Form and the Concept Album: Aspects of Modernism in Frank Zappa's Early Releases

By James Borders

Perspectives of New Music 39:1, Winter, 2001, pp 118-160

Record industry executives need to find out what it is they're selling because, see, they don't know how important pop music is today. All they know is that that's what's making money this month. They really don't know what a revolution it is in terms of music history because there are a lot of people working in pop music today who are doing things that are artistic, and actually mean 'em that way!...I think it's living serious music!

– Frank Zappa, The Frank Zappa Companion: Four Decades of Commentary

THE IMMEDIATE AIM of this essay is to analyze the content and form of three early albums by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention – Lumpy Gravy, Uncle Meat, and Burnt Weeny Sandwich – and demonstrate their affinity with certain works by Igor Stravinsky. It also seeks to advance a critical approach that views rock as a recorded art, and rock recordings as aural artifacts. Such analysis, according to a leading proponent, Paul Clarke, is based "on the complex of created relationships between sounds as they act on us through time." [1] The unusually wide range of musical sources and techniques Zappa incorporated into his recordings at this stage of his career raises a prior question: how did these albums figure into the cultural dialogue between rock and the changing experience of modernity in America in the 1960s? Let us address this question before turning to the analysis to place it into proper historical context.

The short answer is that by juxtaposing different musical genres, Zappa, who considered himself a composer foremost, was attacking the entrenched critical and academic establishments whose members distinguished categorically between art and popular music, particularly as regards structural and tonal complexity.[2] To paraphrase Carl Dahlhaus, Zappa's was a music directed against the esoteric quality of art.[3] Popular music intended not for thoughtless consumption but careful listening also strained against the repetitiveness and standardization of Theodor Adorno's "consumer music."[4] By contrasting broadly different approaches to composition, moreover, Zappa was implicitly rejecting the kind of hairsplitting that set the "modernist" music of composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez apart from more accessible "avant-garde" works by John Cage and other so-called experimentalists.[5]

Zappa was not alone in striving for this kind of pluralistic synthesis. Indeed a number of self-styled modernists were welcoming the eclecticism of contemporary art in sixties popular media. Susan Sontag, for example, waxed enthusiastic about the lowering of barriers that had formerly separated high from low, past from present in an essay first published in Mademoiselle.[6] Although Zappa probably held a similar opinion, he could not help giving it a satirical twist, drawing upon sources disparate and sometimes vulgar enough to exceed the bounds of even the most broad-minded critic's good taste.

Unlike Sontag, Zappa's intent was hardly theoretical. Neither did he seek to create a truly unpopular music with "no commercial potential," a label a Columbia Records executive once hung on his work to which he often referred.[7] Rather, as he repeatedly stated, his albums were market products designed to appeal to record buyers searching for the newest sound, the latest protest music, the most outrageous novelty. So he balanced his instrumental music with songs, the lyrics of which mostly satirized the manufactured fads and fashions of contemporary America. Never mind Zappa's serious and well-known involvement in all phases of record production, marketing, and promotion, or professed willingness to reap whatever profits came along – We're Only In It For The Money is the title of one of Zappa's early albums. That was part of the put-on. Zappa's early recordings were indeed "music about music,"[8] but they were also parodic popular critiques of the mass media, advertising, and the consumer culture that sustained them all, designed to sell in volume.[9]

With respect to the place of Zappa's early recorded output in theoretical discourse, it should be obvious that his musical borrowings and uses of collage and quick-cut techniques were never ambivalent – they always had a point. Thus since Zappa's early work in no way anticipates the ahistoricity, ironic detachment, and playful depthlessness characteristic of postmodernist quotation, it could be classed as modernist,[10] There is more to support this label than mere wordplay, as I shall argue below. Indeed, careful listening reveals an attention to form – the organization of recorded sound in time – that places the three albums discussed in this essay uneasily (and perhaps consciously so) into the tradition of twentieth-century musical modernism. Before examining this hypothesis, Zappa's early work needs to be put into the larger context of sixties rock and its connections with modernism.

Perhaps because genres closely associated with postmodern intertextuality, like punk, rap, and new wave, had already emerged by the time of their writing, some rock critics – most notably John Rockwell[11] – have placed particular emphasis on the tendency of late sixties rock to borrow melodies, harmonies, and instrumentation from "classical" music. This is nowhere as prevalent as in discussions of progressive rock, exemplified by British bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Critical discussions during and shortly after the peak of progressive rock's popularity, however, focused not on any indebtedness to the classics per se, but on its eclecticism.[12] The best uses of borrowed genres – jazz, blues, folk, non-Western music, as well as the classics – were not then viewed as reflections of artists' social or intellectual pretensions, as Rockwell would have it. Rather they were part and parcel of the modern condition that Sontag described: a shifting between traditions and ideas that made listeners aware of the confined conceptual spaces they occupied. "Art today is a new kind of instrument, an instrument for modifying consciousness and organizing new modes of sensibility," she wrote.[13] With modernist notions like this spilling off the pages of Mademoiselle, it is easy to understand how the quest for an expanded consciousness could be transformed into a consumer item, like a rock album.

Complexity was another trait of rock that listeners identified at the time. This was not so much the complexity of contemporary art music – indeed many quoted works are "chestnuts"[14] – or the extended chords and forms of jazz, or the almost competitive virtuosity of the performers.

Rather, I would argue, it had primarily to do with recording techniques. The aesthetic of modernism, with its promise of art-science synthesis, thus reached into the very mode of the music's production.

The roots of this aesthetic reach back at least as far as producer Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" recordings of the early 1960s.[15] In these one readily detects the expertly crafted, multi-layered, though hardly classical-sounding arrangements that would have been impossible to recreate outside a recording studio. Spector's hit singles also involved what were, by the then-prevailing standards of rock'n'roll, exotic orchestral instruments like the timpani and castanets, along with more familiar-sounding strings, woodwinds, and brass. With these he sought to create what he called "little symphonies for the kids,"[16] though he seldom scored them in a "classical" manner. String ensembles, for example, were typically heard in short bursts within multi-textured accompaniments. Tracing the classical orientation of progressive rock to the recording industry and Spector, rather than to qualities inherent in the classics themselves, makes sense given the esteem in which later producers and rock musicians held his work.[17] Thus qualities of eclecticism, complexity, and technical sophistication figured prominently in rock from the early sixties on.

Yet rock of the mid-sixties through early seventies differs from earlier work in that it sometimes drew heavily upon the experimental orientation of the European avant-garde. The list of groups and artists whose recordings are noteworthy for introducing electronic sounds and tape techniques to a broad audience is short, but includes some important names. The Beatles and their producer George Martin incorporated reverse or accelerated playback, multi-tracking, and musique concrète into albums released between 1965 and 1968.[18] Jimi Hendrix was experimenting with feedback effects around the same time.[19] The Velvet Underground incorporated electronic noise into its stage performances and recordings, due in part to Andy Warhol's influence.[20] Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys, used tape manipulation on "She's Goin' Bald" (1967) released on Smiley Smile, part of a more ambitious though abortive experimental album set, Smile;[21] before that he had added the Theremin to the instrumentation for "I Just Wasn't Made for these Times" (May 1966) and "Good Vibrations" (October 1966).[22] Keith Emerson brought sophisticated music synthesis to a rock audience.

Topping the list of artists inspired by experimental trends in the European avant-garde is Frank Zappa, who led the founding members of The Mothers of Invention from 1964 through 1969.[23] The group's appearances at the Whiskey A Go-Go and The Trip in West Hollywood and at the Garrick Theatre in New York anticipated performance art by decades.[24] Their first record, the double LP Freak Out! (July 1966),[25] includes the large group improvisation "Help, I'm a Rock," which was conceived live at an L.A. nightclub called The Trip.[26] Other nods in the direction of experimentalism include "Who Are the Brain Police?" which involves extensive tape manipulation, and "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet," a twelve-minute, free-form electronic and voice piece. "It Can't Happen Here" alternates between Sprechstimme, instrumental chamber music, contemporary jazz, and tape effects.

