Zappa Observations, Minutiae and
Conceptual Continuity Connections
by Chris Federico
The album titles that head each section below are mainly used for chronological reference; elements from some albums are discussed within sections about others, due to the organic nature of Frank's approach to musical and lyrical themes (one seeks to avoid unnecessary repetition).
Obviously, the whole "point" is to listen to the music and enjoy it. Musical analyses aren't provided here; reducing visceral pleasure to scholarly breakdown is to bypass the ear almost entirely. The music itself is the reason why Frank's my favorite composer; many of his best pieces are instrumental. His colossal catalogue, however, is incidentally a treasure chest of tie-ins and trivia; I felt that a textual map through them was worth attempting, since many of his thematic motifs are glimpsed from afar when pieces are put together.
It also goes without saying that this text isn’t meant to replace anything in the few decent books written about Frank’s music (see the bibliography at the end), but rather to coexist with them, along with the myriad available interviews.
So just have some fun. (I did.)
I owe thanks to Jimmy Carl Black, Billy Mundi, Arthur Barrow, Craig “Twister” Steward and Ben Watson for their kind words and insights.
Last update: 2/9/11
I also appreciate the assistance of MICHAEL HOWARD, Vladimir Sovetov, Fredrik Johansson, Michael Paul, Patrick Williams and Pontus Stenberg.
The group’s original name had been the Soul Giants. The name Mothers was short for “motherfuckers,” which meant something akin to “amazing musicians.” The name was changed to the Mothers of Invention in order to accommodate some nervous MGM execs.
Freak Out! (1966) was the first rock debut to be a double album, not to mention the first conceptual rock LP. It (and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds) heavily inspired the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The “very important man at Columbia Records” Frank mentioned in the liner notes was vice-president Clive Davis, who’d go on to sign Aerosmith and eventually start Arista Records.
Carol Kaye, frequent Phil Spector and Beach Boys session bassist (and known as the most recorded female bass player in history), played many of the electric (Fender) bass parts on the album and its 1967 follow-up, Absolutely Free. She and Frank parted company peacefully when she admitted that some of his lyrics bothered her.
The reason for which the Mothers debuted with so many “accessible” songs was that Frank intended to infiltrate the pop-music scene, changing the industry’s machinery from the inside. The same tactics led to the suit-and-tie appearance he adopted while speaking out against censorship in the 1980s. The second disc represented his first step in revealing the barrier between “high” and “low” art as being false.
The “Great Society” referred to in “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” and “Trouble Every Day” was an idealistic catch-phrase of President Johnson’s. Some startling kazoo notes leap out of the mix after each bridge in the former song, aligning current pop-music idioms with little-kid music in a cheap fanfare manner. Frank, who wrote in his book that every song on Freak Out! had a “function within an overall satirical concept,” molded the garbage of the industrial music machine into images of pure acidity, challenging listeners to question the music they chose for their entertainment ("shaking people out of their complacency" was a frequent Mothers motif). The “look behind the scenes” principle will continue in Zappa’s music and album-cover images.
“Who Are the Brain Police?” asks listeners if the music they listen to would cease to bring them pleasure if the packaging and other material fetishes surrounding it were to suddenly disappear. It uses the record album as a model, asking what we’d do if the label were to come off and the plastic were to melt. The middle of this tune about attention to decorum rather than substance is interrupted by a snippet of “Help, I’m a Rock” from later on the album, although the part’s longer here than within its actual piece. This might simply be done to make the song even more eerie, or perhaps to “jolt the listener out of any comfort brought on by identification with this music,” as Kevin Courrier writes (a bibliography appears at the end of this text). This isn’t the last time Frank will play with the listener’s trained impulse to seize on formulaic music; on the Money album, the sound of a phonograph needle jumping out of a catchy song will frequently keep the ear from getting too comfortable within the pleasant hooks.
“Go Cry on Somebody Else’s Shoulder” was written at a piano by Zappa and Ray Collins at Studio Z earlier in the decade.
The end of “Wowie Zowie” uses the same chords and vocal pitches as the end of “Sherry” by the Four Seasons.
“Any Way the Wind Blows” was originally recorded at Studio Z in the early ‘60s by Frank and one line-up of an ever-shifting squad of musicians called the Soots, along with an instrumental piece called “Never on Sunday” (later retitled “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance”). Both were turned down by Dot Records. Milt Rogers, the label’s A&R man, told Frank that the distorted guitar would hinder the songs’ “commercial potential,” foreshadowing the words of Clive Davis.
Suzy Creamcheese is played on the album by a friend of Frank’s named Jeannie Vassoir. His roomate Pamela Zarubica, who's introduced him to his imminent wife Gail, will take on the role during the Mothers' first overseas tour.
The “Monster Magnet” mentioned in the title of the closing piece is the magnetic recording head on a tape machine. The name of a segment within, “Ritual Dance of the Child-Killer,” pays tribute to Igor Stravinsky by recalling the “Ritual Dance” movement in The Rite of Spring. Here, it refers to Frank’s advances throughout the second half of the album on young Suzy; her innocent self is being killed off, in spite of her pre-heavy-breathing exclamation, “Forget it!” Frank’s showing us how capable hands with recording technology at their disposal can publicly do whatever they want with supposedly private moments, also transforming the world into whatever the composer wishes -- at least while the song's playing -- in the interest of infiltrating with mental weaponry against repression (sexual, in this case).
Throughout his catalogue, Zappa builds his own microcosm with bits of the real world, in order to zoom-in on and contort that reality, pointing out how goofy can be -- and how sinister is the social engineering behind the way it’s turned out so far. He touched upon this idea in 1969, while speaking to Pete Frame of ZigZag magazine on the subject of
Captain Beefheart Vs. the Grunt People, the movie he'd attempted to make a few years before. It had featured early Thing-Fish-reminiscent costumes. "It's a little warped -- just enough to retain clarity -- like a mirror that makes your arm look a little larger." The characters in his tape-manipulated world are often underdogs, or the people who deviate from standard societal behavior: freaks, munchkins, Bobby with the potato head, etc.
After contacting symphonic session musicians through trombonist Kenneth Shroyer, who’d played on
Absolutely Free, Frank formed the one-off Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, made up of the musicians and characters as they appeared piecemeal on the album, rather than in any simultaneously orchestral and vocal performances. The Chorus was actually a speaking cast, its members' dialogue taking the place of sung lyrics. They were recorded conversing with their heads stuck inside a Steinway grand piano during several sessions at Apostolic Studios in New York City. The chats were improvised, but they followed Frank’s general thematic guidelines. He amassed eight or nine hours of conversation from which to select; further snippets were heard in a few spots on following albums, but the piano characters returned with prominence on Civilization, Phaze III (1994), which clarified and continued the plot (all the way to the end of the world) from where it had left off on Lumpy Gravy, using old characters from that album and new, freshly recorded "piano people."
The album features three Mothers; Bunk Gardner plays woodwinds and brass, while the others -- Roy Estrada and Jim “Motorhead” Sherwood, the latter often using the voice of his alter-ego, Larry Fanoga (“Almost Chinese, huh!” and “Drums are too noisy when you got no corners to hide in”) -- are listed as members of the Chorus. Other enclosed-perspective piano inhabitants are played by studio staff members, Louie the Turkey from the Garrick Theater audience, and Spider Barbour of Chrysalis, another group recording at Apostolic at the time.
Completed in 1967, this two-sided piece featured the earliest commercial appearance of Frank’s orchestral music. Some of the material was even recorded with a fifty-piece Los Angeles orchestra. The album was commissioned by Nik Venet of Capitol Records, who’d formerly signed the Beach Boys. It had been assumed that Frank was contractually free to compose and conduct, since MGM had only signed him as a musician and vocalist along with the rest of the Mothers. The latter company disagreed, threatened to sue, and finally bought the master tapes. It was just as well; Capitol’s engineers had messed up the countless edits, requiring Frank to reconstruct the album. He and engineer Gary Kellgren labored over this unexpected task at Mayfair Studios in New York City. All in all, the release of the album was delayed for over a year.
The album’s title, originally taken from a television commercial for Aloma Linda Gravy Quick, describes Zappa’s upsetting of the “smooth” textures of popular orchestral music. His congealing of dyed-in-the-wool classical forms is achieved through utter compositional freedom, as well as intrusions of hard reality: the “lumps” of the imperfect real world, much more interesting than the dull familiarities of antiquated musical forms. The lumps are the “meat of the matter,” and also happen to be the tastiest part of the gravy. Frank is opting for meat rather than vegetation: substance, not to mention the variety (and humor) of reality, rather than derivative musical uniformity. Upcoming titles will update this idea
(Uncle Meat and Burnt Weeny Sandwich most drastically, but also, a bit less directly, Hot Rats and Weasels Ripped My Flesh).
The front-cover photo, backdropped in gravy brown, features Frank in a non-hip, comfortable outfit, staring proudly up at the spectator from his laboratory like a worker after a long day. He’s wearing a shirt occasionally aired onstage that advertises Pipco, a Santa Barbara, California pipe company that has made shirts to sponsor little-league teams (although Frank won’t learn of the shirt’s origins until long after 1967). The clothing-store dummy inside the gatefold hearkens back to the plastic people on Absolutely Free.
The opening theme will return in “Bwana Dik,” a song about a guy’s fixation on penis size, on
Fillmore East, June 1971. Sneaking the theme of an album that partially deals with male hang-ups into a song about genitals is characteristically crafty. The subject is also alluded to beyond Motorhead's monologue on
Lumpy Gravy, when a cigar is brought up during Roy and Louie’s dialogue.
The slow, lovely introduction to the instrumental version of “Oh, No” is a revisited 1962 theme that Frank wrote for the World’s Greatest Sinner soundtrack. The snatch of surf guitar that's heard after Spider says “A bit o’ nostalgia for the old folks!” comes from the 1963 song “Hurricane,” which Frank produced for Conrad and the Hurricane Strings at his Studio Z.
In light of Motorhead’s car-engine reference “Bored out, 90 over,” All-Night John’s later statement, “Round things are boring,” suggests that the word “boring” can be heard as the less apparent verb, rather than the obvious adjective. Elements on the album -- the drum, the merry-go-‘round and the vicious circle -- are round things; so is the record itself. These things are perhaps now “boring” into the society Frank wishes to infiltrate and change with his music (this optimism will diminish in time). In his 1968 essay “The New Rock,” Frank will write, “It’s something of a paradox that companies which manufacture and distribute this art form (strictly for profit) might one day be changed or controlled by young people who were motivated to action by the products these companies sell.” The ants (round things, in their own ways) on the back cover of 1975's One Size Fits All are boring into the crumbling cityscape. “Round things are boring” also appears as one of many messages bordering the circular star map on that back cover; the confinement of such a limitless place that “fits all” as the universe (or music) to a convenient, measureable shape just to accommodate our filtered minds is boring in the dull sense. (See the section on
Apostrophe (') for more on boring, round stuff.)
The second half’s opening vocal, which sounds like an attempt by a drunk guy to sing along with the mainstream music that’s been darting in and out -- something like “ba-BOMP-BODDY!” -- will, with the release of
The Lost Episodes (1996), be revealed as a fragment of “Ronnie Sings?”, a recording of Frank’s boyhood friend Ronnie Williams (who introduced him to Paul Buff of Pal Studios, which eventually became Studio Z) making rough-throated scat sounds to Frank’s guitar accompaniment in an Ontario living room in 1961 or ‘62. Ronnie’s booger-saving, fart-lighting and accidental urine-creature-making activities will figure among the subjects of “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” on the Money album; that song will also cut momentarily to the voice. It figures into the Lumpy Gravy plot as a “little pig with wings” (even though it sounds more like a goat with emphysema).
The pig will fly around inside the piano again on Civilization, Phaze III. In 1974, Frank will record a long, comical piece called “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary,” concerning a pig who sits in his office and comes up with trends to sell to the gullible consumers of the world. When talking about the pigs not being able to question any part of their system, lest their livelihoods be threatened (the perspective-clouding “smoke” must remain), Spider mentions “that thing on their neck,” a precursor to the tie markings on Greggery.
“Merry-Go-'Round” was a song by Wild Man Fischer, a discovery of Zappa’s who would eventually record the tune for an album on Frank’s Straight label. A funny-farm alumnus, Fischer wrote simplistic, nursery rhyme-type tunes. Spider’s statement about robotic servitude, presumably to either work or fashion -- “The thing is to put a motor in yourself” -- refers back to Motorhead’s automobile tales earlier on the album, as well as “Merry-Go-‘Round.”
