Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tinseltown Rebellion

There are several Zappa albums that upon first listen, I was not sure what I thought. For example, with “200 Motels,” I liked the comedic aspect, but was very ambivalent about its musical quality. Then again, at the time I was only 14. Over the years, however, I have grown to really appreciate this soundtrack. And there are also the albums that on first listen, I knew right away that I loved; releases like “Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” “One Size Fits All,” or “Burnt Weeny Sandwich.”

When I heard a mediocre album, I knew right away it was a mediocre album; “Sleep Dirt” comes to mind in this category, although there are others.

And then there are a few that when I first listened, I thought the album was good and played it often; but over time, I have listened to some albums less and less because I come to categorize them as only fair or mediocre. “Tinseltown Rebellion” falls into this category.

When I first bought this double album in 1981, Zappa played a show at Main Auditorium at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, where I lived. I went to the second show and my recollection is that it was a great show. This set list, however, appears to exclude “The Dangerous Kitchen” and I am virtually positive he performed that. Which means that maybe I attended the Oct. 10, 1980 second show rather than the 1981 show. The site also indicates a bootleg exists of both the early and second show from 1981, but I have not found either. I know the show I attended included a brief interruption because someone allegedly broke into the tour bus and stole a gun. It occurred right in the middle of one of Zappa’s solos.

I bought a T-shirt at this show also, a canary yellow shirt that had the Barking Pumpikin logo on it. If you recall, that logo has a screeching cat hissing at a pumpkin. Out of the cat’s mouth is a balloon with Chinese characters. I had no idea what the characters said. Then, one day, I was wearing the shirt on a trip from Tucson to Puerto Penasco in Mexico to buy shrimp. A Chinese girl was on the trip with us, and she looked at my shirt and busted out laughing. I said, “Oh my god, you can tell me what it says on the shirt!” And she translated the Chinese characters as saying, “God is shit.”

Anyway, the band Zappa toured with for “Tinseltown” in 1978-80 was similar to the band I saw in Tucson. The double-album “Tinseltown” had a similar set list to the show I attended, and it got lots of play in my home.

Other than the first track “Fine Girl,” which is strictly a studio recording, and the second track “Easy Meat,” which has some studio overdubs, the rest of “Tinseltown Rebellion” is pure live taken from five different shows. And it was the third track, “Love of My Life,” that really hooked me initially on this album. The falsetto vocals are so delicious.

But nowadays, the version of “I Ain’t Got No Heart,” and the segue of “Panty Rap” just don’t entertain me much. I feel a bit reprieved by “Now You See It – Now You Don’t,” but again, “Dance Contest” doesn’t enthuse me as much as it did when I first bought the album. And “The Blue Light” has lost its appeal as well. And then there’s the title track.

This song has always annoyed me, even when I first bought the album. Ostensibly, the song is supposed to be about punk bands, but it’s just a vehicle for Zappa to attack the record companies with which he was always embattled. I knew he had troubles with the record companies, and the reps’ style of business did make them pricks. But do you have to sing about it Frank? Why do I have to listen to your troubles with record company executives? That’s not musical: it’s just Frank Zappa bitching.

I feel a bit better with “Pick Me, I’m Clean,” which is really quite funny. And with “Bamboozled By Love,” we get a delicious heavy, funky tune that has some decent guitar licks. And the double-album closes out with “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It,” which has always been one of my favorite songs, followed with “Peaches III.”

It’s worth pointing out that this album marks the album debut of Steve Vai.

So in general, “Tinseltown” is just an OK album for me now, although I admit that when I first bought it, I played it to death.

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

Released May 7, 1981, Barking Pumpkin Records.

