RELEASES #28-40 (1979-1984)
28. Joe's Garage Act I (LP, Zappa SRZ-1-1603,
September 3, 1979)
29. Joe's Garage Acts II & III (2LP, Zappa SRZ-2-1502, November 19, 1979)
Originally, three discs covering two separate releases. The compact disc era compressed the material and today the CD is one complete release on two discs.
These are the final Frank Zappa albums recorded in a regular studio -- after this, everything will emanate from the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, Zappa's home studio.
However, as we discussed in #18, getting his music on the radio was really not Zappa's highest priority! The "singles" were incorporated into an ever-evolving Project/Object which today we call a "rock-opera." Zappa himself referred to it as a "stupid little story about how the the government is going to do away with music."
After "The Central Scrutinizer" (FZ) introduces himself, "Joe's Garage" surprises us with its undisguised sentimentality:
Down in Joe's Garage
We didn't have no dope or LSD
But a coupla quartsa beer
Would fix it so the intonation
Would not offend yer ear
And the same old chords goin' over 'n over
Became a symphony
We could play it again 'n again 'n again
Cause it sounded good to me
ONE MORE TIME!
"Catholic Girls" is not only as hilarious as "Jewish Princess" -- but contains some remarkable passage work. "Crew Slut" has a dirty Chicago-blues feel to it which just keeps on grinding.
"Fembot" (note the different titles on the LP and CD versions) uses a cool little theme which Frank liked so much, it became the opening motif of "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation" (#38), a complex orchestral work.
Zappa also continued his work with xenochrony, splicing guitar solos on top of unrelated backing tracks. His guitar playing is as exciting as any other time-period here, and he pushes his band to respond accordingly. "Keep it Greasey" features a section in 19/16 time (5/4 with one 16th-note chopped off the end of the bar!)
"Watermelon in Easter Hay" (original title: "Playing a Guitar Solo With This Band is Like Trying to Grow a Watermelon in Easter Hay") -- a 9/4 magical ride into Zappa's most intimate guitar solo ever -- is a very special piece of music; as is "Packard Goose" which closes with Zappa's classic and eternal statement:
Voice Of Mary's Vision:
Hi! It's me . . . the girl from the bus . . .
The last tour?
Well . . .
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is THE BEST . . .
Wisdom is the domain of the Wis (which is extinct)
Beauty is a French phonetic corruption
Of a short cloth neck ornament
Currently in resurgence ...
You don't want to miss this one!
30. Tinsel Town Rebellion (2LP, Barking Pumpkin PW2 37336, May 11, 1981)
With Steve Vai now playing "stunt guitar," and a huge band filled with keyboards and percussion and more guitars -- Zappa was beginning to enjoy re-arranging some of his earlier material into challenges for this exciting new band:
"Fine Girl" is the only studio cut. Bob Harris #2 sings falsetto. (#2 because there was another Bob Harris who played in the "Flo & Eddie" band!)
"Easy Meat" begins with 4/29/80, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA. At 2:59, we briefly hear the 9/18/75 (Royce Hall, UCLA) mini-orchestra. This dissolves into a brief "inside-the-piano" motif with Davey Moire (?) saying:
" ... if he'd played something else ...
'Cause, uh, they just aren't gonna stand for it ...
The remainder of the album alternates between new tunes ("Sophisticate,"Pick Me," and "Tinsel-Town") and oldies ("Love of My Life," "I Ain't Got No Heart," "Tell Me You Love Me," "Brown Shoes," and of course, "Peaches III") (so named because this marks its third appearance in the catalog to date)...
31. Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar (LP, Barking Pumpkin BPR 1111, May 11, 1981)
Who can imagine why a three-record set of 20 different guitar solos -- stripped from their context inside longer compositions -- would be so successful?
Originally issued by mail-order as single LPs, even Zappa was surprised at the positive commercial and critical reception.
One possible explanation: Zappa's guitar solos are mini-compositions, which quite capably stand alone as "separate" works -- distinct from the song where it originally resided!
