Wednesday, December 21, 8940
Frank Zappa (1940-1993) - Invention
Frank [Vincent] Zappa (December 21, 1940 - December 4, 1993) was an American composer, musician, and film director. In a career spanning more than thirty years, Zappa established himself as a prolific and distinctive composer, electric guitar player and band leader. He worked in various musical genres and wrote music for rock bands, jazz ensembles, synthesizers, symphony orchestra, and created musique concrète works. In addition to his music he created short and feature-length films, music videos, and album covers.
Zappa maintained a productive career that encompassed composing, recording, touring, producing, and merchandizing his own and others' music although major commercial successes, especially within his native United States, were few. He produced almost every one of the more than 60 albums he released with the Mothers of Invention, or as a solo artist, himself. He received multiple Grammy nominations and won the Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1988 for the album Jazz from Hell.
In 2005, his 1968 album with the Mothers of Invention, We're Only in It for the Money, was inducted into the United States National Recording Preservation Board's National Recording Registry.
Politically, Zappa was a self-proclaimed "practical conservative."
He was a strident critic of mainstream education and organized religion.
He was a forthright and passionate advocate for freedom of speech and the abolition of censorship, and his work embodied his skeptical view of established political processes and structures.
Although it was widely assumed that he used drugs like so many popular musicians of the time, Zappa strongly opposed recreational drug use.
Zappa was married to Kathryn J. "Kay" Sherman (1960–1964), and then in 1967 to Adelaide Gail Sloatman, with whom he remained until his death in December 1993 of prostate cancer.
He had four children with Sloatman: Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan, and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen. Gail Zappa handles the businesses of her late husband under the company name the Zappa Family Trust.
Events that initiated Zappa's deep engagement with contemporary classical music occurred when he was around 13.
He read a LOOK magazine story on the Sam Goody record store chain that lauded its ability to sell such albums as The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Volume One.
The story further described Varèse's percussion composition Ionisation produced by EMS Recordings as "a weird jumble of drums and other unpleasant sounds." Zappa then became convinced that he should seek out Varèse's music. When he finally found a copy after a year of searching (he noticed the LP for the "mad scientist" looking photo of Varèse on the cover), Zappa convinced the salesman to sell him the store's demonstration copy at a discount.
Thus began a lifelong passion for Varèse's music and that of other modern classical composers.
Zappa therefore grew up influenced in equal measures by avant-garde composers such as Varèse, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern, R&B and doo-wop groups (particularly local pachuco groups), as well as modern jazz. His own heterogeneous ethnic background and the diverse cultural and social mix that existed in and around greater Los Angeles were crucial in situating Zappa as a practitioner of underground music, and his later distrustful and openly critical attitude towards "mainstream" social, political and musical movements; he frequently lampooned musical fads like psychedelia, rock opera and disco.
By 1955, the Zappa family moved to Lancaster, a small aerospace and farming town in the Antelope Valley of the Mojave Desert, close to Edwards Air Force Base, Los Angeles, and the San Gabriel Mountains. Zappa's mother gave him considerable encouragement in his musical interests. Although she disliked Varèse's music, she was indulgent enough to award Zappa a long distance call to the composer as a 15th birthday present.
Unfortunately, Varèse was in Europe at the time, so Zappa spoke to the composer's wife. Zappa later received a letter from Varèse thanking Zappa for his interest, telling him about a composition he was working on called "Déserts." Living in the desert town of Lancaster, Zappa found this very exciting. Varèse invited Zappa to see him if he ever came to New York. The meeting never took place (Varèse died in 1965), but Zappa kept the framed letter displayed for the rest of his life.
"Since I didn't have any kind of formal training, it didn't make any difference to me if I was listening to Lightnin' Slim, or a vocal group called the Jewels . . ., or Webern, or Varèse, or Stravinsky. To me it was all good music."
Frank Zappa, 1989
Zappa attempted to earn a living as a musician and composer, and played a variety of night-club gigs, some with a new version of The Blackouts.
Financially more important were Zappa's earliest professional recordings, two soundtracks for the low-budget films The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) and Run Home Slow (1965). The former score was commissioned by actor-producer Timothy Carey and recorded in 1961. It contains many themes that appeared on later Zappa records.
The latter soundtrack was recorded in 1963; it was commissioned by one of Zappa’s former high school teachers as early as 1959. Zappa may have worked on it years before its recording.