Album release:

Side One
1. Fine Girl (3:30)
2. Easy Meat (9:17)
3. For The Young Sophisticate (3:13)

Side Two
1. Love Of My Life (2:15)
2. I Ain't Got No Heart (2:00)
3. Panty Rap (4:36)
4. Tell Me You Love Me (2:06)
5. Now You See It - Now You Don't (5:03)

Side Three
1. Dance Contest (3:01)
2. The Blue Light (5:26)
3. Tinsel Town Rebellion (4:36)
4. Pick Me, I'm Clean (5:37)

Side Four
1. Bamboozled By Love (5:46)
2. Brown Shoes Don't Make It (7:14)
3. Peaches III (4:56)

CD release:

1. Fine Girl (3:31)
2. Easy Meat (9:19)
3. For The Young Sophisticate (2:49)
4. Love Of My Life (2:15)
5. I Ain't Got No Heart (1:59)
6. Panty Rap (4:36)
7. Tell Me You Love Me (2:07)
8. Now You See It - Now You Don't (4:45)
9. Dance Contest (2:59)
10. The Blue Light (5:27)
11. Tinsel Town Rebellion (4:36)
12. Pick Me, I'm Clean (5:08)
13. Bamboozled By Love (5:47)
14. Brown Shoes Don't Make It (7:15)
15. Peaches III (5:03)


Frank Zappa (lead guitar, vocals)
Ike Willis (rhythm guitar, vocals)
Ray White (rhythm guitar, vocals)
Steve Vai (rhythm guitar, vocals)
Warren Cuccurullo (rhythm guitar, vocals)
Denny Walley (slide guitar, vocals)
Tommy Mars (keyboards, vocals)
Peter Wolf (keyboards)
Bob Harris (keyboards, trumpet, vocals)
Ed Mann (percussion)
Arthur Barrow (bass, vocals)
Patrick O'Hearn (bass on Dance Contest only)
Vinnie Colaiuta (drums)
David Logeman (drums on Fine Girl and Easy Meat)
Creg Cowan (voice)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sheik Yerbouti

I find considerable irony in the fact that “Sheik Yerbouti” is among the Zappa recordings that fall into the category of either loving it or hating it. I can see such a dichotomy of opinion existing when it comes to some of the more complex works, such as “200 Motels,” or “Uncle Meat.” But with “Sheik Yerbouti,” it’s the simplicity of much of the material that seems to be at the center of all the controversy. That, and the album’s prurient humor.

For example, there is the ever-so-terse Robert Christgau who opines with, “If this be social ‘satire,’ how come its sole targets are ordinary citizens whose weirdnesses happen to diverge from those of the retentive gent at the control board? Or are we to read his new fixation on buggery as an indication of approval? Makes you wonder whether his primo guitar solo on Yo' Mama and those as-unique-as-they-used-to-be rhythms and textures are as arid spiritually as he is. As if there were any question after all these years.”

Mark Prindle in his comments divides his opinion based on the two LPs contained in the original release, castigating sides 1 and 2, but heaping praise on sides 3 and 4. “If anything, his unfunny X-rated comedy made his music LESS palatable to most sensible listeners!” writes Prindle. “There’s a great 30-minute EP hidden within this double-album, but boy do you have to swog and swishle your way through reams and reams of smelly smelly chicken bellies to get to it.”

The replies to Prindle’s comments on his blog exemplify the split in opinion, as all of them laud the album.

But in some respects I agree with Prindle. Sides 3 and 4 are stronger than 1 and 2, but the first album in this double album set remains good stuff in my opinion. And let’s face it; Zappa himself has admitted that his material can often be stupid. It’s a joke, and if taken too seriously, well, you’ll just be unhappy.

Consider my situation: what do you think my reaction to songs like “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes” and “Bobby Brown” might be considering the fact I am gay? Admittedly, I wondered if Zappa were a homophobe. But that would also make him an anti-Semite and a misogynist, and the release of “You Are What You Is” would confirm him as being a racist. That’s nonsense. So when I consider how Zappa showed very little discretion when choosing targets to lampoon, as well as the fact that his satirical snipes are often so far over the top that their hyperbole requires them to be taken as less-than-serious, I have to conclude that either Zappa hated everybody, or that he hated the way that all people lull themselves into comfortable zones of ignorance. I choose the latter conclusion. We are all deluded in some way, and Zappa time and time again exposed our delusions for us with such sophomoric delivery that we often just didn’t get it.

