Frank Zappa: Classic or Dud?

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He's hardly ever been mentioned here, but in my humble opinion Frank Zappa was one of the towering figures in late-twentieth century American music. He was an impeccable, perfectionistic musician responsible for some of the most amazing and ahead-of-its-time music. From his first album ("Freak Out" in 1966) to his sadly-early death in 1993, he continually pushed the musical envelope throughout amazingly prolific career, combining elements of rock, jazz, avant-garde music concrete and even modern classical music (Varèse, Stravinsky, von Webern, etc.). Lyrically, Zappa was one of the most amazingly astute social commentators on American life (God, what a field day he would have had a _field day_ with the imbecile Chimp in the White House now!)

On the other hand, some contend that Zappa was a musical con-artist, a pretentious artiste peddling scatological, misanthropic lyrics. Or, as one of my friends put it, "Zappa fans are just pretentious Dead Heads."

So, what do you think?

Tadeusz Suchodolski, Monday, 14 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

I own a couple of albums and know some hardcore fans -- generally, though, I find him easier to regard than to enjoy. I won't doubt his compositional range, but even so.

Ned Raggett, Monday, 14 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

the fact that he would have a _field day_ with george w. just proves zappa's tendency for cheap, easy humour. that said, his music is often gleefully hilarious and i thoroughly love 'apostrophe' to the point that i'm just now regretting leaving it off my forty albums. every song on that is fantastic.

ethan, Monday, 14 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Weird that this should come up because I've just been contemplating Zappa again after picking up used copies of You Are What You Is and One Size Fits All the other day. I'd have to say classic just because he release so much good stuff, mostly in the early days. One Size Fits All fits this, as do the aforementioned Apostrophe (though I preferred Overnite Sensation just a bit more, it's pretty close), Freak Out, Absolutely Free, Hot Rats, Lumpy Gravy and We're Only In it For the Money...virtually no filler on any of these.

On the other hand, stuff released in the late seventies and through the eighties was often fairly puzzling. Musically speaking, it was incredibly well-played, and the lyrics had a bitter sting to them that you couldn't help but admire a good chunk of the time. By this time, though, he got into a really nasty groove that went past obvious satire to the point where you weren't quite sure that he wasn't being serious anymore: how many times can you release an album filled to the gills with songs about big breasts, blow jobs, drugs, and various other degeneracies until any claims to satire are dismissed? In a lot of ways it became a one-note dirty joke, and while it remained clever it became redundant and increasingly transparent. Moments of brilliance were still there: Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch was actually quite solid if you jettisoned the novelty hit single. The Yellow Shark proved that the man knew how to compose music (though Jazz From Hell had already proved that, it was a bit on the sterile side). More than anything, this became a period where Zappa was more notable just for the sheer amount of product he cranked out. That's not enough to change my vote, though. Still classic.

Sean Carruthers, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

You know, Zappa is a classic to me, but not as *holy crap* amazing as I once thought. People really give him too much credit for his weird music. To me, it seems natural to write that sort of crap. It comes from not being able to focus very well, or not wanting to bother, perhaps as a sort of gimmick! You'll notice his stripped down songs on "Zoot Allures", "Freak Out" and "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" are booooring. He's not very good at writing real (what most people would consider "normal") songs. "Cheapnis" is one exception, though it is full of weird changes and "humorous" subject matter, it does feel like a good rock song.

If you bother to learn how to write music, write a big, run-on sentence like Zappa did so you can just sit back and hire super-professional musicians to play it later, as a challenge to their virtuosity and a feather in all of your caps! And then mix and match your paragraphs, so you never have to start a new book (since it's such a mess to begin with) and have people call your entire body of work a brilliant intertwined "concept"!

Music that is composeurish is rather dull, unless it is actually goodlike Mozart, Vivaldi or Beethoven, when the orchestration is so good, you don't notice the minutia unless you concentrate and are then blown away on a whole different level. Zappa falls way short of that. Everything is "hey, listen to this little weird thing" *insert cowbell rattle followed by kazoo*. (This reminds me of Metallica, by the way; I can hear the metronome ticking in the background. That's bad music! Is that supposed to be emotion? Hmmm...)

I prefer the Grateful Dead to most Zappa, with the exception of "Apostrophe" & "Sheik Yerbouti". Some others that are okay, but by no means what the fans make it out to be, are "The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life", "Yellow Shark", "Joe's Garage" and "You Are What You Is". I also have "Live At The Ritz" (or something?) that I never listen to. It is some of the most boring shit I own, except for the one track "I Am The Slime" which I don't have on any other recording... Which album has "Zombie Woof"? That'sa good one, actually.