Excerpts from the soundtrack can be heard on the posthumous album The Lost Episodes (1996). During the early 1960s Zappa wrote and produced songs for other local artists. Among those he worked with were singer-songwriter Ray Collins (their elegiac "Memories of El Monte" was recorded by Doo-Wop group The Penguins), and producer Paul Buff. Buff owned the small Pal Recording Studio in Cucamonga, which included a unique 5-track tape recorder he built. At this time, only a handful of the most expensive commercial studios had multi-track facilities, and the industry standard for smaller studios was still mono or two-track.
Although none of the recordings from the period achieved major commercial success, Zappa earned enough money to allow him to stage a concert of his orchestral music in 1963 and to broadcast and record it.
He appeared on the Steve Allen Show the same year where he played a bicycle as a musical instrument.
With his income from composing, Zappa bought the financially strained Pal Studio from Paul Buff and renamed it "Studio Z." After his marriage started to break up, he moved into the studio in late 1963 and began routinely working 12 hours or more per day recording and experimenting with overdubbing. This set a pattern that endured for most of his life.
As Studio Z was rarely booked for recordings by other musicians, Zappa accepted an offer of $100 to produce a suggestive audio tape for a customer's stag party in March 1965. Zappa and a female friend jokingly faked an "erotic" recording. The customer, however, was an undercover member of the Vice Squad and Zappa was jailed for ten days on charges of "conspiracy to commit pornography."
His entrapment and brief imprisonment left a permanent mark, and was a key event in the formation of his anti-authoritarian stance.
Zappa lost several recordings made at Studio Z in the process, and eventually he could no longer afford having the studio.
In 1965, Zappa was approached by Ray Collins who asked Zappa to join a local R&B band, The Soul Giants, as a guitarist.
Zappa accepted, and soon he assumed leadership and convinced the other band members that they should play his music so as to increase the chances of getting a record contract.
The band was renamed "The Mothers" on Mothers Day. The group increased their bookings after beginning an association with manager Herb Cohen and they gradually began to gain attention on the burgeoning Los Angeles underground scene.
n early 1966, they were spotted by leading record producer Tom Wilson, when playing “Trouble Every Day,” a song about the Watts Riots.
Wilson had earned acclaim as the producer for Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, and was notable as one of the few blacks working as a major label pop producer at this time. Wilson signed The Mothers to the Verve division of MGM, which had built up a strong reputation for its modern jazz recordings in the 1940's and 1950's, but was attempting to diversify into pop and rock, with an "artistic" or "experimental" bent. Verve Records insisted that the band officially re-title themselves "The Mothers of Invention" because "Mother" was short for "motherfucker"--a term that apart from its profane meanings can denote a skilled musician.
With Wilson credited as producer, The Mothers of Invention and a studio orchestra recorded the groundbreaking double album Freak Out! (1966). It mixed R&B, doo-wop, and experimental sound collages that captured the "freak" subculture of Los Angeles at that time."
The album immediately established Zappa as a radical new voice in rock music, providing an antidote to the “relentless consumer culture of America.
The sound was raw, but the arrangements were sophisticated. The lyrics praised non-conformity, disparaged authorities, and had dadaist elements. Yet, there was a place for seemingly conventional love songs.
Most compositions are Zappa’s and this set a precedent for the rest of the recordings of his career. He had full control over the arrangements and musical decisions (and did most overdubs himself).
Wilson provided the industry clout and connections to get the unknown group the financial resources needed.
During the recording of Freak Out!, Zappa moved into a house in Laurel Canyon with friend Pamela Zarubica, who appeared on the album.
The house became a meeting (and living) place for many LA musicians and groupies of the time, despite Zappa’s disapproval of people on drugs.
He labeled them “assholes in action,” and he only tried marijuana a few times without any pleasure.
After a short promotional tour following the release of Freak Out!, Zappa met Adelaide Gail Sloatman (b. January 1, 1945). Zappa fell in love within “a couple of minutes,” and she moved into the house over the summer.
They married in 1967.
Wilson produced the follow-up album Absolutely Free (1967), which was recorded in November 1966, and later mixed in New York. It featured an extended version of the Mothers of Invention and focused more on songs that defined Zappa’s compositional style of introducing abrupt rhythmical changes into songs that from the first place were built from different elements.
Examples are Plastic People and
Brown Shoes Don’t Make It, which contained lyrics critical of the hypocrisy and conformity of American society, but also of the people fighting it in the Sixties. As Zappa put it: “we’re satirists, and we are out to satirize everything.”