Which is probably why the two sides of the LP release I found myself playing over and over again were sides 1 and 3. And of these two sides, my favorite tracks have been “Flakes” and “City of Tiny Lites.”

With “Flakes,” we not only have a humorous story line, but great song structure and orchestration as well. And when the song cuts into the bridge section with the lyrics, “I am a moron and this is my wife/ she’s frosting a cake with a paper knife,” Zappa effectively pulls into the song icons of American culture and advertising and couples them with a description of the lemming-like behavior of the consumer mentality. And Adrian Belew’s impression of Bob Dylan during this song is spot on. Still, despite the musical structure of “Flakes,” it is the lyrical content that impresses me the most.

However, it’s the music in “City of Tiny Lites” that makes it a favorite for me. Lyrically, there’s not much to this song. There’s no real narrative, overtly at least. But listening to the sweeping sound of the melody’s theme combined with the mundane lyrics, it’s not difficult to call up an image of seeing the flickering lights of Los Angeles from a view high up in the hills. “You’re so big/It’s so tiny/Every cloud is silver liney.” And the song is structured in a manner to easily accommodate a long guitar solo, which made this item a fixture in many a Zappa concert.

Side 2 has two outstanding guitar solo tracks that were both taken from the Feb. 15, 1978 show at the Deutschlandhalle in Berlin; “Rat Tomago” and “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango.” The former was taken from the solo during the 1978 concert’s performance of “The Torture Never Stops,” while the latter was pulled from a performance of “Little House I Used to Live In.” And, of course, there is the solo within “Yo’ Mama.” But, as was often the case with much of Zappa’s material, this song is a mix of live material from multiple performances and studio overdubs. Somewhere there is an article that alludes to the song’s origin. The lyrical theme has to do with an individual’s ineptitude. Allegedly, Zappa wrote it after one of the musicians failed miserably to properly know his or her material prior to a performance and was subsequently fined as punishment. Please leave a comment if you know the link to this article, which was published I believe in the mid-1980s.

Almost everyone I know who is familiar with the album will immediately mention “Bobby Brown.” It’s like a Freudian word association: I say “Sheik Yerbouti” and the immediate reply is, “Bobby Brown.” Interesting, in a way, when you consider the song’s content: A straight man who eventually drifts into the gay S&M subculture. Probably the second song to come to mind for many is “Jewish Princess,” a song that drew condemnation and a request for an apology from Zappa by the Anti Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith. Needless to say, Zappa refused. However, the song was seldom, if ever, played live following this incident. Francois Couture opines that it may have been the extensive overdubbing Zappa did with the song for the vinyl release that may have rendered it virtually impossible to effectively perform live, although Couture does not discount the possibility that Zappa’s decision to avoid live performances of the song may have been influenced by reaction to it.

Two other songs I really like are “I’m So Cute” and “Trying to Grow a Chin.” Terry Bozzio’s screeching vocals on “I’m So Cute” are spot on, the shrill hyperbole making the necessary point; not so much about “pretty people” being self-centered prigs, but rather, regarding the circular logic behind the lyrics, “Ugly is bad/And bad is wrong/And wrong is sinful/and sin leads to eternal damnation/And hot burnin’ fire!” Bozzio’s shrill timbre in his voice is effectively used again for “Trying to Grow a Chin,” with a reprise line that is just plain awesome despite its dark message: “I wanna be dead/In bed/Please kill me/’Cause that would thrill me.”

Overall, I think “Sheik Yerbouti” is among Zappa’s finest material, a tour de force mix of comedic and intricate musical themes served up for your listening pleasure … or not.

I rate this 4.5 out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Album released March 3, 1979, Zappa Records.

