more than three decades later.

There was no one quite like Frank Zappa. He sucked the expected seriousness right out of rock ’n’ roll and triumphantly turned the genre on its head, injecting comedy and fusing other genres to it, like pop, jazz, psychedelia, proto-metal and more. He recorded more than 60 albums throughout his career as a solo artist and with his band, the Mothers of Invention, and he produced nearly all of them. A man who wore many hats, he also directed films, music videos and designed album artwork.

For Frank Zappa fans, his multi-night run at The Palladium in New York City back in October of 1977 is the stuff of legend. It came in the midst of one of the guitarist/composer’s most fertile creative periods, which would yield a dozen live and studio albums over the next five years as well as the feature film Baby Snakes, built from footage captured at one of these vaunted Halloween shows in ‘77. These performances were also a showcase for what is arguably Zappa’s best backing band of his lengthy career, an ensemble that boasted future Talking Heads/King Crimson member Adrian Belew on guitar, percussion master Ed Mann and, most crucially, the outrageously talented drummer Terry Bozzio.

The Zappa Family Trust is unleashing “Halloween ‘77″, the full performances from this small residency at The Palladium via a wonderfully-designed boxed set that includes a kitschy ‘70s-style costume (plastic Frank Zappa mask, plastic pull over top) and all the audio on a USB stick made to look like a candy bar. It’s charming as all get out, aimed directly at the hearts and bank accounts of (are they any other kind?) FZ super fans. There’s also a truncated three CD version for those not wishing to expend that much dough.

For the casual listener, it’s a lot to take in. The complete audio runs to just under 16 hours, and almost all the shows feature the same set list. The music, too, can be plenty imposing. Zappa’s compositions are full of quick time signature shifts, executed with almost rigid yet limber precision by a very well rehearsed band. The songs themselves are dizzying, braiding together jazz, psychedelia, proto-metal and contemporary classical. There are enough pop-style hooks to draw you in, but you’d better be prepared to hold on tight.

Zappa fans are more than familiar with his October 1977 residency at New York’s Palladium Theater. Zappa produced and directed a feature film around these shows called “Baby Snakes”, featuring backstage tomfoolery and stop-motion clay animation, as well as a live album box set, titled Halloween ‘77: The Palladium, NYC.

If you’re unfamiliar with Zappa’s work, it might be a little off-putting to listen to him invite audience members on stage to whip each other or delight in the uncomfortable sexual oddities of “Bobby Brown Goes Down,” the weird gay panic wrapped in “Punky’s Whips” or the tittering reference to mooning people in the title of instrumental “Pound For A Brown”...Luckily, much like the discomforting stage banter within, the music overshadows all of that nonsense. Especially when it is presented with such care and wit as with this set.

There’s also the matter of his conservative outlook, which peppers these performances, particularly the first show of the set, recorded on October 28th. In his intro to the song “Flakes,” he says, “This is a song about people who don’t do what they’re supposed to do. There’s a large concentration of these denizens in the state of California. The problem, simply stated, is that everybody who moves to California, moves there to collect unemployment or welfare or both.” He also makes clear what he thinks of his main character in “Bobby Brown,” calling him a “schmuck” for being “the first guy in town to say ‘Ms.’” Whether Zappa truly believed those things or not or was aiming for provocation, the cheers of the New York crowd in response is off-putting enough.

For those folks acutely familiar with the Zappa canon, this is the kind of treat you want someone to drop in your candy bag. All of the shows sounds spectacular. Working off of some great source material, the remixing and remastering work, overseen by Ahmet Zappa and Joe Travers, shows off each instrument with precision and clarity. There’s added allure here with the inclusion of rarely heard live tracks like the leisurely instrumental version of “Conehead” (a showcase for a particularly effusive solo by Zappa), a premiere of future single “Dancin’ Fool” and the only live performance of “Jewish Princess.” I can also see some fans debating over which epic version of “Wild Love” (each one ranges between 24 and 28 minutes in length) is the best or which Bozzio drum solo reigns supreme (I’m partial to the double kick drum-heavy antics of the first show on October 29th).

This Halloween-themed release comes along at a strange time for the Zappa family. Ahmet and Dweezil continue to fire off furious open letters to one another, and just as they keep reissuing FZ’s work in new formats, including freshly cut vinyl remasters, they’re going to attempt to bring the man himself back on tour via hologram. Those odd turns could tarnish this somewhat for long time supporters or leave a sour taste for someone looking to dive into this expansive body of work for the first time. Luckily, much like the discomforting stage banter within, the music overshadows all of that nonsense. Especially when it is presented with such care and wit as with this set.

Players:
Frank Zappa – Guitar, Vocals
Adrian Belew – Guitar, Vocals
Tommy Mars – Keyboards, Vocals
Peter Wolf – Keyboards
Ed Mann – Percussion
Patrick O’Hearn – Bass, Vocals
Terry Bozzio – Drums, Vocals

Frank Best Frank Zappa Songs

Born on December 21st, 1940, Frank Zappa packed a ridiculous amount of great music into his 52 years on this planet. During his lifetime he made nigh-on 100 separate recordings, put out dozens of classy compilations, fistfuls of singles (some of them super rare), and was the subject of various tribute albums. Among such a plethora of work, the best Frank Zappa songs stand as a testament to a remarkable mind the likes of which we’re unlikely to see again.

His legacy is equally vast: inspired in part by his earlier band The Mothers of Invention’sZappa’s discography has touched on avant-garde, musique concrète, industrial, neo-classical and theatrical rock.

Zappa is one of the few artists operating in a rock or post-rock medium who deserves the epithet “genius.” He poked fun at both the establishment and the counterculture with varying degrees of venom. He was also an advocate for free speech and personal choice, and was quite prepared to accept any barbs that came his way. Celebrated by the Velvet Revolutionaries in Prague, he also became a friend of Czech writer and philosopher Václav Havel. Closer to home, Zappa also earned a place within the upper echelons of Rolling Stone’s list of Greatest Guitarists Of All Time.

He could make metal, pop, rock, and blues, along with free-form jazz (à la Albert Ayler) and even classical. His own influence, meanwhile, ranges far beyond commercial success. Zappa had ideas to burn and would undoubtedly still be recording today, had it not been for his early death in 1993. Above all, he was a great musician and a venerated songwriter. Below we offer a selection – and it can only be that some of the best Frank Zappa songs.

Zappa in the 60s

What better place to start than at the beginning: the opening track on the Zappa/Mothers 1966 debut, Freak Out! In “Hungry Freaks, Daddy,” Zappa addresses the countercultural view of the Great Society. America was in both class and social turmoil at this time, and a psychedelic treatment was undercut not with Frank’s often-quoted cynicism but a fair degree of analysis. One assumes that a certain David Bowie was in contact with this album, since his song “Moonage Daydream” seems to reference the mantra, “Freak out, far out…” and he may have lifted his son’s name from the soon-to-come song “Wowie Zowie.