At the same time, Zappa had recorded material for a self-produced album based on orchestral works to be released under his own name. Due to contractual problems, the recordings were shelved and only made ready for release late in 1967. Zappa took the opportunity to radically restructure the contents, adding newly recorded, improvised dialogue, in order to finalize his first solo album (under the name Francis Vincent Zappa), Lumpy Gravy (1968).
It is an “incredible ambitious musical project,” a "monument to John Cage," which intertwines orchestral themes (many that appeared again in other forms on later albums), spoken words and electronic noises through radical audio editing techniques.
The Mothers of Invention played in New York in late 1966, and being successful, they were offered a contract at the Garrick Theatre during Easter 1967. This proved successful and Herb Cohen managed to extend the booking, which eventually came to last half a year.
As a result, Zappa and his wife, along with the Mothers of Invention, moved to New York.
Their shows became a combination of improvised acts showcasing the individual talents of the band as well as tight performances of Zappa’s music. Everything was directed by Zappa’s famous hand signals.
Guest performers appeared and audience participation became a regular part of the Garrick shows. One evening, Zappa managed to entice some US Marines from the audience onto the stage, where they proceeded to dismember a big baby doll, having been told by Zappa to pretend that it was a "gook baby."
Situated in New York, and only interrupted by the band’s first European tour, the Mothers of Invention recorded the album widely regarded as the peak of the group's late 60's work, We're Only in It for the Money (1968).
It was produced by Zappa, with Wilson credited as executive producer. From then on, Zappa produced all albums released by the Mothers of Invention or as a solo artist. We're Only in It for the Money featured some of the most creative audio editing and production yet heard in pop music, and the songs ruthlessly satirized the hippie and flower power phenomena.
The cover photo parodied that of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
In conformity with Zappa’s eclectic approach to music, the following album was very different as it represented a collection of doo-wop songs, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets (1968).
Listeners and critics were not sure whether the album was a satire or a tribute.
Zappa has noted himself that the album was conceived like Stravinsky’s compositions in his neo-classical period: “If he could take the forms and clichés of the classical era and pervert them, why not do the same . . . to doo-wop in the fifties?”
Indeed, a theme from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is heard during one song.
While in New York, Zappa increasingly used tape editing as a compositional tool.
A prime example is found on the double album Uncle Meat (1969), where the track
King Kong is edited from various studio and live performances. Zappa had begun regularly recording concerts, and because of his insistence on precise tuning and timing in concert, Zappa was able to augment his studio productions with excerpts from live shows, and vice versa.
Later, he combined recordings of different compositions into new pieces, irrespective of the tempo or meter of the sources. He dubbed this process xenochrony (alien time).
Zappa evolved a compositional approach, which he called "conceptual continuity." The idea was that any project or album was part of a larger project. Everything was connected, and musical themes and lyrics reappeared in different form on later albums. Conceptual continuity clues are found throughout Zappa's entire œuvre.
During the late 60's, Zappa continued to develop the business sides of his career. He and Herb Cohen formed the Bizarre Records and Straight Records labels distributed by Warner Bros. Records, as ventures to aid the funding of projects and increase creative control. Zappa produced the double album Trout Mask Replica for Captain Beefheart, and releases by Alice Cooper, Wild Man Fischer, The GTOs as well as Lenny Bruce's last live performance.
Zappa and the Mothers of Invention returned to Los Angeles in the summer of 1968, and the Zappas moved into a house on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, only to move to a house on Woodrow Wilson Drive in the autumn.
This became the place Zappa lived until his death. Although the Mothers of Invention had fantastic success in Europe and England, had fanatic fans everywhere, they were not doing that well.
In 1969 there were nine members, and Zappa was supporting the group himself from his publishing royalties whether they played or not. In late 1969, Zappa therefore broke up the band due to financial strain. Although this caused some bitterness among band members, several returned to Zappa in years to come. Remaining recordings with the band from this period were collected on Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Burnt Weeny Sandwich (both 1970).
After he disbanded the Mothers of Invention, Zappa released the acclaimed solo album Hot Rats (1969).
It features, for the first time on record, Zappa playing extended guitar solos and contains one of Zappa’s most enduring compositions, Peaches En Regalia, which reappeared several times on future recordings.
It was backed by jazz, blues and R&B session players including violinist Don "Sugarcane" Harris, drummer John Guerin, multi-instrumentalist and previous member of Mothers of Invention Ian Underwood, and bassist Shuggie Otis, along with a guest appearance by Captain Beefheart (providing vocals to the only non-instrumental track, Willie the Pimp). It became a very popular album in England, and had a major influence on the development of the jazz-rock fusion genre.