Anyway, I think what I'm trying to say is that it's a lot harder to make a cohesive song that has some emotion rather than filling a music sheet with black dots and having Steve Vai and Anton Figg play it for you while you play composer genius. The main guy from Jethro Tull is like that, too, but I think he actually has a reason to be, since it's not 1/2 just free improvisation and studio overdubs.

Of course, if you are a fan of his music, you'll be ridiculously offended by the notion that he's nota super genius, even if you have no musical knowledge or skill yourself as a source to draw upon for judgement, and tell me to piss off or something for daring to compare my unfamous non-music-reading sensibilities to the god of avant garde. He definitely gets tons of points for being first. Who knows if I would be able to lay on a couch, imagining constantly changing music patterns if he hadn't shown me how (or did he)? I do it all the time, but it drives me nuts because songs that wander off into insanity are boring. Playing simple and well is difficult. I think Zappa released too much of too little value (except to those fanatics of course). But, I still think he's a classic for the good stuff he did put out and for trying to do something interesting (even if not really very funny at all, just weird and kinda perverted) with music.

, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

'zomby woof' and 'i am the slime' are on the same album, 'overnite sensation', which is really great. buy it.

hey, nobody's mentioned 'hot rats' yet, perhaps his greatest album?

ethan, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

I did! One of my faves of the early period.

Sean Carruthers, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

There is (or was recently) an article on The Wire website by a writer who really hated Zappa, and I had never heard anybody who really hated him before. While I really like a lot of stuff like "Weasels Ripped My Flesh", "Uncle Meat", "Apostrophe", and even some parts of "Sheik Yerbouti", a lot of the criticisms hit home for me. He really did end up being a lot of the things he parodied. Too bad, really.

Oh, check out his autobiography. It's got some good laughs. Spoo!

Dave M., Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

I think Hot Rats is boring.

Interestingly I don't really feel qualified to respond to this thread any more, despite owning a load of Zappa. I haven't listened to any of it in more than a year.

I think my favorites used to be Apostrophe'/Overnite Sensation (esp. "Montana" - "I think I'll raise me up some DENNIL FLOSS"), the guitar box (esp. the track with the bouzouki), parts of Joe's Garage (mostly for the guitar sound, cf. 'Watermelon in Easter Hay', and because I get an enormous kick out of hearing the Ceeeeentral Scrooooaaaatinizer), One Size Fits All, much of Zoot Allures and Lather (I get an infantile kick out of the Stravinsky namedrop on "Titties 'n' Beer", but that's just a perk).

Josh, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Utter, utter, utter, utter...dud. One of the most overrated artists of all time. Penman's excellent hatchet-job in The Wire has already been mentioned, he's say it all, have nothing to add.

Omar, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Was it him who named his kid 'Moon Unit'? If so, dud.

DG, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Total DUD - "the single most untalented man in rock" or whatever it was Lou Reed once said (tho' I notice Louis kissed and made up once FZ was safely brown bread...) Ugly, unfunny lyrics, pointless musicianly grandstanding, total lack of quality control, etc. etc. Tiny bonus points for 'Trout Mask Replica', Wild Man Fischer, the alb cover to 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh', the first side of Hot Rats and the title 'Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue'. And that's it.

Andrew L, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

IT'S THE BLIMP 2 -

- following the awesome tribute night to zappa and beefheart at THE CLUNY - where was the fuckin' WIRE ? - another night is planned on thursday 17th may at newcastle arts centre - featuring ex- zappa/beefheart drummer jimmy carl black and the muffin men, zoviet france, hounds of the hill and many others - zappa and beefheart classics fucked over bigstyle - like susan george in straw dogs !

geordie racer, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

i'm not really into the idea of zappa. too much 'virtuosity' and 'cleverness'. and from the early 70s onwards, i'm imagining too many guitar twiddlybits?

but. having said that, Peaches In Regalia is very good, doesn't seem forced like a lot of his stuff (although the rest of Hot Rats is booring)

Absolutely Free is 'wacky' and 'clever' and 'over the top', but on that album it actually works very well, is a great album

everything else i'm kind of indifferent to.

what was the teddy & his patches thing, erm, Suzy Creamcheese? that was good.

gareth, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Actually, Moon Unit still happily calls herself Moon Unit — ditto Dweezil, ditto Achmed — which points up the absolutely least dud side of Zappa: his happy personal life, relationship with kids etc (compare/contrast Zowie Bowie = Joey Jones, or whatever). Plus she was central to the only FZ artefact I've unforcedly actually liked (as opposed to guardedly "appreciated"): the Valley Girl single.

