Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cruising with Ruben and the Jets


It’s no secret that Frank Zappa was a fan of doo-wop. Almost every album has at the least one song dedicated to this genre. Early in his career, Zappa dedicated an entire album to this musical style, the LP that came to be known as “Cruising with Ruben and the Jets.”

I resisted for years buying this album. While I have enjoyed Frank’s occasional forays into this 1950’s musical take on rock and rhythm and blues, I had significant doubts about dedicating an entire album to the over-the-top crooning and love hyperbole that Zappa’s take on the music would include. But if I really wanted to consider myself a serious Zappa aficionado, I would need to add “Ruben” to my collection.

Oh well. I have it and I’ve listened to it once. Alright, so I listened to it again just for this post. But to say the least, it is not among my favorites. I listen to it even less than “Fillmore East.” However, because I waited so long to purchase this, I bought the CD release, which may have something to do with my dislike for this album (more later).

It’s really amazing what people will say about this recording. For example, someone wrote for the Wikipedia entry on the album that it “touched off the rock-and-roll revival movement,” giving the allusion that the album could be credited with inspiring the formation of Sha-Na-Na, and assisting with Bo Diddley’s comeback.


Yet, despite all the accolades by posters at Kill Ugly Radio, good reviews by folks like Mark Prindle, and other laudatory comments by those praising the album, “Ruben” gets just three stars in the All Music Guide and 5.38 stars out of 10 from the 42 folks who rated the recording for KUR. So it appears that people like to say they love this album, but when it’s stacked up against all of Zappa’s other releases, all that praise just turns out to be murmurs in the wind.

That’s not to say there aren’t any noteworthy points of interest contained within “Ruben.” The song “Love of My Life” became a standard during Zappa live shows, an outstanding rendition of which shows up on “Tinsel Town Rebellion.” And then with “I’m Not Satisfied,” Zappa takes doo-wop’s dolorous sound and matches with it hopeless lyrics about suicide. “Later That Night” contains a quote from “Glory of Love” by The Velvetones. “You Didn’t Try to Call Me” also became a concert staple.

But what really has a lot of Zappaphiles in a dither is the fact that Frank re-worked the original tapes in 1984 and re-released a different version from the vinyl on CD. Frank reportedly stated that all he did was re-record the bass and drum sections, but this article found on the Internet seems to dispute that assertion. And this link is to another article in which Zappa explains his reasoning for re-doing the tapes: his most significant rationale being that the original tapes had oxidized so bad that you could see through them. Take the time to read the information in the two aforementioned links; it’s worth the time.

What ever his reason for doing so, Zappa’s re-recording the “Ruben” tapes, as well as “We’re Only In It For The Money,” irked a lot of Zappa fans. It’s more evidence, in my opinion, that despite Zappa’s musical genius, his word as the final word is not always the right word. This notion that whatever he said about his music is sacrosanct is really a bit timid in my view. The bottom line is he made some bad decisions on his own, that it wasn’t always the record companies or musicians, or some other factor. Sometimes it was just him.

I rate this recording three out of five stars. Add your own rating below. By the way, don’t forget to read “The Story of Ruben and the Jets.”



Released: Dec. 2, 1968, Verve/Bizarre.

LP

Side one
"Cheap Thrills" (Zappa) - (2:20)
"Love of My Life" (Zappa) - (3:17)
"How Could I Be Such a Fool" (Zappa) - (3:33)
"Deseri" (Buff, Collins) - (2:04)
"I'm Not Satisfied" (Zappa) - (3:59)
"Jelly Roll Gum Drop" (Collins) - (2:17)
"Anything" (Collins,Zappa) - (3:00)

Side two
"Later That Night" (Zappa) - (3:04)
"You Didn't Try to Call Me" (Zappa) - (3:53)
"Fountain of Love" (Zappa) - (2:57)
"No. No. No." (Zappa) - (2:27)
"Anyway The Wind Blows" (Zappa) - (2:26)
"Stuff Up The Cracks" (Zappa) - (4:29)

CD

"Cheap Thrills" (Zappa) – 2:39
"Love of My Life" (Zappa) – 3:08
"How Could I Be Such a Fool?" (Zappa) – 3:34
"Deseri" (Buff, Collins) – 2:08
"I'm Not Satisfied" (Zappa) – 4:08
"Jelly Roll Gum Drop" (Zappa) – 2:24
"Anything" (Collins) – 3:05
"Later That Night" (Zappa) – 3:00
"You Didn't Try to Call Me" (Zappa) – 3:57
"Fountain of Love" (Collins, Zappa) – 3:22
"No. No. No." (Zappa) – 2:15
"Any Way the Wind Blows" (Zappa) – 3:01
"Stuff Up the Cracks" (Zappa) – 4:36

Personnel:

Frank Zappa – guitar, keyboards, sound effects, vocals, bass, drums
Jimmy Carl Black – guitar, percussion, drums, rhythm guitar
Ray Collins – guitar, vocals
Roy Estrada – bass, electric bass, sound effects, vocals, voices
Bunk Gardner – alto saxophone, tenor saxophone
Don Preston – bass, piano, keyboards
Jim Sherwood – guitar, vocals, wind
Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood – baritone saxophone, tambourine
Art Tripp – guitar, rhythm guitar
Ian Underwood – guitar, piano, keyboards, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, wind
Arthur Barrow – bass on Old Masters and compact disc versions (uncredited on CD)
Chad Wackerman – drums on Old Masters and compact disc version (uncredited on CD)
Jay Anderson - string bass on Old Masters and compact disc version (uncredited)

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