Zappa kept composing music for symphony orchestra while playing and recording with the Mothers of Invention. He made contact with conductor Zubin Mehta and a concert was arranged in May 1970 where Mehta conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic amended with a rock band.
According to Zappa, the music for 200 Motels was the result of three years' work and was mainly written in motels while on tour.
While the concert was a success, Zappa's experience of working with a symphony orchestra was not a happy one.
This became a recurring issue in his career, where he often felt that the money he had to spend on getting his classical music performed rarely matched the resulting output.
Later in 1970, Zappa put together a new version of The Mothers (from then on, he mostly dropped the "of Invention"). It included British drummer Aynsley Dunbar, jazz keyboardist George Duke, Ian Underwood, Jeff Simmons (bass, rhythm guitar), and three members of The Turtles: bass player Jim Pons, and singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, who, due to persisting legal/contractual problems, adopted the stage monikers "The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie," or "Flo & Eddie" for short.
This lineup debuted on Zappa's next solo album Chunga's Revenge (1970), which was followed by the double-album soundtrack to the movie 200 Motels (1971), featuring The Mothers, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and, among others, Ringo Starr, Theodore Bikel, and Keith Moon. Co-directed by Zappa and Tony Palmer, the film was shot in a week on a large sound stage outside London.
The film dealt loosely with life on the road as a rock musician.
It was shot on video and transferred to 35mm film, and was released to mixed reviews.
The music relied extensively on orchestral music and Zappa's ongoing dissatisfaction with the classical music world gained strength as a concert at the Royal Albert Hall before the beginning of filming was canceled. The reason for the cancellation was that a representative of the Royal Albert Hall found some of the lyrics obscene. Zappa lost money due to the cancellation as well as important rehearsals of his complex compositions. In 1975, he lost a lawsuit against the Royal Albert Hall for breach of contract.
After 200 Motels, the band went on tour, which resulted in two live albums, Fillmore East - June 1971 and Just Another Band From L.A., which included the 20-minute track Billy the Mountain, Zappa's satire on rock opera set in Southern California. This track was representative of the band's theatrical performances (the band was dubbed the "Vaudeville Band") where songs were used to build up sketches based on 200 Motels scenes as well as new situations often portraying the band members' sexual encounters on the road.
In December 1971, there were two serious setbacks. While performing at Casino de Montreux in Switzerland, the Mothers' equipment was destroyed when a flare set off by an audience member started a fire that burned down the casino.
After a week's break, The Mothers went to play at the Rainbow Theatre, London with rented gear. During an encore, an audience member pushed Zappa off the stage and into the concrete-floored orchestra pit.
The band thought Zappa had been killed, but he had suffered serious fractures, head trauma and injuries to his back, leg, and neck, as well as a crushed larynx (which caused his voice to drop a third after healing).
This left him wheelchair bound, forcing him off the road for over half a year. Upon his return to the stage in September 1972, he was still wearing a leg brace, had a noticeable limp and could not stand for very long while on stage. Zappa noted that one leg healed "shorter than the other" (a reference later found in the lyrics of songs Zomby Woof and Dancin' Fool), which was cause of chronic back pains.
Meanwhile, the Mothers were left in limbo and eventually formed the core of Flo and Eddie's band as they set out on their own.
During 1971–72 Zappa released two strongly jazz-oriented solo LPs, Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo, which were recorded during the forced layoff from concert touring, using floating line-ups of session players and Mothers alumni.
Musically, the albums were close to that of Hot Rats.
Zappa began touring again in late 1972, his first effort being a series of concerts in September with a 20-piece big band referred to as the Grand Wazoo. After the Grand Wazoo dissolved, Zappa formed a scaled-down unit (the "Petit Wazoo" name was only coined after-the-fact) that toured the U.S. for five weeks. Official recordings of these bands did not emerge until more than 30 years later on Wazoo (2007) and Imaginary Diseases (2006), respectively.
He then formed and toured with smaller groups that variously included Ian Underwood (reeds, keyboards), Ruth Underwood (vibes, marimba), Sal Marquez (trumpet, vocals), Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax, flute and vocals), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Tom Fowler (bass), Chester Thompson (drums), Ralph Humphrey (drums), George Duke (keyboards, vocals), and Jean-Luc Ponty (violin).
By 1973 the Bizarre and Straight labels were discontinued. In their place, Zappa and Cohen created DiscReet Records, also distributed by Warner Bros.