Freak Out! was not only an avant-rock album but a satire on the relatively new concept of "life-style" – "straight" and "hip" alike. In delivering their message of the injustice, chaos, and stupidity of contemporary American society, The Mothers were not beyond ridiculing their listeners in feigned Mexican- or African-American accents. But the satirical weapon of choice was music. The forms, chord changes, vocal harmonies, and timbres of doo-wop and R & B ballads were lampooned ("I Ain't Got No Heart," "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder," "How Could I Be Such a Fool," "You Didn't Try to Call Me," and "I'm Not Satisfied"), as were some of rock's newer clichés. The rift underlying "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" originates in the Rolling Stones' 1965 smash hit, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The sound of "Motherly Love" mimics that of the proto-Bubblegum band, Paul Revere and the Raiders, who regularly headlined Dick Clark's afternoon television show "Where the Action Is," aimed at a newly identified demographic: teenyboppers.[27] "Who Are the Brain Police?" with its aural effects and paranoid lyrics, reflects the dark side of psychedelia.

In addition to the unpredictable shifts among musical styles and text meaning, Freak Out! sends other conflicting signals. The cutting-edge psychedelic cover art evokes West Coast Flower Power at its zenith, yet the liner notes remark condescendingly on listeners' emotional and intellectual limitations. Concerning "Any Way the Wind Blows," for example, we read that:

[This] is a song I wrote about three years ago when I was considering divorce. If I had never gotten divorced, this piece of trivial nonsense would never have been recorded. It is included in this collection because, in a nutshell, kids, it is ... how shall I say it? ... it is intellectually and emotionally ACCESSIBLE for you. Hah! Maybe it is even right down your alley.

False acknowledgments of pop icons who "contributed materially" to the album – Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Brian Epstein, among others – appear alongside names of twentieth-century composers whom Zappa considered truly important influences: Stravinsky, Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The jackets of this and later Mothers albums echo a sentiment first expressed by a defiant Edgard Varèse, idol of Zappa's youth: "The present-day composer refuses to die!"[28]

Any concern that The Mothers would be considered just another novelty act may have troubled Zappa, but probably only as he imagined himself on his way to the bank. Before founding the group, in fact, he had recognized the possibility of making a living by combining avant-garde music and humor. Billing himself as a contemporary composer, for instance, he had appeared playing an upturned bicycle on a 1963 broadcast of "The Steve Allen Show," a late-night television celebrity interview/comedy program.[29] Whereas most academic composers of the day would likely have shunned such publicity, Zappa relished it. According to a friend at the time, Paul Buff, the appearance "in part ... convinced him of the viability of producing the kind of music he ended up producing."[30] Zappa even tried to cash in on his connection with the Allen show, incorporating the comedian's shtick into an early single. He dubbed a pre-Mothers group "Baby Ray & The Ferns" and entitled the A-side of their only single "How's Your Bird?"[31] (Allen often dropped the words "bird" and "fern" into conversations with his guests as potentially embarrassing, if humorous, hip double entendre for male and female genitalia respectively. "How's your bird?" – a frequently asked question on the show – seems innocent compared with the sexual allusions on Zappa's recordings of the seventies and eighties.)

Freak Out! was followed in May 1967 by Absolutely Free, an album which like its predecessor connects rock, avant-garde music, and satirical social commentary. Its targets are the southern California life-style and American consumer culture – note the double-edged irony of the album's title, a pleonasm commonly used in sixties advertising that could just as easily have originated in the counterculture. Featured is "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," a seven-and-a-half-minute assault on twisted middle-class aspirations that shifts musical ensembles and styles from atonality and Sprechstimme to blues-based rock in almost stream of consciousness fashion. Eclecticism is the norm for the album and quick cuts are ubiquitous. A short, mostly instrumental number, "Amnesia Vivace," for example, shifts from Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps and L'Oiseau de feu to Gene Chandler's "Duke of Earl" (1962).[32] Other "classical" sources include Stravinsky's Histoire du soldat and Gustav Holst's "Jupiter" from the Planets suite.[33]

A look into the background of a song on the album, "Status Back Baby," suggests how fervently Zappa sought to introduce listeners not just to his brand of satire, but to twentieth-century concert music.[34] Besides borrowing from the first tableau of Stravinsky's Petrushka[35] (compare rehearsal numbers 2 through 5 with "Status Back Baby," 1:27-2:07), it features a paraphrase of the opening measures of Claude Debussy's "La fille au cheveux de lin" (Préludes, book 1) in the triplet countermelody played on the soprano saxophone (albeit transposed from G[flat ] to G Major).[36] Meanwhile the lead singer laments his loss of popularity at the high school. Comparing "Status Back Baby" with a bootleg release of an earlier version[37] – a song from a rock musical Zappa and Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) conceived, entitled I Was a Teenage Maltshop – it becomes clear that the "classical" material was incorporated relatively late in the evolution of the piece. As shown in Example 1 the original accompaniment was a rock'n'roll commonplace lacking in "Status Back Baby." This and other comparisons of preliminary and released versions of songs suggest how much Zappa was learning about twentieth-century music during the mid-to-late sixties.[38]


Example 1: Frank Zappa, "I Was a Teenage Maltshop" (Apocrypha, Great Dane Records, GDR 9405 a), piano accompaniment, transcription, measures 1-2

In January 1968 Verve Records released the third Mothers' record, We're Only In It For The Money, a send-up of Sgt. Pepper. The satire begins with the album's visual presentation: instead of the garishly attired Victorian-era brass band, artist Cal Shenkel's cover design features the group in drag with "MOTHERS" spelled out in vegetables and bits of watermelon in the foreground, and a collage of famous and infamous people in the back. The gatefold picture on a bright yellow background and the printed lyric sheet on red complete the visual parody.[39] The lyrics and arrangements of some songs were similarly intended to puncture what Zappa evidently saw as the Beatles' glib psychedelia.[40] Compare, for example, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" with "Absolutely Free" on We're Only In It For The Money. Zappa skewered John Lennon's hallucinatory lyrics, using nonsense rhymes and quoting the names of Santa's reindeer from "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." He also used a harpsichord accompaniment where George Martin had created an ersatz effect with the harpsichord stop on a Lowrey electronic organ. The authentic thus replaces the phony. "Bow Tie Daddy," "Lonely Little Girl," and "Mom And Dad" contrast with Paul McCartney's more conventional view of the alienation middle-class youth in "She's Leaving Home."[41] Yet despite its many visual, timbral, stylistic, and textual allusions to Sgt. Pepper, Money is still an extension of Absolutely Free in its free-wheeling combination of satire – the main target this time is the hippie life-style – and musical experimentation, particularly atonality ("The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny") and electronic composition in the style of Stockhausen's Kontakte ("Nasal Retentive Calliope Music," "The Idiot Bastard Son").

Zappa's quotation of twentieth-century art music and incorporation of electronic and tape sounds are two indices of his early efforts to fuse rock and contemporary art music, but by the late sixties these were becoming rock commonplaces as experimentation spread throughout the recording industry. Meanwhile, the sequence of related songs that became known as the "concept album" had revealed itself a literary rather than a musical form.[42] Considered in these terms, Freak Out! could be considered a song cycle with a unifying sociological theme: the Los Angeles scene of the mid-sixties, with its freak counterculture and racial tensions. Similar statements could be made about Absolutely Free, We're Only In It For The Money, and most other concept albums for that matter.[43] The musical traits that distinguished The Mothers' extended live performances – asymmetrical rhythms and unpredictable shifts from one sound, style, or song excerpt to another – had been difficult to bring across on record, hence the reliance upon songs with satirical lyrics. But how many more send-ups of hippies and the middle class could the group get away with before committing commercial suicide by so obviously repeating themselves? Besides, Zappa's contempt for lyrics was by then becoming well known.

The Mothers did subsequently release an album of doo-wop songs along the lines explored on their previous records – Cruising With Ruben And The Jets (November 1968) – but Zappa thought even of this project in modernist terms:

I conceived that album along the same lines as the compositions in Stravinsky's neoclassical period. If he could take the forms and clichés of the classical era and pervert them, why not do the same for the rules and regulations that applied to doo-wop in the fifties?[44]

Before Cruising, it turns out that Zappa had struck even further down the path of musical modernism. In contrast with the extended forms of emerging progressive rock, which had been inspired by and in turn inspired drug use that he had publicly rejected,[45] Zappa opted for tightly organized musical structures that would reveal themselves only through careful, presumably unimpaired listening.[46]

Beginning with Lumpy Gravy (May 1968), the first album-length record he produced on his own, Zappa took the concept album to the next stage in its modernist development – a stage that reflected his growing familiarity with musical models outside rock. Side one ("Lumpy Gravy Part One") is organized according to principles of repetition and variation borrowed from Stravinsky's works;[47] also noteworthy is the progress from quotation to paraphrase of contemporary styles. Following Lumpy Gravy, as we shall see, Zappa employed the variation-rondo idea to organize music for two more albums: Uncle Meat (April 1969) and Burnt Weeny Sandwich (February 1970). Although he abandoned this approach to form after these releases, and for a time shelved his dream of fusing rock and contemporary art music, he nonetheless retained a transformational approach to repetition throughout his career as a key aspect of what he called "Conceptual Continuity."

