Archive for the ‘ Double Zappa ’ Category

Double Zappa |FZ| 1968-1969 Solo

zappa 68-69

These two mostly instrumental albums are the first Frank Zappa solo records. Sans Mothers, Zappa used these forays to assert his interest in serious composition, drawing on influences like Igor Stravinsky, Edgar Varèse, and of course, popular rock and roll music.

Lumpy Gravy (1968-)
Lumpy Gravy is a wildly impressive collection of musical ideas, set in two musical suites. Incorporating surf and pop rhythm sections with musique concrete and absurdist vocal samples (recorded inside a piano with all the keys pressed down, nabbing harmonics from the resonating strings nearby), it does in fact feel like “phase two of We’re Only in It for the Money,” borrowing its wonderful sped-up, tape manipulated feel. The composition is loaded with themes that would be recycled on later releases (“Bwana Dik,” “Oh No,” “King Kong”). Recorded with the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony and meticulously spliced and diced by FZ, Lumpy Gravy is a monumental achievement – but only a drop in the bucket from one of rock’s most prolific composers.

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“Duodenum (Theme From Lumpy Gravy)”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Verve |  search ebay ]

Hot Rats (1969)
I wouldn’t say this album is notably better than any other FZ record, but it caught on big. Maybe it’s the short, catchy title; may be the toned down weirdness;  could be that Zappa just cut all the bullshit and delivered an undeniable slab of rock that the masses could dig and critics would acclaim. Two of these tracks (“Peaches En Regalia” and “Son of Mr. Green Genes”) even made the legendary (albeit illegal) jazz standards tome, The Real Book, proving the album was the equal of contemporary ‘musician’s music.’ While “Peaches,” featuring Shuggie Otis on bass guitar, may have been the zaniest track ever to become a standard (played on baseball stadium organs to this day), the rest of the album eschews condensed complexity in favor of long form jams and sickening guitar work. Captain Beefheart’s vocal performance on the hot-licked “Willie The Pimp” might be one of his defining moments, though certainly not from Capn’s viewpoint – his distaste for FZ’s production prowess begins here. The rest of the album is fully instrumental – groovy, melodic, jazzy, brilliant, essential listening. In case you haven’t heard it by now:

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“Peaches En Regalia”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Reprise | search ebay ]

Double Zappa |FZ| 1967 & 1969

This is where putting Zappa’s albums into pairs of two may fall under some scrutiny. Sure these records were released two years apart, with three albums in between them, but chronology does not a sister-album make. Absolutely Free and Uncle Meat are linked thru their equal yet disparate parts of experiment, satire, absurdist pop recreations, and early Mothers dada fun. And “Louie Louie” of course.

Absolutely Free (1967)
After releasing one of the first double-LPs in history, the unprecedented and fantastic Freak Out!, FZ further pushed the singularity of his music with Absolutely Free, an album near conceptual in its composition. Tracks like Plastic People, Duke of Prunes, the classic Call Any Vegetable followed by a powerhouse orchestrated jam make up a virtual Act I, laden with referential voiceovers and musical segues. The 2nd side contains more traditional Mothers pop rockers: Big Leg Emma, Why Don’tcha Do Me Right, Status Back Baby, all doo-wop inspired favorites. While the sound of the band is spectacular and gritty with drastic tape manipulations and editing, the vocals are often purposely dissonant and off-putting (save for Ray Collins’ soulful singing). Even for weirdos like me, this is one of the harder albums to listen completely, but still a classic.

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“Why Don’tcha Do Me Right”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1967 | Verve | search ebay ]

Uncle Meat (1969)
This double-album was the result of the unfinished film, Uncle Meat. There is a tape out there comprising most of the footage, much of it extreme dadaism (“He’s using the chicken to measure it…”) but often some glimpses into the Mothers’ life on the road. The album is indeed cinematic, the orchestrations are advanced and informed from We’re Only In It From The Money, with Zappa carving out many of the elements to his unique sound. Some unforgettable tracks on here include Sleeping In A Jar, Dog Breath In The Year Of The Plague (see video below), Louie Louie on the Albert Hall pipe organ, and the monstrous instrumental King Kong parts I-VI, taking up the final side of the record. I have heard more than a few Zappaholics claim this as their number one.

