Zappa followed “Over-nite Sensation” relatively quickly with “Apostrophe(‘),” an album that probably got the most radio play of his entire catalog. It went gold and sold more copies than the previous “Over-nite Sensation,” perhaps largely because the humor in the compositions was subtler than with previous material, as exemplified by the suite that opens the album.
Yes, suite. Despite being listed separately without any overt indication that they are connected, the first four tracks of the album are, indeed, one continuous piece. As Francois Couture explains in his review of the first song of the suite, “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow,” in the All Music Guide, the four-song suite (the other compositions include “Nanook Rubs It,” “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast,” and “Father O’Blivion”) was always performed in its entirety whenever the group played live. Daniel Durchholz also identifies the four-song set as a suit in his review of the album in “Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide” published in 1996 and excerpted here.
I find interesting the hyperbole used to describe the album when it was released, particularly the Rolling Stone review by Gordon Fletcher published in the June 6, 1974, issue. “Songs like ‘Stink-Foot’ and ‘St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast’ again attest to Zappa’s abilities at contorting song forms to serve his distorted purposes: They’re a welcome reminder that comic lunacy is still alive and well.” The high praise the album received was, over time, gradually perceived with scorn by Zappaphiles, who again rejected the commercial success of the recording. Also, over time, the reviews of the album became more realistic in their assessment as the recording became compared with the rest of Zappa’s catalogue. The reviews that can be found in Prog Archives.com show the wide variety of praise it received, from wildly positive to more muted respect.
Something unique with this album is the title track, “Apostrophe’.” This instrumental jam is both powerful in its performance and significant in the fact that the personnel involved were non-Mothers. This ad-hoc group of players included former Cream bassist Jack Bruce along with drummer Jim Gordon. One individual that does show up on other recordings with Zappa was rhythm guitarist Tony Duran. The song has an intense fuzz bass solo by Bruce that sears its way into your brain, leaving you in bewilderment. Contrasted with Zappa’s amazingly clean guitar work, the song leaves an indelible impression on the listener: its style is unique from anything else Zappa composed. And as far as I can tell, the recording found on this album is the only example of it you can find. Unless someone can provide some evidence to the contrary, I don’t think Zappa ever performed the song live. These facts lend meaning to the song’s title.
But there’s more to the story too. According to the Wikipedia entry on the album, while the collaboration may have been serendipitous, the experience was not mutually satisfying for either Zappa or Bruce. In fact, Bruce appears to deny he played the bass part on the track, despite him receiving credit on the album liner notes.
When we examine the definition of apostrophe – which includes the use as an indication of the omission of letters – the song of the same title can take on some explanation. It is a song that when placed within the context of the rest of the album shows a clear omission of both personnel normally associated with Zappa as well as a diversion from the album’s overall feel.
The song “Apostrophe’” is one of my all-time Zappa favorites. Another favorite on this album include “Uncle Remus,” a really beautiful bluesy ballad with George Duke’s extraordinary piano work. While “Cosmik Debris” is not considered officially part of the “Yellow Snow” suite, it does act as a thematic close to pieces composing the suite. It became a concert favorite on subsequent tours. “Stink-Foot,” however, despite its radio play and popularity, is to me the weakest composition on the album. Weakness, though, is relative.
I rate this recording with five out of five stars. Add your own rating below.
Album release date: April 22, 1974, DiscReet Records.
“Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow" – 2:07
“Nanook Rubs It” – 4:38
“St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” – 1:50
“Father O’Blivion” – 2:18
“Cosmik Debris” – 4:14
“Excentrifugal Forz” – 1:33
“Apostrophe'” – 5:50
“Uncle Remus” – 2:44
“Stink-Foot” – 6:33
Frank Zappa – vocals, guitar, bass, bouzouki
Lynn – vocals, backing vocals
Kerry McNabb – backing vocals, engineer, remixing
Ian Underwood – saxophone
Ruth Underwood – percussion
Sal Marquez – trumpet
Sue Glover – backing vocals
Jim Gordon – drums
Aynsley Dunbar – drums
Tom Fowler – bass guitar
Napoleon Murphy Brock – saxophone, backing vocals
Robert “Frog” Camarena – vocals, backing vocals
Ruben Ladron de Guevara – vocals, backing vocals
Debbie – vocals, backing vocals
Tony Duran – rhythm guitar
Erroneous – bass guitar
Johnny Guerin – drums
Don “Sugarcane” Harris – violin
Ralph Humphrey – drums
Bob Ludwig – Technician
Jack Bruce – bass on “Apostrophe’” (see controversy presented above)
George Duke – keyboards, backing vocals
Bruce Fowler – trombone
Jean-Luc Ponty – violin
Cal Schenkel – artwork, graphic design
Barry Keene – engineer
Ferenc Dobronyl – cover design
Paul Hof – technician
Oscar Kergaives – technician
Brian Krokus – technician
Mark Aalyson – photography
Bob Stone – transfers, digital remastering
Steve Desper – engineer
Terry Dunavan – engineer
Zach Glickman – marketing
Bob Hughes – engineer