RELEASES #41-53 (1984-1988)
41. Thing-Fish (3LP, Barking Pumpkin SKCO-74201, November 21, 1984)
It will soon be 30 years.
When this three-album box-set was released, many Zappa fans were severely disappointed. Many old tracks were simply re-recorded with overdubs: ("Torchum" and "Artificial Rhonda" from 1976; "Galoot Up-Date," "YAWYI," "Mudd Club," and "Meek," from 1980; "Clowns" and "No Not Now" from 1981-1982 as well the guitar outro to "Mammy Nuns.") The whole thing seemed outrageous and offensive.
The album's storyline is inspired by Broadway theatre, AIDS, eugenics, conspiracy theories, feminism, homosexuality and African American culture. It involves an evil, racist prince/theatre critic who creates a disease intended to eradicate African Americans and homosexuals. The disease is tested on prisoners who are turned into "Mammy Nuns" led by the story's narrator, Thing-Fish. The story within a story is a satire of a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant couple, Harry and Rhonda, who attend a play performed by the "Mammy Nuns," and find themselves confronted with their pasts: Harry presented as a homosexual boy, Rhonda presented as a sex doll brought to life (Wikipedia).
In retrospect, Zappa may have pulled a fast one here. After years of imagining an actual production -- someone actually pulled it off in 2003. What a shame Frank didn't live to see it.
42. Francesco Zappa (LP, Barking Pumpkin ST-74202, November 21, 1984)
The one and only Frank Zappa release without a speck of music written by Frank Zappa!
Yes -- Francesco was a real composer -- check him out here.
Zappa's assistant, David Ocker, helped him program the synclavier with what he thought might be "appropriate" patches for 18th century music.
Naturally, Frank would come in the next day and change all of David's settings with more bizarre patches -- marimbas, spooky synths, etc.
A toss-off for the average Zappa fan, this one continues to hold interest for the person deeply interested in the Complete Works of Frank Zappa.
43, The Old Masters Box One (7LP, Barking Pumpkin BPR-7777, April 19, 1985)
For many years, a great deal of Zappa's early work was nearly impossible to obtain. In 1985, with the new medium of the compact disc creeping up on the music industry, Frank remixed nearly his entire catalog -- sometimes adding new bass and drum parts (#03, #05) or creating radical new mixes like #08).
At $100 per box, this was an easy choice for most serious Zappa fans. Using high-quality vinyl and reproducing the album covers and booklets (cutely scratching out old addresses for defunct record companies, fan clubs, etc.) -- FZ put the first five releases in here plus the "Mystery Disc" (which later -- along with the "Mystery Disc" from #46 -- become a separate release, #68).
44. Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention (LP, Barking Pumpkin ST-74203, November 21, 1985)
At the time, watching Frank testify up on Capitol Hill, you just sensed that something amazing was going to come out of all this -- musically, speaking!
This is it!
Certainly, "Porn Wars" (12:05) is the featured track here -- but again, Zappa is nothing if not imaginative and all-encompassing in this exciting mid-80's release.
"I Don't Even Care" (4:39) features Johnny Guitar Watson, one of Frank's childhood heroes.
The next three tracks are Synclavier compositions -- "Little Beige Sambo" (3:02) is a nice tribute to Conlon Nancarrow. Pure genius at work here -- and a wonderful preview of much exciting "classical" music to come in the few years left in Zappa's too-short life.
"We're Turning Again" (4:55) is Zappa commenting:
They took a whole bunch of acid
So they could see where it's at
(It's over there, over there,
Over there, over there
And under here also)
Name-checked: Donovan, Hendrix, Morrison, Mama Cass, Janis Joplin, and Keith Moon.
"Alien Orifice" (4:10) -- an instrumental -- is played nearly perfectly by this amazing eight-piece '81-'82 band!
"Yo Cats" (3:33) -- Zappa's third anti-union ditty (previously, "Ruby Wants to Buy Yez a Drink" [#11] and "Stick Together" [#36]).
"What's New in Baltimore" (5:20) is another one of those very special FZ compositions that is truly filled with beautiful marvels! The track is put together with at least three separate edits from the above-referenced '81-'82 band.
The '84 band was very, very good -- but Wackerman's "electronic" drums could sound tedious at times.
No matter -- Zappa's re-arrangement of his "oldies" is a sharp, refreshing undertaking -- not at all, perfunctory ... ("Trouble," for example, updated for the MTV generation!)
Zappa's guitar playing is as cutting-edge as always. "Cock-Suckers" is one of FZ's greatest "novelty" numbers -- and one of the new compositions here, "Let's Move to Cleveland" (16:43) is filled with amazing new ideas. With the projects ahead, Zappa showed an inclination towards creating new musical scenarios by twisting and tweeting together live performance edits (the "Stage" series).
"Cleveland" turns out to be one of the last important rock-band compositions to appear until the '88 band.
46. The Old Masters Box Two (8LP, Barking Pumpkin BPR-8888, November 25, 1986)
Releases #07, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12 and 14, plus another "Mystery Disc." With Uncle Meat being a double album, that's a total of eight discs here!
(200 Motels [#13] was still controlled by MGM at the time of this release.)
Again, for $100, this was a no-brainer -- much of this music had been unavailable for years -- and again Zappa used high-quality vinyl.
Having a (pristine, new) vinyl version of Hot Rats turned out to be such a blessing for fans like myself who ... er ... "disliked" the CD version.
Like Volume One, this one came with all the original cover art and booklets and cute Warner Bros. propoganda.