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“Sleeping In A Jar”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Bizarre | search ebay ]

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Double Zappa |FZ| 1974-75

Zappa 1974-1975

After creating his two most commercially successful albums, FZ released a couple of beasts that many progressive fans call his apex and would become the Elements of Style for nearly every jam band in the 90s. I’m more of an early Mothers fan but there’s no denying this is some of his best.

Roxy & Elsewhere (1974)
In the midst of an old Zappa-crazed summer, this one really blew me away. I had never imagined a live band could perform like this, and I still don’t think I’ve ever heard a performance like Roxy ever since. The band was tighter than ever while playing the most complex passages Zappa had yet penned. Pygmy Twylyte and Echidna’s Arf are intricately orchestrated pieces that must have been exhilarating in a live setting. Napoleon Murphy Brock’s vocals balanced the show with a relaxed quality on Village Of The Sun and Son Of Orange County, a mellowed out retake for Frank to stretch his guitar over. The 15+ minute Be-Bop Tango gives a taste of the fun to be had at a Zappa show and a welcome Freak Out! number, Trouble Every Day, offers what may be the heaviest drum fill I’ve ever heard.

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“Echidna’s Arf (Of You)”

One Size Fits All (1975)
Same band as on Roxy & Elsewhere hits the studio.  The prog-rock numbers benefit from some studio attention and Ruth Underwood’s tuned percussion feats continue to amaze, but there are some new Zappa classics to fall back on, namely Po-Jama People, San Ber’dino, and Sofa (a recurring FZ theme introduced here in song and illustration). At once, the album will satisfy pop and prog fans alike as things never veer too far in one direction. One Size Fits All is a jewel from Zappa’s prime and never could enough be said of his guitar work on Inca Roads.

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“Inca Roads”

Double Zappa |FZ| 1971-72

This would have been good to post two days ago, considering the original Mothers chose their band name on Mother’s Day. The label tacked on “Of Invention” in an attempt to lessen the weird. By 1971, Zappa’s ever evolving band — now fronted by Flo & Eddie, the lead singers from The Turtles — proudly reclaimed their simpler title and re-upped the weirdness to a frenzied degree. To me, these two live albums from the age of 200 Motels are the most fun picks from the discography.

Fillmore East (1971)
FZ kept extensive archives of his live recordings, and Cal Schenkel’s pencil-scribbled cover (“He made me do it!” pleading on the back) must be an homage to one of the actual reels. Opening with a tasty instrumental reworking from Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Fillmore East becomes a stage play of sorts, with the Turtles assuming the role of one of Frank’s long-lived obsessions: starstruck groupies looking to get their “rocks off.” What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are is genius for its seemingly off-the-cuff yet fully orchestrated vocals, riffing all sorts of mayhem over a modified blues. And before this, the Mud Shark fits a memorable rock n roll tale over a soulful little groove. The sound they had by this show is wild: a combination of organ, Rhodes piano, Don Preston’s Minimoog, and Zappa’s gritty guitar all the while complemented by the over-the-top falsettos of Flo & Eddie (whose voices you might recognize from T-Rex’s Slider album). As usual, Zappa’s band is on top of its game.

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“The Mud Shark”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1971 | Reprise | search ebay ]

Just Another Band From LA (1972)
“Billy was a mountain. Ethel was a tree growing off of his shoulder.” It just astounds the mind what Zappa was able to accomplish in his lifetime; case in point: the 25-minute, fully developed performance piece on side one of this record, Billy The Mountain. As a canned recording, it’s more road trip fare than casual listening, but it must have been quite a lucky few to have seen it performed live, a bizarre tale complete with character acting, theme songs, sound effects, and very catchy refrains. Side two rounds out the experience with harder rock interpretations of early Mothers classics like Call Any Vegetable and Dog Breath. Two new tracks, Eddie, Are You Kidding and the perverted Magdalena are suitably ridiculous for one of the Mothers’ nuttiest incarnations.

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“Call Any Vegetable”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | buy from amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Bizarre | search ebay ]

Double Zappa |FZ| 1972-1972

Waka Jawaka / The Grand Wazoo

A week after the Mothers’ equipment went up in smoke in Montreaux, Zappa got shoved for allegedly making eyes at some fan’s girl. He fell ten feet into an orchestra pit causing injuries that would forever lower his speaking voice a few pitches and confine him to a wheelchair for nine months. During this time, FZ continued recording at the same prolific pace, releasing two mostly instrumental “jazz” records.