Louie’s excited recount of ponies trying to kill him ends up as a joke, when he talks about picking up sticks to throw at his assailants, and Roy interrupts with “Pick-Up Sticks?”. Mentioning the childhood game refers back to the groping for innocence in “Merry-Go-‘Round,” as well as Motorhead’s earlier line about getting “another pickup.” (Even this could be double-edged, considering the nature of his recollections; girls are “picked up.”)
Roy’s “Amen” is included as a reference to the name of the studio, Apostolic. The stanza that ends with “Just one more time” features Captain Beefheart’s vocals from Studio Z, circa 1963.
We’re Only in It for the Money
The original title of this album was Our Man in Nirvana. Frank planned on interspersing Mothers music with monologues from the late, controversial comedian Lenny Bruce's Berkeley concert.
“Bow-Tie Daddy” was one of the first originals intended as recorded Mothers material. It was written during the same late-1965 period as “Hungry Freaks, Daddy,” “Who Are the Brain Police?” and “Oh, No” (at that time called “Oh, No -- I Don’t Believe It”). Zappa's memory of writing the latter at that time calls into question the popular theory that it was a response to the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love," which wouldn't be recorded until the summer of 1967. It was more likely a reaction to emerging trends in the rhetoric of youth.
The only things about Money that distinctly parody Sgt. Pepper are the introduction to the drummer after the first song, the reprise of “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?”, the piano-note conclusion of the final song, the cut-out sheet (which includes a photo of engineer Gary Kellgren), and the covers. The inner gatefold, which was used as the outer for many years due to MGM’s paranoia about possible litigation from EMI (the Beatles’ record company) -- a subject that delayed Money's release until the autumn of 1968 -- shows the Mothers dressed in drag, to replace the pretentious Victorian style that was fashionable in the late ‘60s (mainly in London and San Francisco). Under the Beatles’ libretto, the whole band faces forward except Paul McCartney; below Zappa’s lyrics, the Mothers invert the idea and all show their backs except Motorhead, who at this time is merely the road manager and occasional sax player (he’ll be more prominent on Uncle Meat).
While “hung up” is a suitable phrase with which to kick off an album that frequently mocks trend-led kids, it also refers to the taped phone conversation later on the album, as well as Madge, who appears here in “Harry, You’re a Beast,” but who was “on the phone” in “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” on Absolutely Free.
Gary is the one whispering and enjoying the effect of the reverb on his voice. The inverted drummer lays off his backward pedal, sticks his head into the foreward presentation like a kid on a dare, and says “Hi, boys and girls! I’m Jimmy Carl Black! I’m the Indian of the group!”. This is a spoof on the introduction of drummer Ringo Starr as Billy Shears, heard just after Sgt. Pepper's own opening song. Jimmy returns during “Concentration Moon,” but his wording’s slightly different: “Hi, boys and girls! I’m Jimmy Carl Black, and I’m the Indian of the group!”.
One major bit of mockery in “Who Needs the Peace Corps?” centers on the hippie who thinks he’s a gypsy, but who also says he’s on his own; gypsies are people who always travel together. The statement “Oh, my hair’s getting good in the back” recalls a similar comment made on Lumpy Gravy. Frank had actually heard some kid say this in Sacramento. The line “I will love the police as they kick the shit out of me on the street” was censored by MGM on early pressings of the record. Halfway through “Concentration Moon,” Gary’s heard again; what was censored from all but the earliest pressings was his last line: “I get to work with the Velvet Underground, which is as shitty a group as Frank Zappa’s group.” What’s funny about this is that although the Mothers and their label-mates the VU played many shows together, they disliked each other and made no secret of it.
A phone rings after “Mom & Dad,” and we hear: “Operator. Hold for a minute, please.” An edit instantly brings us past the wait, and Frank is heard giving the operator a number. He hands the phone over to Pamela Zarubica, who tells Frank about a man in town who might be trying to kill him, as she waits for Vicki, her half-sister, to pick up on the other end. She’s then heard trying to quell Vicki’s fears about Pam's father getting the FBI after her for withholding information on Pam’s whereabouts.
The nervously fast “Don’t come in me, in me” lines from “Harry, You’re a Beast” were censored from early pressings of the album, and played in reverse on later copies (although retaining the rise in pitch and the unaffected words “in me”). The 1986 reissue finally saw the four measures played completely forward. The melody in this section of the song was repeated instrumentally in “The Orange County Lumber Truck,” heard first on Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970).
The voice that says, “I don’t do publicity balling for you anymore,” interjected just after the introduction to “Absolutely Free,” is Pamela’s. This, as well, was omitted from some early pressings by the record company. “The first word in this song is ‘discorporate,’” Frank says in his “poetic hippie” style from the end of “Who Needs the Peace Corps?”. “It means to leave your body.” He’s being a smart-ass, since “discorporate” is made to indicate freeing oneself from corporations, in the actual lyrics (“Escape from the weight of your corporate logo”). The lines “You’ll be absolutely free/only if you want to be” are genuine; other lyrics in the song approach this idea, but turn into parodies of “psychedelic” sentiments. The noises often added to ‘60s music just for the sake of including “weirdness” are hilariously lampooned when “BOING!” is exclaimed with heavy echo twice in the song.
The lyrics in “Flower Punk” spoof “Hey, Joe,” made popular by Jimi Hendrix (who’s seen on the album cover, holding a little white girl -- Herb Cohen’s daughter Lisa -- in front of a Christmas tree and a pope from a Titian painting, in defiance of racism and the traditional religious, American family portrait), but previously recorded by the Leaves -- whose former bassist, Jim Pons, has played with the Turtles and will, by 1971, join the Mothers.
Among the exclamations heard at the end of “Flower Punk” is “Leave my nose alone, please,” which will be used as the cry
of a child in a trench at the end of “Drafted Again” on You Are What You Is (1981).
Most copies of the record (and the 1995 CD, which returns to the '68 master) omit a verse from “Mother People,” including it backward after “Flower Punk,” the closing song on the original Side 1, under the title “Hot Poop” (to mimic the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper inner-groove gibberish). The verse is excised because of the line “Shut your fuckin’ mouth about the length of my hair.” It’s only heard where it belongs on the ‘86 CD. Roadie Dick Barber’s snork caps off the backward part (and the album's first half). The name “Hot Poop” predicts the album title Hot Shit; the second word will be changed by Frank to a similar exclamation of distress -- “Rats” -- in the interest of avoiding censorship, which has probably been the impetus behind removing and playing backward the “Mother People” verse. (Christine Frka will be seen emerging from a sewer on the Hot Rats cover anyway, emulating an actual rat.) In place of the omitted verse on the applicable versions of the album, a beautiful segment of orchestral music from the end of Lumpy Gravy’s first half is inserted, via a needle-zipping sound.
Cream guitarist Eric Clapton is the person asking, from inside the piano at Apostolic during the Lumpy Gravy sessions, “Are you hung up?”; he’s also the one giggling at the beginning of “Nasal-Retentive Calliope Music,” and joking about seeing god. Eric told Frank that he wanted to imitate Eric Burdon (of the Animals) being high on LSD. The snippet of surf music during this piece comes from Frank’s Studio Z days in Cucamonga (it’s the beginning of the Zappa-produced 1964 song “Heavies” by the Rotations, which has a fitting enough title, considering this album’s setting).
Frank has often called “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” a “folk song.” It’s about Ronnie and Kenny Williams, Frank’s old friends. Dink was their father’s actual nickname. The lines “I still remember mama with her apron and her pad/feeding all the boys at Ed’s Cafe,” a reference to the boys' mother, was censored from early pressings, because some twisted schmuck at MGM thought that the lady in the song was feeding the customers her sanitary napkins. The tune ends with a click, followed by an old recording of Ronnie talking like a DJ: “This would be a little bit of vocal teenage heaven right here on Earth!” His bluesy scatting, originally recorded to Frank’s guitar accompaniment in the Williams’ living room, is then heard backward. The voice was heard normally as one of the animals at the beginning of Lumpy Gravy’s second half. (For more on the Williams brothers and this song, see the Lumpy Gravy section.)
“The Idiot Bastard Son” is about a kid born to parents who don’t care about him; the father turns out to be one of the Nazi-like politicians in “Plastic People” on Absolutely Free, and the mother’s a hooker. The Williams brothers wind up “raising” the bastard (he’s an incarnation of their combined characteristics) and stashing him away in a jar. This most likely refers to one of the mason jars into which the siblings and their friends urinated while playing poker in the Williams’ garage, the bastard being correlated with “Kenny’s little creatures on display” from the prior song -- the tadpole-like things found in the urine after it had all been ceremoniously dumped into a big crock pot, which had then been covered with a board and left to sit for a long time.
The backward voices amid the cacophony halfway through the song are saying “Uh-oh!” and “You showed ‘em!”. One of the normal voices predicts the Mothers’ cover of “WPLJ” (“White Port and Lemon Juice”) on Burnt Weeny Sandwich. Ronnie’s scatting is heard backward again, and an even more sped-up voice than the others comes out of the crowd and reacts to the kid: “Very strange.” The 1974 song “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary,” heard on the 1979 album Sleep Dirt (and on 1977’s Läther, once it’s finally released in ‘96), will have as its main character a pig who talks in a high voice like the one saying “Very strange” here. Greggery will remark that the local kids and their outdoor parties are “very strange.”
The alternate title of “Lonely Little Girl” is “It’s His Voice on the Radio,” as can be read on the original Verve label (and in the libretto).
“Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” was originally an instrumental Studio Z tune called “Never on Sunday." (This wasn't the same recording as the instrumental version that closed Lumpy Gravy.)
Ronnie’s the one growling, “Do it again! Do it again!” after the “Ugliest” reprise and Dick Barber’s snork. A ticking reprise of the reversed drum pedaling at the album’s opening is heard just before “Mother People” starts.
As Frank’s response to the armageddon that concludes “A Day in the Life” on Sgt. Pepper, his own closing piece, “The Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny” (named after the small, circular wind-hole found in place of genitalia on the common toy doll), offers its own final, sustained note, but it’s delivered differently. The lone piano note (as opposed to the Beatles’ majestic chord) fades in, thanks to backward reverb, and is then made to sound as if it were played just before the tape recorder’s been turned on; it then undulates from speaker to speaker as it fades.
After winning back his old Verve tapes in court, Frank wished to digitally remaster the early albums for release on CD. The tapes had not been stored properly, however. The two-channel master of the Money album had been ruined; it was necessary to return to the four, eight or twelve separate tracks (it was a song-by-song case) and completely reconstruct the master, which involved positioning the instruments in the mix all over again, not to mention redoing the countless edits. Since this task would have to be undertaken anyway, Frank decided to replace the drums and bass with new parts played by Chad Wackerman and Arthur Barrow. It was an attractive idea to him in any case, as he'd never been crazy about the sound of the original rhythm section; the drums had been mixed in mono, due to the limited amount of separate tracks. He was now able to get an excellent stereo drum sound in his own basement studio, and saw no reason why albums from the past had to remain trapped in unsatisfactory sonics. Since the studio was already set up for supplanting the rhythm tracks on Money, he liked the idea of doing the same for the old Ruben songs.
As far as Frank was concerned, complaints about the remixes amounted to musically irrelevant fetishism; but he accommodated those listeners in the case of Money, when another two-track master, this one in much better condition, was discovered. The 1995 reissue therefore provided the album as originally heard. Since Frank didn’t touch any of the edits this time, the censored parts unfortunately came along with the original drums and bass. 1985’s Ruben reissue, however, has never been replaced with the original mix. The overall sound, along with the clearer backing vocals and pristine instrument equalization (the acoustic guitar in “Jelly Roll Gum Drop” comes to mind -- it's finally been brought to the forefront), is a hell of a lot better, to this writer’s ears, than on the old Verve LP. Just because an old fan’s uneasy about change doesn’t mean that he should refuse to give the superior remaster a chance. As Ben Watson writes, “Maybe it’s better just to enjoy Art Barrow’s undeniably beautiful playing.” He quotes Frank from William Ruhlman’s 1/27/89 Goldmine interview: “I think that the material should have a chance to sound as good as you can make it sound, given the technical tools that are at your disposal.” Watson adds, “Zappa obviously resents those who ‘freeze’ his back catalogue to its original technical limitations.”
Cruising with Ruben & the Jets
The original title of this album was Whatever Happened to Ruben & the Jets?. The fictitious bio about Ruben Sano next to Frank’s high-school photo on the back cover ends with the fan club-spoofing fact that the singer “has 3 dogs. Benny, Baby & Martha.” The back cover of Absolutely Free features a wall of graffiti that reads, “Benny, Joe, Ruben, Mar[tha], Steve” under an advertisement for Fydo dog collars.