Tadeusz says astute, but I've never thought FZ was over-and-above astute — just, y'know, run-of-the-mill astute. Never heard an FZ commentary that I hadn't already heard elsewhere (not nec. heard elsewhere in pop /rock, but in Letterman or Alex Cockburn, or just somewhere... ): I think the prob. is he NEVER turned his laser-eye on himself and the wackness of his dreams/fears. "Astute" somewhat excepted, all the good words TS uses are true — but (to me) so what. FZ is just too guarded, so that's how he makes me.

mark s, Tuesday, 15 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

Wow, this place moves fast. Set this thread up a week ago, and it's at the bottom of the heap already. Hmmm.

Anyway, my own thoughts: I tend to like Zappa's earlier stuff most (just about everything he did with the Mothers of Invention), plus a great deal of his late seventies/early eighties post-Mothers stuff. Faves would have to be Apostrophe (as someone upthread said, so gleeful), Freak Out!, Hot Rats, Joe's Garage, and Läther (because it's so over-the-top, has all of the best bits from Sheikh Yerbouti and Orchestral Favorites, and that cow on the cover with the Zappa goatee-and-beard). Guilty favorites would be Sheikh Yerbouti (great pop songs and awesome guitarwork mixed with pure wank and pointlessly stupid lyrics) and Thing Fish (mainly because it brings together everything that was good and was bad about Zappa). Largely agree that he tapered off towards the end, when he was releasing albums largely because he could (and because he'd gotten that damn Synclavier doing music by himself, without anyone or anything to keep him or his sketchier ideas in check).

As for the astuteness -- I guess some of that's from my having read a lot of his interviews as well as his autobiography. His lyrics are a grab-bag of the funny, the astute, the obscene and the flat-out stupid ... even he admitted that a lot of his lyrics and plots (esp. Joe's Garage) were stupid.

Tadeusz Suchodolski, Monday, 21 May 2001 00:00 (nineteen years ago) link

one year passes...
Can I just say quickly that Zappa is cod weirdo pseudo-freak out obscurist balderdash for muso's with no soul to wank over whilst the rest of us bite our tongues whilst searching frantically for a tune or vibe to grip. Insincere rubbish written by someone who had a deep musical understanding but not the wit to realise it.

'Hot Rats' is good though, and is it 'Suzy Cream Cheese' (?). Actually, Zap ain't so bad. I mean the guy did twiddle the knobs on 'Troutmask' right? It's just he's so fucking odd; but for the sake of being odd, you know. Whereas with Loonheart, you know that he is genuinely fucking out there, Zappa is always trying so damn hard.

With this is mind: Dud.

Roger Fascist, Monday, 29 July 2002 00:00 (seventeen years ago) link

how could you not like frank? he looks like a hippie. Classic for that.

JUlio Desouza, Monday, 29 July 2002 00:00 (seventeen years ago) link

Disclaimer: I have a very spotty knowledge of Frank Zappa's catalogue, and most of what I have heard has been heard over the radio or while visiting friends. I have a sense of frustration with Zappa. He seems to have all of this talent of some sort, but why does he choose to make so much awful music with it? His social commentary doesn't impress me too much, though I guess it meant more when I was in high school. The scatological stuff I've heard (e.g. Joe's Garage) bores me. Still, like many non-fans above, I have some favorite songs. I like "You Are What You Is," the song, quite a bit. I like some of what I have heard from Freakout. More dud than classic, to me, but I haven't heard enough to make a serious judgment. (I've heard enough to know that I'm not interested enough to want to spend money on any of his CDs though.)

DeRayMi, Monday, 29 July 2002 00:00 (seventeen years ago) link

True story: about 12 years ago I exchanged a series of tapes with a work colleague / fellow music lover (like you do). At first, he couldn't get his head around rap at all, but the Public Enemy stuff clicked with him and he suddenly got really excited about hip hop. Turning to his own collection to try and find a parallel, he came up with ... a Zappa mixtape! (which I've still got)

Jeff W, Monday, 29 July 2002 00:00 (seventeen years ago) link

I recently bought "Strictly Commerical: The Best of Frank Zappa" mostly because I've had "Let's Make The Water Turn Black" in my head since I first heard it. Quite disappointed with the rest of the album and the version of LMTWTB is different from the one I heard which was instrumental with trumpets replacing the singing and was impossibly ace. The rest of his stuff is hit and miss. I rode home stoned the other day with "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" on my walkman and found myself laughing uncontrollably hard at the lyrics. Listneing back the next day, I found it hard to see why they were so funny at the time.

dog latin, Sunday, 4 August 2002 00:00 (seventeen years ago) link

four years pass...