If you want to explore rock conspiracies, then unravel the ditty “Who Are The Brain Police?” A highly creepy Orwellian diatribe, it earns its place among the best Frank Zappa songs – not least for having freaked out its writer, who admitted that its gestation was a concern. “At five o’clock in the morning, someone kept singing this in my mind and made me write it down,” he recalled. “I will admit to being frightened when I finally played it out loud and sang the words.”

But Zappa wasn’t content to stay within the margins of hippie-speak. On “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It,” from the 1967 album “Absolutely Free”, the song’s bluesy origins give way to a cavalcade of musical styles – baroque, surf and rock opera among them. The lyric is a black comedy and another social satire, and the song remains the blueprint for Zappa’s revolutionary attempt to address the underground in a seven-plus-minute musical.

The Mothers’ third album, “We’re Only In It For The Money”, is an obvious send-up of materialist rock culture that even takes a poke at Sgt Pepper’s… For many Zappa fans, each track could make its case among the best of his songs. Perhaps the weirdest one is the short piece “Concentration Moon,” on which people – dissidents, minorities, et al. – are dragged away on buses and incarcerated. It’s no pastiche, but a heavy little number that still resonates.

Time for a breather. Time to “Stuff Up The Cracks.” The late ’68 album Cruising With Ruben & The Jets offers plenty of opportunity to unwind with a little experimental doo-wop. One of Zappa’s early loves, dating back to his own Italian-American roots, doo-wop has influenced many of the best Frank Zappa songs. Blessed with a cool Ray Collins vocal, some hot horns, and a sublime long-fade guitar solo from the main man, this is vintage Mothers, right down to the locked-down-tight rhythms of Roy Estrada and the percussive fills of Jimmy Carl Black and Arthur Dyer Tripp III. You might say this is atypical Frank, but then what is typical Frank?

“Hot Rats” (1969) is crammed with goodies, but the perennial live favourite, the instrumental “Peaches En Regalia” (also released as a single) retains its currency as one of the best Frank Zappa songs. From an early solo period when Zappa was embracing fatherhood with the birth of son Dweezil, this sumptuous track features studio-effect half-speed mastering and progressive fusion elements. Imagine it as a bizarre cross between Steely Dan and Weather Report, and enjoy the journey while Shuggie Otis plucks his bass and the masterful Ian Underwood carries the horn and organus maximus parts. Every time you play it you’re bound to hear something fresh. 

Zappa in the 70s

Skipping with a heavy heart over “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” we land on Weasels Ripped My Flesh and an expanded Mothers featuring Lowell George (en route to Little Feat fame). Both live- and studio-based – and Mother-great throughout – it boasts a classic early Neon Park artwork and includes “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama.” Nothing problematic here, just grand warp-rock with a surprisingly folky central acoustic guitar solo and the type of rolling blues rhythm one might also hear on a period Steve Miller Band album.

Recorded live at University Of California, Los Angeles, 1972’s “Just Another Band From LA” features The Turtles’ Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (aka Flo & Eddie) and shouldn’t be overlooked. To get more bang for your buck, lay back and immerse yourself in the utterly madcap “Billy The Mountain,” a rock opera parody that slaps The Wizard Of Oz next to a sly allusion to Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Given the experimental nature of this cracked tune, one suspects most of it was improvised on the spot after a few studio run-throughs, but that adds to the humorous tension.

Ever-prolific, Zappa and his Mothers were on fine form again during 1973’s “Over-Nite Sensation”, a flat-out comic rock extravaganza with more sexual innuendo than you can shake a stick at. Derided at the time, it sounds excellent today thanks to “Camarillo Brillo,” “I’m the Slime,” “Dinah-Moe Humm,” “Dirty Love,” et al. – but grab onto “Montana,” featuring Tina Turner and The Ikettes, as well as oddball singer Ricky Lancelotti. Fiendishly complex and funky, the track allows the ensemble to blow hard – none more so than Uncle Frank, whose long solo is a tour de force.

Zappa enjoyed a renaissance during this period, and 1974’s “Apostrophe (’)” would be his most successful album in the US. “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” kicked off a “suite” concerning an Eskimo and a fur trapper, but ends up as one of Frank’s zaniest and most profane tunes. Don’t let that put you off. It’s one of the best Frank Zappa songs of the mid-70s. Audacious rhythms and percussion proliferate, and DiscReet even released the song as a single, which helped the parent album break into the charts . Remarkable, considering the subject matter. (“Cosmik Debris” is another highlight from the standout album.)

For something slightly less leftfield, try “Cheepnis,” a delicious item on the live-album-with-overdubs “Roxy & Elsewhere”. As an experiment in echoing the FX on B-movies, this is hard to beat, with the new-look Mothers including Napoleon Murphy Brock and pioneering funkster George Duke.

The Mothers concept ends on One Size Fits All, which opens with the progressive fusion of “Inca Roads” but generally sends itself up thanks to a sequence of time signatures and a famous Zappa guitar solo.

During another prolific year, Zappa teamed up in earnest with his labelmate, friend, and kindred madman, Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van (Glen) Vliet). However, the results were less avant-garde than one might expect. Every track on 1975’s “Bongo Fury” satisfies, but we’ve picked out the appealing “Advance Romance” for its parodic but affectionate insight into how a love song is written and deconstructed. Soulful mid-70s blues.

The more minimalist approach taken on “Zoot Allures” brings old tropes back into the fold: doo-wop and blues-rock in particular. Disco, German culture, and sexual stereotypes all crop up in the lyrics, but for dark social commentary lock into “Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station,” where the sardonic dismantling of the work ethic manages to be blackly comic.

Without decrying Studio Tan and Sleep Dirt  fine albums both – take a look at Sheik Yerbouti, a monumental double-album recorded at London’s Hammersmith Odeon and The Palladium, New York. One song that didn’t get much homegrown airplay was the scatological “Bobby Brown,” in which Zappa’s delight at ignoring the boundaries of taste reaches a zenith. Hugely popular in Northern Europe, the song may be Zappa’s most successful commercial moment: the single shifted enough copies to go gold and became a firm live favorite.

In 1979, Zappa increased his fascination with Xenochrony and progressive guitar solos, but also enjoyed a period of intense exposure on North American FM radio. “Joe’s Garage” (from Joe’s Garage Act I) is based on a tongue-in-cheek, put-down of garage punk but, by using the God-fearing epiphany of the protagonists, it mutates into a punk classic that sticks it to corporate censorship while being unashamedly misanthropic.

On the same album, you’ll find “Watermelon In Easter Hay,” a song that’s often cited as being Zappa’s favourite composition. Much lighter than anything else on Joe’s Garage, the fluid guitar solos, occasionally reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, make it worth the price of admission alone, and it is a testament to Zappa’s compositional skill. (The original title was “Trying To Play A Solo With These Guys Is Like Trying To Grow A Watermelon In Easter Hay.” Bit long, maybe.)