Early in 1967 Zappa pitched a "solo" album to Capitol Records – earlier Mothers albums for Verve were produced by Tom Wilson, MGM/Verve's young East Coast Director of Arrangement and Repertoire whose credits included Bob Dylan's first "electric" albums.[48] What Zappa apparently sought at this stage was artistic control over what he later called his "serious music," a term he used, ironically at times, to describe chamber and orchestral works in which contrasting and/or simultaneous layers of atonal and tonal music vie for attention with humorous titles, programs, or ballet scenarios.[49] Lumpy Gravy, recorded over an eleven-day stretch at New York's Apostolic Studios in February 1967, involved a pick-up ensemble of fifty-one musicians including one of The Mothers (saxophonist Bunk Gardner); added later were other members of the group plus assorted hangers-on who held disjointed conversations on topics Zappa suggested as they sat under a heavily draped grand piano with the sostenuto pedal depressed,[50] In their final edited form these seem to have been aimed satirically at hippies,[51]

Besides the contractual disputes that plagued the project – MGM/Verve quashed the deal with Capitol and released Lumpy Gravy in May 1968[52] – the condition of the session tapes delivered to Zappa caused considerable delay. Individual tracks, recorded on separate lengths of audio tape, were spliced unpredictably one after another; some tape was reportedly unusable.[53] All these materials had to be evaluated, sorted, catalogued, edited, and mixed, a laborious process that Zappa and engineer Gary Kellgren completed at a different studio.[54] The fact that this took six months reflects not just the poor state of the tapes, but also Zappa's meticulous attention to organizing the instrumental and spoken sections into a coherent, album-length form. His reputation for musical perfectionism thus goes back to his first large-scale production work and an unfortunate necessity – that of cleaning up a mess. The experience nonetheless suggested to Zappa a new avenue of invention: the studio editing process as the crucial stage of composition. Source recordings might be hastily done or even captured live; what mattered most was post-recording production and, ultimately, the organization of sound.[55]

Despite its serious intent, Lumpy Gravy was, like earlier Mothers' releases, parodic. The target of the packaging, for instance, was the marketing of classical music. Before removing the jacket's protective cellophane the buyer confronted Zappa's two personae, each representing a different side of his professional aspirations.[56] The front cover features a serious-looking Zappa wearing a two-tone, short-sleeve T-shirt of the type then worn by amateur softball players, emblazoned with the corporate-sounding word, "PIPCO." He wears dark pants and suspenders with sprigs of red flowers and a red button. Accompanying his trademark mustache and long straggly black hair is a day's growth of beard. Unexpectedly, though, he stands on a conductor's podium, albeit in tennis shoes without socks. On the back cover leered Zappa's alter ego: the composer and conductor, dressed in top hat, white tie and tails, holding white kid gloves. His face is still stubbled, but now he is smiling broadly, if a bit menacingly.

The album cover sends other mixed marketing signals. The performing ensemble is identified as ABNUCEALS EMUUKHA electric SYMPHONY orchestra & CHORUS, with "& CHORUS" scrawled at an angle below the neatly printed name.[57] Moreover, as with many classical music albums, the conductor is billed before the project: "FRANCIS VINCENT ZAPPA CONDUCTS LUMPY GRAVY a curiously inconsistent piece which started out as a BALLET but probably didn't make it." Buyers must have wondered what kind of record this was, describing a failed project that had yet to reach fruition. Let us, though, explore another intentional miscue: Zappa's throwing them off track by characterizing the work as "inconsistent."

Removing the vinyl from the record jacket created the next confusion of identities: unlike earlier rock LPs except We're Only In It For The Money, Lumpy Gravy has continuous sides – there are no rills to separate individual bands. The impact of this novelty, considered in light of owners' repeated physical involvement with their albums at approximately twenty-minute intervals as they played them, cannot be stressed enough in this era of compact discs and programmable players, capable of storing and playing hundreds of recordings for many hours, completely unseen and untouched. The inspiration for the material form of the record's sides may have been Zappa's albums of Stravinsky, Varèse, or other classical music. It is certain, however, that as a composer of recorded music Zappa intended the sides of Lumpy Gravy to be heard as one would a concert, that is, without interruption or excerpt and in order. This is clearly indicated in the gatefold: "NOTE: listen to side one first"; underneath is scrawled "AND TURN IT ALL THE WAY UP!!" The discipline of the classical concert hall was demanded, if simultaneously lampooned.

Critical reaction to Lumpy Gravy has been mixed at best. Zappa devotee Ben Watson, for instance, called it "a provocative and puzzling record [that] ... refuses to 'add up'."[58] Except perhaps for a brief, esoteric dig at the New York arts scene – the monotonous voice in the dialogue about darkness, paranoia, and Kansas is a cross between Andy Warhol's and John Cage's[59] – the album wasn't even funny. Nor did it enjoy commercial success; it peaked at number 159 in the U.S. charts for one week.[60] Yet, as has also been noted elsewhere, Lumpy Gravy was a mine for songs Zappa would rework for later release, as well as a tribute to the European musical avant-garde.[61] So far, however, neither the form and its origins in contemporary art music, nor the consequences for his later releases have been recognized.

The original vinyl sides give the first clue to the large-scale form of the work, dividing Lumpy Gravy into "Part One" and "Part Two." "Part One" in particular bears witness to a structural sense that synthesizes contemporary music and rock. It may be described as a rondo, but one whose refrain is the second, rather than the first element: A B1 C B2 D B3 + coda. Here the traditional rondo pattern is, so to speak, turned inside-out, perhaps as a nod in the direction of commercial viability given the resemblance between this structure and the verse-chorus pattern of the pop song. The repetition is only apparent, however, because the refrain is varied with each recurrence so that one may speak of a variation-rondo form. Rather than attempting to reconstruct further a musical score that never completely existed given the nature of the medium, I have set out a time-line description of the recording in Example 3 .[62] (Timings of subdivided sections of music are given in parentheses. )

Example 2

Example 2: Frank Zappa, "Lumpy Gravy Part One," Rondo theme, transcription, measures 1-23


Example 3

Example 3: Variation-rondo form of "Lumpy Gravy Part One"  (Rykodisc RCD 10504)


The first statement of the refrain, B1 (the melody of which is transcribed in Example 2 ), reveals an affinity to pop and light jazz numbers Zappa recorded before forming the Mothers.[63] The ensemble includes instruments typically heard on late fifties and early sixties instrumentals: vibraphone, piano, electric guitar, Fender bass, and drum kit. The emphasis is on the melody, which is accompanied by closely-spaced block chords played in relatively slow harmonic rhythm. But things soon veer out of control. Unexpectedly a trumpet and trombone blare out the verse the third time it is heard (measures 16-19), after which the ensemble instruments are accelerated through tape manipulation. The form, which at first seemed to conform to the standard pop template of two verses plus chorus plus verse (AABA), truncates the return of the A section (in measures 17-19) and closes with a four-measure section (measures 20-23) that leads nowhere. Yet by far the most incongruous features of the refrain melody, later furnished with lyrics and entitled "Oh No" (Weasels Ripped My Flesh, August 1970), are its asymmetrical meter and the polyrhythms produced by the quarter-note triplets played against a steady rock beat. These confirm one's impression that this is a pop tune by way of Petrushka's Shrovetide Fair.

The second statement of the refrain (B2 at 7:11) involves changes in instrumentation, arrangement, harmonization, and form. Strings, woodwinds, marimba, and snare drum are added to the light jazz combo; the extra instruments are multi-tracked and, at times, accelerated electronically. Sometimes the string accompaniment seems oddly out of sync. Careful listening reveals that the articulation is reversed in places, though the correct melody and accompaniment are heard (at 7:48-7:56, 8:00-8:03, and 8:13-8:22). Zappa presumably asked the session musicians to play these passages backward, having in mind the aural effect of reverse playback. Beyond these changes, the melody of B2 is accompanied by parallel triads, a harmonic strategy that Zappa probably borrowed from doo-wop.[64] A new extension combines the closing, and now repeated, four-bar phrase (see Example 2 , measures 20-23) with an accompaniment paraphrasing the First Tableau of Petrushka (compare rehearsal numbers 26 to 29 to "Part One," 8:23-9:16).[65] The final statement of the refrain (B3 at 13:46) involves not so much conventional variation procedures as editing and manipulation of the tape recording of B2. The refrain is dissected and the resulting fragments sped up and played backwards. Avant-garde and rock techniques thus intersect once again with modernist eclecticism.