1. five-five-FIVE (2:35) (from "Conehead" / London / 2-19-79)
2. Hog Heaven (2:49) (from "Easy Meat" / Tulsa / 10-18-80)
3. Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar (5:38) (from "Inca Roads" / London / 2-17-79)
4. While You Were Out (6:00) (Xenochronic track: Drum track recorded Spring '79; overdubs at UMRK in Autumn '79.)
5. Treacherous Cretins (5:34) (London / 2-17-79)
6. Heavy Duty Judy (4:42) (Berkeley / 2-5-80)
7. Soup 'N Old Clothes (7:53) (from "Illinois Enema Bandit" / Santa Monica / 2-11-80)
32. Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar Some More (LP, Barking Pumpkin BPR 1112, May 11, 1981)
1. Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression (3:58) (from "City of Tiny Lites" / Santa Monica / 2-11-80)
2. Gee, I Like Your Pants (2:35) (from "Inca Roads" / London / 2-18-79)
3. Canarsie (6:05) (London / 2-19-79 / overdubs: Spring '79)
4. Ship Ahoy (5:20) (coda of "Zoot Allures" / Osaka / 2-3-76
5. The Deathless Horsie (6:20) (London / 2-19-79)
6. Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar Some More (6:53) (from "Inca Roads" / London / 2-18-79 [early show])
7. Pink Napkins (4:38) (from "Black Napkins" / London / 2-17-77)
33. Return Of The Son Of Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar (LP, Barking Pumpkin BPR 1113, May 11, 1981)
1. Beat It With Your First (1:58) (from "The Torture Never Stops" / NYC / 10-30-80)
2. Return of the Son of Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar (8:30) (from "Inca Roads" / London / 2-19-79)
3. Pinocchio's Furniture (2:05) (from "Chunga's Revenge" / Brekeley / 2-5-80 [early show])
4. Why Johnny Can't Read (4:15) (from "Pound for a Brown" / London / 2-17-79)
5. Stucco Homes (9:08) (Xenochronic track: Drum track recorded Spring '79; overdubs at UMRK in Autumn '79.)
6. Canard du Jour (9:57) (1972 jam with FZ on bouzouki; Ponty on Baritone Violin.)
34. You Are What You Is (2LP, Barking Pumpkin PW2 37537, September 23, 1981)
With Zappa at the helm of his new recording studio, and a recent successful tour, with some brilliant, flashy new musicians -- he squashed together several on-going projects into this two-record set -- today, widely considered a classic and -- a MUST-HAVE!
An eclectic collection of songs (and one instrumental) -- some are "stand-alones," others are chained together to form the brilliant six-song suite which runs from "Society Pages" to "Conehead."
All the tracks run continuously with no in-between-track-space, except for two places.
"Teen-Age Wind" (3:02). Savagely satirizing the "neo-hippies" of the new decade, Zappa uses tight, close-miked vocals and cool sound effects (Nanook's "wind" from "Yellow Snow" is here used to introduce the drugged-out Grateful Dead kid).
"Harder Than Your Husband" (2:28) brings back original Mother Jimmy Carl Black to sing about ... well, you get it!
"Doreen" (4:44). I've always loved this song. Zappa hated "love songs." This is not a "love song." It's an "I-want-to-fuck-you" song. The narrator wants Doreen tonight! The insistent pulse of the music is no accident. Zappa's guitar creeps in, insisting with even more intensity. The music keeps repeating, rocking back and forth, until the final line.
All the instruments drop out as close vocals sing in harmony:
(To-nye-ay-ay-ight . . . )
A bubbling synth, and we segue to
"Goblin Girl" (4:06), a nice little Halloween number.
"Theme from the Third Movement of Sinister Footwear" (3:31). First appearance of any section of the ballet which is one of Zappa's most interesting "classical" works. This is a guitar solo from 10/27/78 at The Palladium in NYC, with additionally overdubbed guitar and pitched percussion.
"Society" to "Conehead" (17:25) -- the suite: a devestating look at cultural fuck-ups. Some of Zappa's most brilliant music, exquisitely performed. If you've never seen the Saturday Night Live sketch from whence "Conehead" originates, here it is.
"You Are What You Is." (4:23). A hip single for the new decade. They even requested a slick video for the brand-new MTV format. Zappa complied. MTV promptly banned it from the airwaves. Natch. Click and experience it!
And it doesn't have that stale aftertaste.
"Mudd Club" (3:11). My link here has to be to ARF -- a website created by a Zappa fan from Siberia! Check out the discussion of what this stuff might possibly mean. Who knows, there might be some cosmic thing in there that will change your life forever.
"The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" (3:10). Ultimately -- says Frank:
Do what you wanna
Do what you will
Just don't mess up
Your neighbor's thrill
"Dumb All Over" (4:03). As usual, Zappa managed to stoke yet another LP vs. CD problem, only recently solved with the new re-issue (he remixed the vinyl's magnificent vocal track and cut the guitar solo short).