Zappa in the 80s

After a sequence of albums dedicated to the art (and debunking) of guitar histrionics, Zappa enjoyed a later hit with “Valley Girl” a song that introduced fans to the culture of San Fernando schoolgirl “Valspeak.” The outcome was a double-edged sword, since Zappa was often viewed as a novelty act, but the track transcends its own joke and stands as one of the best Frank Zappa songs of the era. It elevated its inspiration (and vocalist), Moon Unit Zappa, along with his then 14-year old daughter, to the status of a star in her own right. Better still, it enabled the album Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch to break the Top 30, while the single peaked at No.12.

By the 80s, it was arguable that Zappa, while not turning his back on rock music, had become far more interested in his other loves: Boulez, Stravinsky, Eric Dolphy, and post-bop free jazz in general. To complete this journey, dig into the version of “Uncle Meat” on 1993’s The Yellow Shark, the final disc released during Zappa’s lifetime. Revisiting one of the best Frank Zappa songs of the 60s, this version, featuring the Modern Ensemble, helps wrap up a career of immense achievement. Tom Waits (who, as a fledgling artist, once supported Zappa on tour) described it best: “The ensemble is awe-inspiring. It is a rich pageant of texture in colour. It’s the clarity of his perfect madness and mastery. 

One of Zappa’s final performances is the album’s closer, the epic “G-Spot Tornado,” on which he overcame his illness and marched on stage in Frankfurt in order to conduct the Ensemble and received the ovation of his life. We won’t see his like again.

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In the late ’60s, when rock music was exploding in countless, new creative directions, when musicians were testing all of the limits—in the studio, onstage and in life—the Mothers of Invention proudly declared themselves freaks. And their leader, Frank Zappa, was the freakiest freak of all.

He’d first come to the attention of the public in a small way in 1963, when he appeared, as a young man with a greasy pompadour, on The Steve Allen Show—“playing” a bicycle. (Scroll to the bottom to check out the video.)

For rock fans though, it was the Mothers’ debut LP, appropriately titled Freak Out!, that first opened our eyes and ears. Released on Verve Records in June 1966, it was only rock’s second double album (preceded by Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde), but the fact that it was recorded by a band unknown outside of the Los Angeles club circuit made it an instant curiosity—especially when DJs and fans heard what kind of outrageousness these crazy-looking Mothers were up to.

Freak Out! was unlike any other rock album that had come before. Produced by Tom Wilson—whose other clients included Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground, Simon and Garfunkel and many notable jazz artists—it threw into a crockpot all manner of oddness: avant-garde experimentalism, blistering psychedelic rock (although Zappa eschewed drugs), doo-wop, blues and more, with songs, often satirical, pointing fingers at authoritarianism, hypocrisy and, in “Trouble Every Day,” the very real horror of race riots plaguing the Watts section of Los Angeles. The album ended with a side-long, 12-minute freeform jam called “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet (Unfinished Ballet in Two Tableaux)” that established the Mothers of Invention as some of the most gifted and boundary-busting musicians in rock.

On album number two, Absolutely Free, released just days before the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band, the expanded group, now eight musicians including horn players, fine-tuned its ideas, with barbed commentary on society (“Plastic People,” “Brown Shoes Don’t Make it”), absurdly surreal musings (“The Duke of Prunes,” “Call Any Vegetable”) and more of that brilliant musicianship.

But it wasn’t until their third release (actually Zappa’s fourth, as it followed his solo opus Lumpy Gravy) that the Mothers truly found their footing: We’re Only In It for the Money, released on Verve in March 1968, would become Zappa’s highest-charting album for six years (it reached #30), even while the band remained defiantly and resolutely anti-commercial in its scope. In fact, it was initially conceived as part of a larger Zappa project titled No Commercial Potential, which ultimately encompassed three other diverse albums: the aforementioned Lumpy Gravy, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets and Uncle Meat.

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There is some question regarding who exactly plays on “We’re Only In It for the Money“. The front cover shows seven Mothers, including Zappa. The liner notes list, and picture, eight: guitarist, pianist and vocalist Zappa; drummer Jimmy Carl Black (who famously declares himself to be the “Indian of the group” at the end of the lumbering, foreboding Musique concrete opener, “Are You Hung Up?,” one of two numbers featuring minor spoken parts by Eric Clapton); another drummer, Billy Mundi; bassist Roy Estrada; woodwinds player Bunk Gardner; another woodwinds musician, Ian Underwood, who also played piano; and Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood, who plays baritone and soprano saxophones. Don Preston, a multi-instrumentalist who had played on Absolutely Free, and would work with Zappa for several more years, is listed as “retired.”

What confuses the issue is that later re-releases of the album state, in their liner notes, that, “All musical duties on the album were performed by Frank Zappa, Ian Underwood, Roy Estrada and Billy Mundi. Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner and Euclid James ‘Motorhead’ Sherwood were all featured in some capacity on the record.”

Regardless of who did what, Money, produced by Zappa, is indisputably a ’60s classic and, for many, the apex of Zappa’s early years, if not his entire career. It was a concept album, owing to but simultaneously parodying Sgt. Pepper.

Its inside gatefold photo was a carefully choreographed takeoff on that previous year’s game-changer. Originally intended for the front cover, an idea nixed by the record label due to photo licensing issues (a portrait of the band in drag—Zappa wearing pigtails and a mini-skirt—adorned the outside instead), the Mothers’ Pepper parody was created by Cal Schenkel, with photography by Jerry Schatzberg. It found the band members surrounded by a seemingly random collage of people and objects, ranging from President Lyndon Johnson to the Statue of Liberty, Lee Harvey Oswald to Jimi Hendrix, the latter actually present for the photo shoot. Where the Beatles had had their name spelled out in flowers, the Mothers used vegetables and watermelons.

The humour displayed in the album art carried over to the music, but “We’re Only In It for the Money” also had its share of rather serious, biting moments as well. Its patchwork of musical elements—more of that patented avant-weirdness, doo-wop harmonies and deliberately funny voices, found sounds (including snorts, whispered dialogue from engineer Gary Kellgren and a telephone conversation in which a female caller, ostensibly Pamela Zarubica, a.k.a. Suzy Creamcheese, tells the other party, “He’s gonna bump you off, yeah; he’s got a gun, you know”)—was matched to Zappa’s sharpest lyrics to date; its 18 tracks, many of which segued abruptly into the next, were somewhat connected lyrically, albeit loosely at times.

In a few songs, Zappa bravely lampooned a sizable segment of his own audience, who adhered to the blossoming flower children/hippie ethos: “Flower Punk,” a takeoff on the oft-recorded “Hey Joe”—played at a breakneck pace in convoluted time signatures—asked, “Hey, punk, where you goin’ with that flower in your hand?”; “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” instructed listeners to free their minds and bodies and do just that; and, most notably “Who Needs the Peace Corps?” savaged the burgeoning youth migration to San Francisco at the time with lines like, “I’m hippy and I’m trippy, I’m a gypsy on my own, I’ll stay a week and get the crabs and take a bus back home, I’m really just a phony but forgive me ’cause I’m stoned.”