The different "episodes" (A, C, D, and the coda, E) are pastiches of spoken text, tape collages, and allusions to contemporary concert music (underlined in Example 3 ). The musical allusions, to say the least, reflect Zappa's sense of humor as well as his experience as a musician, record producer, and listener. Half relate to various styles of pop music, from hot jazz to surf music. Indeed two surf snippets are so West Coast as to be Far East, hence the tongue-in-cheek comment "Almost Chinese, huh?" (6:17-6:18 and 6:27-6:35). The remaining allusions are to the styles of three composers whom Zappa identified (in the liner notes to Freak Out! and elsewhere)[66] as personal favorites: Stravinsky, Varèse, and Webern (hence the designations Stravinskiana, Varèsiana, and Weberniana in the table; I have not indicated the indebtedness of the electronic music sections to Stockhausen's Kontakte, though this is probable). Among the styles referenced are those of Petrushka, Varèse's Déserts and Hyperprism, and Webern's Variationen, op. 30. In a figurative sense, these admired styles and composers have the last word, for "Part One" is brought to a semblance of closure by a longish coda (14:19-15:51) in which stylistic references to all three succeed each other without any intervening spoken or electronic material.[68]

Thinking about the organization of the concept album led Zappa to explore different ways of connecting the musical and narrative threads. Working with visual media, particularly collage and film, clearly influenced his approach and reliance on editorial creativity, as if he were borrowing a page from Soviet director V. I. Pudovkin's book: "The foundation of film art is editing."[69] Yet Zappa's experience and professed enthusiasm for the movies and avant-garde art should not keep us from looking for primary inspiration in twentieth-century music. That he was conscious of the abstract musical form of "Lumpy Gravy Part One," and kept it in mind some decades after the album's release, is confirmed by the titles of indexes for a compact disc re-issue (Rykodisc RCD 10504), which Zappa wrote himself. (These are given in square brackets in Example 3 .) The first two presentations of the refrain (B1, B2) are identified as "Oh No"; the third (B3) is called "I Don't Know if I Can Go through This Again," referring to a remark that a session musician mumbled, apparently immediately before playing the third statement.

If the above analysis of "Part One" be granted, one might be forgiven for speculating about a model. Zappa doubtless recognized the alternation of instrumental and electronic sounds that forms the basic outline of Varèse's Déserts. Webern's Variationen would also seem a possible inspiration.[70] Yet given the clearly recognizable relationship among statements of the "Oh No" refrain a more likely point of departure is Stravinsky's music. The second movement of the Octet or Symphonies of Wind Instruments, either of which could be construed as a variation-rondo, are possibilities.[71] Yet it would be uncharacteristic of Zappa never to have mentioned or quoted an admired work – to my knowledge there are no musical references to either piece in all his recorded output. Considering this evidence, a more likely source is the Suite from Histoire du soldat, with its recurring "Soldier's March." Not only did The Mothers and their successors perform excerpts from this work,[72] but Zappa used a similar instrumentation for "Igor's Boogie" on Burnt Weeny Sandwich, discussed below.

Admonitions that rock should not be analyzed with the tools created for concert music, let alone with an ear to references that would lead away from its "authentic" roots,[73] might lead us to question this search for "classical" inspiration were it not for Zappa himself pointing us in that direction. Indeed he invited analysis of his recordings and was genuinely disappointed at his fans' lack of perception. A widely used music-appreciation textbook quotes Zappa on his frustrations at the time: "These things are so carefully constructed that it breaks my heart when people don't dig into them and see all the levels that I put into them."[74] For all his palpable affection for doo-wop and rhythm and blues, which he admired as much for the music as their humor, twentieth-century compositions are credited for their intellectual sophistication. Listening to them was, in Zappa's apparent paraphrase of Charles Ives, "the ultimate test of ... intelligence."[75]

The visual, musical, and textual connections that link early Mothers' albums likewise invite analysis along lines of recurrence and variation.[76] Accompanying Zappa's photos on Lumpy Gravy and We're Only In It For The Money are cartoon balloons reading, respectively, "IS THIS PHASE 2 OF: WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY?" and "IS THIS PHASE ONE OF LUMPY GRAVY?" Cal Shenkel's collages of found objects also put a common visual stamp on the album art, particularly Uncle Meat and Burnt Weeny Sandwich.[77] The Mothers' fictional groupie, Suzy Creamcheese, is mentioned on Freak Out!, Absolutely Free, and Uncle Meat. The character Uncle Meat plays a role in Cruising With Ruben And The Jets, Uncle Meat, and The Grand Wazoo. With regard to rock parody, "Lumpy Gravy Part One" and Uncle Meat both use the archetypal garage-band song "Louie, Louie" as a point of reference (Uncle Meat, side I, cut 7; see below, Example 4 ), as do the paraphrases "Plastic People" (Absolutely Free) and "Ruthie-Ruthie" (commercially released for the first time on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1). Zappa also used lyrics to connect his projects. The invocation "Hear my Plea," for example, may be heard on Cruising With Ruben And The Jets and Uncle Meat ("Dog Breath, In the Year of the Plague"). The song "Absolutely Free," which is the title of The Mothers' second album, is found on its third release, We're Only In It For The Money.

Along the same lines, "Lumpy Gravy Part One" was the point of musical departure for two subsequent albums. In the double LP Uncle Meat, the vinyl format again influenced listeners' perception of structure: there are no rills. Like Lumpy Gravy, the continuous sides were intended as totalities to be heard from start to finish, forcing the record buyer to do the work of structural listening. Besides this, there is an obvious musical connection: "King Kong" on Uncle Meat originated in "Lumpy Gravy Part Two." For our purposes however the most interesting link is a formal one.

The variation-rondo of Uncle Meat, though similar to "Lumpy Gravy Part One," is more complex, in part because it involves three of the four original vinyl sides (one, two, and four; note below the use of Roman numerals for record side, Arabic for cut); side three alternates between vocal and instrumental songs in the manner of We're Only In It For The Money. As shown in Example 4 , the themes (labeled A, B, and C) are interwoven throughout and generally identified respectively as "Uncle Meat," "Dog Breath," and "King Kong." There is another important development in Uncle Meat: despite the importance of spoken and electronically manipulated material and purely instrumental music – the liner notes state, "Basically this is an instrumental album" – songs with lyrics figure into the variation-rondo form:

A1 VA2 B1 A3 W B2 XA4 Y C1 Z B3 C2 ... C3-8

Despite the freedom with which Zappa interwove the themes and their respective variations into the complex fabric of Uncle Meat, he employed various devices both to connect related material and to differentiate it from other music. Mallet percussion, harpsichord, and woodwinds figure prominently in all four realizations of "Uncle Meat" (I.1, 4, 6, 11); in close proximity to all but the first variation (namely A2, in which the music of A1 is dissected, accelerated, and played backward) are Suzy Creamcheese's deadpan monologues (labeled "sc" in the example). "Dog Breath, In the Year of the Plague" (B1) concludes with a quartal ostinato in 7 4 time (probably inspired by Holst, "Jupiter," Planets suite), which in turn resembles that undergirding "A Pound for a Brown" (B3).[78] Ian Underwood's saxophone solo (C2, II.8) is performed over the same E[flat ] modal accompaniment as "King Kong Itself" (C3, IV.1). Zappa also used brief electronic or other taped sounds to distinguish one piece from another on sides one and two. While searching for musical clues to the album's organization, we should not overlook the obvious references to variation and multi-movement form in the titles: "The Dog Breath Variations" (I.8); "The Uncle Meat Variations" (II.3); and "Prelude to King Kong" (II.5). It is also clear from the titles that the fourth side involves jazz-style improvisations on the "King Kong" theme as performed by featured members of the group.[79]

Example 4

Example 4: Variation-rondo form of Uncle Meat (Bizarre/Reprise 2 MS2024)