The poodle, a frequent Zappa symbol of the unnatural, repressive shaping of a media-influenced person, appears as the subject of some "Dirty Love" on Over-Nite Sensation, Fido the talking dog in “Stink-Foot” on
Apostrophe ('), Frunobulax the sex-starved monster (later called Fido) in “Cheepnis” on Roxy & Elsewhere, and Evelyn the modified (clipped and sculpted) dog listening to the Lumpy Gravy piano-dwellers when she makes her appearance on One Size Fits All. On the front cover of the latter, god’s hand is tattooed with the Pachuco cross (the Californian Spanish gangster emblem from Frank’s teenage memories), which is also found in the Absolutely Free graffiti. The “god/dog” blasphemy therefore comes into play, implying in this context that religion’s just another form of repression that "collars" the unwary; the title “Dog Breath, in the Year of the Plague” (from Uncle Meat) refers to a recurrent disaster in christian history. The character in that song sings like a Pachuco (“mi carrucha,” etc.), and the year of the Black Plague is seen stamped on the skull on the back cover of Uncle Meat (Cal Schenkel will claim that this is just an interesting coincidence). God’s sofa is seen on the One Size Fits All cover as well; the Hebrew term En Sof means “The Boundless One.” This is all not to wonder about the slight change to the "dog broth" that the groupie in
200 Motels wants to fix for the musician.
A small word-balloon on Ruben’s front cover has one of the musicians (whose noses are extended like dogs’ in order to fit their enlarged brains, as the Uncle Meat booklet will explain) going “quackquack,” spoofing people who try to be cool at the expense of being themselves (acting like ducks rather than dogs). In this case, the quacking singer’s trying to sound black; it’s Frank’s self-effacing joke about white people singing blues. Duck bills resemble black people’s lips, as the
Thing-Fish album will point out, in its mockery of those who stereotype. In the army to the left on the
Grand Wazoo cover, we see not a singing dog breaking character, but a quacking horse (horses have big lips). A similar horse is seen on the back wall in the Ahead of Their Time illustration, also quacking; on the floor is a book called Uncle Duck, under the only non-dog character: a bird. The French word oiseau (say “wazoo”) means “bird.”
Frank’s “Love of My Life,” Frank and Ray Collins’ "Fountain of Love," and Ray's “Anything” and “Deseri” date from the Studio Z period. Original Pal Studios founder Paul Buff collaborated with Ray on the latter.
The title of “Jelly Roll Gum Drop” illustrates its lyrics’ funny, confused mixture of sexual fervor and teen-idol triteness; old blues lyrics referred to sexy women as jelly rolls, but Robert Johnson or Howlin’ Wolf would never have dreamt of calling anyone a gum drop, which is more in line with white, ‘60s radio pop. The “Pachuco Hop” mentioned in the lyrics is a dance either inspired by or memorialized in the 1952 Chuck Higgins instrumental of the same name, which is also alluded to in “Debra Kadabra” on Bongo Fury.
At the end of “Later That Night,” Ray quotes either Ruth Brown’s “Three Letters” or the Velvetones’ “Glory of Love” (or both). He then laughs at his own exaggerated, soulful pronunciation of the word “there.” Frank theatrically gulps some air. “There’s no room to breathe in here!” he complains from the vocal booth. This might be left in to indicate the suffocating pop formula, the dry timbre of the vocals (in the liberated atmosphere of the future reissue, the song will fade out before Frank starts his gasping), and/or the poisonous-air motif; “Billy the Mountain,” “San Ber’dino” and “Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station” are just three other songs that refer to the latter. One can't help but wonder if Ray’s phrase “right on top of some dog waste” ties in with the title of Uncle Meat’s ”Dog Breath, in the Year of the Plague” (another reference to breath, at that), or if it's purely comical that the character in the final Ruben song, “Stuff Up the Cracks,” threatens to kill himself with poisonous gas. Ray also refers to his “shirts with the Mr. B collar”; the collar was patented by band-leader and trumpeter Billy Eckstine, whose button configuration gave the neck room to swell. It's also worth noting that all of the songs on Ruben and Uncle Meat were originally going to be sequenced together, in a three-record set called No Commercial Potential.
The introductory notes from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring are incorporated into the delivery of the repeated closing line “fountain of love” and the backing vocals that immediately follow. An extract from the Moonglows’ “Sincerely” is heard in the “ooohs” and Frank’s baritone vocal part.
The teeth motif on the front and back covers satirized the old teenybopper posters that had featured "kissable close-ups" of the Beatles' lips, gums and teeth.
While speaking to Bob Marshall on 10/22/88, Frank said that the "funny thing about [the title "Nine Types of Industrial Pollution"] is that at the time it was put on Uncle Meat, there was no such thing as a concern over industrial pollution. It hadn't even been brought up as a topic... [I used the name as] a joke after driving through New Jersey."
"Zolar Czakl" is the name of a rock-climbing route in Boulder Canyon, Colorado. It's unknown whether Frank titled the piece after the route because he found the name amusing, or if the route was named after the piece. Either way, it was also Cal Schenkel's nickname -- or at least his character's name in the Uncle Meat movie.
"Electric Aunt Jemima" was Frank's name for his guitar amplifier.
The lyrics of "Mr. Green Genes" satirize voracious consumerism.
(Many other things about Uncle Meat can be found within this overall text.)
Burnt Weeny Sandwich
By this point, listeners had gotten the idea of meat vs. vegetables (“Call Any Vegetable,” “Mr. Green Genes,” etc.): active people vs. passive ones, and truly original music vs. derivative "hits." While discussing Absolutely Free with an interviewer from the International Times in 1967, Frank said that “people, even if they are inactive, apathetic or unconcerned at this point, can be motivated toward a more useful sort of existence. I believe that if you call any vegetable, then it will respond to you.” In addition to a few album titles from this period, including Sandwich of course, references to meat can be found in song titles throughout the Zappa catalogue (“Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue” and “Things That Look Like Meat,” for example). Of course, this album title mainly refers to the sandwiched song order: Old R&B covers open and close the album.
On the back cover is a picture taken by Cal Schenkel of Ian Underwood pretending to eat a shoe or boot. A thought cloud rises from his temple: “God! This is a tasty little sucker!” It’s a reference to “Mr. Green Genes” on Uncle Meat (“Eat your shoes”). The picture comes from the Mothers’ September-October, 1968 European tour.
Frank chose the front album-cover long after it had been designed by Cal in early 1967; the “crucified on technology” sculpture was originally concocted in the Zappas’ New York apartment on Charles Street, for an Eric Dolphy album that was never released.
According to Cal, Frank solarized and developed the inner-gatefold Apostolic picture of Don Preston in his own closet.
“WPLJ” was originally recorded by the Four Deuces; here, Frank sings lead with Lowell George. The Deuces’ B-side, “Here Lies Love,” was also covered by the Mothers, as heard on You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 5. This was sung by Lowell as well. Roy Estrada’s Spanish ad-libs at the end of “WPLJ” include, when translated, the advice to Motorhead (who’s yelling replies in the background) that getting a girl buzzed on the drink might make him “more attractive to fuck.”
The title track includes the words “Theme from” because Frank made a twenty-minute film called Burnt Weeny Sandwich, which he screened at San Fernando Valley State College, and which starred the Mothers in Germany in 1968.
Band-leader Johnny Otis, whom Frank had met in high school (and whose mustache-and-imperial look he’d adopted), led the band during the recording of "Overture to 'A Holiday in Berlin'" while Frank worked in the control booth. The short piece was recorded at T.T.G. Studios in Hollywood during the Hot Rats sessions. This and its corresponding piece hadn’t been renamed “Holiday in Berlin” until October of 1968; Frank had written some of the music in 1961 for the movie The World’s Greatest Sinner. The students who’d attended the Mothers’ Berlin show on October 16 had tried to get Frank to help with their violent anti-government activities, and when he’d refused, they’d thrown tomatoes and other things at the band. Rearranged parts of “Holiday in Berlin, Full-Blown” reappeared on the 200 Motels soundtrack as “Semi-Fraudulent/Direct-From-Hollywood Overture.” Words were eventually added to the former, as can be heard on the bootleg Freaks & Motherfu*%!!@#, which features the 11/5/70 concert at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. The Berlin students’ communistic political ideas, and their attack on the Mothers, were recounted in the lyrics.
At the end of "Holiday in Berlin, Full-Blown," Frank can be heard telling the live band to play “Aybe Sea” (say “A-B-C”), but the studio version cuts in. The stunning piece is played again, this time in concert, along with unrelated instrumentation that's much louder in the mix (some parts might even be sped up and edited over the performance); this occurs toward the end of “Little House I Used to Live in,” a long piece whose other sections have their own titles (not listed on the album cover), such as “Little House,” “The Duke,” “Return of the Hunch-Back Duke,” “Return of the Son of the Hunch-Back Duke” and “Twinkle Tits.” The whole piece has grown from a piano exercise that Frank wrote in 1962. A restructured version of that initial exercise will be played on electric piano during the “Concerto for Mothers and Orchestra” at the University of California at Los Angeles in May of 1970.
Starting with the return of “Aybe Sea,” the closing section of “Little House I Used to Live in” and Frank’s subsequent comments to the audience are from the Mothers’ 6/6/69 show at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
“Valarie” was originally by Jackie & the Starlites. The Mothers recorded it at A&R Studios in New York City, along with the first version of “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” (the second, from Criteria Studios in Miami, appears on
Weasels Ripped My Flesh).
Weasels Ripped My Flesh
After Frank broke up the Mothers in the autumn of 1969, he mentioned an upcoming succession of twelve separate albums that would collectively be titled The History and Collected Improvisations of the Mothers of Invention. What emerged instead were late 1969's Burnt Weeny Sandwich and, in the summer of '70, Weasels. Both were amalgams of material extracted from various 1968 and ‘69 shows and studio tapes.
This album’s title comes from a 1950s Man’s Life article about a guy trapped in a swamp full of vicious weasels. The man on the front cover will wind up exposing his teeth if he continues mutilating his cheek, connecting this image to Uncle Meat’s (talk about a “Dental Hygiene Dilemma”). The illustration is by Neon Park, whose real name is Martin Muller.
“Didja Get Any Onya” was taped at the Mothers’ 1969 Philadelphia Arena concert. The German-accent monologue is spoken by Lowell George. The CD reissue features a longer ending than the original album does: About three minutes of “Charles Ives” from the '69 Columbia University show is tacked on before the Little Richard cover “Directly from My Heart to You,” recorded at T.T.G. Studios in Hollywood, begins. “Charles Ives” can be heard in its entirety on You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 5. Its drum-dominated section is also heard in “The Blimp” on the Zappa-produced ‘69 album Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band.
“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask” is a combination of snippets from a Thee Image show in Miami and the 10/28/68 concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London (most of which can be heard on Ahead of Their Time, although these sections are left out, with the exception of a bit near the end of “King Kong,” presented here as the beginning of “Gas Mask”). The piece contains a furious update on the main riff in “Didja Get Any Onya.” The title’s reference to gas masks is based on Frank’s childhood memory of taking apart one of the masks kept on hand by all residents of the neighborhood in which his family lived. The masks were there in case anything went wrong with the mustard-gas tanks at the nearby Edgewood Arsenal. Young Frank wanted to know what the masks’ filters were made of. The title also pays tribute to Debussy’s 1894 piece “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun [half-man, half-goat]," in which the faun dreams about nymphs, and feels so “sexually aroused” when he wakes up that he makes a flute with which to entice them. The electric piano music heard in “Gas Mask” behind Motorhead’s closing snorks is actually from Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony, “perfectly evoking Debussy’s love of Russian melodies” (Courrier).
The title “Toads of the Short Forest” refers to pubic lice. The first half of the piece, originally intended for I Was a Teenage Malt Shop (Frank’s opera from the Studio Z period), was recorded in 1969 at Whitney Studios in Glendale, California. During the live segment, Frank tells the audience that Ian’s sax is blowing its nose, foreshadowing the Gypsy Mutant Industrial Vacuum in the gatefold of the next album, Chunga’s Revenge; she plays the hose extending from the spot where her nose would be. Dominique Chevalier writes, “The problem [at Pal Studios] was that acetate discs were very easily damaged by dust, and very highly flammable. Because of this, a vacuum cleaner was vital for when Zappa and Buff took the acetates to record companies... From time to time, Zappa and Buff set fire to stacks of old acetates at night, lighting up the whole neighborhood. This inspired the vacuum-cleaner stories...” The vacuum in the Chunga’s Revenge tale is indeed dancing around a “mysterious night-time campfire.” The fast "Didja" riff in “Gas Mask” returns yet again, near the end of “Toads.”