So... Nobody here has a sense of humor unless they're STONED??

All of you hate fun and sweet sweet guitar solos. REVIVE!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssjVez9UA4w

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew3Dq82Q1bQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCG4Caw7IIc

Andi Mags, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:34 (thirteen years ago) link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_i_HVBD9ks

Alternate '73 version of Montana with better video quality but lower sound. KILLER solo.

Andi Mags, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:50 (thirteen years ago) link

ahhhhh thanks

cutty, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:50 (thirteen years ago) link

whoa i just clicked on that "last zappa interview" video--really sad

cutty, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:53 (thirteen years ago) link

fuckin ian underwood!

cutty, Monday, 28 May 2007 04:57 (thirteen years ago) link

I haven't brought myself to watch that yet, but there are 5 sections of the Zappa bio from BBC on there too, which I highly recommend.

Andi Mags, Monday, 28 May 2007 05:11 (thirteen years ago) link

That video of "You are what you is" made the 8 year old me extremely nauseous when it originally aired.

Sparkle Motion, Monday, 28 May 2007 16:08 (thirteen years ago) link

four years pass...

I just read about this morning--no recollection of it playing any festivals here, and I can't find a listing on IMDB.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7figLnhYZ44

clemenza, Sunday, 4 March 2012 13:48 (eight years ago) link

”both” is the answer to the this thread

the wild eyed boy from soundcloud (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Sunday, 4 March 2012 18:41 (eight years ago) link

haha, otm

Steamtable Willie (WmC), Sunday, 4 March 2012 19:49 (eight years ago) link

So much material that there are extremes of both.

c'est ne pas un car wash (snoball), Sunday, 4 March 2012 20:59 (eight years ago) link

three months pass...

Full catalogue to be reissued by Universal this year, apparently including some new mastering jobs. (By Joe Travers? No details given.)

My first question is whether Gail and the ZFT retains the right to keep on mining the extensive vaults and putting stuff out themselves.

Biff Wellington (WmC), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:30 (seven years ago) link

hmmm, i seem to recall that the mixes of a lot of those 90s reissues had been futzed w/ by Zappa? wonder if these are the "original" mixes or whatever.

tylerw, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:43 (seven years ago) link

RIP Rykodisc.

Electro-Shock Rory (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:47 (seven years ago) link

I hope they're the "unfutzed" versions.

EZ Snappin, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:50 (seven years ago) link

I dunno - the original version of "We're Only In It For the Money" is pretty horrible, really

frogbs, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:53 (seven years ago) link

sonically, I mean

frogbs, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 21:54 (seven years ago) link

Would like somebody to explain me the difference between remixing and remastering in the context of this news. When FZ did the CD releases of Ruben and the Jets and WOIIFTM with new bass & drum tracks, it's safe to say he did new mixes. There are fairly radical differences in LP and CD mixes of Hot Rats. But I imagine that most of the CD catalogue consisted of digital transfer of the original vinyl masters, right, without much fiddling around?

Biff Wellington (WmC), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:06 (seven years ago) link

You have it right, Remastering is tracking down the best possible format of the final mixes of an album (in Zappa's case probably 1/2 or 1/4 inch analog tape reels and adding equalisation and/or compression & limiting to get the best overall sound and dynamics onto whichever format the recording is going to end up on. Of course the potential abuse of the process is a big issue in the digital age.

Remixing is loading the original unmixed master tapes onto whatever the relevant playback machine would be and repeating the process of mixing the album from scratch.

MaresNest, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:15 (seven years ago) link

The regular cds of Freak Out have a bunch of digital echo Frank added in the 80s. The reissue entitled MOFO has the og mix.

Electro-Shock Rory (C. Grisso/McCain), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:18 (seven years ago) link

I remember reading that he apparently dicked about with recordings other than Hot Rats and WOIIFTM too, that's where the UMRK Approved master tag came in.

MaresNest, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:19 (seven years ago) link

I dunno - the original version of "We're Only In It For the Money" is pretty horrible, really

the version on cd with added slap bass is a whole new level of awful though

zappi, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:38 (seven years ago) link

hmmm, i seem to recall that the mixes of a lot of those 90s reissues had been futzed w/ by Zappa? wonder if these are the "original" mixes or whatever.

"futzed" is putting it mildly.