On the other hand, Zappa certainly had no love for the vapid suburban lifestyle of the hippies’ parents. “Bow Tie Daddy,” appropriately set to a giddy vaudeville-style melody, cautioned, “Don’t try to do no thinkin’, just go on with your drinkin’, just have your fun, you old son of a gun, then drive home in your Lincoln,” while the acerbic “The Idiot Bastard Son” spoke of a father who’s “a Nazi in Congress today” and a mother who’s “a hooker somewhere in L.A.” Zappa’s focus often shifted to the frayed relationships between adults and their nonconformist children—in “Lonely Little Girl,” he wrote, “The things they say just hurt your heart, it’s too late now for them to start to understand.”

Being Zappa there was both frivolity and outright darkness, sometimes in the same song: “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?,” set to a balladic, sing-along doo-wop melody, proposed nothing beyond that question (“Some say your nose, some say your toes, but I think it’s your mind”). Another, “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black,” was truly otherworldly, with its descriptions of Kenny’s “little creatures on display” and Ronnie saving “his numies on a window in his room,” not to mention “Mama with her apron and her pad, feeding all the boys at Ed’s Café, whizzing and pasting and pooting through the day”).

But several of Money’s songs induced palpable shudders among the young who encountered them upon the album’s release. Zappa’s political statements didn’t hold back, and he spoke openly to the paranoia and fear that was in the air during that game-changing year of assassinations, domestic strife and the escalation of the Vietnam War. In “Concentration Moon,” the ballad near the top of the track list, Zappa described deadly attacks on young people who posed a threat to the powers-that-be in the ’60s: “American way, how did it start?, thousands of creeps, killed in the park, American way, try and explain, scab of a nation driven insane.” The kids, he suggests, may soon have regrets that they ever left home: “Concentration moon, wish I was back in the alley, with all of my friends, still running free, hair growing out every hole in me.” Directly following it was the mournful and equally dismal “Mom & Dad,” which continued the harrowing theme: “Someone said they made some noise, the cops have shot some girls and boys, you’ll sit home and drink all night, they looked too weird… it served them right.”

“Harry, You’re a Beast” was, perhaps, the album’s most chilling of all, a graphic depiction of male dominance and the ritual abuse of women. Set to an awkwardly chirpy melody, Harry informs Madge, presumably his wife, that she’s “phony on top and phony underneath,” after which he rapes her: “Madge, I want your body! Harry, get back! Madge, it’s not merely physical! Harry, you’re a beast!” The album’s printed lyrics follow the depiction of the incident with several instances of the word “censored,” but a later remix of the album by Zappa (which is best avoided—Zappa inexplicably re-recorded bass and drum tracks) reveals those censored words—among several segments of the original recording either altered reluctantly by Zappa or excised by the label—to be “Don’t come in me, in me,” repeated several times. Madge, as the song concludes, is still sobbing as Harry proclaims, “Madge, I couldn’t help it, doggone it.” Needless to say, rock music had never before addressed this sort of despicable behaviour so openly. (A reference to comic Lenny Bruce was cut from the final track.)

Each of these songs, up through the self-deprecating “Mother People,” the final vocal number (with its x-rated stanza,“Better look around before you say you don’t care, shut your fucking mouth about the length of my hair, how would you survive, if you were alive, shitty little person?”), contained a plethora of words to consider, and bulged with innovative musical ideas, yet the vast majority of Money’s songs were extremely short, ranging from under a minute to a little over two, with three tunes falling between three and four minutes. Only the album-closing “The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny,” one of three tracks featuring the Sid Sharp-conducted Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra and Chorus—the liner notes instructed listeners to read Franz Kafka’s In the Penal Colony before proceeding with this one—flirted with serious length, clocking in at six-and-a-half minutes, nearly all of it experimental noodling.

The whole of We’re Only In it for the Money is just under 40 minutes total, encompassing uptempo tracks, ballads and the aforementioned studio explorations. It goes by briskly though, stopping and starting and shifting gears constantly and unexpectedly to what might seem dizzying effect at first but quickly settles into its own groove.

Frank Zappa, both with and without the Mothers of Invention, would never stop seeking new ways to express himself, until the end of his life. He recorded more than 60 albums in all, some exceedingly brilliant, others disappointing to an alarming degree. But it was on this early release, We’re Only In it for the Money, when he helped make it clear that anything was possible in rock music, that Frank Zappa confirmed his true genius.

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With unfettered access to the Zappa Trust and all archival footage, “Zappa” explores the private life behind the mammoth musical career that never shied away from the political turbulence of its time. Alex Winter’s assembly features appearances by Frank’s widow Gail Zappa and several of Frank’s musical collaborators including Mike Keneally, Ian Underwood, Steve Vai, Pamela Des Barres, Bunk Gardner, David Harrington, Scott Thunes, Ruth Underwood, Ray White and others. The soundtrack is a perfect complement to the film available as a limited edition 5-LP 180-gram smoke color vinyl set for the Zappa completist. Showcasing 69 total songs, there are 12 previously unreleased recordings from the Zappa archive along with his 1978 Saturday Night Live performance; 24 additional Zappa songs from his extensive catalogue spanning four decades; songs from Zappa’s labels Straight / Bizarre Records like “No Longer Umpire” by Alice Cooper and “The Captain’s Fat Theresa Shoes” by The GTO’s; 2 classical compositions by Edgard Varese and Igor Stravinsky; and 26 Original Score cues newly composed by John Frizzell for the documentary – all of which give the universe a sonic exploration into the musical brilliance of Frank Zappa.

The music in “Zappa” spans the composer’s entire career, including psychedelic rock, jazz and classical experiments — beginning with several cuts from his 1966 debut with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out, to the last recording released in his lifetime, 1993’s The Yellow Shark. It contains 12 tracks that have never been commercially released — including three selections from a June 1968 concert at the Whisky A Go-Go, his 1978 performance of “Dancin’ Fool” on Saturday Night Live and several interview clips — along with two songs originally released on Zappa’s labels. 

For Zappa, Winter received full access to the Zappa Trust. He interviewed several musicians who worked with Zappa, including Steve Vai, Mike Keneally and Ian Underwood, as well as Zappa’s widow Gail, who died in 2015. You can see the trailer below and stream the movie from its official website.

Frank Zappa’s story is not a predictable arc of youthful talent and enthusiasm blossoming into commercial success and critical acclaim followed by a long, boring afterlife. Frank began composing as a teenager after hearing the rhythmically iconoclastic sounds of Edgard Varèse, and well before picking up a guitar. In 1965, he formed the Mothers of Invention to support his composing habit. According to Paul McCartney, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was directly inspired by the Mothers’ debut album, Freak Out!, which would have been rock’s first double album if a different variety of freak out, Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, hadn’t arrived a week earlier. Have I mentioned that ZAPPA devotes surprisingly little screen time to Frank onstage with his various Mothers iterations? There are snippets galore, but don’t stream this movie expecting previously unheard guitar magnificence or comedy-rock tomfoolery. Winter points out that you can easily find that sort of thing elsewhere, and that’s definitely not the crux of this cinematic biscuit.