1969’s “Get a Little” is named after Motorhead’s recollection of trying to get laid, which is decorated with coughs (which hack and spit at the end) and followed up with a splice of tape effects made to sound like the word “pussy.” The song was recorded at the Factory in the Bronx.
“Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue” was recorded at A&R Studios in New York City. Inventive jazzman Dolphy had made an album in 1964 called Out to Lunch, a phrase that concludes one of the verses in “Oh, No” later on Weasels.
“Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula” was recorded at Apostolic Studios in New York City. A dwarf nebula is also mentioned in “The Radio Is Broken” on The Man from Utopia (1983). References to both this
Weasels piece and “Toads of the Short Forest” can be found on the back cover of One Size Fits All: ”Crab Nebula goes here.” This is one of god's notes to himself, found on both the front and back covers, about the design of the universe (particularly funny is his note about square rings around Saturn: "Don't work"). A pubic crab appears as the Cancer constellation.
“Oh, No,” from Apostolic, adds vocals (written along with the first handful of Freak Out! songs and "Bow-Tie Daddy") to the instrumental heard on Lumpy Gravy and played often during Mothers shows. “The Orange County Lumber Truck,” named after where and what Roy Estrada drove for a living prior to his career in music, follows “Oh, No” here, just as it has during concerts, and will again in 1974. At that time, the line “I just can’t believe you are such a fool” will become a refrain about President Nixon, whose power base is in Orange County; “The Orange County Lumber Truck” will duly be retitled “Son of Orange County.” Most of this medley will appear on Roxy & Elsewhere. Returning to the Weasels version, this edit of the long “Lumber Truck” instrumental performed during the same Festival Hall show as “Gas Mask” includes, as always, a riff from “Harry, You’re a Beast” on the Money album (the “Don’t come in me, in me” part).
For the title track, which closes the album, Frank has told everyone in the band who can instill feedback to do so. It’s from a Birmingham, England concert.
For the front cover of this 1970 album, Calvin designed a spoof on cheesy horror-movie ads, featuring cartoony wording and a photo that turned out not to be Frank screaming, as at first glance, but yawning (the title perhaps being a funny Zappa term for weariness).
Each second song on the original Sides 1 and 2 has to do with women performing sexual favors; the implication is that military men are at least as “dirty” as stereotypical rock musicians. The line “What the road ladies do to you” from “Road Ladies” is a twist on “Ooh, what it do to you” from “WPLJ” on Burnt Weeny Sandwich; the wine makes you horny, and the girl gives you venereal disease. The names “Freddie and Joe” heard in “Would You Go All the Way?” are derived from “Eddie and Flo,” the ex-Turtles singers Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, for whom this is the first album with the Mothers.
“Twenty Small Cigars” (a pack of cigarettes) is an outtake from the Hot Rats sessions, and features Max Bennett on stand-up bass. Both the guitar and overdubbed harpsichord in this beautiful piece are played by Frank.
“The Nancy & Mary Music” comes from a concert at the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota; George Duke voices the drum imitations.
Just Another Band from L.A.
Calvin’s cover features the purple-jelly Chevy ‘39 seen on the back of the Uncle Meat booklet. The “4 secret clues” mentioned in the enlarged “snat” star in the lower right corner are as follows: Fuzzy dice hang from the rear-view mirror (alluding to the chorus of “Dog Breath” on both Uncle Meat and this album); the car sits atop a huge hamburger (painted by Sherm Thompson; this recalls “Cruising for Burgers,” although these Mothers are evidently cruising on a burger); Frank’s toes snap with the “snat” sound from the Ruben cover; and the car was first seen as noted above. Still another “clue” is that the Mothers have returned to dog form. Cal’s signature can be seen on the car’s front license plate. Rifa, printed under the title, is a festive Pachuco exclamation. The back-cover photograph was taken by Bernard (Buzz) Gardner, Bunk’s brother and one of Frank’s occasional brass Mothers.
Rosamond and Gorman are two California towns high in the hills north of Sun Village, near Lancaster -- all sites of Frank’s adolescence -- and Edwards Air Force Base. When Billy the Mountain announces that he and Ethel are going to New York, the Tonight Show theme is played; this is repeated at a much slower tempo as Billy hums along in his deep, slow voice. (The title track of 1981's Tinseltown Rebellion will also include a bit of the Carson theme; the television show will since have been moved from New York City to Hollywood.)
Continuing with the references in "Billy the Mountain," the parodying line “...through the canyons of your mind” comes from either the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s humorous 1968 number “Canyons of Your Mind” or Bob Lind’s ‘66 song “Elusive Butterfly.” Bob was born in Baltimore, Maryland, like Frank. The phrase will reappear in “We’re Turning Again” on the Prevention album (1985).
George Putnam is a judgmental anchorman on L.A.’s KTTV. The phrase “wing nuts” is a common term for airplane mechanics, although it’s sometimes used to describe war pilots themselves. The “O, Mein Papa” that Billy creates in the earth’s crust is a crack (in both senses); the phrase is actually the name of an Eddie Fischer (“fissure”) song from 1953. Comedian Jerry Lewis hosts a benefit telethon, as Billy has leveled Glendale, the town connected to Burbank via the mentioned street Glenoaks. Howard Kaplan is Kaylan’s real name.
The germs from the underground dump, released through Billy’s fissure (the accusations leveled at him and Ethel are cover-ups that detract attention from the government’s buried “pools of old, poison gas and obsolete germ-bombs”), are spread over Watts -- misleadingly and humorously introduced by the revisited Tonight Show theme -- possibly causing the Watts riots scorned in Freak Out!’s ”Trouble Every Day,” and recalling the government’s chemical experimentation on the masses, which Frank blames for the LSD cattle-feeding in San Francisco.
Chief Redden is the L.A. Chief of Police. Zubin Mehta was the conductor of the orchestral music featured here at the Pavilion on 5/15/70, the night on which Flo and Eddie approached Frank backstage with an interest in joining the band. “Piss on you, Jack” harks back to “Didja Get Any Onya” on Weasels .The reference to Neil Sedaka is a little joke that connects the upcoming weekday-based lyrics to Sedaka’s old song “Calendar Girl.” They’ll also be found, slightly modified, on the back cover of One Sizes Fits All (with Billy’s earthquake seen below).
Frank creates an environment in which every detail is seen as significant, encouraging the rock listener to approach the material with the scrutiny others would only lend to more “respectable” music. The boulders, wristwatch face and frozen beef pie are, incidentally, further “round things.”
Drag races were once held in Irwindale, California, featuring “funny cars” (dragsters). “Big John” Masmanian was a star driver at the races. Walnut and City of Industry are actual towns near Irwindale. Dudley Do-Right is a Canadian Police cartoon character on the Bullwinkle Show (forecasting the Montreal setting of “Magdalena” later on the album). We hear that Studebaker Hoch is illegally selling the Mothers’ previous live album -- “white albums I sent ya with the pencil on the front” (which was made to look like a bootleg anyway) -- updating Frank’s suspicions that the Mothers actually sold more copies of their first few albums than were reported and compensated for, the pressing plant allegedly having made and then given away extra copies for under-the-table cash and products.
Per diem means “daily” (payments). Hoch is just as pretentious as the hippie types he condemns; we hear a parody of the Crosby, Stills & Nash tune “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Regarding the references in this section: Motorhead once dated Joni Mitchell, and she played briefly with the Mothers during their 1970 Fillmore East concert. Elliott Roberts managed Crosby, Stills & Nash. Cops did board David Crosby’s boat; he flushed his drugs down the toilet, but they floated up next to the boat. Neil Young underwent back surgery in late 1970, due to a slipped disk. (This section will be left out of the version of "Billy the Mountain" heard on 1992's Playground Psychotics.)
Even Hoch’s name is purposefully contrived-sounding, being a perversion of the ‘50s car name Studebaker Hawk. He and Billy the Mountain have both been mentioned in the song “Dental Hygiene Dilemma” on the 200 Motels soundtrack. The wordplay on vehicles named after birds will recur on 1979's Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III, in a song called “Packard Goose” (a Packard being another out-of-circulation car, and the goose its hood ornament). That song, like “Billy the Mountain,” will deal with media manipulation, its title making a further reference: Vance Packard wrote The Hidden Persuaders, a book about ‘50s advertising contrivances. A guy named Leon, who works at Bizarre, one of Frank’s record labels (and who's been mentioned in 200 Motels’ ”Does This Kind of Life Look Interesting to You?”), lives next door to Martin “Mutt” Cohen (also named in that song), the lawyer brother of Frank’s manager Herb. Leon feeds Mutt’s geese whenever Mutt's out of town. Leon has aptly been seen feeding geese in the cartoon sequence of 200 Motels.
The action-show theme music attached to Hoch is played briefly before its full inclusion in the song, to denote that “he,” a word uttered with sarcastic nobility, is Hoch. Musical triggers like this are spread throughout the piece, reappearing when least expected for surprise connections. This will occur again in 1974's "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary," which will also feature Billy.
The Aunt Jemima syrup presages “Magdalena” and recalls “Electric Aunt Jemima.” As the latter was actually about a guitar amplifier, the insinuation here is that the music is carrying Hoch across the story’s landscape. He’s made himself some wings; he’s another kind of “wing nut.” The flies shriek “Help me!” in allusion to the end of the ‘50s horror flick The Fly. Church of Scientology founder L. Rob Hubbard is referenced; Frank will parody him on Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III as L. Ron Hoover, purveyor of living, erotic vacuum cleaners at the Church of Appliantology. The words “He might play dirty/He’s over thirty/Getting old” recollect one of the reasons for which the Mothers wanted to abandon Frank in the 200 Motels script.
In “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” on Apostrophe ('), the “Billy” lyrics rhyming “queen” with “marine” will be different, but they'll still refer to pretentious people whose concealed sexual desires are manifested abnormally; Hoch’s “cocksucking” flies lap the syrup off his inner thighs, whereas Father Vivian's parishioners eat his batter-and-semen pancakes and enjoy pain. (For further elaboration on “Pancake Breakfast” and “Father O’Blivion,” see the
Apostrophe (') section.)
The last two words of the “Call Any Vegetable” line “Why is a vegetable something to hide?” are sung like “I can’t hide” from the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” changed from the “Twist and Shout” send-up in the Absolutely Free version. Jack Lalaine is a fitness “expert.” “God Bless America,” heard alone here, was one of the melody lines mixed with others in a Charles Ives fashion at the end of the aforementioned original rendition.
Zachary All, mentioned in “Eddie, Are You Kidding?”, is a clothing store owned by a guy named Eddie and located above Frank’s Bizarre Records office on Wilshire Boulevard. The phrase “sixteen tailors” is sung to the tune of the Crests’ old hit “Sixteen Candles."
At the end of the question-and-answer section in “Call Any Vegetable,” Mark answers the stomach-pumping query by quoting the ad slogan, “Adee do!”. The “doodle doodle” vocals in “Magdalena” make further fun of the commercials for Adee Plumbing. While begging Magdalena to forgive him, her father hurts his case by admitting to aberrant sexual fantasies in which the digestive medicine Kaopectate plays a part, going along with the plumbing-company reference. Jon Provost played the little boy in the Lassie TV show. Leo G. Carroll starred in the 1955 horror film Tarantula. The Cinegrill is a Hollywood Boulevard nightclub. Shell pest strips are anti-bug traps manufactured by the Shell oil company (this recalls the Fly movie reference in “Billy the Mountain”). Sparklett’s is bottled water. The Tonight Show is cited again, as the father finds another excuse for his behavior.
The statement "Round things are boring," and the use of the word “boring” as a verb, are mentioned in the
Lumpy Gravy section above. Considering the word's more common meaning as an adjective: Nanook, the eskimo in Apostrophe (')'s opening songs, inhabits a frozen, empty tundra, where it's "a hundred degrees below zero." Zeroes are round; Frank will view them as shapes near the end of "The Torture Never Stops" (see the Zoot Allures section). A cultural wasteland is boring indeed; this is either an “unpleasant premonition,” as the Money liner notes read -- engineer Gary Kellgren whispers “Blank, empty space” on that album -- or society as it currently is. Speaking of round things, there’s also the “vigorous circular motion” (cf. the "vicious circle" of Lumpy Gravy) performed by Nanook as he rubs urine into the fur trapper’s eyes. The reduction of the world into a mentally barren plain is relentless. This is also a reference to masturbation, which superstition says will make you blind, as both Nanook and the trapper become. Sexual repression contributes to the cultural demise.