Reissues

In 1984, Zappa prepared a remix of Cruising with Ruben & the Jets for its compact disc reissue and the vinyl box set The Old Masters I. The remix featured new rhythm tracks recorded by bassist Arthur Barrow and drummer Chad Wackerman, much as the 1984 remix of We're Only in It for the Money had featured. Zappa stated "The master tapes for Ruben and the Jets were in better shape, but since I liked the results on We're Only in it For the Money, I decided to do it on Ruben too. But those are the only two albums on which the original performances were replaced. I thought the important thing was the material itself."[2]

After the remixing was announced, a $13 million lawsuit was filed against Zappa by Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk Gardner and Don Preston, who were later joined by Ray Collins, Art Tripp and Motorhead Sherwood, increasing the claim to $16.4 million, stating that they had received no royalties from Zappa since 1969.[2]

In 2009, the original mix of the album was released as part of a compilation entitled Greasy Love Songs.[6]

Tarfumes The Escape Goat, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:40 (seven years ago) link

zappa was so nuts about that sort of thing, it seems. i remember reading something about the creation of "shut and play your guitar" (i think) where he would put guitar solos from, say, 1974 into a recording from 1981.

tylerw, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:43 (seven years ago) link

He would lift guitar tracks from live recordings and drop them into studio based stuff, he did a whole track by layering elements from different recordings, Tink Runs Amok? He called it Xenochrony iirc.

MaresNest, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:51 (seven years ago) link

XENOCHRONY! Exciting. Bands that never were.

tylerw, Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:53 (seven years ago) link

"Rubber Shirt," from Sheik Yerbouti:

SPECIAL NOTE: The bass part is extracted from
a four track master of a performance from Goteborg,
Sweden 1974 which I had Patrick O"Hearn overdub on
a medium tempo guitar solo track in 4/4. The noted
chosen were more or less specified during the overdub
session, and so it was not completely an improvised
"bass solo." A year and a half later, the bass track was
peeled off the Swedish master and transferred to one
track of another studio 24 track master for a slow song
in 11/4. The result of this experimental re-synchronization
(the same technique was used on the Zoot Allures
album in "Friendly Little Finger") is the piece you are
listening to. All of the sensitive, interesting interplay
between the bass and drums never actually happened ...
also note, the guitar solo section of the song "Yo' Mama"
on side four was done the same way.

One of my favorite Sheik Yerbouti tracks.

Biff Wellington (WmC), Tuesday, 12 June 2012 22:59 (seven years ago) link

I was just to talking to a big Zappaphile firend of mine, and he mentioned that some of the other "futzing" was undoing vintage edit jobs done to fit lp time constraints. He cited these two (and was only partially wrong):

Wiki on Hot Rats:

In 1987 Zappa remixed Hot Rats for re-issue on Compact Disc. "Willie the Pimp" is edited differently during the introduction and guitar solo. "The Gumbo Variations" has 4 minutes of additional material including an introduction and guitar and saxophone solo sections which were cut from the vinyl LP version. Piano and flute which were buried the LP mix of "Little Umbrellas" are prominent on the CD. Other differences include significant changes to the overall ambiance and dynamic range. The original mix was reissued in 2009 as a limited edition audiophile LP by Classic Records.

Wiki on Weasels...:

The CD version of the album features different versions of "Didja Get Any Onya?" and "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask", which featured music edited out of the LP versions. Some of this extra music was used (in a different studio recording) as the backing track for "The Blimp" on the Captain Beefheart album Trout Mask Replica, produced by Frank Zappa.

Electro-Shock Rory (C. Grisso/McCain), Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:16 (seven years ago) link

the version on cd with added slap bass is a whole new level of awful though

― zappi

I was trying to youtube some songs off it a few years back, and the only versions that came up were from this, which I hadn't been aware of before, and I was seriously appalled. Especially since the original WOIIFTM is one of my all-time faves.

I wish to incorporate disco into my small business (chap), Wednesday, 13 June 2012 12:04 (seven years ago) link

If I was gonna keep only one Zappa album (and I'd really only be keeping three or four, anyway), Hot Rats would be it, but honestly the actual contents don't seem all that exciting. Endless take after take after take of "Peaches en Regalia"? No additional versions of "The Gumbo Variations"? Plus, it seems like the original LP mixes are nowhere to be found, which is weird. Mmm, I don't know.

There was an announcement of the contents of this box put up accidently by the (third-party) reseller of Zappa products on zappa.com with an annotated track list. It was taken off quickly but was reposted on the forum on zappa.com. I read there's a 32-minute take of "Gumbo Variations", retitled as "Big Legs". They included the digital remix from 1987 as the 2012 cd version uses the original vinyl mix. And you can get that very cheaply. (Strangely, "Sharleena" from "The Lost Episodes" is not part of the box).