LP release:

Side One
1. I Have Been In You (3:33)
2. Flakes (6:41)
3. Broken Hearts Are For Assholes (3:46)
4. I'm So Cute (4:20)

Side Two
1. Jones Crusher (2:49)
2. What Ever Happened To All The Fun In The World (0:33)
3. Rat Tomago (5:15)
4. We've Got To Get Into Something Real (0:32)
5. Bobby Brown (2:43)
6. Rubber Shirt (2:58)
7. The Sheik Yerbouti Tango (2:44)

Side Three
1. Baby Snakes (1:50)
2. Tryin' To Grow A Chin (3:32)
3. City Of Tiny Lites (5:30)
4. Dancin' Fool (3:43)
5. Jewish Princess (3:16)

Side Four
1. Wild Love (4:10)
2. Yo' Mama (12:38)

CD release:

1. I Have Been In You (3:34)
2. Flakes (6:42)
3. Broken Hearts Are For Assholes (3:42)
4. I'm So Cute (3:09)
5. Jones Crusher (2:50)
6. What Ever Happened To All The Fun In The World (0:33)
7. Rat Tomago (5:16)
8. Wait A Minute (0:33)
9. Bobby Brown Goes Down (2:49)
10. Rubber Shirt (2:45)
11. The Sheik Yerbouti Tango (3:56)
12. Baby Snakes (1:50)
13. Tryin' To Grow A Chin (3:31)
14. City Of Tiny Lites (5:32)
15. Dancin' Fool (3:44)
16. Jewish Princess (3:17)
17. Wild Love (4:10)
18. Yo' Mama (12:37)


Frank Zappa (lead guitar, vocals)
Adrian Belew (rhythm guitar, vocals)
Tommy Mars (keyboards, vocals)
Peter Wolf (keyboards)
Patrick O'Hearn (bass, vocals)
Terry Bozzio (drums, vocals)
Ed Mann, David Ocker (clarinets on "Wild Love")
Napoleon Murphy Brock (background vocals)
Andre Lewis (background vocals)
Randy Thornton (background vocals)
Davey Moire (background vocals)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Deutschlandhalle Berlin, 1978

One of the better bootlegs out there is of the Feb. 15, 1978 concert at the Deutschlandhalle in Berlin (don't be concerned that the order of the material does not follow the show’s format). The show occurred slightly more than a year prior to the 1979 release of “Sheik Yerbouti,” and listening to the Berlin show you quickly realize that it is quite nearly a song-for-song preview of that album. This bootleg might in fact be the one Zappa talks about at the start of “As An Am” from the Beat The Boots series, when he complains about a bootlegger that essentially recorded an entire album before he was able to release it.

Even “songs” that were really guitar solos within songs played at the Berlin concert show up as separate musical entities with new names on “Sheik Yerbouti.” For example, the Berlin guitar solo in “The Torture Never Stops” may sound very familiar, and it should. That solo appeared later on the official release of “Sheik Yerbouti” with the title “Rat Tomago.” Another killer guitar solo also shows up on “Sheik Yerbouti,” and that’s from the lengthy, avant-garde Berlin interpretation of “Little House I Used to Live In.” This solo shows up as “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango.”

So, out of the 18 songs listed on “Sheik Yerbouti,” 11 of them were played and bootlegged in Berlin a year earlier, and if you include the guitar solos I mentioned, 13 of the 18 compositions from “Sheik Yerbouti” were recorded and bootlegged from the Berlin show.

And my, what a delicious bootleg it is. Even with the sub-par sound by virtue of the fact that it is an unofficial release, it is a recording of a superb show. Had this boot been re-mastered and released officially, I would unhesitatingly give if a five-star rating.

It is that freaking awesome. It is nearly two-and-a-half hours of ripping kick ass music played with expert precision that includes some of Zappa’s best live guitar solos. There is some really outstanding and beautiful keyboard playing as well and some freaky funky bass playing by Patrick O'Hearn. The show easily swings from hard rock to sweet stylin’ jazz funk, with effortless segues into avant-garde, then back to jamming arena rock.

Frank introduces the band while they play a motif from “One Size Fits All,” then launch into “Dancin’Fool,” the first of the 11 tracks this concert covered from “Sheik Yerbouti.” I find it curious that when Frank goes through the abbreviated version of the dialogue portion of the song, he speaks with an exaggeratedly slow cadence, the way people speak to someone whom they believe can’t understand what is being said because of a language barrier. He does this in other portions of the show as well. Was he intentionally mocking the crowd? Or was he just that ignorant of his German audience’s ability to be bilingual, given his experience at Amougies?

