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)


John D said...

Actually, what the cat is saying in the Barking Pumpkin logo is "Holy Shit". The girls translation may have been to literal.

Nigel said...

This was the 2nd Zappa record I heard as a young teen (first was Just Another Band from LA). I think I agree with your assessment completely. What I like best about the record today is the singing on tracks like Love of My Life and Bamboozled. The title track is wearying, I couldn't agree more. As is about 20 minutes total which you have already identified. What's left is pretty solid, but in the context of his giant body of work, it's not exceptionally good. It is fun though. And the panty quilt turned out pretty well...if you've never seen photos, google it. It was a kind of crude idea (and bad waste of album space), but the quilt artist redeemed it all.