What does it sound like?:
“Overnite Sensation” is one of my favourite Frank Zappa albums. Not too many snorks, turn-on-a-dime playing, a pile of knob jokes, and it’s kind of funky. (In fact, very funky; “I’m the Slime”, “Dirty Love”, “Zomby Woof”, “Dinah-Moe Humm” and “Montana” had Tina Turner and the Ikettes on backing vocals. “What is this shit?” Ike is alleged to have asked, as he insisted Zappa pay the singers, including Tina Turner, no more than $25 per song.) This album got me through many a 1970s “Good Friday”, providing a little victory to the stultifying miserabilist piety of my childhood home.
The 50th anniversary release – gosh, is it really that long? – has been made even more pristine, though was always a very well-produced album. Remixes have instruments leap out, but to me they always did. The earlier and alternative takes reiterate niallb’s observation re “The Yes Album”, that to a working musician, the album version of a song is often just one of a series of variants which passed a variety of decisions to become, to the listener with the album alone, the “definitive” version. There is lots to enjoy in these alternatives; “50:50” with a long pipe-organ intro; an EVEN SAUCIER “Dyna-Moe Humm”, and a more mellow version of “Montana”; all could be on the alternative version of the album without complaints.
The album also comes with recordings from two concerts around that time, with a fancy big band including George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Sal Marquez on trumpet, plus assorted other horns (fnrrrr). One gig is from LA, the other from Detroit. These have all the good and the annoying we know and love about a Frank Zappa concert, it being that we disagree about what is the good and the annoying; I personally enjoyed 20 minutes of “Dupree’s Paradise”, and can always hear another version of “RDNZL”. Some of the pieces are of their time, and I suspect Zappa was seeing what the band could come up with as they reached and elaborated on a groove or jam (e.g., “Big Swifty”), but sometimes it didn’t take off, and when that happens (e.g., “Palladium jam”, “FZ and the rhythm section”) it sounds a bit dated, and (dare I say it), dull.
This is the way of Frank Zappa, and for every annoying track (I’m sure few will listen more than once to the 6 minute soundcheck from Detroit), there are stratospheric bits of playing and ensemble work; so one listens through 23 minutes of “Don’t You Ever Wash that Thing?” with the bass solo, and the rest of it, hoping it falls into something greater, and at points, it does. Of the two concerts, I personally think the Detroit one is better, with great band versions of “Dog Breath/ Uncle Meat”, where they go at the music like a pitbull with a bag of hot chips. A live instrumental version of “50:50” is also very perky, as is the supper-club jazz version of “Inca Roads”. By contrast, the “Don’t You Eat the Yellow Snow” symphony is, to me, indulgent – maybe FZ was already getting bored with the teens whooping at the cheap gags and the adolescent surrealism, but a cracking bluesy “Cosmik Debris”, and a Spike Jones-like “Join the March” make up for it, as does the concluding “King Kong/ Chunga’s Revenge/ Son of mr Green Genes” encore. I found Jean-Luc Ponty’s contributions a bit shrill, but then find a little lead violin goes a long way in rock’n roll or jazz. FZ thought so, too, as JLP was out quite soon after, allegedly when the fiddler tried to extract a higher fee from Zappa, who was trying to run a big band and hemorrhaging money. No wonder he reduced to smaller ensembles in the mid-70s.
What does it all *mean*?
I’ve said it before; Frank Zappa may have been prettier on the ears with a strong edit, but then it wouldn’t be Frank Zappa, and his artistic sensibility meant you had him, warts and all (possibly literally), and some liked it, some didn’t. You take what you like and work through the bits you are not so bothered with. It may well be that everyone will make their own versions of these super deluxe Zappa releases, with different configurations of the tracks. I don’t think that’s so bad, given he had different versions of the songs and pieces himself. A final thought: the different versions of “Overnite Sensation” tracks have such a funk and even proto-rap side, has anyone remixed this era of Frank Zappa for the dance floor? I reckon done in the spirit of these genres, it could work. It might upset some of his TRUE FANS, but surely that is what Frank Zappa would have wanted, opposed to complacency as he clearly was.
Goes well with…
Tea, 40mg statin, white port and lemon juice.
Out now, pop-pickers
Might suit people who like…
Mahavishnu Orchestra, jazz-fusion, Captain Beefheart, the Mothers of Invention