Zappa continued a high rate of production through the first half of the 1970's, including the solo album Apostrophe (') (1974), which reached a career-highest #10 on the Billboard pop album charts helped by the chart single Don't Eat The Yellow Snow.
Among other albums from the period is Over-Nite Sensation (1973), which contained several future concert favorites, such as Dinah-Moe Humm and Montana. The albums Roxy & Elsewhere (1974) and One Size Fits All (1975) feature ever-changing versions of a band still called the Mothers, and were notable for the tight renditions of the highly difficult jazz fusion songs, demonstrated by such pieces as Inca Roads, Echidna's Arf (Of You), or Be-Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzmen's Church).
A live recording from 1974, You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2 (1988), captures "the full spirit and excellence of the 1973–75 band."
Zappa released Bongo Fury (1975), which featured live recordings from a tour the same year that reunited him with Captain Beefheart for a brief period.
Zappa's relationship with long-time manager Herb Cohen ended in 1976. The breakup was an acrimonious affair, where Zappa sued Cohen for skimming more than he was allocated from DiscReet Records, as well as signing acts that Zappa did not approve of.
Cohen filed a lawsuit against Zappa in return, which froze the money Zappa and Cohen had gained from an out-of-court settlement with the MGM over the rights of the early Mothers of Invention recordings, as well as prevented Zappa access to any of his previously recorded material during the trials. Zappa therefore took his personal master copies of the rock-oriented Zoot Allures (1976) directly to Warner Bros., thereby bypassing DiscReet.
In the mid-1970s Zappa had prepared material for Läther (pronounced "leather"), a four-LP project. Läther encapsulated all the aspects of Zappa's musical styles —rock tunes, orchestral works, complex instrumentals, and Zappa's own trademark tube distortion-drenched guitar solos. Wary of a quadruple-LP, Warner Bros. Records refused to release it.
Zappa managed to get an agreement with Mercury-Phonogram, and test pressings were made targeted at a Halloween 1977 release. Warner Bros. prevented the release, however, as they claimed right over the material.
Zappa responded by appearing on the Pasadena, California radio station KROQ, allowing them to broadcast Läther and encouraging listeners to make their own tape recordings.
A lawsuit between Zappa and Warner Bros. followed, during which no Zappa material was released for more than a year. Eventually, Warner Bros. issued major parts of Läther against Zappa's will, as four individual albums with limited promotion.
Läther was released posthumously in 1996.
Although Zappa eventually gained the rights of all his material created under the MGM and Warner Bros. contracts, the various lawsuits meant that for a period Zappa's only income came from touring, which he therefore did extensively in 1975–77 with relatively small, mainly rock-oriented, bands.
Drummer Terry Bozzio became a regular band member, Napoleon Murphy Brock stayed on for a while, and original Mothers of Invention bassist Roy Estrada joined. Among other musicians were bassist Patrick O'Hearn, singer-guitarist Ray White and keyboardist Eddie Jobson. In December 1976, Zappa appeared as a featured musical guest on the NBC television show Saturday Night Live.
His performances included an impromptu musical collaboration with cast member John Belushi during the instrumental piece The Purple Lagoon. Belushi appeared as his Samurai Futaba character playing the tenor sax with Zappa conducting.
Also, I'm The Slime, featuring a voice-over by SNL booth announcer Don Pardo, was performed. Zappa's current touring band extended with Ruth Underwood and a horn section (featuring Michael and Randy Brecker), performed then a number of Christmas shows in New York, recordings of which appear on one of the albums released by Warner Bros., Zappa in New York (1978).
It mixes intense instrumentals such as The Black Page, # 1 & 2 as well as humorous songs as Titties and Beer and The Illinois Enema Bandit (with Don Pardo providing the opening narrative).
The latter song about sex criminal Michael H. Kenyon contained, as did many lyrics on the album, numerous sexual references. While Zappa had always been sexually explicit, his continued insistence on being so fared negatively with some critics.
Zappa himself dismissed the criticism by noting that he was like a journalist reporting on life as he saw it in his songs.
Also, predating his later fight against censorship in music, he noted that "What do you make of a society that is so primitive that it clings to the belief that certain words in its language are so powerful that they could corrupt you the moment you hear them?"
The remaining albums released by Warner Bros. without Zappa's consent were Studio Tan (1978) and Sleep Dirt (1979), containing many complex suites of instrumentally based tunes (recorded between 1973 and 76), which became overlooked in the midst of all the legal hassles, and Orchestral Favorites (1979), featuring recordings of a concert with orchestral music Zappa had put together at UCLA back in September 1975.