Waka Jawaka (1972)
Named for onomatopoeic sound of a wah-wah pedal, Waka Jawaka would make a good starting point for listeners more accustomed to classical or non-pop music. While these records are not without some typical FZ in-jokes and bizarre lyrics, the big-band sound is a strong departure from the previous Flo & Eddie live records. Huge free-jazz inspired jams fill out Waka Jawaka, only 4 tracks in total. The bulk of the album, 17-minute Big Swifty is a masterful group undertaking, with a sharp-as-hell horn line and an ingenious and loping return to form.

For the Zappa Uninitiated: you’ve got to at least try this track below, and catch what must be one of the finest Sneaky Pete steel solas ever recorded. One Shot Deal is a really excellent number, the feel good gem of the album:

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“It Just Might Be A One Shot Deal”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl Search | ebay ]

The Grand Wazoo (1972)
Sincerely a musical continuation of Waka Jawaka, the band sounds even bigger this time out, with swaths of textures echoing ensembles reminiscent of Miles Davis’.  You couldn’t get a gig playing for FZ unless could truly tear it apart, and thru Grand Wazoo’s five hefty songs, each player does. Great examples abound of the definitive Frank Zappa guitar tone, those characteristic lydian solos on effected acoustic guitar: how does he get that sound? I must be honest and admit preference to the rock/pop albums from Zappa more than these “musicians’ music” records. But jazzers go nuts for these two dense lps.

This track was always my favorite, easily the catchiest tune on this set, with sparkling gnarly Rhodes work by George Duke:

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“Eat That Question”

:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Zappa Records | amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl Search | ebay ]

Double Zappa |FZ| 1973-74

Over Night Sensation (left) Apostrophe (right)

Throughout the years 1999 to 2003 or so, I collected and devoured just about every official Frank Zappa release. It’s time to let it out of the brain, and hopefully you can use these posts as an introduction to this man’s incredible body of work.

I’ve found that FZ albums tend to come in two’s, so here’s our first double shot of Frank. These years contain his most commercially successful works and act as a fast and bulbous starting point.

Over-Nite Sensation (1973)
Zappa liked a tight band. The players on Over-Nite Sensation (notably featuring George Duke, Ruth Underwood, and the Fowler Brothers) would comprise the cleanest and strictest sounding rock ensemble yet. Nothing shows this more than the insanely detailed changes and synth, horn, and melodic percussion runs to one of my early favorites, Zomby Woof. The gnarly guitar lick and morally condemning lyric to I Am The Slime kinda says it all about his classical/satirical approach to rock music. And the succinct guitar solas throughout this record are both introductions and solid proof of his out-of-this-world modal guitar mastery. Dinah Moe Humm and Montana are bona fide Zappa classics and I remember even steadfast Zappa haters admitted to liking Camarillo Brillo.

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“Camarillo Brillo”

:) Vinyl Search | Over Nite Sensation @ eBay ]
:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Over-Nite Sensation ]

Apostrophe (‘) (1974)
Zappa had the extraordinary ability to create unheard new sounds, rhythms, and textures with each of his bands. The opener to Apostrophe, well known favorite Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow, has one of these rare grooves. Turned up loud it’s this killer double guitar riffing that alternates with a fantastic disco hi-hat rhythm. Without changing time signature even, this groove still manages to entrance me today. See, it’s not the goofy, sometimes embarrassing lyrics and jokes tucked away in every Zappa piece that I seek out (though strangely comforting they are); it’s the treasures of complicated movements and studio /conducting genius that made Frank Zappa the transcendental composer and producer we know him as today. Get this one for a perfect development from Over-Nite Sensation, featuring even zanier movements, and of course that sick guitar lick on the title track.

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“Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow”

:) Vinyl Search | Apostrophe @ eBay ]
:D CD Reissue | 1995 | Apostrophe (‘) ]

Note: serious fans won’t want to miss the new Classic Albums Series DVD: Apostrophe / Over-Nite Sensation.

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