“St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” and “Father O’Blivion” duly mock hypocritical religious figures who denounce non-marital sex; the priest tries to raise money by feeding his parish pancakes into which his semen has been mixed, blaming his perversions on a “leprechaun”: possibly the severed hand of a leper with which he jerks himself, the leper being a common biblical figure. It’s an update on the reference to masturbation and Nanook’s resulting blindness (although a “vigorous circular motion” pertains more accurately to female self-pleasuring). A humorous parallel is that Father O'Blivion -- called "Your Highness" by a helper -- is brought his snow-shoes, whereas Fido brings slippers to the "man who was talkin' to the dog" in "Stink-Foot" on Side 2.
The song at the end of the original Side 1, “Cosmik Debris,” pokes fun at pseudo-holy entrepreneurs (L. Ron Hubbard types on the street corners, to hearken back to “Billy the Mountain,” which contained some lyrics that have been altered for "Pancake Breakfast").
Roxy & Elsewhere
Most of this album’s material came from the Mothers’ six-night residency at the Roxy in Hollywood, December 7th through the 12th, 1973. The “gymnasium extravaganza” at Edidboro State College in Pennsylvania on 5/8/74 provided some additional material (“Son of Orange County” and “More Trouble Every Day”), as did the second of two concerts performed at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, Illinois on Mothers’ Day (5/11/74): a section of “Penguin in Bondage.” Some overdubs, mainly to double Napoleon Murphy Brock’s vocals, were added that summer. The album came out in the fall.
The “Brian” who Frank asks to turn up the stage-monitor volume is Brian Desper, his 1973-‘74 sound man. The reference to a penguin (possibly a white groupie bound in black straps, considering the bondage-related introduction) follows up on the frozen wasteland of the north in the suite about Nanook on Apostrophe ('). Knirps, a German umbrella company, is mentioned, hinting that a closed umbrella might be used as a sexual implement. “Knirps” is also German slang for “short person.” Frank might have been aware of this tie-in to munchkins; the first word of the next song title is, after all, “Pygmy.” The subject of penguins first came up during the Mothers' 1967 Garrick Theater shows, and then on stage with the Flo & Eddie band: A stuffed penguin would be shot through a hoop of fire made out of coat hangers wrapped with tissues. This explains some of the lyrics in “Penguin in Bondage,” as well as the inclusion of the Johnny Cash tune “Ring of Fire” on The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life (1991).
The “hocker” mentioned in “Pygmy Twylyte” is a ball of phlegm in the throat, probably caused by chronic pot-smoking in this case; the lyrics are based on another foolish character in Frank’s real-life cast, the druggie. A diploma, stuffed with a gym sock to simulate the stench of marijuana, will be smoked in the next song. The “croakin’” denotes both the guy’s voice and death by drugs. The line about “crankin’ an’ a-coke’n” enhances the character’s drug repertoire, while the remark about trying to quell the munchies (“in the Winchell’s do-nut Midnite”) and the mention of a stash-ready “Greyhound [bus station] locker” -- again foreshadowing the gym-sock part -- return to pot. The Winchell’s could also be unwittingly servicing narcotics junkies looking for sugar fixes. This is apparently one hell of a binge; the guy’s also “hurtin’ for sleep in the Quaalude Moonlight,” which refers to downers, while the “crystal eye” suggests smoked cocaine (or perhaps describes the character’s glazed vision, to go along with the glazed donuts). Of course, there might be more than one druggie in the lyrics. Their conditions transform the environment; they see their own peculiar types of “Midnite” and “Moonlight.” (Frank was always better at writing lyrics than he gave himself credit for.) Winchell’s Donuts will come up again in “The Blue Light” on Tinseltown Rebellion, adding an alcoholic to the cast of drug users. “City of Tiny Lites” (compare the title to “Pygmy Twylyte”) on 1979's Sheik Yerbouti will also mention downers, wine and impaired eyesight. The universe of a druggy is restricted to pygmy proportions -- and "Tiny is as tiny do."
“Dummy Up” is a slang term that means to keep quiet; here, it also indicates a dumb, high ("up") person. Rhythm guitarist Jeff Simmons is pushing new drugs on Napoleon Murphy Brock, including a strange entree: a Desenex (foot powder) burger, revisiting the foot-odor concept from Apostrophe ('). In fact, Jeff goes on to offer him a cut-up, white gym sock (previously worn by Frank’s younger brother Carl), suggesting that he smoke it and use a high-school diploma as the rolling paper. Reseda, California is mentioned, once again foretelling lyrics in “The Blue Light,” in which the future will be illustrated with a growing puddle that “smells like the ocean” and is made out of pollution that will submerge California, turning it into another Atlantis. This cross-reference makes one wonder if Frank includes drugs among the types of pollution that will ultimately wipe out America. The “Blue Light” lyrics will also poke fun at Donovan, who's recorded a song called “Atlantis.”
The elixir sequence in 200 Motels also featured Jeff, and is recalled here by the sock; during “Dental Hygiene Dilemma,” he smoked the “still damp” towel of Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun (Carl Zappa’s old sock is “still damp” as well; maybe the umbrella from “Penguin in Bondage” is still needed!) and exclaims, “What an aroma!” Frank’s remark to Napoleon about his nausea after smoking the sock/diploma, “You’ll grow out of it,” alludes to the pygmy druggie of the previous song, as well as the sock (clothes are grown out of).
An echidna’s a burrowing nocturnal mammal, native to Australia and New Guinea; it boasts precarious claws and an anteater-like snout for supping on bugs, but otherwise resembles a big porcupine. The Mothers played several Australian dates during the summer of 1973. (One rumor has it that Frank simply saw an interesting-looking anteater at the Los Angeles Zoo.) Why it’s barking in the title is anyone’s guess, but the title reprises the old poodle subject and foreshadows the dog in “Cheepnis” later on the Roxy album.
“Cheepnis” celebrates the charm and humor of cheesy 1950s horror movies. Frank found great amusement in the fact that these cheaply made films were supposed to be genuinely frightening. His description of an especially tawdry monster (“sort of a rounded-off, pup-tent affair”) during the introduction recalls the cryptic lines “And then I’ll call Pup Tentacle/I’ll ask him how’s his chin/I’ll find out how the future is/because that’s where he’s been” from “Excentrifugal Forz” on
Apostrophe ('), released months before Roxy and therefore rendering true the lyric about the pup visiting the future -- this Roxy concert was recorded before Apostrophe ('). The threat of alien reproduction arises, presaging “The Radio Is Broken” on The Man from Utopia. The monstrous dog’s genitals are ascertained to be his weak spot (a “great big poodle thing,” following up on the smaller weeny eaten by the singer at the beginning of the song), so a giant pair of pants is brought out as hump-worthy bait. The nursery-rhyme character Little Miss Muffet is mentioned because of the giant spider elsewhere in the lyrics. “Son of Orange County” bashes Richard Nixon, but the other reason for this title is that most of the music in the piece revists “The Orange County Lumber Truck.” This rendition begins with lyrics from “Oh, No,” just as that song preceded “Lumber Truck” during Mothers concerts in the ‘60s (and on 1970’s Weasels album). “Oh, No” was actually played in its entirety during the shows that spawned the Roxy album, but only the last verse is heard here, before the song leads into “Son of Orange County” proper.
Just before Halloween, 1976, Frank navigated around legal disputes with his former manager Herb Cohen to release this album, which appeared on the regular Warner Bros. label while Frank's own DiscReet imprint was hung up in the court hassles. Only slightly over a year after wrapping up an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Royal Albert Hall in London over the
200 Motels concert that had been vetoed back in 1971, Frank sued Herb for embezzling money with his attorney brother Martin. (The orchestral-piece title “Mo ‘n Herb’s Vacation” refers to the spending of Frank’s money on their own amusements.) Shortly after the suit was filed in the summer of ‘76, work began on Night of the Iron Sausage at the Record Plant in Los Angeles. It was to be a double album, presumably containing some of the 1974-'76 material that would eventually be heard on the four records resulting from the fragmentation of the Läther boxed set. Frank eventually decided that Night should be a single album called Zoot Allures. When it was finished, the Record Plant wouldn’t let him have the master tape unless Warner Bros. idemnified the studio against any lawsuit Herb might decide to file as a byproduct of his battles with Frank. Warner consented to this, but only if Frank idemnified them as well. He threw his hands up and had the album mastered from the half-speed safety copy he’d fortunately brought home.
The album title plays on the French exclamation zut alors! (akin to “goddammit!”). This is a continuation of the trick in the name The Grand Wazoo, which re-spelled the French word for “bird,” oiseau (“Grand Wazoo” = “Big Bird”). Zoot Allures also depicts the first two letters of “Zappa” as the title’s initials. A similar prank will be pulled on the cover of Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch (see that section for more).
Posing on the front cover like a "normal" rock group -- in congruence with the album’s mostly simplex music (for Zappa) -- are bassist Patrick O’Hearn, drummer Terry Bozzio, Frank and keyboardist Eddie Jobson. Patrick and Eddie are props; they don’t play on the album. They’re probably in the picture because it was taken around the time Frank was getting his late ‘76 touring band together. To fortify the theme of the contrived sexual presentation of oneself (more on this later), Frank’s pants are incredibly tight; on the back cover, he’s the only one who’s really changed his pose, bending outward at both knees to relieve the pressure. “Later That Night” from the Ruben album is called to mind: “There’s no room to breathe in here!” In “Stuff Up the Cracks” later on that LP, the song’s heartbroken character threatened to asphyxiate himself. Gas and the strange ideals attached to relationships both figure heavily in Zoot Allures' lyrics. The cover’s pants-bulges can be considered "zoot allures" themselves. Zoot suits were fashionable with black jazz musicians and their fans in the 1940s. A decade later, the free physical expressions and “primal rhythms” of black entertainers were alluring to sexually repressed, white teenagers. As Frank wrote in his 1968 essay “The New Rock,” “From the very beginning, the real reason Mr. & Mrs. Clean White America objected to [early rock and roll] was the fact that it was performed by black people. There was always a danger that one night -- maybe in the middle of summer, in a little pink party dress -- Janey or Suzy might be overwhelmed by the lewd, pulsating jungle rhythms and do something to make their [sic] parents ashamed.” This fits Zoot Allures’ concept of stifled sexuality escaping in unexpected ways. “Wonderful Wino” even mentions a zoot suit. Terry’s wearing an Angels shirt, advertising the baseball team; it’s perhaps just a funny coincidence that the effeminate Punky Meadows, from the rock group Angel, will be jeered in “Punky’s Whips” during the upcoming tour, observing both confused sexuality and bondage accoutrements. The Japanese text on the cover combines word bits to roughly form “Frank Zappa,” although names in Japan aren’t really written by joining phonetics together in such a straightforward manner; they’re of a more pictorial nature. The writing is Hanko in style, a form used for personal signatures.
Frank, no stranger to promiscuity and its psychologically liberating effects, saw similarities between the media’s product-selling portrayals of ideal sexuality and the propaganda of fascist regimes. While making this album, he certainly couldn't have been unaware of the implications on it, considering the frequency with which he'd previously compared, for instance, American politicians to Nazis. Two obvious examples are heard in "Plastic People" on Absolutely Free and "The Idiot Bastard Son" on Money; the concentration camp in 200 Motels also comes to mind. In interviews, Frank spoke quite often about the Western World's unhealthy sexual views; for instance, he was astounded that consumer demand existed for a blow-job machine that looked like a child’s head (“Ms. Pinky”).
“Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station” opens with the line, “This here song might offend you some.” Along with such lyrics as “Don’t you be Tarot-fied/It’s just a lotta nothin’, so what can it mean?” from “A Token of My Extreme” (Joe's Garage, Acts II & III), it could just as well serve as a characteristically self-effacing but sarcastic introduction for the new listener to Zappa’s music in general. “If it does, it’s because you’re dumb” is the second line, an accusation devoid of his usual, double-edged “character singing.” People in his own background were offended by direct language: “That’s the way it is where I come from/If you’ve been there too, lemme see your thumb [give me an affirmative thumbs-up].” The thumb reference also refers to auto mechanics, who have “greasy thumbs” and often work at gas stations. Recording engineer Davey Moire eventually takes over the lead vocals, occasionally harmonizing with himself. His high voice goes well with the energetic music, conveying the image of a child singing to another about their futures. The lyrics reprise the jabs at Nixon’s recession in “Can’t Afford No Shoes” from One Size Fits All, proclaiming that a college graduate won’t necessarily get a good job. But Davey’s sardonic, growling line “Pumpin’ the gas every night” is a reminder of the Californian concentration camps that Frank mentioned in the Money libretto notes.
Although the composer doesn't compare his own experiences with those of Jewish World War II prisoners, he seeks to warn about what might transpire if the typical American doesn't become conscious of the ways in which he's manipulated, and resist them; the dangers of repeating history are illustrated, demonstrating that things might well come to their logical, tyrannical conclusions. Television, magazines, etc. berate their targets to the point of torture, as men fear their own lack of image fulfillment (“The Torture Never Stops”) and seek unnatural sexual outlets (“Ms. Pinky”). They develop mind-games to get women into bed (“Find Her Finer”), get drunk in order to bury their disappointments (“Wonderful Wino”), and participate in ludicrous, marketed social trends (“Disco Boy”).