This teaser was posted too. Just a different mix it seems: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HP5i4dxZP4

EvR, Friday, 11 October 2019 11:16 (seven months ago) link

Well, Zappa's catalog is administered through Universal so this will go up on streaming services. All the other recent boxes have been on Spotify etc., so I'll check it out there. $125 is out of my price range.

shared unit of analysis (unperson), Friday, 11 October 2019 12:02 (seven months ago) link

This seems like it'll be a fun listen. Those "Hot Rats" ads are done by David Ossman and they're very cute.

Spironolactone T. Agnew (rushomancy), Friday, 11 October 2019 12:22 (seven months ago) link

The Lumpy Money and Meat Light boxes are fantastic in places, particularly the former. The original orchestral cues from Lumpy Gravy are a revelation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ief_Jcl0Pac

Maresn3st, Friday, 11 October 2019 12:30 (seven months ago) link

two months pass...

Hot Rats Sessions box now out and streaming.

Miami weisse (WmC), Friday, 20 December 2019 15:42 (five months ago) link

Diving in now, starting with the 32-minute "Gumbo Variations" mentioned up above, which is indeed called "Big Legs" here.

shared unit of analysis (unperson), Friday, 20 December 2019 15:44 (five months ago) link

Really interesting already in listening to FZ getting Ron Selico to loosen up, have fun, play lots more fills, and Selico approaching and finally nailing the drum intro on "Peaches."

Miami weisse (WmC), Friday, 20 December 2019 16:26 (five months ago) link

not a huge Zappa fan, but I'm loving all these early takes of "Peaches" and the way you can hear the final version coming together

Brad C., Friday, 20 December 2019 17:27 (five months ago) link

Enjoying this greatly, he really had to do a lot of work on Peaches to make it sound so tight.

Maresn3st, Saturday, 21 December 2019 19:36 (five months ago) link

an engrossing listen, as i figured it would be. the jams on the july 30 session are such fire. i guess i know why "sharleena" is absent from this - it was part of a later set of sessions for a never-completed "hot rats ii" album - this is the lineup with aynsley dunbar on drums that did some pickup live gigs around feb-march 1970. what went wrong there? the widely-circulated gig from the olympic is goddamn great, but then there was the mothers "reunion" and then flo and eddie showed up and don harris was in with harvey mandel and the pure food and drug act, which, you know, is some great shit that carries on the spirit of the jams, but it's a shame the hot rats thing fell apart like that because one gets the sense there were some real interesting paths zappa's career could've taken and as talented as volman and kaylan are, instead it was just endless songs about fucking groupies...

so what's the archie shepp recording of "shadow of your smile" zappa mentions as inspiring the title? live at donaueschingen?

Agnes Motörhead (rushomancy), Sunday, 22 December 2019 00:00 (five months ago) link

Did he say he bought the Shepp song as a single? Must relisten.

Maresn3st, Sunday, 22 December 2019 10:54 (five months ago) link

two months pass...

I wrote about the box. Didn't love it as much as some of y'all, but got to dive into my feelings about Zappa more broadly.

but also fuck you (unperson), Friday, 28 February 2020 14:32 (three months ago) link

Nice write-up... The paragraph about the Fun House box is funny.

Murdered-Out Highlander XLE (morrisp), Friday, 28 February 2020 14:44 (three months ago) link

for the record after listening to the whole thing i wound up keeping 25 tracks totalling more than 2 1/2 hours, which is a pretty good hit to miss ratio for a box like this as far as i'm concerned!

Kate (rushomancy), Friday, 28 February 2020 15:05 (three months ago) link

two months pass...

one of my favorite Zappa tunes ("Oh No") came up on shuffle the other day and I was pretty struck by the gulf between how brilliant the music was and how bad the lyrics are. and I don't mean bad in the usual way Zappa's lyrics are, he's actually trying to be pointed and biting here but it just comes off like "oh, you believe in LOVE? well guess what...you're stupid!". actually could be a direct quote. then I started to think about how many Zappa songs have legitimately good lyrics and I couldn't really come up with many, particularly post-Mothers

frogbs, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 18:42 (one week ago) link

idk, i'm not sure it's that much worse than "give him a flower" by the crazy world of arthur brown

Kate (rushomancy), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 18:45 (one week ago) link

"well guess what...you're stupid!" pretty much sums up the gist of every Zappa song, including the instrumentals.

Josh in Chicago, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 18:56 (one week ago) link

This is my go-to for 'Oh No' these days, most of the rest of the cues are fab too - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ief_Jcl0Pac

Maresn3st, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 18:56 (one week ago) link

He was very into writing what he might call anti love songs.

Mario Meatwagon (Moodles), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 18:58 (one week ago) link

he was certainly inordinately proud of being an emotional cripple. a true independent thinker!