Getting successfully out of the lawsuits, Zappa ended the 1970s period "stronger than ever," by releasing two of his most successful albums in 1979. His best selling album ever, Sheik Yerbouti, and the "bona fide masterpiece," Joe's Garage.
The double album Sheik Yerbouti (1979) was the first release on Zappa Records, and contained songs such as Grammy-nominated single
Dancin' Fool (that reached #45 on the Billboard charts), and Jewish Princess, which received controversial attention as a Jewish lobby group, the Anti-Defamation League, tried to prevent the song from getting airplay due to its alleged anti-Semitic lyrics.
Zappa vehemently denied any anti-Semitic sentiments and discarded the ADL as a "noisemaking organization that tries to apply pressure on people in order to manufacture a stereotype image of Jews that suits their idea of a good time."
The album's commercial success was attributable partly due to the song Bobby Brown. Due to its explicit lyrics about a young man's encounter with a "dyke by the name of Freddie," the song did not get airplay in the US, but it topped the charts in several European countries where English is not the primary language.
The triple LP Joe's Garage features lead singer Ike Willis as voice of "Joe" in a rock opera about danger of systems, the suppression of freedom of speech and music -- inspired in part by the Islamic revolution that had made music illegal at time -- and about the "strange relationship Americans have with sex and sexual frankness."
The album contains rock songs like Catholic Girls (a riposte to the controversies of Jewish Princess), Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up, and the title track, as well as extended live-recorded guitar improvisations combined with a studio backing band dominated by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (with whom Zappa had a particularly good musical rapport) adopting the aforementioned xenochrony process. Finally, the album contains what became one of Zappa's most famous guitar "signature pieces," Watermelon in Easter Hay.
On December 21, 1979, Zappa's movie Baby Snakes premiered in New York. The movie's tagline was "A movie about people who do stuff that is not normal."
The 2 hour and 40 minutes movie was based on footage from a number of concerts in front of a New York audience around Halloween 1977. It also contained several extraordinary sequences of clay animation by Bruce Bickford who had earlier provided animation sequences for Zappa to a 1974 TV special (which later become available on the video The Dub Room Special (1982)).
The movie did not do well in theatrical distribution, but won in 1981 the Premier Grand Prix at the First International Music Festival in Paris. It became available on DVD in 2003.
After spending most of 1980 on the road, Zappa released Tinsel Town Rebellion in 1981. It was the first release on Barking Pumpkin Records, and it contains songs taken from a 1979 tour, one studio track and material from the 1980 tours. The album is a mixture of complicated instrumentals and Zappa's use of sprechstimme (speaking song or voice) -- that compositional technique utilized by such composers as Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg -- showcasing some of the most accomplished bands Zappa ever had (mostly featuring drummer Vinnie Colaiuta).
While some lyrics still raised controversy among critics, in the sense that some found them sexist, the political and sociological satire in songs like the title track and The Blue Light have been described as “hilarious critique of the willingness of the American people to believe anything.”
The album is also notable for the presence of guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, who joined Zappa's touring band in the Fall of 1980.
The same year the double album You Are What You Is was released. Most of the album was recorded in Zappa's brand new Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (UMRK) studios, which were located at his house. The album included one complex instrumental, "Theme from the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear,",but focused mainly on songs with Zappa's sardonic social commentary -- satirical lyrics targeted at teenagers, the media, and religious and political hypocrisy.
Dumb All Over is a tirade on religion, as is Heavenly Bank Account, wherein Zappa rails against TV evangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for their purported influence on the US administration as well as their use of religion as a means of raising money.
Songs like Society Pages and I’m a Beautiful Guy showed Zappa’s dismay with the Reaganite era and its "obscene pursuit of wealth and happiness."
1981 also saw the release of three instrumental albums Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar, Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar Some More, and The Return of the Son of Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar, which were initially sold via mail order by Zappa himself, but were later released commercially through CBS label due to popular demand.
The albums focus exclusively on Frank Zappa as a guitar soloist, and the tracks are predominantly live recordings from 1979-80; they highlight Zappa's improvisational skills with "beautiful recordings from the backing group as well."
The albums were subsequently released as a 3-album box set, and were in 1988 followed by the album Guitar focusing on recordings from 1981-82 and 1984. A third guitar-only album, Trance-Fusion, completed by Zappa shortly before his death, featuring solos recorded between 1979 and 1988 (with an emphasis on 1988) was released in 2006.