With "Be a moron and keep your position," Davey sings Frank’s sardonically stated encouragement to refuse to be a moron who contemplates no alternative to the prescribed way of life (recalling “Be a jerk/Go to work” from “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” on Absolutely Free). The listener’s told that he “oughta know now, all your education/won’t help ya no-how.” As Davey repeats the title refrain, we hear Frank's closer, louder vocal. His deep voice is mixed in front of everything else: “Manny de Camper vants to buy some vite [wants to buy some white].” One initially thinks of white gas (propane, which portable lamps and stoves run on), but he actually wants some white fish (a Jewish delicacy): Frank’s line is followed by Davey's falsetto exclamation, “fish!” (at the same time the backing vocals fall on the word “gas,” from the repeated song title). This is a bit ominous in the context of the German accent, when one remembers that Davey has just gotten through snarling sadistically about the prospect of "pumpin' the gas every night."
”Black Napkins” was recorded live in Osaka, Japan on 2/3/76 (which perhaps explains the Japanese stuff on the album cover). The wah-wah pedal’s eventually used in tandem with Frank’s uncanny neck-picking to make the guitar sound like an overheated science-fiction movie computer; the sound will return (as bubbles?) in “Ship Ahoy” on Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar Some More. In Ljubliana, Yugoslavia on 11/11/75, Frank introduced an early version of “Black Napkins” to the audience by announcing, “This is an instrumental song. It’s a tender, slow, moving, ‘ballad’ sort of song that carries with it the implied message that the complete woman must also have an asshole.” In the context of the album, the “perfect woman” for whom men are trained to search isn’t real, and they’ll be let down by natural humanity, with all its so-called imperfections. This anticipates “You never go doody/That’s what you think” in the album’s closing song, “Disco Boy”; in spite of seemingly connecting with these ideas by describing toilet paper, the song’s title wasn’t concocted until later in the month, after that spoken introduction. Frank and his band had Thanksgiving dinner in 1975 at a venue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that served hardly edible food, clinching the comical atrocity by providing black napkins (unwittingly making the guys think of death by food poisoning).
The lyrics in “The Torture Never Stops” were originally intended as jokes about Captain Beefheart's narcissistic mannerisms and lack of consistent sanitary habits. When the song was first performed in the spring of 1975 at Claremont College during the Bongo Fury tour, it was called “Why Doesn’t Somebody Get Him a Pepsi?”. By the time Frank recorded this
Zoot Allures vocal, the words had grown to represent much more, in terms of some undefined evil entity, whom one can consider a politician, a music journalist (cf. "The 'Torchum' Never Stops" on 1984's Thing-Fish) or the embodiment of the string-pullers who don’t get on the news, the industrial figures behind this psychosexual concentration camp. The reek that even makes the stones choke is another reference to poisonous air, not to mention Jewish dietary customs (raw pork). “Guns and the likes of every tool of pain” are included among outlets of displaced sexuality, bringing to mind Frank’s past lyrics about phallic extensions, as well as his future "sociological investigation" of New York's bondage-abundant Mudd Club.
Besides a “tiny light from a window hole” (making one wonder if “City of Tiny Lites,” a song on Sheik Yerbouti about Los Angeles, might not name the city as a center of the oppression), the atmosphere never gets a break, not a single shaft of sunlight; nor does the Night of the Iron Sausage let up, the era in which America’s denizens are battered by misleadings that snuff their self-esteem and direct their sexual energies toward machines (cf. Joe’s Garage). The "backing vocals" before each verse (and during the guitar solo) are orgasmic, partially pained female moans and squeals. The male listener is asked why these cries sexually frustrate him more than they should; they’re a natural aspect of humanity, after all. We can assume that the screams of the girls -- it’s Gail Zappa and a friend; the first grunt is the friend's -- are included to reveal to the listener how uptight his culture’s made him (or her, for that matter): “Why does this torture you? Isn’t it an attractive sound?”. Additional cries from the same “evening’s work” (Frank’s words) in his bedroom will resurface in “Rat Tomago” (“tomago” is “egg” in Japanese) on Sheik Yerbouti. The song will come after “Jones Crusher,” and will be followed by “Bobby Brown”: songs about damaged genitals. On the Baby Snakes soundtrack, “Jones Crusher” will immediately precede “Disco Boy.” (Then again, maybe the revisited shrieks in “Rat Tomago” will just be the cries of a girl who discovers that she's been eating a rat omelette.)
In 1977, Frank will tell Guitar Player’s Steve Rosen that the “thing that sounds like a slide guitar on ‘The Torture Never Stops’ is actually a fretless... It’s different than a regular guitar. You don’t push the strings to bend them; you move them back and forth like violin-type vibrato, which is a funny movement to get used to. But you can play barre chords on it. It’s fun.”
Frank sings an elongated verse at the end, wondering if the victims are “zeroes someone painted.” This recalls Nanook’s frozen cultural wasteland -- each of the first few lines of "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" ended with the "O" sound -- and the round, frozen beef pie next to which Billy the Mountain's (nature's) enemy was born. Frank sums up his eclectic music, conceptual continuity, lyrical exposing of buried truth, and Dadaistic, break-all-fabricated-artistic-boundaries crossing of genres and media: “Everything that’s ever been/That’s what’s the deal we’re dealin’ in.”
One of the girls shrieks as her death blow is dealt by her being cloned in artificial form -- her own packaged “perfect” image -- as “Ms. Pinky” stomps in. Frank parodies Van Morrison’s “Gloria” by spelling out “P-i-n-k-y”; then “K-Y” (Jelly; a lubricating agent) is snuck in. This is a song about, according to Frank’s words to Barry Miles in 1976, “a lonely-person device. We have this fan in Finland called Eric... [His favorite porn magazine] had ads for lonely-person devices. It was even worse than I had imagined. Not only is it a head; it’s the size of a child’s head. The throat is sponge rubber, and it’s got a vibrator in it with a battery pack and a two-speed motor. Sticking out of its neck is a nozzle with a squeeze-bulb that makes the throat contract.” (The doll really was priced at $69.95, according to Frank in other interviews.) So the original Sides 1 and 2 both end with masturbation -- the “Disco Boy” goes home alone, engaging in “disco love” with himself -- book-ending the record with results of frustration. This album’s a Weeny Sandwich of its own.
Donnie Vliet, who’s credited with blowing the harmonica in “Ms. Pinky” and “Find Her Finer,” is of course Captain Beefheart. "Find Her Finer” opens the album’s second half with remarks about how idiocy has become the accepted social norm. The prospective gas attendant at the beginning of the first half is sarcastically being encouraged by Frank to fulfill the “dumb” stereotype laid on him. The occasional vocal ("So you might as well," etc.) comes from Ruben Ladron de Guevara of the actual Ruben & the Jets, formed a few years after that Mothers album came out, and whose LP For Real was produced by Frank. The line “The universe is nowhere to start” vocalizes the difference between the cover concepts of last year’s
One Size Fits All (the idea having been that the universe can hold everyone comfortably) and Zoot Allures (with its restrictive media images and satirical pandering to consumers). The listener’s sardonically encouraged to “rap [talk] like a mummy ‘till you finally unwind her” (“rap” = “wrap,” in the sense of a mummy’s wrapping, which can be unwound). “See who designed her” correlates the human woman with the manufactured rubber head in the last song. “Ground mummy” was the name of a nineteenth-century spice, adding a further pun. After Frank admits that he’s probably offended some listeners (similar to how he opened Side 1), more wordplay’s heard in “wiser fool,” a funny oxymoron.
Xenochronicity (called “experimental re-synchronization” in the Sheik Yerbouti liner notes) makes its debut in “Friendly Little Finger”: The instrumental parts have been recorded at different times, and in different places and musical contexts, from each other's. The drums come from an outtake of "The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution," and the drone bass and guitar solo have been recorded in the Hofstra University dressing room (Long Island, New York) before the 1975 show there. The orchestration at the beginning, as well as the Hofner bass -- the latter having been recorded at half-speed, so as to be doubly fast and pitched upon normal play-back -- were overdubbed last, at the Record Plant.
The brass at the end is playing the traditional gospel song “Bringing in the Sheaves,” recalling the Salvation Army’s attempts at helping alcoholics quit. This duly leads into “Wonderful Wino,” co-written with Jeff Simmons in 1970. The macho line “Boy, she looked over at me, and she raised her thumb” revisits the opening song’s lyrics, while “I stink like a hog” recalls the repulsive meal in “The Torture Never Stops.” (Black napkins, indeed.) The showy dancing expression “Watch me, now!” (taken from the Dave Clark Five’s '60s hit “Do You Love Me”) is humorously used, as it will be in “Bobby Brown” (and before "Baby Snakes" during the 1978 European tour). What's funny is that the actual lyric has nothing to do with dancing in any of these cases. “Eat the label” will also be sung in “Baby, Take Your Teeth Out,” a song about a gummed blow job on 1984's Them or Us. (Ms. Pinky’s services undoubtedly feel like gum jobs.) “Eat the label” could also be a sly Zappa expression about his music; any attempt to brand it is swallowed up. The wino urinates on the front lawn of a woman whose hair is up in curlers; the black character in Apostrophe (')'s “Uncle Remus” smashed the racist lawn ornaments displayed by white Beverly Hills residents. A different studio version of “Wonderful Wino,” recorded in 1973 and featuring Ricky Lancelotti’s hyperactive vocals, contained the same line about the lawn as this rendition; but the even earlier live rendition from shows with Flo & Eddie had gone, “A roller-headed lady caught me weedling [or wheedling: begging] on her lawn.” The wino could’ve been urinating or loitering.
Originally released by Jeff Simmons on his 1970 solo album Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up on Zappa’s Straight Records, the song was temporarily retitled “Wino Man” when it was performed by the Mothers a year later. The title song from Simmons’ album will also be redone by Frank for Joe’s Garage, Act I. Although prominently depicting a world in which music has been made illegal, that story will concern a character whose life is wrecked in nearly every imaginable way, due to society’s rampant warping of sexuality.
The live instrumental “Zoot Allures,” rumored to have been recorded at the same Japanese concert as “Black Napkins” (although the songs feature different bass players, if one goes by the back-cover credits -- assuming that a new part hasn't been overdubbed for the album), incorporates a striking harp part, played by Lu Ann Neil. The original ending will be heard as “Duck Duck Goose” on Läther and “Ship Ahoy” on Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More. A November 1981 performance of “Zoot Allures” will be resynchronized over separately recorded music to render the solo section of “Truck Driver Divorce” on Them or Us.
In 1977, Frank will tell New Music Express that “’Disco Boy’ came about because we were in Denmark and we went to a place there called the Disc Club, and it was really poot. It was so make-believe sophisticated that it was embarrassing. The place was decorated like a playboy-type living room would sort of be like: low-boy chairs and snackettes on the table. And everybody drinks and dances to these robot-beat records...” The masturbation reference at the end of the song casts a curious light on the line “Find her blinder” in this half’s opener; blindness has been superstition’s reprimand for self-stimulation for ages. “Disco Boy” is circular, i.e. repetitious like the average pop song. The fur trapper in “Nanook Rubs It” was blinded by the urine-soaked snow that was rubbed into his eyes with a “vigorous circular motion” (female masturbation). Just before the solo, “The Torture Never Stops” contains the echoing “Well...well...” of “Nanook Rubs It"; the girls' moans then return. Those who watch the movie Baby Snakes, which occasionally features an inflatable doll with a Ms. Pinky-type head, will discover Frank singing most of “Disco Boy” to a young girl named Angel, tying into the Zoot Allures front cover and, of course, “Punky’s Whips” (not to mention Angel the cross-dresser cited in “Broken Hearts Are for Assholes”).
Läther (and Zappa in New York, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites)
In the spring of 1977, Frank delivered the master tapes for a four-record boxed set called Läther (pronounced “leather,” due to the umlauts over the A) to Warner Bros., who then decided not to pay the amount they contractually owed him, oafishly thinking that he’d frivolously thrown the package together just to speed along his remaining album requirements, thereby freeing himself from his recording contract. He retrieved the tapes and offered the set to EMI instead. Warner, currently being sued by Frank (who wanted the rights to his old albums, plus damages for years of bad bookkeeping and deficient royalties), threatened EMI with a lawsuit, scaring them out of negotiations. Frank then tried Mercury/Phonogram, who was to press and distribute the set as the first release on Zappa Records; but after it had gone through the test-pressing phase and had even been assigned a catalogue number, they suddenly refused to distribute it, as someone there had noticed its "offensive lyrics."