They next move into a very cool rendition of “Peaches En Regalia.” They’ve got the crowd warmed up now, so next comes “The Torture Never Stops,” which brings Frank’s guitar out. His solo is roughly six minutes of virtuosity, which was pared down to 5:15 for appearance on “Sheik Yerbouti” as “Rat Tomago.” This was a very special moment for those in the audience; this guitar solo stands out as one of Zappa’s most self-contained musical compositions for guitar. When he finishes and returns to “Torture” I get the sense that the audience was stunned by what it just heard.

The band then sweeps into three songs from “Sheik Yerbouti,” tightly and flawlessly played. Bozzio’s vocals on “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin” are so viscerally ridiculous that it’s a perfect match for the shrill hysteria within the song’s content. Andrew Belew comes in for the vocals on “City of Tiny Lights,” which also presents us with another of Frank’s guitar solos. Ed Mann’s percussion work starts to get notice here as well; his playing certainly rivals, in my opinion, anything Ruth Underwood has done with Frank.

After “Baby Snakes,” the band moves into “Pound for a Brown,” an outstanding jazz and funk piece that I believe first officially appeared on “Zappa in New York.” I’ve been trying to track down what solos in the song Tommy Mars and Peter Wolf are performing on the keyboards here, but so far have been unsuccessful. I think both take turns with solos, but I just haven’t been able to confirm that. Anyone have some better information of this?

The band returns to some more “Sheik Yerbouti” material with “I Have Been in You,” which Zappa nicely sets up for the crowd (again apparently presuming the audience has no clue as to what he’s saying). It’s a brilliant set up for the song, which mocks Peter Frampton’s “In You.” The sixth release of the YCDTOSA series also has a similarly satirical setup for the song. In the next song, Belew does a nice job with an impression of Bob Dylan during the second portion of the song (the impression improves on "Sheik Yerbouti"), which then has a very cool guitar solo to segue into the final section of the song; not sure if it’s Belew or Zappa, but both are playing during the song’s climax just before what would have been the chorus finishing the song (which is omitted from the concert). Based on my ear alone, I’m guessing it’s Zappa’s guitar solo first, followed by Belew joining him. Could be the other way around, but because the band quickly moves into “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes,” which has Zappa singing, I’m guessing when Belew comes in with his solo, Zappa is putting his guitar down to prepare for the next song. Zappa admits in his autobiography “The Real Frank Zappa Book” that he can’t sing and play guitar at the same time.

One of my favorite compositions comes next with “King Kong.” The tempo in this version is much faster than in others, which normally had featured Ian Underwood on saxophone. But at this concert, Ed Mann comes in for some outstanding vibraphone playing, again at such a frenetic (and precise) pace that his skill rivals Ruth Underwood’s command of the instrument. We get a bit of audience participation here as well when the song moves into some avant-garde vocalizations and free-form styles. Patrick O’Hearn finishes up with some funky fusion bass grooves. It’s performances like this that keeps me hooked on Zappa bootlegs. He played so many times with so many different musicians that to be able to hear performances like this is priceless.

Performed in the same order as they appear on “Sheik Yerbouti,” the first CD of this bootleg closes with “Wild Love” and “Yo Mama,” the latter of which was played for the first time at this concert (details sketchy on this, but that appears to be the case based on some information from the All Music Guide entry on this song). Shall I say again, “killer guitar solo here”? Incidentally, the guitar solo on “Wild Love” was reportedly by Adrian Belew.

CD two begins with material that was officially released a month after this concert in “Zappa in New York.” These include “Titties ‘n Beer” and “Black Page #2.” While introducing the latter, Zappa chides the crowd, saying he won’t embarrass them by asking them to clap with the song. Indeed, that would have been a laughable feat, I believe, for any audience, given the complex time signatures within the “Black Page #2.”