Uncle Meat, arguably the avant-rock triumph of Zappa's early career, broke fresh ground not just by moving away from Flower Power psychedelia with which The Mothers had been associated, but also from their brand of guerrilla theater and toward what Dominique Chevalier calls electric chamber music.[80] Yet the financial downside of sustaining a nine-member band signaled trouble ahead. Indeed, this is the subject of a spoken interlude on Uncle Meat, "If We'd All Been Living in California...." Making matters worse, MGM delayed paying the group its royalties on the first four albums and censored lyrics on later pressings, which led Zappa to file suit and form his own production and record companies. Creating tensions of a different kind were the increasing technical demands of Zappa's new music, which required lengthy rehearsals and reportedly exceeded the abilities of some original Mothers.[81] These and other factors led Zappa to disband the group in October 1969. In a press release announcing the break-up he wrote: "It is possible that, at a later date, when audiences have properly assimilated the recorded work of the group, a reformation might take place."[82]

Zappa seems never to have been without recorded material, however, and was soon planning to issue a ten- or twelve-record set by the disbanded group, but negotiations with a record company fell through.[83] Adjusting his aims to prevailing commercial realities, he released some of this material in February 1970 as a single LP, Burnt Weeny Sandwich. If his press statement about the break-up were not enough, the structure of this album – based once again on the variation principle (see Example 5 ) – proves that Zappa had not yet exhausted his attempts to crosspollinate rock and contemporary art music. Burnt Weeny Sandwich has been described as "complex instrumental music sandwiched between two chirpy pop songs" and an attempt to introduce the public to music more like Stravinsky than The Doors.[84] In fact, like his two previous releases it has a tightly organized structure involving six cuts on a rilled side one as well as connections between side one and an extended piece on side two.

Perhaps it was nostalgia for happier times – namely those of Freak Out! and Cruising With Ruben And The Jets – that led Zappa to frame his album with two rhythm and blues covers, "WPLJ" and "Valarie," songs that stand apart from the others and relate to them formally only in so far as they loosely connect the beginning and end of the album.[85] (Given the similarity of style, though not theme or harmonic structure, they are labeled X and Y in Example 5 .) The relationship between the album's sides truly manifests itself in musical connections of a type we have encountered before: a tape-accelerated reprise of "Aybe Sea" (I.DI) brings the music for "Little House I Used to Live In" to a close (II.D2). This nearly nineteen-minute uninterrupted counterpoise to side one involves five sections of instrumental music, including two (F1 and F2) that were reversed and grafted together in subsequent live performances, such as that heard on Fillmore East – June 1971. The pastiche-like character of this cut is confirmed by the inclusion of a violin solo by Sugar Cane Harris (G), who performed with Zappa after The Mothers' break-up but was not with the group that recorded the "Little House" themes. (The album's liner notes fail to identify all the musicians who performed, though some are pictured. Mothers fans would have known that the original group did not include a violinist.)

Example 5

Example 5: Variation-rondo form of Burnt Weeny Sandwich (Rykodisc RCD 10509)

Following "WPLJ," side one is organized into the pattern A1 B1 C1 A2 B2 C2. As on Uncle Meat, related material is connected in various ways. Besides sharing the same Stravinskian harmonic language, the instrumentation of "Igor's Boogie, Phase One" (A1) – clarinet, cornet, drum set – is the same as "Igor's Boogie, Phase Two" (A2). Both obviously derive from Histoire du soldat, as. mentioned above. Cuts three and six, "Overture to a Holiday in Berlin" (B1) and "Holiday in Berlin, Full-Blown" (B2) are self-parodies of a 3 4 melody that Zappa had composed in 1961 as part of a score for a film called The World's Greatest Sinner.[86] The off-key treatment of both cuts, complete with boozy saxophone solos, evokes Kurt Weill's Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny. Since by his own admission Zappa was not a fan of Weill's music,[87] his choice of a cabaret style associated with the Weimar Republic may reflect unpleasant memories of his encounters with radical German youths in 1968. Of a particular incident on this tour Michael Gray has written:

The audience at Zappa's Berlin concert demanded that he make some public declaration of intention to bring down capitalism. Zappa refused. The audience screamed "Fascist!" at him and chanted "Mothers of Reaction! Mothers of Reaction!"[88]

Zappa once again used music to lampoon what he saw as the conformity underlying the European youth revolt.[89] He might also have been seeking to hitch his record to the surprising commercial star of Weill's Weimar-era pieces. The Doors had recorded the "Alabama Song" from Mahagonny on their debut album (1967) and Zappa's first record company, MGM, had released a Broadway cast recording of The Threepenny Opera.[90] In a related development, Joe Masteroff's musical, Cabaret (music by Jon Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb), which is set during the same era, had opened at New York's Broadhurst Theatre in November 1966, though it had yet to be adapted to film (1972).

The third varied component of Burnt Weeny Sandwich, side one, involves Zappa's blues-oriented guitar solos over two-chord ostinatos, both evidently recorded live. The second of these, which is not given a separate title or cut on the LP, overlaps the closing three-and-a-half minutes of "Holiday in Berlin, Full-Blown" without rill. Finally, the enigmatic title of the closing number on side one, "Aybe Sea," provides a tantalizing clue that may tip Zappa's structural hand: it concisely summarizes the form of the preceding six numbers, that is, A-B-C.

After releasing Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Zappa abandoned the idea of organizing his albums along abstract formal lines, and with it his ideal of fusing modern music with rock. He opted instead for a more commercially viable combination of virtuoso jazz-rock instrumentals and humorous stage antics provided by frontmen/singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, both late of the Turtles.[91] Nonetheless the principle of varied repetition left a considerable imprint on Zappa's later recordings. A glance at his song list[92] reveals that quite a number of songs, especially instrumentals, were released several times and with significant changes. These typically involve the variation techniques described above, though their place is in a form that spans a far longer timeframe than a single release.

Let me suggest that this tendency toward repetition and variation is the musical embodiment of what Zappa called "Conceptual Continuity." Zappa himself once remarked that all the recordings he made over his career were interconnected like the bands of an enormous LP.[93] Indeed this idea emerged around the time that Lumpy Gravy was released. Many Zappa fans, however, concentrating on visual and textual clues, have missed these musical relationships, just as they overlooked the variation forms of his early albums. Ben Watson, for instance, strains credibility in drawing a connection to modernist literature.

"Conceptual continuity" may well serve as a term for an underlying substratum of associations that anyone uses over the years in order to express themselves – the network of meaning revealed, say, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's notebooks, which show irrational attachment to words that appear at key points in his poems – but what makes Zappa's use of it modernist is that he brings this substratum to consciousness. You cannot approach Zappa as you would André Gide or Sting, absorbing their art and imagining some rounded human personality. You must deal with it as you would Finnegans Wake, actively tracing images and connections as they emerge on the material surface. This is modern art you cannot approach the old way.[94]

Contrary to Watson's view, Zappa's is a modern art that most certainly can be approached "the old way," that is, in terms of musical form and process.

"The Black Page" is an interesting case to examine in this regard since it was especially susceptible to change. Zappa commercially released nine versions of this instrumental on six albums, indicating the ongoing transformation in the titles. I have written about its different realizations elsewhere,[95] but to summarize, close attention should be paid to differences in tempo, meter, and the bass line. Listeners can easily tell that "The Black Page #2" on Baby Snakes is unlike the slower, jazz-inflected "The Black Page (New Age Version)" on Make A Jazz Noise Here. Both differ from the up-tempo "The Black Page (1984)" on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 4, which more closely approximates a bizarre reggae polka with its off-beat treble rhythm guitar and roots-and-fifths bass line.[96] The origins of the piece ultimately stem from a drum solo, performed by Terry Bozzio on Zappa In New York. The variational implications of such connections and transformations are obvious.

It is, I believe, significant that one key to assessing Zappa's place as an American composer and record producer, as well as discovering his approach to linking rock and twentieth-century art music, may be found embedded deep within an early attempt at fusion that flopped. Lumpy Gravy, considered alongside two related recordings, Uncle Meat and Burnt Weeny Sandwich, represent Zappa's highest modernist aspirations: to expand listeners' consciousness beyond a limited appreciation of eclecticism's possibilities, and to present a far broader range of music to rock audiences than otherwise offered. If his efforts to cross the boundaries separating musical traditions fell short of commercial expectations and ultimately failed, not unlike those of another forward-looking American musician, Duke Ellington, at least we still have the recordings. With these, today's listeners can judge for themselves the value of his early work and confront criticism that threatens to relegate it, along with other "art" rock, to the trash heap of postmodern music history.


    I wish to express my thanks to Sean Westergaard, Steve Whiting, and Walt Everett, who read this essay at different stages and made useful suggestions.