He resorted to splitting the set into four separate LPs, leaving out all linking transitions, adding a few songs and omitting others. He delivered the first Läther-ette, Zappa in New York, with packaging and liner notes that were preserved when Warner finally released the album on DiscReet. Shortly after providing that live double-disc, he handed over the other three all at once, fulfilling his contractual obligations anyway. Whether he planned to turn in his packaging designs upon being paid for these three, submitted designs that were ignored by Warner, or was shut out of the process as soon as they had the actual tapes, the albums were ultimately issued with sequencing and artwork that he hadn’t approved.
Before Warner could begin these staggered releases, Frank played the orignal Läther in its entirety on KROQ-FM (Burbank-Pasedena, California), encouraging listeners to record it off the radio. The conflicting report that the four separate albums came first, and were rearranged into Läther after Frank learned that Warner wouldn’t pay fairly, is false, according to Gail Zappa’s booklet notes in the CD set: “As originally conceived by Frank, Läther was always a 4-record box set.” The triple-CD package was released in 1996 on Rykodisc. Four bonus songs were added, extending the length to nearly three hours. Included were a 1993 remix of “Regyptian Strut” (spelled without the hyphen this time, as on Sleep Dirt); Frank’s opening and closing comments on the radio at the time of his broadcast; a piece called “Leather Goods,” which was made up of unused Lumpy Gravy dialogue, some Gravy-reminiscent instrumental music, and the original beginning of “Duck Duck Goose” (which included Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" riff before the “Whole Lotta Love” one heard on Läther proper, as well as two solo breaks, tributing Jimmy Page’s in “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker”); “Revenge of the Knick-Knack People,” heard during some of the non-stage segments in the Baby Snakes movie; and the instrumental “Time Is Money” (included on Sleep Dirt but not Läther itself).
Gary Panter, an artist best known for his work in Raw Comix, was responsible for the illustrations on the covers of Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites. Frank hadn't chosen Gary’s work; one of the titles wasn’t his, either. “I might point out that [Sleep Dirt is] not the name of the album,” he told Record Review in the spring of 1979. “That’s just a further violation of the original contract. The original title of that album, as delivered to them, was
Hot Rats III. I presume that’s just another snide attempt to undermine the merchandising of it. If you saw an album sitting in the rack with the title Sleep Dirt on it, you probably wouldn’t be too intrigued by it. And based on the job they did with the cover of Studio Tan, they made [all of the packaging] as unappealing as possible.”
For the 1996 release of Läther, Frank’s longtime engineer Spencer Chrislu mastered the extant mixes. Dweezil Zappa conceived the cover, and Steven Jurgensmeyer turned in the final design: We’re being engaged by a cow (future leather) with Frank’s facial hair and an Italy-shaped spot on its hide.
Considering the spelling of the title rather than its pronunciation for the moment, it connects with the composer’s heritage. "[My father] used to work in his dad’s barbershop on the Maryland waterfront," he wrote in
The Real Frank Zappa Book. "For a penny a day (or a penny a week -- I can’t remember), he would stand on a box and lather the sailors’ faces, so his dad could shave them. Nice job." Sailors and the ocean arise in the album’s lyrics. A lather is also a hubbub, a disquiet; this can be applied to the album’s extreme diversity. Finally, to work oneself into a lather is to become excessively excited.
The album integrates recordings made from 1974 to ‘76. “Re-gyptian Strut” starts everything, having been taken into the studio after its appearances in the 1972 Grand Wazoo concerts as “Variant Processional March.” This makes it a possible outgrowth of “Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula.” The song’s title is hyphenated here, unlike on
"Naval Aviation in Art?” (the title having come from an old magazine pictorial Frank has seen, featuring paintings of various war machines), like everything else that will wind up on Orchestral Favorites, was recorded, before studio overdubs, at the symphonic September 17-18, 1975 sessions in Royce Hall at UCLA. Forty musicians were temporarily named the Abnuceals Orchestra, like Frank’s assortment of Lumpy Gravy musicians had been. This piece will be redone more slowly by Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain for the 1984 Zappa album The Perfect Stranger, without the call-and-response phrases between the flute and strings at the beginning (they'll be played in tandem instead).
The line “God, that was really beautiful!” is also heard on Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, after the “Legend of the Illinois Enema Bandit” section entitled “Hog Heaven” (a title that alludes to “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary”).
The effect on Frank’s voice during “A Little Green Rosetta” resembles that in “Evelyn, a Modified Dog,” making this a probable outtake from the sessions that yielded One Size Fits All. The tune was originally longer; the monologue that should precede Frank’s singing can be heard at the beginning of “Muffin Man” on Bongo Fury. (Consider that "muffin" = the verb "muffing," and that song's lyrics will make more sense; only "stuffin'" would have elicited the girl's "cries in the night.") The door-slam that starts the second half of "A Little Green Rosetta" is actually a double snare-hit; we’re suddenly hearing the long finale of an Osaka, Japan performance of “Zoot Allures” (from the same 2/3/76 show that yielded at least “Black Napkins” on the Zoot Allures album). This coda will be called “Ship Ahoy” on Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More, and will contain two-thirds more of the solo (with added polyrhythms from Terry Bozzio) prior to what’s heard in the “Little Green Rosetta” splice. The coda’s supposed to end with a double snare-hit as well, but that’s replaced with a high piano note, which duly surprises someone: “What?”
“Duck Duck Goose” features, for some reason, Patrick O’Hearn playing Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” bass riff, and Ray White sliding down his guitar neck to recall Page’s dive-bomber chorus lick. Before the song detonates into some free, instrumental music, a lunatic sniffle also found at the end of “Dancin’ Fool” on Sheik Yerbouti is heard. Roy Estrada, soaked in reverb, sings some ‘50s falsetto lines and the lyric “Whatcha gonna do when the well runs dry?” from Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’.” The priest from the beginning of the album is now impressed: “Listen to him go!” This line’s also heard at the beginning of “We’ve Got to Get into Something Real” on Sheik Yerbouti. There, it comes after a guitar solo rather than high vocals. The question “Why don’t ya take it down to C-sharp, Ernie?” is also heard just before “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango.”
The only full song on Läther that isn’t also heard elsewhere in Zappa’s catalogue in some version is “Down in de Dew.” It initially appeared on a tape made available to Guitar World magazine subscribers. Jim Gordon is playing drums, making this a likely outtake from the Apostrophe (') sessions; the title’s even taken from the “Uncle Remus” lyrics.
“Fifi Dupree,” mentioned in this version of “Broken Hearts Are for Assholes” and in the title “Dupree’s Paradise,” ran that club on Avalon Boulevard in Watts. “Assholes” ends with the crack of a whip and Patrick saying, “I knew you’d be surprised.” This is also heard at the end of “Bobby Brown” on Sheik Yerbouti.
Ray’s couplet at the end of “The Legend of the Illinois Enema Bandit” -- “Ain’t talkin’ ‘bout Fontana/Ain’t talkin’ ‘bout Potato-Headed Bobby” -- revisits Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s vocals at the end of “San Ber’dino” on
One Size Fits All. Frank interrupts with a ‘50s-style “Wanna, wanna, wan’ an enema,” dedicated to doo-wop expert Roy Estrada; the Zappa in New York liner notes explain that this “postscript” refers to a “statement Roy made occasionally to Jimmy Carl Black in the Garrick Theater days.” We can only wonder. The line “It can’t happen here,” of course, evokes that section of “Help, I’m a Rock” on Freak Out!. As the applause fades, Frank wryly refers to the enema-based lyrics: “That’s it. Sit right down. Make yourselves comfortable.” The chief reason why over-sensitive types are occasionally bothered by his lyrics is that he offers no personal opinions at the end, no "moral." Far from wanting to be a preachy singer, he documents modern folk figures he finds interesting, because nobody else will -- and he leaves the listener to draw his own conclusions about where such behavior originates from.
Recording engineer Davey Moire sings lead on “Lemme Take You to the Beach.” Grand Funk Railroad’s drummer Don Brewer plays the bongos.
The beautiful “Revised Music for Guitar & Low-Budget Orchestra” was recorded at the Record Plant in 1974, and expanded with orchestral segments from the following year’s sessions at Royce Hall. It’s a new arrangement of a piece called “Music for Electric Violin & Low-Budget Orchestra,” which Frank composed for Jean-Luc Ponty’s 1970 King Kong album. That original version also included a “Duke of Prunes” segment.
“RDNZL” (misspelled “REDUNZL” on the Studio Tan cover and label) has been around since 1972; the short, sparse original version was dominated by Jean-Luc’s violin. The letters in the title could stand for “Ruth Doesn’t Need Zappa’s Lyrics,” “Ruth, Duke, Napoleon, Zappa and Lancelotti,” or the standard set of automobile gears, out of sequence: “Reverse, Drive, Neutral, 2 and 1.” The astonishing Läther version was recorded in January of 1975, at the Colorado studio owned by James Guercio, who had auditioned to be the Mothers' guitarist nearly ten years before.
The snippet of dialogue heard just before “The Black Page #1” (so named because of the thickness of the notes on the score paper) is also the latter majority of Sheik Yerbouti’s ”We’ve Got to Get into Something Real” (called “Wait a Minute” on the CD reissue).
“Big-Leg Emma” was originally heard in its studio incarnation on a 1967 Mothers of Invention single (the A-side of which was “Why Don’tcha Do Me Right?”). After this live version, a terrific bit of free music immediately contests the gaudy swing; it also begins “What Ever Happened to All the Fun in the World?” on Sheik Yerbouti. There, it follows "Jones Crusher," another bluesy song about a fat girl.
During “Punky’s Whips,” Terry sings the name of Läther’s title song as it appears on Zappa in New York: ”I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth.” He sings off-key to maintain a naive, childish image. He yells, “One more time for the world!” at 7:42, as he does more zestfully just before “The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution,” the original title of which was “One More Time for the World.”
The title “Flambe’” was misspelled “Flambay” on the Sleep Dirt cover and label. In the mid-1980s, Suzannah (Thana) Harris sang words from Frank’s aborted 1972 musical Hunchentoot over the music in “Flambe’,” “Spider of Destiny” and “Time Is Money.” The vocals were included on the Barking Pumpkin and Rykodisc reissues of
Sleep Dirt (1991 and '95, respectively). In her book Under the Same Moon (©1999, Mastahna Publishing), Thana wrote: “Frank told me to think of myself as a late-middle-aged, slightly overweight and out-of-shape lounge singer with a cigarette, and a few drinks under her bulgy belt... I found the feel, and totally melted into it.” ”Flambe’” is twice as long on Sleep Dirt than on Läther; the middle section (starting at 1:32) is no longer edited out. The Läther version of “Spider of Destiny” exposes a lead-guitar line in place of Thana’s opening vocals. It runs into an edit, after which the final measure is being played on bells, rather than by the original entire ensemble.
The accentuations heard at the beginning and near the end of “The Purple Lagoon” began life as an early ‘70s experiment called “Approximate,” for which Frank’s score mostly specified the rhythms of the notes to be played, but not their pitches.
The large-orchestra version of “Pedro’s Dowry” on London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. I is quite different from this one, breathing a more ambient atmosphere and omitting the somewhat cheesy keyboard in favor of string and bass lines. A “disco section” is added to that later version as well.
“Duke of Orchestral Prunes” is simply called “Duke of Prunes” on Orchestral Favorites. The music goes as far back as 1959, when Frank scored the movie Run Home Slow. This version is reminiscent of the jazz-rock on
Hot Rats. Frank’s guitar solo is overdubbed; Tommy Morgan originally played a harmonica part. “I love the idea of screaming feedback guitar backed up by a symphony orchestra,” Frank will remark in the April, 1979 issue of
Record Review, separately telling his copyist/clarinetist/Synclavier assistant David Ocker that “there really ought to be a ‘Music for Guitar and High-Budget Symphony Orchestra.’”
The onset of free music after “Filthy Habits” (a Zoot Allures outtake) is also the latter part of “What Ever Happened to All the Fun in the World?”. The line “I wish he’d play somethin’ else, ‘cause, uh, they’re just not gonna stand for it” is also heard in the middle of “Easy Meat” on Tinseltown Rebellion. "Filthy Habits" has a longer solo on Sleep Dirt; the additional few seconds of low guitar begin at 2:58. An extra section of keyboard and low-picked, backward guitar begins at 4:40.
“Titties ‘n Beer” has a relationship to Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (A Soldier’s Tale), in which Satan accosts a fiddle player. Frank had a reciting part (he played Satan) in the 1972 Hollywood Bowl performance of the Stravinsky piece. (As Frank will write in his book, it was his first “post-wheelchair performance,” following the disastrous conclusion of the Flo & Eddie period.)
