Inside Frank Zappa
By John Robinson
Pocket guide to the albums of rock's genius
No matter who else you see or don't see in this year's flood of rock concerts – don't miss Frank Zappa.
"Frank Zappa has contributed more material of value to the rock scene in the past 10 years, than any other single person," says SOUNDBLAST/MUSICMAKER technical editor John Robinson – a guy whose knowledge of rock and classical music alike is profound.
"Whatever the Zap brings to Australia, we may be sure that it will be something not to miss and something to value in our memories as one of the good moments of Australian rock'n'roll."
Zappa and the Mothers play Australian cities on these dates: Brisbane – Thursday June 21; Sydney – Monday June 25 and Tuesday June 26; Melbourne – Thursday June 28 and Friday June 29; Adelaide – Wednesday July 4.
A further Sydney concert is likely.
John Robinson has provided the following pocket guide to Zappa and his works.
In his time, Frank Zappa says he has been called a musician, critic, spokesman for a lost generation, charlatan, freak, pervert, genius and businessman – and a whole lot more.
He originally joined a rock'n'roll band after getting out of jail. The band was already together but it didn't take Frank long to swing things his way and take over completely – redubbing the group the Mothers of Invention (or the Muthers – until MGM records changed it).
This one ugly, hairy group then proceeded to change the face of rock and roll. The Mothers invented "underground music", and the double-fold LP cover. Also the total concept LP. The Mothers showed the way for dozens of other groups (including Beatles and Stones) with their researches and experimentation in a wide variety of musical styles. The Mothers set new standards for performance. In terms of pure musicianship, theatrical presentation, formal concept and sheer absurdity, this band demonstrated to the music industry that it was indeed possible to make the performance of electric music a valid artistic expression.
The Mothers was the first big electric band. They pioneered the use of amplified and/or electrically altered woodwind instruments – everything from a piccolo to a bassoon. They were the first to use wah-wah pedal on guitar and saxes. They laid some of the theoretical ground work which influenced the design of many commercially manufactured electro-musical devices. The Mothers managed to perform in alien time signatures and bizarre harmonic climates, with the subtle ease that led many to believe it was in plain ole four-four. Through their use of procedure usually associated with serious music, (unusual percussion techniques, tape montage, the use of sound, in block, sheets, strands and vapours). The Mothers were able to direct the attention of a large number of young people to the work of many contemporary composers, (eg. Stockhausen, Bartok, Stravinsky).
Probably the best way the reader can get acquainted with Frank. Zappa is through these LPs. Most of the early stuff (released originally through Phonogram), has been deleted and is really only available on import or on composite LPs such as "Mothers Day" or "The **** Of The Mothers".
"Freak Out" (double LP), "Absolutely Free", "We're Only In It For The Money", "Lumpy Gravy" and "Cruisin' With Ruben And The Jets", are virtually unobtainable here. However, there is a double-LP set in Phonogram's, "Pop History" series (Polydor 2625-012).
• "Absolutely Free" was the first total concept LP. It was an acid-tribal rock musical to be seen as a stage production. Most memorable track was "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" – social comment on the state of America's youth. Zappa wrote some beautiful orchestral parts and played some knockout lead guitar on the "Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin".
• "Lumpy Gravy". was mainly an orchestral effort and featured some insane type dialogue sections.
• "We're Only In It For The Money". Another total concept LP. Probably the best the old Mothers did. Featured the double-cover send up of the Beatle LP "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band": Featured a number of good tunes plus some super psychedelic sound effects music, plus the voice of Eric Clapton.
• "Ruben And The Jets" A rock'n'roll LP. The last for MGM-Verve. Comprised mainly of careful reconstructions of the major rock and soul clichés from the 1950's. Some weird production techniques used – richoshing snare drum, dual lead guitar and compressed voices.
• "Uncle Meat". First LP (double) for new Bizarre label. Supposed to be music for the Mothers first movie. Some tracks resemble early '50s rock and others bring Stravinsky's Chamber Orchestra pieces of the 1920's to mind. One of the best tracks is "Dog Breath". Others are "Uncle Meat", "King Kong And Variations", and "Project X". Recorded back-to-back with Ruben and the Jets.
• "Burnt Weeny Sandwich". A beautiful LP. Some of the Mothers' best ensemble work is contained here. Best tracks are "WPLJ", "Holiday In Berlin", and "The Little House I Used To Live In". Zappa expertly integrated musical and non-musical material to form a charming picture of life in Berlin on "Holiday In Berlin". Live segments are expertly placed with studio takes.
• "Weasels Ripped My Flesh". A collection of Zappa material from '65 to '69. Best tracks are "Toads Of The Short Forest", "Oh No", and "My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Momma". Live segments are really well recorded and blend in with studio work so well that sometimes it is hard to tell where the parts join. Zappa plays some excellent guitar work and Sugar-Cane Harris wails beautifully on "Directly From Heart To You".
• "Hot Rats". Frank's first real solo effort. A killer!! Contains innovations that are still being pondered heavily on woodwinds and keyboards. Captain Beefheart guests as Willie the Pimp. There is outstanding drumming by Paul Humphrey and bass playing by Max Bennett. Best tracks are "Gumbo Variations", "It Must Be A Camel", and "Peaches En Regalia". Jean Luc-Ponty guests on "It Must Be A Camel". Zappa's guitar sets a precedent on "Son Of Mr Green Genes" that only John McLaughlin has surpassed recently in the Mahavishnu Orch. Recommended.
• "200 Motels". Film and music depicting life on the road when you're a touring rock musician. Orchestra excellent. Rock side average. Best rocker: "Magic Fingers". Really good production. Serious music such as "Lucy Seduction Of Bored Violinist And Postlude" are brilliant. So is the dialogue. Good value.
• "Chunga's Revenge". Semi rock'n'roll LP. Best tracks: "Transylvania Boogie", "Sharleena" and "Rudy Wants To Buy Yez All A Drink". Excellent playing from George Duke, Ian Underwood, Max Bennett and Aynsley Dunbar on this one.
• "Mothers – Live at Fillmore East". June '71. Excellent pop vaudeville. Some great smutty comedy sketches and songs about groupies, etc. Zappa plays some wild frenzied guitar on "Willie The Pimp" which develops from the original riff into something totally removed from it. Features powerful vocalising by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan. Stand-out tracks included "Tears Began To Fall", "Bwana Dik" and "Do You Like My New Car".
• "Just Another Band From L.A.": Featured Zappa's projected next movie "Billy The Mountain" on side one. Side two includes "Call Any Vegetable" and "Dog Breath" from early LPs as rearrangements and the killer of the LP: "Magdalena". This features a frenzied narrative by Howard Kaylan.
• "Waka Jawaka". A solo LP but not of the same standard as "Hot Rats". Probably the reason for the drop in creativity was caused by the fall at the Rainbow Theatre on the London tour when an irate fan knocked Frank 20 feet into the, orchestra pit, breaking his leg and forcing him to record from a wheelchair.
• "The Grand Wazoo". The realisation of the new direction that Zappa was travelling. Most of the pieces were written out and this seems to be the only fault as the feel sometimes is left solely to the drums and bass. Best tracks are "Eat That Question", "Blessed Relief" and the "Grand Wazoo".
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net