Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Over-nite Sensation

Despite what many Zappaphiles may say (and I know many will vehemently disagree with me), “Over-nite Sensation” is the best recording of his entire catalog. Period. And that says a lot because Zappa’s catalog is filled with great albums (check out was this blogger writes). But “Over-nite Sensation” succeeds in so many ways that the others do not.

For one thing, I believe this album has a secure spot among the greatest rock-n-roll albums ever recorded, at least of those I think ought to make that list. It is the epitome of his work in the same way “Who’s Next?” represents the epitome of a Who album, “Diesels and Dust” represents Midnight Oil, or “Nevermind” does for Nirvana. When you think of Carlos Santana, what album comes to mind? For me it’s “Abraxas.” These are albums that very few bands have, an album that pulls together everything about the artist that exists into one package that when you listen to it, no matter how many times, you still say “Wow!” at the end. There are artists that have plenty of great albums, but how many can say that there is one that fully captures the gut of who they are? Lou Reed had many superb albums, but for me, I can’t say that “Transformer” is definitively better than “Magic & Loss” or the Velvet Underground’s first album.

I do not fear the label “hyperbole” when I designate “Over-nite Sensation” to such a category. It truly stands far above anything else Zappa has produced. Consider its irony. The song “The Slime” takes a searing stab at television programming, yet he succeeded in playing the song on “Saturday Night Live.” I can remember watching the show when it aired in 1976, thrilled at the green slime oozing out of the monitors on stage while the song was performed.

Zappa in his autobiography endeavored to portray himself as an unexceptional guitar player, yet his solo on “Montana” is musically, structurally, technically and tonally the best recorded guitar solo I think I’ve ever heard. Better than Keith Richards during “Sympathy for the Devil” on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!,” better than the guitar battle during “Oh Jim” on “Lou Reed Live,” better, I dare say, than Eric Clapton’s live performance of “Crossroads” on “Wheels of Fire.” And then there’s “Fifty-Fifty,” a song that many discount as being superfluous to the album’s other pieces. Yet again, the irony in the lyrics is palpable. If Alanis Morrisette wants to know what irony is, she needs to pay attention to this album!

Can I get back to the issue of guitar solos? “Zomby Wolf” is another example of Zappa’s god-like guitar work. As of this writing, I am 50 years old. And when I play both “Zomby Woof” and “Montana,” I have to crank the volume to levels that drive my neighbors to call the police. There are just a handful of songs that I do this with: “Sympathy for the Devil” from the Stones’ “Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!,” “Oh Jim” from “Lou Reed Live,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” from Humble Pie’s “Rockin’ the Fillmore,” (notice how many of these are from live recordings?) “Black Magic Woman,” from Santana’s “Abraxas,” and, believe it or not, the Edge’s guitar solo on “Exit” from U2’s “The Joshua Tree.”

OK, let me settle down. There are a lot of recorded guitar solos that get me cranked. But make no mistake, the Zappa solos on “Over-nite Sensation” are truly in a class among themselves.

There is another reason I consider this album to be the best among Zappa’s releases: it was musically accessible in a way that none of Zappa’s prior releases had been. From many Zappaphiles, accessibility is the kiss of death. This type of musical chauvinism really strikes me as not only ridiculous, but contrary to Zappa’s own professed thoughts. He wanted albums to be commercially successful. The fact that he expressed disappointment at how poorly “Hot Rats” did upon its release is a clear indication of this. His issue was with how the music industry tended to foster musical mediocrity. In no way did Zappa compromise his musical integrity and genius by producing “Over-nite Sensation.” He just happened to hit upon the right moment for his music to be heard. And heard it was.

I rate this recording five out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

New content was added to this post on Jan. 4, 2009; the entry was edited with a video removed on May 31, 2009.

Album release date: Sept. 7, 1973, DiscReet Records.

Track listings:

"Camarillo Brillo" – 3:59
"I'm The Slime" – 3:34
"Dirty Love" – 2:58
"Fifty-Fifty" – 6:09
"Zomby Woof" – 5:10
"Dinah-Moe Humm" – 6:01
"Montana" – 6:35


Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals on all tracks except "Fifty-Fifty"
George Duke – synthesizer, keyboards
Bruce Fowler – trombone
Tom Fowler – bass
Ralph Humphrey – drums
Ricky Lancelotti – vocals on "Fifty-Fifty" and "Zomby Woof"
Sal Marquez – trumpet, vocals on "Dinah-Moe-Humm"
Jean-Luc Ponty – violin, baritone violin
Ian Underwood– clarinet, flute, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
Ruth Underwood – percussion, marimba, vibraphone
Kin Vassy – vocals on "I'm the Slime", "Dinah-Moe-Humm" and "Montana"
Tina Turner and the Ikettes - Backing vocals (uncredited)

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