Sunday, August 14, 2005

Call Any Vegetable

Frank Zappa and I go back a long way, that is, I've been listening to his music for many a year. Way back when I was about 14 and had never heard of Zappa or the Mothers (around 1969) my family went to a resort in Wisconsin. Parents had their activities, and we teens had ours. We were well supervised during these activities, but sometimes at night we had coffee house type musical entertainment from some of our supervisors, basicly a bunch of college students working for the summer (you know, like in the movie, Dirty Dancing). One of the guys sang Zappa's "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?" a few times. I thought he wrote it until I heard in on We're Only In It for the Money.

Later, one of my high school jobs was working in a cheesy hippie-type cheap clothing store. Every Saturday, all of the employees were scheduled and the manager would bring in his collection of Zappa 8-Tracks and we listened to them all day long. It was very special.

In college I attended a Zappa concert. He had just released Sheik Yerbouti. It was a good concert. The bass player, brought on board recently to replace the original bass player who had broken his hand got lost once or twice. I saw 200 Motels. It wasn't that great. The one stroke of genius in the movie was having Ringo Starr play Frank Zappa.

The first Mothers album I ever bought was, Just Another Band from L.A. back when it first came out. Then I bought more. Some of them wore out over the years. One of those was, Absolutely Free. I knew I'd find it again some day. That day was yesterday. It's a Japanese CD pressing put out by Rykodisc. It's a limited edition, whatever that means. It includes the libretto in English and Japanese and a bunch of liner notes . . . in Japanese. There are also two extra cuts.

The first important part though, is that it sounds great. I was leery about buying it at first becuase I'd heard that Zappa remastered some of these early albums and they didn't sound as good - which probably means different than we remember. Or maybe not. I played the original album on stereo systems that didn't produce all of the sounds that were in the album. I heard a lot more on the CD, horns, voices, percussion, it's more beautiful, hard-driving, complex, and sarcastic than I remember.

The second important part is that the music still holds up. But then, great music is timeless. Some of the lyrics are dated and immature, "Plastic people, oh baby, you're such a drag", "Be a jerk, go to work", but lyrics do hold up, "Call any vegatable, pick up your phone. Think of the poor vegetable lonely at home." The highlight of the disc for me is the musical interlude; The Duke Regains His Chops. It's where the Mothers show that they can PLAY with the best of the bands, and beyond most of the bands of their day.

And did I mention the packaging? It's not something I pay a lot of attention to, but the people at Rykodisc obviously did. It is lovely. It's just like the original album, only smaller, of course. But it's crisp, not muddy, as if they reshot it, rather than just shrinking the original photos.

I'm hoping the Japanese Rykodisc company people decided to do Freak Out and We're Only in it for the Money too. For me, those, along with Hot Rats are the highlights of Zappa's ouvre. Although, Burnt Weeny Sandwiches and Weasels Ripped My Flesh are pretty tasty too.

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