In May 1982, Zappa released Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, which featured his biggest selling single ever, the Grammy nominated
Valley Girl (topping out at #32 on the Billboard charts). In her improvised "lyrics" to the song, Zappa's daughter Moon Unit satirized the vapid speech of teenage girls from the San Fernando Valley, which popularized many "Valspeak" expressions such as "gag me with a spoon" and "barf out."
Most Americans who only knew Zappa from his few singles successes, now thought of him as a person writing “novelty songs,” even though the rest of the album contained highly challenging music.
Zappa was somewhat irritated by this, and never played the song live.
1983 saw the release of two different projects, beginning with The Man From Utopia, a rock-oriented work. The album itself is eclectic, featuring the vocal-led Dangerous Kitchen and The Jazz Discharge Party Hats, both continuations of the sprechstimme excursions on Tinseltown Rebellion. The second album, London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. 1 contained orchestral Zappa compositions conducted by Kent Nagano and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. A second record of these sessions, London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. 2 was released in 1987. The material was recorded under a tight schedule, and with Zappa himself providing all funding.
It came after Zappa had experienced a few unsuccessful and financially costly attempts to have his orchestral works performed.
Zappa was not satisfied with the LSO recordings. The most notable example is Strictly Genteel, which was recorded after the trumpet section had been out for drinks on a break.
The track took 40 edits to hide out-of-tune notes.
Some reviews noted that the recordings were the best representation of Zappa’s orchestral work so far.
For the remainder of his career, much of Zappa's work was affected by use of the synclavier as a compositional and performance tool. With the complex music he wrote, the synclavier represented anything one could dream up.
The synclavier could be programmed to play almost anything conceivable to perfection: “With the Synclavier, any group of imaginary instruments can be invited to play the most difficult passages . . . with one-millisecond accurary – every time.”
Even though it essentially did away with the need for musicians, Zappa viewed the synclavier and real-life musicians as separate things.
In 1984, he released four albums. Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger, contains orchestral works commissioned and conducted by
Pierre Boulez (who was listed as an influence on Freak Out!) and performed by Ensemble InterContemporain, juxtaposed with premiere synclavier pieces. Again, Zappa was not satisfied with the performances of his orchestral works as he found it under rehearsed, but in the album liner notes he does respectfully thank Boulez for his demands for precision.
[The Perfect Stranger, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen]
The synclavier pieces stood in contrast to the orchestral works, as all sounds were electronically generated and not, as became possible shortly thereafter, sampled.
The album Thing-Fish was an ambitious three-record set in the style of a Broadway play dealing with a dystopian "what-if" scenario involving feminism, homosexuality, manufacturing and distribution of the AIDS virus, and a eugenics program conducted by the United States government.
New vocals were combined with previously released tracks and new synclavier music, and therefore "the work is an extraordinary example of bricolage" in Zappa's production.
Finally, 1984 saw Francesco Zappa a synclavier rendition of works by 17th-century composer, Francesco Zappa (no known relation), and Them or Us, a two-record set of heavily edited live and session pieces.
[Frank Zappa testifies before the US Senate in 1985 -- nice haircut!]
On September 19, 1985, Zappa testified before the US Senate Commerce, Technology, and Transportation committee, attacking the Parents Music Resource Center or PMRC, a music censorship organization, founded by then-Senator Al Gore's wife Tipper Gore. The PMRC consisted of many wives of politicians, including the wives of five members of the committee. In his prepared statement, Zappa said
"The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal's design. It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC's demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation. (...) The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of moral quality control programs based on things certain Christians do not like. What if the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow "J" on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?"
Zappa put some excerpts from the PMRC hearings to synclavier-music in his composition "Porn Wars" from the 1985 album Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention. Zappa is heard interacting with Senators Fritz Hollings, Slade Gorton, Al Gore (who admitted to being a Zappa fan), and, most notably, an exchange with Florida Senator Paula Hawkins over what toys the Zappa children played with. Zappa went on to argue with PMRC representatives on the CNN's Crossfire in 1986 and 1987.
The album Jazz From Hell, released in 1986, earned Zappa his first Grammy Award in 1988 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Except for one live guitar solo, the album exclusively featured compositions brought to life by the synclavier. Although an instrumental album, Meyer Music Markets sold Jazz from Hell featuring an "explicit lyrics" sticker (a warning label introduced by the Recording Industry Association of America in an agreement with the PMRC).