A triple-CD companion soundtrack, meanwhile, delivers oodles of complete tracks along with composer John Frizzell’s unexpectedly discreet and complementary score for the film. Universal is accepting orders for the physical set, which will be available next year as three-CD or five-LP formats (black or smoke vinyl), along with a 21-track compilation that will be sold digitally and on clear vinyl.

Pop music vinyl records and gramophone Royalty Free Vector

Now then, you’ll be relieved that under these abnormal circumstances it has’nt stopped a load of excellent records from being released this week, covering the usual baffling array of genres and styles. It’s here! ‘The Metrobolist’ by David Bowie, complete with Tony Visconti mix, is in on LP and CD. Will you get sent a coloured vinyl edition? David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World gets a 50th anniversary reissue under its original title, “Metrobolist”. Gold and white coloured vinyl are randomly inserted amongst the standard black vinyl, so hopefully you’re lucky enough to bag something extra special.
The Flaming Lips reissue ‘Transmissions From The Satellite Heart’ on a limited black and white mix coloured vinyl.

Very nice looking 5LP expanded set from Wilco for their ‘Summerteeth’ record Wilco’s “Summerteeth” turned 21 this year and gets a very handsome deluxe edition to celebrate. A box edition  with a five-LP set featuring the remastered studio album as well as the unreleased demos, alternates and outtake recordings pressed on 180-gram vinyl.. Lupin is the (almost) self-titled debut solo LP from Hippo Campus’ Jake Luppen. Really smart pop this, sounds huge but still handcrafted. Really good.

Neil Young issues a new double live album with Crazy Horse, ‘Return To Greendale’ was recorded on the 2003 tour. It’s  another fantastic live record from Neil Young & Crazy Horses from their tour supporting the Greendale album. “Return to Greendale” is the next instalment in Neil Young’s Performance Series and features a concert (audio and on film) from the historic and unique tour.  Some big ol’ riffs here.

New West Records look back at the influential early albums of Pylon, reissuing “Chomp” and “Gyrate”, as well as the lovely Pylon Box Set.

PUP release their new EP, “This Place Sucks Ass” on coloured vinyl

Noise rockers Hey Colossus return very much at full throttle with the excellent Dances / Curses on Wrong Speed Records. Full of drive, but also really quite hypnotising in its long drones. Nice double clear vinyl pressing too.

David Bowie 'Metrobolist (The Man Who Sold The World) LP

David Bowie – “Metrobolist”

November 2020 sees the 50th Anniversary of the release of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World in North America. The album marks the beginning of a collaboration with guitarist Mick Ronson that would last through classic works including Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane—as well as the first in a 10-year series of indispensable albums stretching through 1980’s Scary Monsters

Originally titled Metrobolist, the album’s name was changed at the last minute to The Man Who Sold The World. The 2020 re-release of the album under its Metrobolist moniker has been remixed by original producer Tony Visconti, with the exception of the track ‘After All’ which Tony considered perfect as is, and is featured in its 2015 remaster incarnation.

The Metrobolist 50th anniversary artwork has been created by Mike Weller who was behind the historically controversial “dress” cover which Mercury Records refused to release. As with the Space Oddity 50th anniversary vinyl, as well as a 180g black vinyl edition, it will come in 2020 limited edition handwritten numbered copies on gold vinyl (# 1971 – 2020) and on white vinyl (# 1 – 1970) all randomly distributed.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse 'Return To Greendale' 2xLP

Neil Young and Crazy Horse – “Return to Greendale”

Return to Greendale is the next installment in Neil Young’s Performance Series and features a concert from the historic and unique 2003 tour supporting the release of the Neil Young with Crazy Horse album Greendale. On the 2003 tour, Neil Young and Crazy Horse were joined on stage by a large cast of singers and actors to perform the story Neil Young wrote about the small town of Greendale and how a dramatic event affects the people living there. The ten songs from the powerful original album are performed in sequence, with the cast speaking the sung words – adding to the intensity of the performance. The film of the ambitious live show captures the vibrancy of Neil Young and Crazy Horse on stage in a unique multi-media experience. It seamlessly blends together the live performance, the actors portraying each song, with the story occasionally enhanced by scenes from the Greendale – The Movie. Both the live concert film and the Inside Greendale documentary are directed by Bernard Shakey and produced by L. A. Johnson.

The Flaming Lips 'Transmissions From The Satellite Heart' LP

The Flaming Lips – Transmissions from the Satellite Heart

Transmissions from the Satellite Heart is the Flaming Lips’ sixth album, released in 1993. The Norman, Oklahoma, quartet makes modern rock that doesn’t sound like anyone else; head music, they’d have called it in psychedelia’s heyday, weird soundscapes that conjure the bizarre alternate universe on the other side of the funhouse mirror. Transmissions, their second major-label release after a long indie apprenticeship has a mellower feel than early fans might expect, with lots of acoustic guitar and dreamy interludes to shame more-era Pink Floyd, but it’s no less weird than their last two efforts. strange sounds float in and out of the mix, and Wayne Coyne’s twisted hick vocals are convincingly demented. Coyne’s lyrics tend toward a dadaist stream of consciousness with occasional forays into junk culture; this is familiar modern rock territory, but songs such as She Don’t Use Jelly, Chewin the Apple of your Eye, and Be my Head are more effective and less annoying than the would-be gonzo efforts of Frank Black and Sonic Youth because they’re catchier and less pretentious. The Flaming Lips may be transmitting to the satellites, but when all is said and done, they live in Oklahoma.

Wilco 'Summerteeth' 5xLP

Wilco – “Summerteeth” Deluxe Edition

Wilco’s third album, Summerteeth, arrived in March 1999 to glowing reviews for its daring arrangements, lush harmonies and revealing lyrics. More than 20 years later, the Chicago-based band expand one of its best with multiple collections packed with hours of unreleased studio and live recordings.

Summerteeth introduced many fan-favourite classic tracks that the band continues to play live today, including I’m Always In Love, A Shot In The Arm and Via Chicago. The 24 previously unreleased recordings that debut on the deluxe edition explore the making of the critically acclaimed album with demos No Hurry and I’ll Sing It, outtakes I’m Always In Love (Early Run Through)and Viking Dan, and alternate versions Summer Teeth (Slow Rhodes Version)and Pieholden Suite (Alternate).

Limited to 6,000 copies, the five-LP set features the remastered studio album as well as the unreleased demos, alternates and outtake recordings pressed on 180-gram vinyl. However, instead of the Colorado concert included in the CD package, the LP version contains a special, exclusive performance from early 1999 titled, An Unmitigated Disaster, a previously unreleased live in-store performance at Tower Records on March 11, 1999, just two days after the album was released. The 10-song set, which was broadcast on Chicago radio station WXRT-FM, highlights several tracks from Summerteeth (We’re Just Friends, How To Fight Loneliness and Can’t Stand It). This show is only available in the LP collection.

