Frank Zappa. Uncle Meat.

By Andy Aledort

Guitar World, June 1999

Frank Zappa
Uncle Meat

(Barking Pumpkin/Rykodisc) Produced by Frank Zappa

FRANK ZAPPA'S MASTERWORK, Uncle Meat, is the rock album that destroyed more boundaries and shattered more "pop music" preconceptions than any album that came before or since. More than two hours in length, the album takes its listeners on a swirling journey through an incredible world of musical styles, sounds, dialogues and studio-manipulated "audio events."

The sixth album featuring the Mothers of Invention, Zappa's original band, Uncle Meat is the blossoming ground of musical concepts first investigated on the Zappa/Mothers 1966 debut, Freak Out! Following Freak Out!, the artist regularly churned out two records each year, pushing the envelope further with each release.

By the time the tracks on Uncle Meat were recorded (late '67/early '68), Zappa's vision had expanded to the point where it was full-blown "music as cinematography," intercutting doses of real-life dialogue and  – real-life sounds and events – with scripted and improvised dialogue, daring modern classical compositions (featuring densely complex orchestrations of woodwinds, percussion and tape effects) and handfuls of bouncy, Fifties-inspired doowop, wrapped up in one massive aural collage. Even the album's cover, designed by Cal Schenkel, depicts a striking collage of seemingly unrelated images.

"The late Sixties were an incredibly creative time for Frank," recalls Gail Zappa, the guitarist's wife and administrator of his enormous catalogue. "Right around the same time as Uncle Meat, Frank had done the Captain Beefheart album, Trout Mask Replica [see page 102], plus An Evening with Wildman Fisher, the GTO's album and, of course, his own Ruben and the Jets. He was generating a tremendous output – it was a crazy, intense time.

"Frank's method was to record everything he could," Gail continues, "so that he could put it all together later. It's something he called 'conceptual continuity,' and, though people had the idea that he was chronicling his life, he was not really doing that. He was young – 28 – and he had a lot of energy, and he was experimenting with all different types of musical ideas and putting them all together in a way that was, for him, totally cohesive."

Uncle Meat was recorded on a state-of-the-art prototype Scully 12-track at New York's Apostolic Studios. Zappa used loads of overdubbing to create expansive orchestral arrangements, as heard on "Uncle Meat: Main Title Theme," "Legend of the Golden Arches" and "Dog Breath," and he also twiddled liberally with a V.S.O. (variable speed oscillator) on ''Project X" and "Nine Types of Industrial Pollution." Then there is the timeless classic, "King Kong" (presented in six different arrangements), regarded as one of Zappa's greatest compositions.

But what the heck was "Uncle Meat," anyway? "The concept of Uncle Meat goes way back for Frank," Gail explains. "There were elements of Uncle Meat in an earlier screenplay of his, called Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People. But the Uncle Meat concept actually goes all the way back to Frank's high-school days. He always had concepts and names floating around that he liked, just as he liked certain sounds. Eventually, he'd find the right place for that name or that concept, and Uncle Meat was one of those things."

As Zappa states in the liner notes, Uncle Meat had evolved into a film idea, indicating that the album represented "most of the music from the Mothers movie of the same name, which we haven't got enough money to finish yet." He went on, "This film is stashed away in my basement while we scheme on how to raise $300,000 to finish it and make it spiffy, so it can be shown in your local teenage neighborhood theater. This is an album of music from a movie you will probably never get to see."

The liner notes offer a synopsis of a plot involving an evil scientist named Uncle Meat, who creates an equally evil mutant rock band, Ruben and the Jets. This mutant rockin' combo emits sound waves that "attack the glandular system of the victim, destroying his will and forcing his body to quiver helplessly, while crazed fantasies race through his mind."

What does all of this mean? "It's pretty obvious, isn't it?" laughs Gail. "First of all, he talks about their noses expanding – in other words, erectile tissue as a governing force. I think you know what that means! It's about the manipulation of people who are asleep – unconscious and not aware. Social engineering not to your advantage, which is the way the real world works, unfortunately. Frank was very aware, and wanted to wake people up by jarring their senses."

– Andy Aledort

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)