1. "A Magic Science: Rock Music as Recording Art," Popular Music 3 (1983): 202. The score may serve as an acceptable tool of analysis for the music of the Western art music tradition. "Songs made in the studio, however, should be understood as considered aural compositions in which sounds are performed, recorded, treated and combined together often with no necessity for any kind of visual mediation whatsoever" (202). See also John Mowitt, "The Sound of Music in the Era of Its Electronic Reproducibility," in Music and Society: The Politics of Composition, Performance and Reception, ed. Richard Leppert and Susan McClary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 173-97.

2. Zappa's opinions on academic composition are plainly expressed in an address he delivered at the 1984 convention of the American Society of University Composers, excerpted in Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book (New York: Poseidon Press, 1989), 189-94.

3. Carl Dahlhaus, "On the Decline of the Work Concept," in Scboenberg and the New Music, trans. Derrick Puffett and Alfred Clayton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 229.

4. A central text is Theodor Adorno, "On Popular Music," Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences 9 (1941):17-48; reprinted in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989), 301-14; and in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, ed. John Storey (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994), 202-14. See also Dahlhaus, "On the Decline of the Work Concept," 228-30; and idem, Prisms, 1st MIT Press ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981). The ambivalent position of Adorno's criticism in the analysis of popular music is treated in Georgina Born, "Modern Music Cub ture: On Shock, Pop and Synthesis," New Formations 2 (1987): 56-7; and Susan McClary and Robert Walser, "Start Making Sense! Musicology Wrestles with Rock," in On Record, 284. See also Iain Chambers, "Some Critical Tracks," Popular Music 2 (1982): 23-7; and Max Paddison, "The Critique Criticized: Adorno and Popular Music," Popular Music 2 (1982): 201-18.

5. The rigid distinctions between musical categories in the 1960s are discussed in Born, "Modern Music Culture," 53-4. See also Susan McClary, "Terminal Prestige: The Case of Avant-Garde Music Composition," Cultural Critique 12 (1989): 57-81.

6. Sontag's essay, "One Culture and the New Sensibility," appears in expanded form in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966), 293-304. The relevant passage is found on pages 296-7.

7. Neil Slaven, Zappa: Electric Don Quixote (London: Omnibus Press, 1996), 49. Clive Davis was the head of Columbia Records at the time.

8. Dahlhaus, "On the Decline of the Work Concept," 229.

9. Zappa's formative experience in marketing and advertising, including graphic design, is discussed in Michael Gray, Mother! The Frank Zappa Story, rev. ed. (London: Plexus, 1994), 37-8.

10. These traits are listed in Peter Manuel, "Music as Symbol, Music as Simulacrum: Postmodern, Pre-modern and Modern Aesthetics in Subcultural Popular Musics," Popular Music 14 (1995): 227. See also Billy Bergman and Richard Horn, Recombinant Do Re Mi: Frontiers oft he Rock Era (New York: Quill, 1985), 99-112; Alexander Lash, "The Politics of Dancing – Gay Disco Music and Postmodernism," in The Last Post: Music After Modernism, ed. Simon Miller (Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1993), 110-31, particularly 110-5; and Andrew Goodwin, "Popular Music and Postmodern Theory," Cultural Studies 5 (1991): 174-88; reprinted in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, 414-27.

11. See Rockwell, "The Emergence of Art Rock," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, ed. Anthony DeCurtis et al., new ed. (New York: Random House, 1992), 493-4.

12. The impressions of listeners at the time are treated extensively in Paul E. Willis, Profane Culture (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), 106-8, 154-69.

13. "One Culture and the New Sensibility," 296.

14. See Janell R. Duxbury, Rockin' the Classics and Classicizin' the Rock: A Selectively Annotated Discography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985).

15. Spector's contributions to rock are surveyed in Nik Cohn, "Phil Spector," in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, 177-88; Back to Mono is an anthology of his recordings from this period. Spector was, of course, developing the "sound on sound" (overdubbing) recording technique that Les Paul and others had pioneered in the 1950s. See Mary Alice Shaughnessy, Les Paul: An American Original (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1993), 165, 180-2.

16. Quoted in Patricia Romanowski and Holly George-Warren, eds., The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, rev. ed. (New York: Fireside/Rolling Stone Press, 1995), s.v. "Spector, Phil" (p. 933).

17. These include Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who imitated Spector's recordings, career, and life-style; his admiration extended to his hiring Spector's sidemen for Pet Sounds. See Timothy White, The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys, and the Southern California Experience (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994), 148, 166. Wilson is quoted on the subject in David Leaf, The Beach Boys (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1985), 113. See also Daniel Harrison, "After Sundown: The Beach Boys' Experimental Music," in Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis, ed. John Covach and Graeme M. Boone (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 38 and 54, notes 6 and 11. The Beatles likewise respected Spector's work. He produced their Let It Be (1969) as well as solo albums by John Lennon and George Harrison. Frank Zappa and Spector were casual acquaintances (see, for example, Gray, Mother!, 56, 79-80). Given Zappa's professed passion for early rock'n'roll, Spector's production work would have been hard to miss. Moreover, among the New York studio musicians who recorded Zappa's Lumpy Gravy was one of Spector's favorite session guitarists, Tommy Tedesco.

18. Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and The Beatles [The White Album] (1968). For discussions of recording techniques used on these albums, see Mark Lewisohn, The Beatles: Recording Sessions (New York: Harmony Books, 1988); George Martin, All You Need Is Ears (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979); and George Martin and William Pearson, Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper (London: Macmillan, 1994). See also Ian MacDonald, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994). Because Martin was an experienced producer of comedy, he was doubtless familiar with American novelty records. These often involved quick-cut techniques, like those simulated in the forties by Spike Jones, as well as tape manipulation. Napoleon XIV's (Jerry Samuel) "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!," for example, which used tape acceleration and reverb effects, was a top-ten hit in the summer of 1966. See The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, ed. Colin Larkin, 6 vols., 2d ed. (Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1995), s.v. "Napoleon XIV," (4: 2986). The B side of the original 45 r.p.m, single is the A side backward; the reversal extended to the label, which was printed backward.

19. "Third Stone from the Sun" (Are You Experienced, 1967) and "1983" (Electric Ladyland, 1968), in particular.

20. Electronic sounds are prominent on their first two albums, Velvet Underground and Nico (1967) and White Light, White Heat (1967). On Warhol's involvement with the Velvet Underground, see Jeremy Reed, Waiting for the Man (London: Picador/Macmillan, 1994), 31-4.

21. This project, which Wilson called "a teenage symphony to God," is discussed in White, The Nearest Faraway Place, 271-5. Note Wilson's not-so-veiled reference to Spector's description of his own work.

22. Brad Elliott, Surf's Up: The Beach Boys on Record 1961-1981 (Ann Arbor: Popular Culture, Ink, 1991), 53, 57. According to White, The Nearest Faraway Place, 264-5, Wilson self consciously intended the complex arrangements and stereo overdubbing of "Good Vibrations" to trump Spector's legendary "Wall of Sound" mono recordings.

23. The Mothers' line-up changed somewhat over the period under consideration. See Gray, Mother!, 56-8, 82, 89. The core included Zappa, Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada, and Ray Collins.

24. The Garrick Theatre show, "Pigs and Repugnant/Absolutely Free," as described in Zappa and Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 92-6. "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask" on Weasels Ripped My Flesh (originally released in August 1970; compact disc reissue, Rykodisc RCD 10163), recorded live at London's Festival Hall, gives a vague impression of the group's improvisatory performing style.

25. The source of this and other release dates (given in parentheses) is Gray, Mother!, 241-8.

26. Charlesworth Chris Miles, Zappa: A Visual Documentary (London: Omnibus Press, 1993), 21. Song and album titles are given as they appear on the albums, that is, with every word capitalized.

27. Compare with "Steppin' Out" (1965), particularly the fade-out. The Raiders, known for their energetic coordinated choreography and powder-blue Revolutionary War-era outfits, were fronted by lead singer and teen idol, Mark Lindsay. His closing rap and the group's trebly electric guitar timbre are the chief targets of Zappa's derision. For details of Dick Clark's broadcasting career, see The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, s.v. "Clark, Dick" (1:826).