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Pylon – “Pylon Box”

Pylon was born in 1979 in Athens, Georgia. Throughout their brief history, they were able to create influential work that would help foster the post-punk and art-rock scene of the early 80s. Their 1979 single Cool b/w Dub has reached legendary status with Rolling Stone calling it one of the “100 Greatest Debut Singles of All Time,” and was followed by their albums Gyrate (1980) and Chomp (1983). The band would break up upon Chomp’s arrival, but their music would continue to influence genres, musicians and fans for years to come. New West Records is proud to present Pylon Box — A comprehensive look at the band that features their studio LPs GyrateandChomp, both of which have been remastered from their original tapes, the 11-song collection Extra which includes rarities and 5 previously unreleased studio and live recordings, as well as Razz Tape, Pylon’s first-ever recording: a 13-song unreleased session that pre-dates the band’s seminal Cool b/w Dub debut.

Pylon Box also Includes a hardbound, 200 page full color book featuring pieces written by the members of R.E.M., Gang of Four, Steve Albini, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth, Interpol, B-52’s, Bradford Cox of Deerhunter, Mission of Burma, Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening and K Records, Anthony DeCurtis, Chris Stamey of the dB’s, Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate and many more. Includes an extensive essay chronicling the band’s history with interviews with the surviving members of the band as well as members of R.E.M., B-52’s, Gang of Four, Method Actors, and more. It also features never before seen images and artifacts from both the band’s personal archives as well as items now housed at the Special Collection.

Pylon 'Gyrate' LP

Pylon – “Gyrate”

Before they were a band, Pylon were art-school students at the University of Georgia: four kids invigorated by big ideas about art and creativity and society. Pylon was less a band, however, and more of an art project, which meant they had very specific goals in mind as well as an expiration date. While their time together as a band was short lived (1979-1983), Pylon had a lasting influence on the history of rock and roll. Throughout their brief history, they were able to create influential work that would help foster the post-punk and art-rock scene of the early 80s..Artists like R.E.M., Gang of Four, Sonic Youth, Sleater-Kinney, Interpol, Deerhunter and many more claim inspiration from the band.

In 1980 the band released its first record, Gyrate and began touring across the country in support of the release. The band would soon develop a following across the country and specifically in the bustling music scene in New York City. One of their earliest gigs was opening for the Gang of Four in the big apple. Following the critical acclaim of their debut release, Pylon went back into the studio. While in the studio they gleefully pulled their songs apart and put them back together in new shapes, revealing a band of self-proclaimed non-musicians who had transformed gradually but noticeably into real musicians. The resulting album, Chomp was barely off the press when Pylon were booked to open a run of dates for a hot new Irish band called U2 (after previously playing two arena shows with them in the month leading to the album release). Most bands would have jumped at the opportunity, but Pylon were skeptical. At a critical point in the life of Pylon, they opted to become a cult band rather than stretch their defining philosophy too far.

Pylon 'Chomp' LP

Pylon – “Chomp”

Before they were a band, Pylon were art-school students at the University of Georgia: four kids invigorated by big ideas about art and creativity and society. Pylon was less a band, however, and more of an art project, which meant they had very specific goals in mind as well as an expiration date. While their time together as a band was short lived (1979-1983), Pylon had a lasting influence on the history of rock and roll. Throughout their brief history, they were able to create influential work that would help foster the post-punk and art-rock scene of the early 80s..Artists like R.E.M., Gang of Four, Sonic Youth, Sleater-Kinney, Interpol, Deerhunter and many more claim inspiration from the band.

In 1980 the band released its first record, Gyrate and began touring across the country in support of the release. The band would soon develop a following across the country and specifically in the bustling music scene in New York City. One of their earliest gigs was opening for the Gang of Four in the big apple. Following the critical acclaim of their debut release, Pylon went back into the studio. While in the studio they gleefully pulled their songs apart and put them back together in new shapes, revealing a band of self-proclaimed non-musicians who had transformed gradually but noticeably into real musicians. The resulting album, Chomp was barely off the press when Pylon were booked to open a run of dates for a hot new Irish band called U2 (after previously playing two arena shows with them in the month leading to the album release). Most bands would have jumped at the opportunity, but Pylon were skeptical. At a critical point in the life of Pylon, they opted to become a cult band rather than stretch their defining philosophy too far.

“We fully intended Pylon to be an almost seasonal thing that we were gonna do for a minute and then get on with our lives,” says Curtis Crowe, drummer for the band. “But it just never went away. It still doesn’t go away. There’s a new subterranean class of kids that are coming into this kind of music, and they’re just now discovering Pylon. That blows my mind. We didn’t see that coming.”   New West Records is proud to partner with Pylon to reissue the albums “Chomp” and “Gyrate” back into the masses. Beautifully remastered from the original audio sources and pressed on vinyl for the first time in over 30 years.

PUP 'This Place Sucks Ass' LP

PupThis Place Sucks Ass

After recording their acclaimed 2019 album, Morbid Stuff, PUP was left with a handful of songs that didn’t make the final track list, largely because they were too frenetic or too unhinged. And for an album that fantasized about the world exploding, that’s saying a lot. “We usually save the really dark songs for the end of an album,” says frontman Stefan Babcock. “But we felt that Morbid Stuff was already pretty fucking dark by the time we got there.” The Toronto four-piece loved these thematic stragglers so much, though, that instead of forcing them onto the record or hiding them away forever, they decided that they deserved to stand on their own. The excluded tracks are now seeing the light via a six-song EP, This Place Sucks Ass.

For This Place Sucks Ass, however, they say it was relieving to let loose and put something into the world that values pleasure over perfection. “Our expectations are so high. Every album we make, we want it to be better than the last,” says Babcock. “But just putting out songs we like and think are fun, that’s also pretty rewarding. Taking a breather from the pressure we put on ourselves has been so positive for us.” Like all of their material,This Place Sucks Assis a document of the band PUP is – at times thoughtful and introspective and at other times wildly cathartic. And they hope that fans will take its sentiments of anger, frustration, and bitterness that run throughThis Place Sucks Ass and find collective empowerment and joy in turning them outward along with them. “Everything sucks and that’s OK, because it sucks for everybody,” says Babcock. “And we can make it a little bit better by being together in the shittiness.”

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Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention – “Carnegie Hall”

Carnegie Hall is a quadruple live album on 3CD’s by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, It is a mono recording of the two shows given on October 11, 1971 at Carnegie Hall in New York.

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Anna Von Hausswolff – “Ceremony”

Anna von Hausswolff is a 26-year-old from Gothenburg (and daughter of CM von Hausswolff) but her music sounds like it’s dug from ancient Viking rituals. She’s an artist whose scope, ambition

and dynamics actually warrant a comparison to Kate Bus. On the sprawling Ceremony she goes from straight up pop to ethereal Drones to rural psychedelia. Arguably ‘Ceremony’s most significant ingredient is the church organ of Gothenburg’s vast Annedalkyrkan, whose pipes are featured on the album’s striking cover. It’s featured on nine of the thirteen songs on the albumincluding the eight minute centerpiece Deathbed. Think Nico’s Desert Shore as sung by Kate Bush.