47. Jazz From Hell (LP, Barking Pumpkin ST-74205, November 25, 1986)
All Synclavier compositions except for one ("St. Etienne" [6:26], a guitar solo stripped from "Drowning Witch" recorded in St. Etienne, France on May 28, 1982).
The Synclavier creations are all profound, unique musical statements -- using a familiar musical vocabularly, augmented by a computer which responded to Frank's touch the way his Strat used to...
Bass clarinets, xylophones, English Horns, and engine brakes -- all played a certain way, recorded a certain way, and then digitally manipulated a certain way.
This was Frank's latest "band."
Inexplicably, this record won the 1988 Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance (Orchestra, Group or Soloist). I've never been able to figure out if someone liked "St. Etienne" that much -- because it's extremely difficult to think of the Synclavier work as "rock instrumental performances."
48. London Symphony Orchestra Vol. II (LP, Barking Pumpkin SJ-74207, September 17, 1987)
Claiming that he had waited the four years (since the release of #38) to try and digitally "fix" all the terrible mistakes (without total success), Zappa released the final tracks from the LSO sessions.
My comments on the music are to be found at Release #38, above.
49. The Old Masters Box Three (9LP, Barking Pumpkin BPR-9999, December 30, 1987)
Eight albums, finishing up the "Old Masters" series -- #15-22 -- a total of nine high-quality vinyl discs.
No extra "mystery" disc in this volume.
50. Guitar (2LP, Barking Pumpkin D1 74212, April 26, 1988)
There was no doubt about the built-in audience for a "guitar-solo-only" release -- and Zappa provides with a 2-CD set with solos plucked from the usual places and featuring bands from '79, '81-'82 and '84.
Among the songs whence the solos originate:
Let's Move to Cleveland
City of Tiny Lites
Pound for a Brown
Ride My Face to Chicago
51. You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1 (2CD, Rykodisc RCD 10081/82, May 9, 1988)
Zappa's long-cherished dream of releasing one massive set of carefully edited live performances from the depth of his vaults (still, in 2013 -- heavily unexplored territory!) was finally realized as the CD revolution took hold.
I believe that a certain section of FZ's liner notes here (repeated in the other five volumes) -- the start of a 12-CD set, which took "20 years to put together" -- became sort of a posthumous template for Gail and Joe, when putting together previously unreleased material:
" ... THIS COLLECTION IS NOT CHRONOLOGICAL.
The performance of any band from any year can be (and often is) edited to the performance of any other band from any other year, sometimes in the middle of a song.
The selections were chosen as answers to these theoretical questions:
(1) Is this the best available version of THIS SONG by THIS BAND?
(2) Is there some "folkloric" significance to the performance?
(3) Is it a premiere recording?
(4) Is it a "one-time-only" performance of an improvised event?
(5) Is there a good solo in it?
(6) Will it give "Conceptual Continuity Clues" to the hard-core maniacs with a complete record collection?
(7) Does the inclusion of this song help the stylistic flow of the album sequence by providing contrast or relief?
(8) Is there film or video tape of the performance? ..."
These guidelines or criteria seem to be important to the Vaultmeister and the Widow-in-Charge -- making all these posthumous releases -- in general -- very valuable and interesting to the h-cm [see (6) above].
These wonderful YCDTOSA pages are a terrific guide through the material.
I will, therefore, just provide a brief summary of each YCDTOSA set:
Five previously unreleased tracks ("Florida Airport Tape," "Ruthie-Ruthie," "Babbette," "Rollo" [Part V of "Yellow Snow" suite], and "Sweet Leilani").
One dramatically different arrangement of previously released tracks: ("Mammy Anthem").
Eleven years covered: '69, '70, '71, '73, '74, '78, '79, '80, '81, '82, and '84.
52. You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 2 (2CD, Rykodisc RCD 10083/84, October 25, 1988)
This is the only "Stage" volume which is an entire concert recording (Helsinki, Finland, 9/23-24/74).
Three previously unreleased tracks ("Room Service," "Satumaa," and "Building a Girl").
Four dramatically different arrangement of previously released tracks: ("Tush Tush Tush," "Pygmy Twylyte," "Cheepnis," and "Approximate").
Years covered: 1974
The guitar solo on "Inca Roads" is the one Zappa transplanted into the final version on One Size Fits All (#20).
53. Broadway The Hard Way (LP, Barking Pumpkin D1 74218, October 25, 1988)
This -- the first audio representation of the fantastic, but short-lived 1988 band -- is a very special Frank Zappa record.
The last period of FZ's life is upon us.
Here, Frank put together an album of almost entirely new material -- first releasing an LP with nine tracks in October, 1988 and then the compact disc with 17 tracks!
Republicans and televangelists figure prominently here -- although Jesse Jackson is in for the Zappa treatment in "Rhymin' Man." Zappa's rap song, "Promiscuous" is unforgetable and Sting drops by to sing "Murder by Numbers" (preceded by a gorgeous "Stolen Moments")...
For the three '88 band releases (five discs in total), there is a fantastic web resource created by Pat Buzby. Among other things, this site enables one to follow Zappa's clever editing from show to show in excruciating detail.
For example, the final track -- "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk" -- is a nine-minute, multi-edit (at least 22!) performance of a devestating song: after contemplating a possible Pat Robertson presidency, Zappa finally and wistfully concludes:
And if you don't know by now,
The truth of what I'm tellin' you,
Then, surely I have failed somehow—
Surely I have failed somehow
Surely I have failed somehow
And Jesus will think I'm a jerk, just like you—
If you let those TV Preachers
Make a monkey out of you!