After another brief diversion with more material that would eventually wind up on “Sheik Yerbouti,” this time with “Jones Crusher,” the band moves into “Little House I Used To Live In.” As mentioned earlier, it is from this song that the guitar solo later dubbed “Sheik Yerbouti Tango” was taken. But before that solo, there is some very lovely piano in this; but again, I’m not sure if it was Mars or Wolf that provided that delightful interlude (I’m guessing Wolf). Very different from the original version released on “Burnt Weeny Sandwich,” but still a great interpretation. The piece is constructed in a manner that could be construed to be a mini version of how “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” was constructed. The album was a sort of musical sandwich with the two doo-wop numbers at the beginning and end acting as the bread. In this version of “Little House,” the main theme of the song begins and ends the piece, with a bit of meandering avant-garde and the “Sheik Yetbouti Tango” in the middle.

“Dong Work for Yuda,” the next track, was later released on “Joe’s Garage.” But after that, it’s back to more “Sheik Yerbouti” material with “Bobby Brown.” Frank announces the song is named “Bobby Brown Goes Down,” although when it was first released on vinyl, it was listed as just “Bobby Brown.” The next song is a curious number titled “Envelopes.” Although we have this short number performed at this concert, it wasn’t released on vinyl until 1980 with “A Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.” However, by the time it shows up on that album, the lyrics have been abandoned for an instrumental form. The item was also performed on the London Symphony Orchestra release.

We get a rare drum solo on this bootleg as well, rare in the sense that it was recorded. While many musicians who played with Zappa performed many solos, I really can’t think of very many drum solos. And even this one doesn’t quite qualify as a true drum solo because of the other accompanying space sounds.

The show finishes off with material from “Zoot Alures” and “Over-nite Sensation.” I’m not totally certain, but “Disco Boy” contains a vamp that I think Scissor Sisters later used. With this concert, you get both songs that Zappa wrote that explicitly deal with the disco phenomenon, the other being “Dancin’ Fool,” with which he opened the concert. “Disco Boy” is followed with “Dinah-Moe Humm,” (which has a verse skipped) “Camarillo Brillo” and “Muffin Man.” Zappa a number of times paired “Camarillo Brillo” with “Muffin Man,” starting the former out with a rapid temp that drops into a slower tempo just before it segues into “Muffin Man.”

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

Frank Zappa: Deutschlandhalle Berlin, Feb. 15, 1978.

Track List:

02.Dancin' Fool
03.Peaches En Regalia
04.The Torture Never Stops (includes Rat Tomago)
05.Tryin' To Grow A Chin
06.City Of Tiny Lights
07.Baby Snakes
08.Pound For A Brown
09.I Have Been In You
11.Broken Hearts Are For Assholes
12.King Kong
13.Wild Love
14.Yo Mama

01.Titties 'n Beer
02.Black Page #2
03.Jones Crusher
04.Little House I Used To Live In (includes Sheik Yerbouti Tango)
05.Dong Work For Yuda
06.Bobby Brown
08.Drum Solo
09.Disco Boy
10.Dinah-Moe Humm
11.Camarillo Brillo
12.Muffin Man
13.fade in
14.fade out


Frank Zappa: guitar, vocals
Adrian Belew: guitar
Patrick O’Hearn: bass
Tommy Mars: keyboards
Terry Bozzio: drums
Peter Wolf: keyboards
Ed Mann: percussion

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sleep Dirt

I was surprised when I read the reviews for “Sleep Dirt” at Ground and Sky. Both Bob Eichler and Gary Niederhoff were effusive with their praise for this recording.

“Sleep Dirt remains one of Zappa’s better works,” writes Eichler.

“This is a great Zappa album,” writes Niederhoff.

And then Robert Christgau gives the album a B+. “For what it's worth, I thought I'd mention that this collection of outtakes showcases more good music than any Zappa album in years,” opines Christgau.

Wow. I wasn’t as enthusiastic about this “collection of outtakes” as these guys. To me, “Sleep Dirt” is mediocre at best. Was I missing something?

Curiously, the All Music Guide review of the album gives it 3.5 stars, compared to the 3 stars it awarded for “Studio Tan.” Ironically, I think “Studio Tan” is the better collection. Yet, I am comforted by Francois Couture’s words when he writes, “There are strong guitar solos, but the whole thing lacks panache (and the cover artwork is truly awful).”