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David Bowie – “Outside in Budapest”

Superb Bowie Performance From The Earthling Tour. David Bowie’s 20th studio album was originally released in February 1997 on Arista Records. Earthling showcased an electronica-influenced sound partly inspired by the industrial and drum and bass culture of the 1990s. It was the first album Bowie self-produced since 1974’s Diamond Dogs.
The Earthling Tour started on 7th June 1997 at Flughafen Blankensee in Lübeck, Germany, continuing through Europe and North America before reaching a conclusion in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 7th November 1997. On August 14, ‘97, Bowie performed at Hungary’s Student Island Festival in Budapest, where he put on a quite extraordinary show, accompanied as he was by Reeves Gabrels on guitar, Gail Ann Dorsey on bass, Zack Alford on drums and Mike Garson on keyboards. Playing just a few tracks from the new record plus a fine selection of back catalogue gems, the entire show was broadcast, both across Eastern Europe and indeed in the US too on selected FM stations. Previously unreleased this remarkable gig is now available

 

We decided to cover a song from Frank Zappa’s first album “Freak Out” released back in 1966. It’s called “Trouble Every Day” and we found it very relevant to these times which is strange and sad that after all these years we’re still on the first page! We are condemning these horrible nonsense actions against the Black Community and condemning police brutality! We need to learn more and these actions against black people need to stop right now and we need to stop it. 

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All proceeds goes to NAACP Legal Defense Fund. We all need to listen more and learn more and if you see something that we’re doing wrong call us out and we will do better. Let’s keep fighting for Justice and Peace!

Originally released June 6th, 2020
Lyrics – Frank Zappa

Greenway Records 2020

 

It wouldn’t be Halloween without a little Frank Zappa…and this year, Zappa Records and UMe are delivering once again with a frightfully entertaining new box set.

The bandleader’s New York Halloween shows were among his most anticipated as he blended his signature musical virtuosity with a heavily tongue-in-cheek dose of seasonal revelry.  The 1981 stand at the late, lamented Palladium – a once-luxurious 1927 movie palace theatre, sadly demolished in 1998 to make room for new dormitories at New York University – was particularly special to Zappa’s fans as he had curtailed the 1980 shows earlier than expected as a result of illness.  (Not to mention that there was no fall tour, and no Halloween show, in 1979.)

Halloween ’81 would be even more special, however.  Zappa had arranged for the midnight concert in front of the 3,000-capacity crowd to be recorded for both radio and television (the latter on a new channel called MTV) – reportedly the first live simulcast in cable television history.  The early show at 8 pm was filmed, too, and multimedia auteur Zappa would put that footage to good use, too, on his home video releases of The Torture Never Stops (1982) and The Dub Room Special (1983) and on the audio releases of The Dub Room Special, One Shot Deal, and the You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore series.  This new box set, however, marks the first time audio from the concerts has been released in its entirety.

For the shows, Zappa was joined by his new band consisting of three new players – Scott Thunes on bass, Chad Wackerman, on drums and Robert Martin on keyboards – plus veterans Ray White on guitar, Ed Mann on percussion and Tommy Mars on keys.  Steve Vai, affectionally referred to by Zappa as the “Little Italian Virtuoso,” appeared on his second tour as a band member.  This unit had only been on the road for a month but played with the tightness of a seasoned troupe as they ran through Zappa’s intricate melodies both new and old.  The tour supported the September 1981 release of You Are What You Is, and a number of that double album’s songs were featured including its title track, “Teen-Age Wind,” “Doreen,” “I’m A Beautiful Guy,” “Mudd Club,” “Dumb All Over,” “Suicide Chump,” and the Halloween-apropos, double entendre-laden “Goblin Girl.”

Available on October 2nd: there are 3 shows on 6 CD, more than 7 hours of Zappa, With a mask and costume, plus a 40-page booklet with rare photos from the event by John Livzey and new liner notes by touring band member Robert Martin, Vaultmeister Joe Travers and super fan-in-attendance Gary Titone who pens a remembrance of the shows. In addition, a 1CD version titled “Halloween 81: Highlights From The Palladium, New York City,” featuring performances from all three shows along with an exclusive track, “Strictly Genteel,” from the November 1st show not included on the box set.

These ended up as the final shows Zappa ever played at the Palladium and as his penultimate Halloween concerts.  He would revive the tradition just once more at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum in 1984.  Halloween 81 captures Zappa and his musical cohorts in peak form.  Both the 6-CD and 1-CD iterations arrive from Zappa Records/UMe on October 2nd and can be pre-ordered .

In 2020, one of the best things that has just come out for me is an archival release of legendary Frank Zappa concerts from New York. Exploring this third in a series of comprehensive concert-run super deluxe boxed CD sets issued by the Zappa Family Trust, Halloween ’81 has given me pause to reassess a period of Frank’s later career which I kind of overlooked, especially when it came to appreciating his touring band of that moment in time. I had some of the albums, but I didn’t get into them as much as prior release for some reason.

As a lifetime Frank Zappa fan, why I downplayed this period is a good question beyond the scope of this review (besides, you don’t need to be bored reading about my trials and tribulations… this is about Frank!). Listening to these recordings with now really fresh ears has been revelatory. I am getting to hear the material from those ’80s albums played by his great band live without a net. It is all delivered in real time with the energy that only an on-stage performance before a live audience can bring. The result is quite tremendous, I must say!

 

A detail worth noting: these shows are much less interactive than the typical Zappa Halloween show from prior years. Usually Zappa would have fairly extensive involvement with the audience but since the shows were both being broadcast via satellite on the radio and filmed for the then-new Music Television network (ie MTV), the band just stays focused and plough through the performances (in majestic fashion, I might add!).

So a song like “Teenage Wind” feels a whole lot cooler live than on the studio release. The back to back story telling of “Beauty Knows No Pain” into ‘Charlie’s Enormous Mouth” works great here. Even a comic jam like “Stevie’s Spanking” sounds “just right,” rocking harder than the version which came out on 1984’s “Them Or Us”.

The version of “Sinister Footwear II” on the midnight Halloween show is quite beautiful and epic!  “The Black Page #2” here has a nifty little reggae lift going on through out which is pretty remarkable when you stop and think about it (the song is reputedly one of the most complex of Zappa’s compositions). There are neat arrangement tweaks Frank made on Sheik Yerbouti favourites “Flakes” and “Yo Mama.” The early versions of “What’s New In Baltimore” and “Moggio” here are hypnotic.

There’s a really sweet moment toward the end the late show where Frank pays grateful homage to New York City and his appreciation for the fan’s support (remember what I said earlier about being a part of that NYC energy… it really was “a thing”).

Then they launch into a reggae version of “King Kong” (from 1968’s Uncle Meat album). And to end the show they whip out a near-epic heavy metal version of “Auld Lang Syne” — apparently Zappa had been accused of being the Guy Lombardo of Halloween!  Whammy bar guitar pyrotechnics included, no extra charge. Brilliant!