Kate (rushomancy), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:02 (one week ago) link

otm. his "hippies are a bunch of naïve dopes" schtick was never funny. the fact that he couldn't shut up about it is definitely weird / telling.

and i wouldn't call the music genius, it's just pretty good. "oh no" in particular reminds me of the demos tandyn almer was writing around the same time, which i like better anyway

budo jeru, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:05 (one week ago) link

my dad occasionally would recite a portion of “Montana” as he poured himself coffee

brimstead, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:05 (one week ago) link

brewin it up
gulpin it down

budo jeru, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:09 (one week ago) link

"Any Way the Wind Blows" is the best tune he ever wrote.

Is Lou Reed a Good Singer? (Tom D.), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:10 (one week ago) link

That or "Jelly Roll Gum Drop".

Is Lou Reed a Good Singer? (Tom D.), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:11 (one week ago) link

"well guess what...you're stupid!" pretty much sums up the gist of every Zappa song, including the instrumentals.

I loled at this, even though there's more than a grain of truth to it. Some of those melodies are so ingrained in my brain since my early teens, though, I do love them. And the lyrics pretty much NEVER help. The other night I pulled out The Ed Palermo Big Band Plays The Music of Frank Zappa for the first time in years and found it really enjoyable. I'm more likely to put that on again soon than any of the two dozen Zappa LPs on my shelf.

Album Moods: Rambunctious; Snide (Dan Peterson), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:14 (one week ago) link

In high school I had an English teacher who was huge into Zappa. he claimed a lot of his guitar god skills came from the fact that he had freakishly big hands. he was really big on Joe's Garage and loaned me his vinyl copy, which must've come out when he was 19 or 20. particularly the song "Catholic Girls", which he said should be our graduation song (I went to a Catholic school). I remember listening to it and just being like "what...the hell". This teacher wasn't a creep or anything as far as I knew, I think it had just been a long ass time since he listened to it. Anyway I finished the album and said to myself "I think I hate this guy". But I bought like 15 of his CDs after that.

frogbs, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:15 (one week ago) link

It would be fine if that not-so-subliminal message were followed by 'and I am too!' but that never happens as far as I can tell.

xp

pomenitul, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:17 (one week ago) link

No, that absolutely never happens.

Is Lou Reed a Good Singer? (Tom D.), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:18 (one week ago) link

That would be infra dig.

Spocks on the Run (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:21 (one week ago) link

Idk, as someone who loves the Beatles more than Zappa, I don't really think "Oh No" is lyrically dumber than the songs he was responding to.

Feel a million filaments (Sund4r), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:24 (one week ago) link

i don't feel like that's the right way to frame it

budo jeru, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:26 (one week ago) link

How do you think it should be framed?

Feel a million filaments (Sund4r), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:28 (one week ago) link

that basically just makes him Seth Macfarlane

frogbs, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:29 (one week ago) link

zappa writes this sneering take-down of some hippie-era tunes as if john lennon had meticulously penned a political platform rather than write a song that expresses hope for a future of peace and mutual understanding. if anything zappa is "dumber" because in his creepy need to show his intellectual superiority he entirely misses the point. "actually, you DO need more than love! where are you going to sleep, huh? on love??"

budo jeru, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:35 (one week ago) link

Fwiw, at least one book cites Lennon as saying of "All You Need Is Love" as well as some of his solo songs: "I'm a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change." And Harrison's "Within You Without You" contains the line "With our love, we could change the world if they only knew". These were p grandiose statements (and I like the songs!) and fair game to be poked at imo.

The Zappa song is not just literal pedantry imo. The song isn't saying "where are you going to sleep if all you need is love?", it's saying

You say love is all we need
You say with your love you can change
All of the fools, all of the hate

i.e. the problems are bigger than that

and

And in your dreams
You can see yourself as a prophet saving the world
The words from your lips
I just can't believe you are such a fool

which I think is a defensible riposte to the attitudes expressed. Not exactly Mark Twain but, as lyrics to a cool psych/prog track, I think they work.

Feel a million filaments (Sund4r), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 19:59 (one week ago) link

God, analysing Frank Zappa's lyrics, has it come to this?

Is Lou Reed a Good Singer? (Tom D.), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 20:04 (one week ago) link

End times

Spocks on the Run (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 20:05 (one week ago) link

I just asked myself the same question tbh. Clearly, I really hate doing taxes.xp

Feel a million filaments (Sund4r), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 20:05 (one week ago) link

And admittedly Lennon could be p wry so the author there may have misread his tone idk.