A trilogy of somewhat hateful songs begins with "Heavenly Bank Account" (3:44) (hate deserved); "Suicide Chump" (2:49) -- a nice blues with disturbing lyrics; and "Jumbo Go Away" (3:43) (almost universally considered to be Zappa's only certifiable misogynistic song about a band member who loses patience with a groupie and punches her out. Not cool.)
The last two tracks make a satisfying ending for one of FZ's best efforts in many years.
35. Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (LP, Barking Pumpkin FW 38066, May 3, 1982)
In addition to the cute title, cuter album cover, and the surprise hit, "Valley Girl," this release has some pretty good music on it.
"Drowning Witch" (12:03) combines at least four different edits -- probably more. Complex music. Funny music. Heartfelt ecological messages:
Not even a witch oughta be caught
On the bottom of America's spew-infested
Waterways, hey-hey . . .
She could get radiation all over her
She could mutate insanely . . .
She could mutate insanely . . . (that's right)
You know, she could go on the freeway and grow up to be 15 feet tall
And then . . .
Cars could crash all over the place
As a result of people with Hawaiian shirts on . . .
Lookin' up to see her face
36. The Man From Utopia (LP, Barking Pumpkin FW 38403, March 28, 1983)
Another drastic LP to CD re-mix. He also re-arranged the track order.
Perhaps, the two most interesting tracks are the "FZ-sprechgesang," accompanied by Vai's transcribed guitar part: "The Dangerous Kitchen" and "The Jazz Discharge Party Hats." Both are among Zappa's most humorous tracks. You will laugh.
"Stick Together" -- another anti-union ditty.
"Luigi & the Wise Guys" is a "bonus track" -- it was not on the original LP.
"Mōggio" is a beautiful, complex-meter live performance from Chicago (11-27-81). Listen to new bassist, Scott Thunes.
37. Baby Snakes (LP, Barking Pumpkin BPR 1115, March 28, 1983)
Soundtrack to the film, originally released as a beautiful "picture disc."
The 11:29 version of "Punky's Whips" -- taken from the performance in the film -- differs from the Zappa in New York (#23) version, with Zappa doing the Don Pardo narration, among other differences.
38. London Symphony Orchestra Vol. I (LP, Barking Pumpkin FW 38820, June 9, 1983)
Zappa's dream had come true, it would seem. Here we have the magnificent London Symphony Orchestra playing his most complex and interesting scores -- what could be bad?
Unfortunately, despite a fine, committed conductor (Kent Nagano) and what would seem like adequate rehearsal time -- disaster abounded for Zappa, when he found his most complicated music being cut from the scores, at times.
For example, in "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation" -- a sprawling, three-movement, 30-minute work -- much of the percussion writing had to be foregone because of difficulty in coordination.
Worse still, in "Strictly Genteel," the trumpet section came back for the final takes after a visit to the local pub -- playing out-of-tune and sadly sabotaging one of Zappa's most delightful orchestral romps.
FZ attempt to "fix" all the mistakes with all the production tricks he could think of -- ultimately, "washing" all of the material with a reverb that hardly masked all the errors which bugged him so much.
Nevertheless, the 1995 CD release stripped away the reverb and allowed for a completely new listening experience! Passages buried under the reverb were suddenly clear as a bell.
This was certainly an important breakthrough for FZ -- finally, his most complex orchestral music was given at least an above-average reading!
39. Boulez conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger (LP, Angel DS-38170, August 23, 1984)
And more classical music!
The Boulez portions were recorded in Paris on January 10-11, 1984; the other tracks are from Zappa's new toy -- the Synclavier -- recorded at the UMRK in the Spring of '84.
Top-notch performances by Boulez -- and Zappa's interest in the Synclavier was not going to go away -- so fans had a lot to "chew on."
40. Them Or Us (2LP, Barking Pumpkin SVBO-74200, October 18, 1984)
In a 90-day period (August to November, 1984), Zappa released four albums on seven discs!* This double-album is another diverse collection of studio cuts and hybrids and other little oddities, including a piece with lyrics by the young Ahmet Zappa (10-years-old), "Frogs With Dirty Little Lips."
15-year-old Dweezil plays a nice guitar solo on "Sharleena," leaving Diva as the only Zappa child never to make a musical appearance on a Frank Zappa release. (Moon was on #35.)
Three tracks which amount to over 25 minutes of music are "Sinister Footwear II," "Truck Driver Divorce," and "Marque-son's Chicken" -- all heavily tweaked and edited, providing the Barking Pumpking consumer with some of the most amazing music to survive the 80's.
* Boulez; TOU ; Thing-Fish  and Francesco = 7 ...