Frank Zappa, Halloween 81 (Zappa Records/UMe)

Frank Zappa documentary

A new documentary will offer an in-depth look at the singular life and work of pioneering artist, Frank Zappa. Directed by Bill & Ted star Alex Winter (The Panama Papers, Downloaded), Zappa is set for release over Thanksgiving Weekend, via Magnolia Pictures. the film has been described as “an intimate and expansive look into the innovative life of the iconic – and iconoclastic – musician and artist.” Deadline also confirmed that the film will delve into “the private life behind the musical career that never shied away from the political turbulence of its time,” thanks to a trove of archival content.

Fans can also expect new and archival interviews from a variety of friends, family members, and collaborators, including the musician’s late widow, Gail Zappa, as well as from Mothers of Invention multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood; guitar virtuoso Steve Vai; author, musician, actress, and Zappa-family-nanny, Pamela Des Barre; Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington; bassist Scott Thunes, and many others. The excellence of Frank Zappa with magnificent sound recorded at various venues on the 1981 tour (except for 3 tracks from Fall 1980) with some studio overdubs added at Zappa’s home recording studio.
To my information tracks from this that appear on official albums have extensive overdubs and different mixes.

“Alex Winter has created an amazing documentary,” said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles in a statement. “Zappa is an incredibly nuanced and compelling look at the visionary iconoclast and the environment that formed him.” Winter added, “This is the most ambitious project I’ve ever worked on, with a couple years of archival preservation in addition to several years to make the film itself. This isn’t your typical music doc but rather a multi-faceted narrative that aims to bring this complex artist to life.”

More recently, Zappa’s work with his band The Mothers was celebrated in a new 4CD and digital collection of 70 unreleased live and studio recordings engineered by the then-unknown producer Roy Thomas Baker, which make up the box set’s first disc. Overseen by the Zappa Trust and produced by Ahmet Zappa and Zappa Vaultmeister, Joe Travers, The Mothers 1970 collects together more than four hours of previously unreleased performances by the heralded line-up which lasted roughly seven months in 1970.

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Captain Beefheart’s 1970 album Lick My Decals Off, Baby, is a classic album.  If you can imagine (for a moment) that ‘Trout Mask Replica’ never happened and the next in The Captain’s discography was ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby,’ the chasm between lovers and haters would be just as strong. For those who could palate ’Trout Mask Replica,’ the follow up album seems somewhat “commercial” but is still very much just as lyrically abstract and equally instrumentally adventurous. The production quality of the album is unquestionably superior to its predecessor. First, gone are the “field recordings” from the Beefheart house in Woodland Hills, CA. The entirety of this follow-up album was seemingly recorded in a proper studio…and was given enough of a budget to spend precious studio time to make sure it sounded much more than a hugger-mugger arrangement of demos/outtakes.

Perhaps it’s the simple and sublimely unique charm of it all, but the “fault” that I have discovered with ‘Trout Mask Replica’ is the fact that it feels more like a scrapbook of those nine months holed up in a claustrophobic house rather than a proper and cohesive autobiography of those times. Please don’t misinterpret those words to mean it is unworthy. After all, I am an ardent supporter and one of the faithful that applaud ‘Trout Mask Replica,’  that represents one of the most landmark recordings in Pop/Rock of the 20th century. As a matter of fact, I listened to it alongside The Mothers Of Invention ‘Uncle Meat’ in a single sitting and there is quite a bit of similarity regarding the structure of each album.

Obviously, the common denominator is Frank Zappa himself who informed the construction and flow of ‘Trout Mask Replica.’ He was able to more-or-less realize what HE THOUGHT The Captain was trying to achieve rather than allowing Beefheart to express what he truly wanted (perhaps that was impossible)…but that will never be known. However, the snippets of those “field recordings” and other shenanigans that were grooved into wax seem to be more of Zappa’s perverse nature than it does the overarching concept Beefheart had in mind.

That said, ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’ has all of the raucous, cantankerous, obstreperous and demanding music of ‘Trout Mask Replica,’ yet has a beauty, sheen and digestive quality that I don’t think Zappa ever wanted; he endeavored to make a difficult album even less surmountable by the masses…pushing the boundaries further than The Captain even wanted. ‘Lick…’ is just as free, unencumbered and freewheeling, but unlike its predecessor, possesses more structure, stability and accessibility. However, reflecting on Beefheart’s recorded output, ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby,’ is an album that (like ‘Strictly Personal’) is absolutely essential; equally as ground-breaking.

The immediate takeaway is that the songs are more succinct and the music (thanks to the production) is much more intense than the inconsistent sonics of ‘Trout Mask Replica.’ The ‘Trout Mask…’ graduates; John French (aka: Drumbo), Mark Boston (aka: Rockette Morton) and Bill Harkleroad (aka: Zoot Horn Rollo) were all on absolute FIRE for this recording. Despite all of the insanity that occurred during the recording of ‘Trout Mask Replica,’ that prepared them to achieve the “cohesiveness” on ‘Lick…’ Those three (and no disrespect to Artie Tripp whose contribution is equally significant) were nothing short of telepathic at this point.

The solo guitar piece, ‘One Rose That I Mean’ is nothing short of virtuosity. ‘Peon” is an absolute sublime bass/guitar duet that illustrates a performance between players that have spent an immense amount of time playing (fantastic and unconventional material) together. The soprano sax excursion in ’Japan Is A Dishpan’ is just as “Coltrane” as John Coltrane himself during those years where he was “searching” for something he was not able to harness within the normal bookends of traditional harmony. Well, The Captain seemed to distill that searching in the matter of just shy of three minutes.

I didn’t ever think that I would have so much to say with regard to specific tracks, but the vocals, are “in your face.” This is Beefheart at his absolute most pointed, direct, intense, focused and determined. ‘The Smithsonian Institute Blues (or the Big Dig)’ should have been the theme song to the ill-fated civil engineering disaster labeled ‘The Big Dig’ in Boston, MA as a way of expanding roadways in and out of the city to ameliorate perennial vehicle congestion. ‘The Buggy Boogie Woogie’ is absolutely an answer to our current zeitgeist.

Much like the “now assumed” controlled chaos of ‘Trout Mask Replica,’ ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’ is the Pop/Rock album that is chaos perfected. The music contained therein confirms the so-called “randomness” of the former and cements it by reproducing it to amazing detail. It ossifies that “controlled chaos;” it is thoughtful, repeatable and unable to repeat the sentiment that ultimately created the art.

‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’…’ requires and demands as much a close analysis as its predecessor (not to mention it sounds a whole lot better) and is bereft of much (if not most) of the “filler” that consumes ‘Trout Mask Replica.’ If newcomers to the Beefheart camp need to warm their toes into his most fruitful/experimental period before diving-in head first, listen to ‘Strictly Personal’ and ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’ before attempting the glorious miasma that is ‘Trout Mask Replica.’

PS – I know this sentiment might rival a lot of opinions but I appreciate having the ability to compose and share my thoughts in an open forum…all reactions welcome!

words all written by Brent Rusche July 2020.