28. Zappa's brief article in Stereo Review (June 1971), "Edgard Varèse, Idol of My Youth. A Reminiscence and Appreciation," is reprinted in Dominique Chevalier, Viva! Zappa, trans. Matthew Screech (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986), 105-6. See also Gray, Mother!, 137. By his own account, the fourteen-year-old Zappa first learned about Varèse in an article about record dealer Sam Goody in Life magazine. He was intrigued by Goody's disparaging remarks about the composer's music and searched local record stores for recordings. See The Real Frank Zappa Book, 31; and Miles, Visual Documentary, 7.

29. For a photo of Zappa, Allen, and the bicycle, along with other early publicity material, see Gray, Mother!, 160 [h]. Zappa had also produced a few novelty 45s, along with surf music and R&B recordings.

30. See the booklet accompanying Frank Zappa, The Lost Episodes, [24] (Rykodisc RCD 40573).

31. Donna 1378, re-released on Rare Meat: Early Works Of Frank Zappa, Del-Fi Records RNEP604; and Cucamonga, Del-Fi Records DFCD 71261. See Miles, Visual Documentary, 13; and Gray, Mother!, 42. The snork sound effect on "The Idiot Bastard Son," We're Only In It For The Money, is first heard on "How's Your Bird?"

32. Words and music by Earl Edwards, Bernie Williams, and Eugene Dixon.

33. "Soft-Sell Conclusion" (1:24-1:31) and "Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin" (0:08-0:25), respectively.

34. On Zappa's self-perception, see Gray, Mother!, 66. For lyrics to these and other Zappa songs, as well as complete discographies, songlists, and reproductions of cover art, consult "St. Alphonso's Pancake Homepage" [lang ][sim ]heederik/zappa/[rang ].

35. Igor Stravinsky, Petrushka, ed. Charles Hamm, A Norton Critical Score (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967), 24-31.

36. A concert performance of an excerpt from Petrushka may be found on 'Tis The Season To Be Jelly: Live in Sweden 1967 (FOO-EE/ Rhino Records RZ 70542).

37. Apocrypha (Great Dane Records GDR 9405/ABCD).

38. According to his widow, Gail Zappa, a considerable portion of the young couple's income went to purchasing records during these years (telephone conversation, 23 October 1995).

39. Due to concerns over copyright infringement, the gatefold of We're Only In It For The Money was the reverse of Sgt. Pepper. For reproductions of the album art, consult "St. Alphonso's Pancake Homepage."

40. Zappa may have been reacting to the group's emerging cynicism and particularly that of John Lennon. Commenting on the Beatles' music not long after the release of Sgt. Pepper, for example, Lennon remarked: "People think the Beatles know what's going on. We don't. We're just doing it.... [On "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" from Sgt. Pepper] I just shoved a lot of words together, then shoved some noise on. I just did it. I didn't dig that song when I wrote it. I didn't believe in it when I was doing it. But nobody will believe it. They don't want to. They want it to be important." Quoted in Hunter Davies, The Beatles (New York: McGraw Hill, 1968), 284.

41. The texts and musical settings of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "She's Leaving Home" are discussed in Wilfred Mellers, The Twilight of the Gods: The Music of the Beatles (New York: Viking Press, 1974), 89-93.

42. The definition is Mellers's (ibid., 86-7). Zappa may have invented the concept album. No less an authority than Paul McCartney acknowledged Freak Out! as a key inspiration for the later, but far more commercially successful Sgt. Pepper. See Rockwell, "The Emergence of Art Rock," 496.

43. On this point, see Tom Manoff, Music: A Living Language (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982), 292-3.

44. Zappa and Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 88.

45. Zappa's undisguised hostility to drugs is discussed in Ben Watson, Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993), 73-4. Hippies' preference for the uninterrupted flow of progressive rock music over conventional threeminute pop songs is mentioned, among other places, in John Storey, Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 105.

46. The ultimate irony of Zappa's early albums may be that hippies considered them the ne plus ultra of their musical experience. On the recognition of Zappa's role in defining music in hippie subculture, see Willis, Profane Culture, 107-8.

47. For a similar approach to the analysis of Stravinsky's music, see Edward T. Cone, "Stravinsky: The Progress of Method," Perspectives of New Music 1 (1962): 18-26. See also Jonathan D. Kramer, "Discontinuity and Proportion in the Music of Stravinsky," in Confronting Stravinsky: Man, Musician, and Modernist, ed. Jann Pasler (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 174-94. The kind of proportional relationships that Kramer finds in Stravinsky's music are not evident in Zappa's, as Examples 3 4 5 demonstrate.

48. Gray, Mother!, 61-2. On Wilson's role in the early Mothers' recordings, see William Ruhlman, "Frank Zappa: The Present Day Composer," in The Frank Zappa Companion, 6-7; and Slaven, Zappa, 49-53.

49. The angular "Love Story" (Boulez Conducts Zappa, The Perfect Stranger, August 1984), for example, "features an elderly Republican couple attempting sex while break-dancing." The distinction between Zappa's rock and serious music emerged between 1969 and 1971, around the times of The Mothers' breakup, the first Los Angeles Philharmonic performance in May 1970, and the release of Fillmore East and 200 Motels. Mass media critics recognized Zappa's earlier attempts to combine rock with what they too called serious music. For example, Robert Shelton, writing in the New York Times in December 1966, described The Mothers as "the first pop group to successfully amalgamate rock'n'roll with the serious music of Stravinsky and others." Quoted in Gray, Mother!, 84.

50. Chevalier observes that the conversations were recorded after the composition and recording of the instrumental sections. Viva! Zappa, 13. See also Slaven, Zappa, 76.

51. The importance of style over meaning in hippie conversation is described in Willis, Profane Culture, 103-6. Like the ones simulated on Lumpy Gravy, "Conversations would turn on sudden interruptions, provocative statements, sudden denials, insolent questionings, apparent paradoxes. It was the mark of the stranger or acolyte that he would try to express something directly or naïvely.... It was greatly appreciated when a non sequitur, or enigmatic statement stopped a conversation, but in an appropriate way, or transformed what had been said into something specially understood only by the head [hippie]" (103).

52. For the details of this dispute, see Gray, Mother!, 90.

53. David Walley, No Commercial Potential (New York: Outerbridge and Lazard, 1972), 86-8; Gray, Mother!, 90.

54. According to Walley (No Commercial Potential, 86), Zappa learned to operate the sophisticated studio equipment quickly enough to create tension with the more experienced technician, Kellgren. It is he who threatens to erase Zappa's master tapes on We're Only In It For The Money.

55. Concerning Uncle Meat, Chevalier (Viva! Zappa, 13) writes that "while the group recorded one track Zappa sat in the sound engineer's room composing music for the next one." Charles Keil characterizes recording as a "classicizing" or perfecting act that divorces performance from real-life expectations, as well as informal and improvisational aspects. Valuable as this observation is, it should be amended to take engineering and production into consideration. See Charles Keil and Steven Feld, Music Grooves: Essays and Dialogues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 157-9.

56. Remarks refer to the original U.S. vinyl issue, Verve V6-8741; the artwork for the compact disc reissues is not the same. Zappa had already changed his identity once: as Ruben Sano, leader of an imaginary fifties R & B-pachuco group. Later Zappa had himself depicted as the mad scientist, Uncle Meat, on the inner sleeve of The Grand Wazoo (December 1972), an obvious pastiche of his and Varèse's features: compare this with photos of Varèse later in life. Zappa remarked that the composer looked like a "mad scientist" in The Real Frank Zappa Book, 31.

57. The type fonts for both compact disc reissues differ from the Verve LP release. Zappa later used the name ABNUCEALS EMUUKHA electric SYMPHONY orchestra to identify an ensemble of thirty-seven musicians who performed his compositions on 17 and 18 September 1975 at Royce Hall, UCLA. Some arrangements performed during these concerts were released in May 1979 as Orchestral Favorites. Gray, Mother!, 165, 176. Ben Watson, usually dogged in his attempts to apply his brand of hermeneutics to allusions in Zappa's lyrics, offers no hypothesis about the hidden meaning of this ensemble's name. He does, however, connect the title Lumpy Gravy with Zappa's remarks to the university composers in 1984, in which Zappa admits that composers have to eat, but "mostly what they eat is brown and lumpy." Negative Dialectics, 91.

58. Watson, Negative Dialectics, 90. Commenting further, he writes that Lumpy Gravy has been "relegated to the category of 'harmless indulgence'," perhaps because "the setting ... defies high-brow analysis." Ibid., 104, 91.