Feel a million filaments (Sund4r), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 20:21 (one week ago) link

I remember being impressed by the sheer volume of Zappa CDs in the racks in the '90s. It seemed to dwarf anything else that made it into your typical chain store in terms of an eccentric voice that bridged pop and art music. I had the impression that whole worlds were contained in all of those double- and triple-CDs, and the impression is fed by the cut-and-paste assembly of some of the Mothers albums. There was so much stuff in Uncle Meat! The fact that most of the music was instrumental did make me take seriously the claim (Zappa's, yes?) that the lyrics were a secondary concern.

I think there may be an argument for Zappa's use of vibrato on "Oh No" as a distancing effect—proclaiming "I can't be-lieeeeve in this quasi-operatic voice. Yes, Zappa was arrogant, but the music's utopianism lies in its tolerance for that arrogance, which is one of its elements rather than the whole of what it is. The tune sounds so wide-eyed, curious and aspirational! As well as vaguely orientalist (thus "naïve"). Maybe Zappa the guy with words can't just let it be that (although he does on Lumpy Gravy).

As much as anything else it was partly Zappa the guy with words that kept me from exploring those worlds on the post-1970 albums, and I'm not necessarily interested in the instrumental ones either—I do like some tunes—but I think these jarring contrasts, the sense that you were just getting these glimpses of worlds, was what made Zappa compelling. Maybe the twenty-first century doesn't have any need for those glimpses, jaundiced by Zappa's smut; maybe it needs real worlds, or failing that other ways of seeing and hearing.

eatandoph (Neue Jesse Schule), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 20:51 (one week ago) link

Fwiw, at least one book cites Lennon as saying of "All You Need Is Love" as well as some of his solo songs: "I'm a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change." And Harrison's "Within You Without You" contains the line "With our love, we could change the world if they only knew". These were p grandiose statements (and I like the songs!) and fair game to be poked at imo.

I heard it was you
Talkin' 'bout a world
Where all is free
It just couldn't be
And only a fool would say that
The man in the street
Draggin' his feet
Don't want to hear the bad news
Imagine your face
There is his place
Standing inside his brown shoes
You do his nine to five
Drag yourself home half alive
And there on the screen
A man with a dream

Paul Ponzi, Wednesday, 20 May 2020 20:56 (one week ago) link

i think there's a difference between lennon's sentiments on "all you need is love" and harrison's on "within you and without you" and i think they do both fall short in different ways.

lennon's faith in the power of love is unfalsifiable to the point of ridiculousness. "there's nothing you can do that can't be done" - this is sheer glurge. and while paul's "hey jude" may have a more interminable coda, "all you need is love" was there first.

"within you without you", otoh, is a frankly paranoid song, openly asking "are you one of them?"

i think both these forms of "love" are quite open to critical interrogation. zappa never provided an alternative to these flawed conceptions of "love", rejected the concept of love altogether, which imo rather diminishes the lasting value of his work, but it seems a fair enough criticism to me.

Kate (rushomancy), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 22:21 (one week ago) link

The age-old conundrum of how can one be positive without being a naive sucker or a hypocrite, often simply solved by resorting to cynical snark.

Spocks on the Run (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 20 May 2020 23:07 (one week ago) link

I think the misanthropic angle is a tad overplayed, and that FZ was just interested in exploring topics other than personal relationships, for which he deserves credit, not scorn. I certainly don't defend everything the man wrote but I'd much rather hear a song about spaceships landing in the Andes or turkey farmers in Lancaster or huskies pissing in snow than another goddamn song about someone's sweet darling baby doll and how much they're gonna wuv them fowever

Paul Ponzi, Thursday, 21 May 2020 00:22 (one week ago) link

inca roads is arguably not even the best prog-rock song about spaceships landing in the andes ("tenemos roads" is a strong competitor)

Kate (rushomancy), Thursday, 21 May 2020 00:46 (one week ago) link

I think the misanthropic angle is a tad overplayed

Overplayed by who? Us, or Barking Pumpkin Soul Patch Man?

Spocks on the Run (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 21 May 2020 00:48 (one week ago) link

careful paul, if you keep sniffing your own farts all day you're going to wake up with a bad goatee and a hard drive full of erotic ayn rand fanfic

budo jeru, Thursday, 21 May 2020 08:46 (one week ago) link

I'd much rather hear a song about spaceships landing in the Andes or turkey farmers in Lancaster or huskies pissing in snow than another goddamn song about someone's sweet darling baby doll and how much they're gonna wuv them fowever

You want to hear a song about huskies pissing in the snow? Seriously?

Is Lou Reed a Good Singer? (Tom D.), Thursday, 21 May 2020 08:54 (one week ago) link


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