And I was disappointed that Mark Prindle omited both albums from his litany of reviews. I was hoping I might find some common ground with Mark; we at times disagree on a few albums, but by and large I respect his thoughts on Zappa’s works.

So I gave it another listen to make sure I was certain about my opinion. By the way, I have the album version, which is deliciously devoid of lyrics and singing.

The album opens with “Filthy Habits,” which starts with a forlorn and dolorous sound that is almost painful, but don’t take that as a criticism. When this song begins, I am extraordinarily optimistic about my listening experience with this album. This is one of the leftovers from “Zoot Allures.” The chilling guitar work is clearly stylistically connected to the dark and ponderous sound that dominated that album.

Then comes “Flambay,” a song filled with promise, opening with a pretty piano introduction, but which devolves into the style of extraordinarily bland lounge music. I can picture myself in a bar while the band plays this piece, and I can hear the chatter of all the patrons rising above the musicians because the music just isn’t interesting enough to warrant rapt attention. And for me, that is what Zappa’s music is all about: it requires your rapt attention, and most of the time you are willing to give it because the music is so damned interesting and stimulating. I’m sure the musicians are playing this piece expertly; you can’t argue with Ruth Underwood’s skill. It’s just a tune that doesn’t grab me.

“Spider of Destiny” isn’t any better, and in fact, sounds like a somewhat more robust relative of “Flambay.” But frankly, I think I’m being kind in saying that. I do like George Duke’s delicate piano when he provides a tinkling interlude.

I’m feeling optimistic again when “Regyptian Strut” comes along. Bruce Fowler’s horns really add some class to this song. Unfortunately, this would sound so much better if it weren’t associated with the two previous tunes, “Spider of Destiny” and “Flambay.” The melodic similarity between the pieces detracts from “Regyptian Strut”’s strength. Nonetheless, I am feeling better when this tune comes along.

“Time is Money,” however, resumes my disappointment. The timbre is just wrong. In fact, I think this would likely sound better performed by a string quartet or small orchestra, rather than the band Zappa used.

Ah, but I get a reprieve with “Sleep Dirt.” It’s not often you get to hear Zappa play acoustic guitar, and the duet he plays with James Youman is just freaking excellent! And you don’t feel let down when Youman caves and the piece stops, as he explains that “my fingers got stuck.” It is an awesome piece.

Both “Sleep Dirt” and the final cut on the album, “The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution” are leftovers from “Zoot Allures,” and frankly, it is these songs that were cut from that album that are best pieces on the album “Sleep Dirt.” The last cut is great jazz fusion; Patrick O’Hearn’s bass playing is outstanding. Such a simple song in terms there are just three musicians on this (Terry Bozzio is on drums), but it is quintessential Zappa in that it demands your delighted attention. And the guitar solo is stellar too.

So my conclusion? I’m still sticking with my original opinion, and that is overall, “Sleep Dirt” the album is just mediocre. It has three outstanding pieces that definitely project themselves beyond the other rather dull tracks.

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

Released Jan. 19, 1979, DiscReet Records.

Album release:

Side One
1.Filthy Habits (7:33)
2.Flambay (5:02)
3.Spider Of Destiny (2:54)
4.Regyptian Strut (4:15)

Side Two
1.Time Is Money (2:52)
2.Sleep Dirt (3:20)
3.The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution (13:20)

CD release:

1.Filthy Habits (7:34)
2.Flambay (4:54)
3.Spider Of Destiny (2:33)
4.Regyptian Strut (4:13)
5.Time Is Money (2:49)
6.Sleep Dirt (3:21)
7.The Ocean Is The Ultimate Solution (13:20)


Frank Zappa (guitar, keyboards)
Dave Parlato (bass)
Terry Bozzio (drums)
George Duke (keyboards)
Patrick O'Hearn (bass)
Ruth Underwood (percussion)
Chad Wackerman (drum overdubs on CD)
Thana Harris (vocals overdubs on CD)
Bruce Fowler (all brass)
James Youman (bass)
Chester Thompson (drums)