59. Compare "Lumpy Gravy Part One" (4:47-5:17) to John Cage and David Tudor, Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music (Folkways FT 3704), released in 1959. The Mothers had, of course, worked in New York and fashioned themselves as rivals to the Velvet Underground, then under Warhol's tutelage. The dialogue is transcribed in Watson, Negative Dialectics, 97-8.

60. Watson, Negative Dialectics, 104.

61. Reworked songs include "Chrome Plated Megaphone" (We're Only In It For The Money), "King Kong" (Uncle Meat), "Oh No" (Weasels), and "Redneck Eats" (200 Motels). See Chevalier, Viva! Zappa, 62.

62. Timings correspond to the 1986 CD reissue, Rykodisc RCD 40024.

63. Compare, for example, the 1961 recording, later entitled "Take Your Clothes off When You Dance" (The Lost Episodes).

64. This approach to harmonization, a hallmark of Zappa's style, was later employed in instrumentals like "Little House I Used to Live In," "Big Swifty," and "Echidna's Arf of You."

65. See Hamm, ed., Norton Critical Score, 52-6. The closing section of the refrain is repeated and used to introduce "The Orange County Lumber Truck" on Weasels Ripped My Flesh. As early as 1969 (You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1 and later, Make A Jazz Noise Here) the repeated closing section of "Oh No" was transformed into a head motive for a guitar solo; Zappa improvised over the two supporting chords (i-iv).

66. See, for example, The Real Frank Zappa Book, 34. "I loved Stravinsky almost as much as Varèse. The other composer who filled me with awe – I couldn't believe that anybody could write music like that – was Anton Webern."

67. Originated as a cue for Zappa's 1963 film score for Run Home Slow, available on the reissue The Lost Episodes, no. 11, "Run Home Cues, #2."

68. Chevalier suggests that Zappa's original conception did not include spoken material. Viva! Zappa, 13.

69. Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin, Film Technique and Film Acting, trans, and ed. Ivor Montagu, memorial edition (New York: Grove Press, 1976), 23. Zappa was reportedly at work on a movie called Uncle Meat in January 1968, that is, while recording and editing the album of the same name. Chevalier, Viva! Zappa, 13. Barking Pumpkin/Honker Video released the movie Uncle Meat in 1989.

70. In a 1972 radio interview with Martin Perlich, Zappa mentions owning the 1957 Columbia recording, The Complete Music [of] Anton Webern (K4L-232 / KL 5019-5022). The text of the interview, transcribed by Georg Deppe, is available at [Radio Interview with Martin Perlich].

Elsewhere he identified it as one of his favorite records. See Chevalier, Viva! Zappa, 108.

71. For a brief analysis of the former work, see Eric Walter White, Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, 2d ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 308-12. For analyses of Symphonies of Wind Instruments, refer to note 47, above.

72. "Soft-Sell Conclusion," Absolutely Free; "Royal March from 'L'histoire du soldat'," Make a Jazz Noise Here (Barking Pumpkin Records D2-74234 and Rykodisc 10557/58).

73. See Charles Hamm, Putting Popular Music in Its Place (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 20-1; and Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1993), 58-9. Watson, Negative Dialectics, 129, extends the admonition to the analysis of Zappa's music.

74. Joseph Machlis and Kristine Forney, The Enjoyment of Music, 7th ed. (New York: Norton, 1995), 547.

75. The Real Frank Zappa Book, 33. Liner notes and interviews are full of references to twentieth-century compositions, composers, techniques, and studio paraphernalia. The gatefold of Uncle Meat, for example, includes the following statement: "Things that sound like a full orchestra were carefully assembled, track by track through a procedure known as over-dubbing. The weird middle section of DOG BREATH (after the line, 'Ready to attack') has forty tracks built into it. Things that sound like trumpets are actually clarinets played through an electric device made by Maestro with a setting labeled Oboe D'Amore and sped up a minor third with a V.S.O. (variable speed oscillator). Other peculiar sounds were made on the Kalamazoo electric organ."

76. According to Walley, Zappa planned his early projects as conceptual pairs. No Commercial Potential, 86.

77. On Shenkel's contribution, see Miles, "The Grand Wazoo," Mojo (March 1974): 93-5. The artwork for these two albums is discussed in Watson, Negative Dialectics, 135-6 and 168-9, respectively.

78. Zappa had previously borrowed from Holst on Absolutely Free (see above). Ryko's compact disc re-issue (RCD 10506/07) connects the ostinato-based passage with the track containing "The Legend of the Golden Arches." The LP, of course, had no rills; the original timing is as indicated in Example 4 .

79. In a paper delivered at the Sixty-First Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society (1995), James Grier argued that "King Kong" was progressively "reconstructed" from its manifestations on side one ("The Mothers of Invention and Uncle Meat. Alienation, Anachronism, and a Double Variation"). I would argue instead that C1 and C2 reference a theme (stated unambiguously in C8) that had been introduced on "Lumpy Gravy Part Two." Side four of the original LP could be analyzed in syncretic terms, that is, as a combination of variation and the familiar jazz technique of stating the head motive at the beginning (C3) and the end (C8). Grier moreover construed the album's form as a double, rather than triple, variation. I would add that the observations presented herein were developed independent from my friend and colleague's research, of which I was unware.

79. "King Kong," of course, refers to the giant gorilla from the movie of the same name, which Zappa may have considered a metaphor for his instinctive approach to music and his difficulties with the record industry. He related the following to a Swedish concert audience in 1967: "The name of this song is 'King Kong.' It's the story of a very large gorilla who lived in the jungle. And he was doing okay until some Americans came by and thought that they would take him home with them. They took him to the United States and they made some money by using the gorilla. Then they killed him." 'Tis The Season To Be Jelly: Live in Sweden 1967 (FOO-EE/Rhino Records RZ 70542).

80. Viva! Zappa, 14. Zappa himself characterized the Grand Wazoo ensemble, which replaced The Mothers in 1972, as "a new 20-piece electric symphony orchestra." See Gray, Mother!, 150.

81. Chevalier, Viva! Zappa, 14. Group members were paid $250 a week out of the leader's pocket, whether they rehearsed or not. For details of the group's break-up, see Gray, Mother!, 117-9.

82. Gray, Mother!, 119.

83. Walley, No Commercial Potential, 127; see also Gray, Mother!, 117-8. On Zappa's penchant for holding recorded material in reserve, see Gray, Mother!, 97. Uncle Meat and Weasels Ripped My Flesh were also to have originally been part of a multi-record set.

84. Chevalier, Viva! Zappa, 14.

85. "WPLJ" was first released by the Four Deuces, "Valarie" by Jackie and the Starlights. Slaven, Zappa, 128

86. Portions of the score may be heard on Apocrypha, disc 4. The connection is discussed in Gray, Mother!, 34.

87. Booklet accompanying The Yellow Shark, [8] (Barking Pumpkin Records R2 7 1600/Rykodisc RCD/RAC 40560). A connection between Weill and Zappa, though in a completely different context, is suggested in Paddison, "The Critique Criticized," 217.

88. Mother!, 113. The Berlin incident was reported (in German) on the back cover of the group's April 1969 anthology release, Mothermania (Verve V65068).

89. He also used a brief bit of live tape. "Little House" concludes with a sarcastic quip he made to an unruly London concert audience, also in 1968: "You're all wearing uniforms and don't kid yourselves."

90. MGM E/SE-3121; stereo re-recording, MGM SE-3121 OC.

91. Zappa's search for a successful money-making formula is discussed in Watson, Negative Dialectics, 177-95. It is significant that some of the first members added to the original Mothers, like Don Preston and Bunk Gardner, were jazz players. See ibid., 75-8. Even after disbanding the jazz-oriented Grand and Petite Wazoo groups of the early seventies, Zappa's later bands included jazz musicians like Jean-Luc Ponty and George Duke. Ibid., 163-6.

92. See "St. Alphonso's Pancake Homepage/Discography/Songlist"

93. Walley, No Commercial Potential, 88.

94. Negative Dialectics, 229.

95. James Borders, "Frank Zappa's 'The Black Page': A Case of Musical 'Conceptual Continuity'," in Expression in Pop-Rock Music: A Collection of Critical and Analytic Essays, ed. Walter Everett (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), 137-56. In addition to commercial releases, Zappa included a Synclavier version of "The Black Page #1" in the February 1987 issue of Keyboard. There are also more than a dozen known bootleg recordings.

96. Those who suspect Zappa incapable of such cross-breeding of popular styles should listen to his reggae cover of the Johnny Cash hit, "Ring of Fire" (The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life).

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