His last tour with a rock band took place in 1988 with a 12-piece group which had a repertoire of over 100 (mostly Zappa) compositions, but which split in acrimonious circumstances before the tour was completed.
The tour was documented on the albums Broadway The Hard Way (new material featuring songs with strong political emphasis), The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life (Zappa "standards" and an eclectic collection of cover tunes, ranging from Maurice Ravel's Boléro to Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven), and Make a Jazz Noise Here (mostly instrumental and avant-garde music). Parts are also found on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Volumes 4 and 6.
In the late 1980's Zappa's passion for American politics was becoming a bigger part of his life. Throughout the 1988 tour, he regularly encouraged his fans to register to vote, and had voter registration booths at his concerts.
He even considered running for President of the United States.
Around 1986, Zappa undertook a comprehensive re-release program of his earlier recordings.
e personally oversaw the remastering of all his 1960's, 1970's and early 1980's albums for the new compact disc medium.
Certain aspects of these re-issues were, however, criticised by some fans as being unfaithful to the original recordings.
In early 1990, Zappa visited Czechoslovakia at the request of President Václav Havel, a lifelong fan, and was asked by Havel to serve as consultant for the government on trade, cultural matters and tourism. Zappa enthusiastically agreed and began meeting with corporate officials interested in investing in Czechoslovakia. Within a few weeks, however, the US administration put pressure on the Czech government to withdraw the appointment. Havel made Zappa an unofficial cultural attaché instead.
Zappa's political work came to a halt when in 1991, he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.
After his diagnosis, Zappa devoted most of his energy to modern orchestral and synclavier works.
In 1992, he was approached by the German chamber ensemble, Ensemble Modern, which was interested in playing his music. Although ill, Zappa invited them to Los Angeles for rehearsals of new compositions as well as new arrangements of older material.
In addition to being satisfied with the ensemble’s performances of his music, Zappa also got along with the musicians, and concerts in Germany and Austria were set up for the fall.
In September 1992, the concerts went ahead as scheduled, but Zappa could only appear at two in Frankfurt due to illness. At the first concert, he conducted the opening "Overture," and the final “G-Spot Tornado” as well as the theatrical “Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America, 1992” and “Welcome to the United States” (the remainder of the program was conducted by the ensemble’s regular conductor Peter Rundel). Zappa received a 20-minute ovation.
It would become his last public appearance in a musical function, as the cancer was spreading to an extent where he was in too much pain to enjoy himself by what he would otherwise call an “exhilarating” event.
Recordings from the concerts appeared on The Yellow Shark (1993), Zappa’s last release when alive, and some material from studio rehearsals appeared on the posthumous Everything Is Healing Nicely (1999).
In 1993, before his death, he completed Civilization, Phaze III, a major synclavier work he had begun in the 1980's. Frank Zappa died on December 4, 1993, age 52, from prostate cancer. He was interred in an unmarked grave at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California.
Harvey Philip Spector (born December 25, 1940) is an American record producer and songwriter. The originator of the "Wall of Sound" production technique, Spector was a pioneer of the 1960's girl group sound and produced over 25 Top 40 hits between 1960 and 1965 alone.
After this initial success, Spector later worked with artists including Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon, George Harrison, and the Ramones with similar acclaim.
He produced the Beatles' Academy Award-winning album Let It Be, and the Grammy Award-winning Concert for Bangladesh by former Beatle George Harrison. In 1989, Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer. The 1965 song You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', produced and co-written by Spector for The Righteous Brothers, is listed by BMI as the song with the most U.S. airplay in the 20th century.
The 2003 shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, California home led to his being charged with murder in the second degree. After a 2007 mistrial, he was convicted in 2009 and given a prison sentence of 19 years to life.
The Crystals are an American vocal group based in New York, considered one of the defining acts of the girl group era of the first half of the 1960s. Their 1961–1964 chart hits, including Uptown, He's a Rebel, Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home), and Then He Kissed Me, featured three successive female lead singers, and were all produced by Phil Spector.
Da Doo Ron Ron is a 1963 hit single by The Crystals produced by Phil Spector in his Wall of Sound style. The song was written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Spector; on June 8, it reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100. It also reached number five in the UK.
According to Darlene Love (another of Spector's recording artists) the track was originally recorded by The Blossoms, with Love herself on lead vocal. Prior to release, Spector erased Love's lead and replaced it with a vocal by the Crystals' Dolores "LaLa" Brooks, although he kept the Blossoms' backing vocals in place.
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