A section omitted from “The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution” was the music onto which Frank xenochronized his guitar part to craft “Friendly Little Finger” on Zoot Allures. Patrick got his job with Frank by improvising a bass part for “Ocean,” overdubbing his upright (“Do you play that doghouse?” Frank asked) onto the existing, bass-less recording of the song. (What’s heard in the released song probably isn’t the first take, as the bass’s timing sounds too precise for a mere run-through.) "Ocean" is nearly five minutes longer on Sleep Dirt; it includes a lengthy opening, featuring Zappa playing a synth line.
Greggery Peccary’s name is an embellishment of actor Gregory Peck’s. The song was recorded with a twenty-piece orchestra in December of 1974; some overdubs were added a month later at the same Colorado studio where "RDNZL" was recorded. Greggery is played by a sped-up Frank. Since the pig works at Big Swifty, a couple of slightly transformed measures from that 1972 Waka/Jawaka piece are heard here (at 4:36). The phrase “peccary of destiny” correlates him with Drakma, the Queen of Cosmic Greed, from Hunchentoot (cf. “Spider of Destiny”). A “very hip water-pipe” is a marijuana bong. Greggery’s lines as he invents calendar time hark back to “Billy the Mountain.” Greggery asks, “What hath god wrought?” This was Samuel Morse’s reaction to having sent the first telegraph message (to Baltimore, curiously enough), composed in Morse Code of course; Frank is poking fun at scientists, artists and others who credit a mythical deity for their work.
Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” and Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters’ “Chameleon” (the kids in the story change their interests according to trends) are musically quoted while Greggery’s attacked after leaving work. He takes the expressway’s Short Forest exit (alluding to “Toads of the Short Forest,” obviously; that song was named after pubic crabs, so the joke here indicates the probable effects of the kids’ love-in). A reference to hippie buses is wryly accompanied with a synthesized iota of music that likens them to clown cars at the circus. The notes of Flo & Eddie’s lines “Billy was a mountain/Ethel was a tree growing off of his shoulder” are played on a keyboard as Greggery parks inside a cave that’s actually Billy’s mouth.
”Louie Louie” is comically advanced as a “lewd act”; it will become a “terrorist activity” in “Welcome to the United States” on The Yellow Shark (1993). The “six-foot pile of transistor radios, each one tuned to a different station” tributes John Cage, who once composed a piece for six radios tuned thusly. Greggery echoes one of the song-transition characters from earlier on the album: “What?” His funny sigh of relief at his escape is stopped short by Billy’s laughter. The resulting dust forms brown clouds that the pig questions, singing a marching tune that was once an instrumental segment in the Grand Wazoo concerts (it was in fact the first Zappa music learned by that huge band). It can be heard in “For Calvin (and His Next Two Hitch-Hikers).”
Greggery himself becomes a corporate victim by the “Philostopher” Quentin Robert de Nameland (the last name being Spanish wordplay: “from Nameland”), who charges him money after merely announcing that time is an affliction and the eons are closing. The composing of the song goes back to 1972; the philostopher’s entire “lecture” was printed in the first issue of the Hot Raz Times in ‘73. The monlogue’s latter two-thirds are replaced in the song by the trombone part; de Nameland originally went on to suggest that if a “time-delineating apparatus,” like a calendar or clock, were ever to go “on the bum or the fritz, well -- it spells trouble!”. (Reliance on technology screws us when the stuff breaks.) Greggery then shouted, “That geek has ripped me off!” The narrator suggested to the pig, “Perhaps it’s a trend.”
The Läther version of “Greggery” contains occasionally opposite stereo from the Studio Tan version, as well as an extra two measures of animate flutes (at 3:28) and a chaotic, melting horn section alongside angry piano trills (at 14:42). The very end of the Studio Tan rendition finishes with a foreseeable percussion note, instead of cutting to a guitar slide.
You Are What You Is
The girl-hitting incident heard in “Jumbo, Go Away” represents yet another case of Frank reporting on real events and leaving listeners to their own conclusions, rather than trying to tell them what to think of the characters. Zappa guitarist Denny Walley slapped a woman he'd been arguing with.
Dweezil’s line “Leave my nose alone, please” from the end of “Drafted Again” was originally heard at the end of “Flower Punk” on the Money album.
Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch
The shape of the enlarged Droodle on the front cover spells out “ZA” (and even an arguably incomplete “FZ”).
In 1916, when German poet Hugo Ball opened a dictionary to a random page in order to find a term for his unrestrained artistic approach, he arrived at dada, which means “goodbye” in German and “hobby horse” in French. Ball now gave it a third meaning, which would go along with Zappa’s motif “anything, anytime, anywhere, for no reason at all.” It involved the comic derision of society’s accepted fixtures, and a belief in the interconnectedness, on one level or another, of everything. It centered on crossing the lines that others had drawn -- ignoring the concept of "genre," mixing media (writing over paint, for instance), and essentially returning creativity to creativity. It was unconcerned with where "art started" and "real life stopped," or vice versa. In forcing connections between initially unrelated things, Dadaists questioned the "value" of certain types of art over others.
These were all major ideas, apart from the obvious visceral appeal, behind Zappa’s inclusion of unconventional ingredients in pieces framed and presented as commercially available music. Non-instrument objects and musically unorthodox mouth-sounds were presented as being just as “valid” as customary musical sources, and mistakes and covertly recorded conversations made music out of life, not some mystical, transcendent or “lofty” state.
This album's opening song, ”No, Not Now,” provides a great example of the above: a few minutes of addictive, melodious rock contains singing, talking, crying and sound effects, and lyrically makes fun of truckers, Mormons, truckers hauling string beans (a food popular with Mormons), Mormon entertainers Donny and Marie Osmond, Hawaiian Punch (for which the siblings once sang a TV jingle, which can briefly be heard instrumentally after a remark about Hawaiian shirts in “Drowning Witch,” as well as during other concert pieces from this period), and the ‘60s TV show Hawaii Five-O. A hobby horse is even mentioned. Just to drive the point home, Frank will include an entirely backward version of the song on Thing-Fish.
The Man from Utopia
“Tink Walks Amok” is titled after Arthur Barrow’s childhood nickname, which Frank learned of from easy-pop singer Christopher Cross and found hilarious. “I didn’t know that Frank had named it after me until the album came out,” Arthur posted on Vladimir Sovetov’s ARF website. “The main lick of the first section used to be called ‘Atomic Paginini.’” The only fully rehearsed parts are probably the faster progressions, as “[Frank] would point to different strings and frets on my bass, and tell me where to take the lick next. He was writing it as we were recording!” Included near the end is music from a piece called “Thirteen,” which Zappa composed with violinist L. Shankar, who played it with Frank and his band at the New York Palladium on Halloween of 1978 (it will appear on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 6.
The title “Moggio” came from Frank’s daughter Diva, who'd crawled into bed with her parents and dreamt that she had a tiny father named Moggio, who lived under her pillow.
The opening song on the original Side 2 is a studio medley of two R&B oldies, “The Man from Utopia” by Donald Woods and the Vel-Aires (1955) and “Mary Lou” by Young Jessie from around the same period.
“Stick Together” is a slogan used with some sarcasm, as it’s usually a pro-union motto.
The songs are heard in a different order on the 1995 CD than on the original album, and “Luigi and the Wise Guys” is added.
The main character was named to recall the black, exaggeratedly stereotypical Kingfish from the old
Amos & Andy television-show version of the even older (pre-WWII) radio show.
In the story, Thing-Fish has been deformed by the government’s biochemical warfare against gays and minorities as part of the right-wing plan to cry “divine retribution” (along the lines of Frank’s theory about how Republicans started AIDS via religious missionaries’ vaccinating of overseas primitives). As Frank often comments in interviews (and will write in his book), the resulting “fear of god” helps value-preaching conservatives get elected, and also allows them to return favors to religious groups and televangelists who’ve donated campaign funds (cf. “Heavenly Bank Account” on You Are What You Is).
Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention
Matt Koegler explained to this writer that he had “watched the Senate hearings [concerning the lyric-censorship organization of Washington wives called the Parents' Music Resource Center] and had a conversation with friends that night, and ‘Mothers of Prevention’ kind of came out of my mouth. I wrote Frank a letter a few days later, requesting a Z-Pac [Frank’s anti-censorship collection of mental ammo]. The letter opened, ‘Mr. Zappa: Thanks very much for standing up against the Mothers of Prevention.’ A few months later, I was standing in line at Spec’s Music in Lakeland, Florida with my brand-new, hot-off-the-presses copy [of the Prevention album] in my hand, and while reading the back cover, I found my name.”
“Yo, Cats” swings on Vegas-type musical lines that bolster the lyrical jeers at aesthetically apathetic studio musicians, with Tommy Mars, who’s listed as co-writer Thomas Mariano (his real name), playing appropriately cheesy lounge organ. Session musicians’ camaraderie-feigning word “yo” is turned into “yo-yo” (loony). “Blow” means cocaine, and to “Play some footballs on your hole” means to play easy whole notes (shaped a bit like footballs in music notation) while keeping the bow level with the widest part of the violin’s “F-holes” (F-shaped openings). Your Girl and Arlyn’s were studio musicians’ answering services.
Although this album contains some stunning instrumental music ("What's New in Baltimore" and "Little Beige Sambo") -- the most beautiful sounds that will be made available by Frank until The Yellow Shark and Civilization, Phaze III -- he considers "Porn Wars" to be the conceptual centerpiece. The long musical collage is largely made up of his retorts to the oppressive politicians and wives he spoke to at the 9/19/85 senate hearing, regarding the PMRC's extortionate demands on the music industry; but in a characteristic twist, he uses their voices to deliver his reactions. The “vocals” begin with an exposed contradiction: Chairman John C. Danforth assures Frank that no legislation is sought, just before South Carolina Senator Earnest F. Hollings vows, after an exemplary Zappa time-jump edit, to find “some Constitutional provisions, tax or approach...to limit this outrageous filth.” Hollings’ admission “Maybe I could make a good rock star,” initially spoken as a self-effacingly funny comment on his own unintelligible southern accent, floats into the piece on several occasions; Frank is aligning Hollings’ secrets -- his own “outrageous filth” -- with the groupie-oriented activities narrated in many Zappa songs over the years. By including the phrase “inaudible filth,” Frank’s asking, “If he can’t hear it, why is it filthy?”.
Throughout the piece, we’re made to hear how people twist words to fit them into predetermined contexts; Zappa’s revenge is to do the same thing to the senators. They’re heard scolding their own actions: “Now, the effects of such lyrics on a well-adjusted child may not be cataclysmic.” A senator is made to unwittingly call himself a product of bad parenting, the real reason for which kids turn out crazy: “Rather, the emotional damage is more subtle.” Paula Hawkins indicts her own agenda: “...in some twisted mind.” She sadistically enjoys the book-burning going on, illustrated by the evil-sounding music and the exclamation “Burrrn...burrrn...burrrn!”. Hollings is heard reciting “Willy-nilly old bear” a few times. Frank is equating that harmless children’s lyric about Winnie the Pooh with the words deemed unsafe by the senators. He’s also implying that Hollings is a “willy-nilly old bear” himself.
”Objectionable” is attached to “issue.” “...in some twisted minds” is attached to “porn rock.” Senator James Exon asks, “What’s the reason for these hearings?” Hawkins replies with Frank’s answer: “Sex,” the tool of media distraction as well as the chief fear of these insecure people. A round of applause follows her answer. The “Yeah!” heard often during the piece is from Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s vocals in “I Don’t Even Care,” originally included only on the European version of the album, along with "H.R. 2911" and "One Man, One Vote" (Frank doesn't think “Porn Wars” will make much sense outside the USA). Ike Willis as Thing-Fish interjects with transplanted words from “Galoot Up-Date.” His conclusion, “I am yo’ fuchum [future]!,” suggests that we’ll all wind up deformed and held back by the government’s actions if things continue the way they’re going.
A great joke’s heard later: “Drive my love inside you.” “Is this private action?”
Several hundred FZ interviews published in periodicals, etc.
Several dozen FZ concert and documentary videos
Several FZ websites
...and, chronologically speaking:
by Dominique Chevalier. ©1987, St. Martin’s Press.
The Real Frank Zappa Book
by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso. ©1989, Poseidon Press.
Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play
by Ben Watson. ©1993, St. Martin’s Press.
The Frank Zappa Companion [particularly Watson's articles and essays], edited by Richard Kostelanetz and John Rocco. ©1997, Schirmer Books.
Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of Zappa
by Kevin Courrier. ©2002, ECW Press.