Sunday, January 31, 2010

Event Attendance: 22nd Annual Eugene Record Convention - January 31, 2010

I went to the Eugene Record Convention the last year I lived down there, which would have been 1998. I had a great time, picked up some great vinyl, and vowed to come back. But then I moved 100 miles north and promptly forgot about it. I planned to attend last year, but financial restrictions squashed the deal. I made it a priority this year, and today - armed with a decent amount of cash, my trusty record-carryin' bag, and a completely disinterested but highly tolerant wife - hit the road at around 10AM and arrived at the Eugene Hilton around noon. After running into a few friends on the way in (whattup Jeremy and Robi!), I snaked through the hallways of the plush hotel, said goodbye to the wife (she was considering coming in, but after sneaking a peak at the scene inside thought better of it), paid my three bucks, and entered.

The scene was just as I remembered it from 12 years ago: a big conference room, bright and hot, packed to the gills with dudes swarmed around tables. Yep, this was a record show. I made my way around all the tables, giving the place a good once-over. Nothing caught my eye, so I started back at the beginning, at the table of a guy who's always at the Night Owl record shows and who (I think) also has a section at Crossroads Records. Dude's good for two things, always: Zappa and Beatles. I was holding off on Beatles stuff today unless something really presented itself, so after talking Zappa with him for a little bit (he has both original Mothers of Invention singles, the bastard), I picked up a few records and proceeded to make my way around the other tables.

I eventually combed through everything I wanted to, and it took me about two hours. I couldn't believe it, but I really didn't end up buying that much stuff. I didn't know whether to be proud of myself for not blowing a bunch of money, or disappointed in the record show for not having a ton of stuff I wanted to buy. I passed on a few things I wanted (I'll get to that), but here's what I did get:

Frank Zappa - Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar: 3-LP box set, UK pressing on EMI with the Barking Pumpkin logo also on the back. Not the rarest FZ record, but it is rare to see it anywhere but the internet. Really happy about this one.

Frank Zappa - Zappa in New York: Double LP, German import, clean as a whistle. I don't know how long I've been putting off buying this record. Happy with this copy, because it's kind of a weird one. Discreet label, but doesn't look exactly like the American ones.

Teen Angels - Daddy: Girl group from the mid-90's, on Sub Pop. Eddie Spaghetti from the Supersuckers wrote the last track and plays guitar on it. I have never figured out his connection to this band, but as a Supersuckers nerd, I must own it. I have the CD and wanted to replace it. Dude gave me this for free for buying the two Zappa records. Perfect, because it's not in great shape.

Sonic Youth - A Thousand Leaves: Not a tough record to find, but rarely seen used. Ten bucks? I'll take it.

Old Skull - Get Outta School: This was one of my random purchases for the day. Pre-teen punk rock that I haven't heard in 20 years. Couldn't pass it up for four bucks.

Prince Markie Dee - Love Daddy: When I found out, years ago, that Markie Dee from the Fat Boys had a solo record out, I told my brother - who was working at the Wherehouse at the time - to look out for it. The CD was somehow impossible to find, even though it retailed for like a dollar. I proceeded to forget about it, until today. Now I'm the proud owner of the LP. It looks terrible. But it was cheap.

They Might Be Giants - They Might Be Giants: When I was living in Eugene, I came across a copy of this record, didn't buy it, went back for it, and of course it was gone. Haven't seen it in a store since. And it has haunted me. Found a great copy of it today, with the original lyric sheet intact. Really happy about this one.

The New Pornographers - Electric Version: A dealer was knocking prices down as he was getting ready to pack up shop, and I ended up getting this for almost half of what he had it marked. Great album, good deal. Another step towards replacing my CDs with vinyl.

Built to Spill - You in Reverse: Again, another one that's not hard to find, but I got a solid used copy. I don't even know if I've heard this record.

And that's it.

I passed up on a few things: There was a copy of Sonic Youth's Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star on blue vinyl that I wanted, but the $45 price tag was a bit excessive. There was also a copy of Helloween's Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 1 that I had my eye on, but the vinyl was jacked up. I can get a good copy from eBay.

This was the weird one: This guy was selling - just filed in with all his other records, mind you - a butcher cover copy of The Beatles' Yesterday and Today. It was a peeled one (third state?), was completely split in two, and it didn't have the record in it. He wanted fifty bucks. This old dude was looking over my shoulder and talking to me while I was looking at it. I needed to gather my thoughts, so I put it back and walked away. I went back to look at it again, and the old dude had purchased it. I think I was wise to walk away, but I'm not sure. It would have been cool to have, but I'd almost rather save a bit more money and get one, you know, that actually has the record in it. But part of me still feels like I dropped the ball. It just seemed to me that if it was some crazy great deal, why hadn't someone bought it yet? I'm overthinking it.

Anyway. After the show we went to House of Records, which was my favorite record store in Eugene when I lived there. I bought a D-Nice 12" and was just happy to see that the place was still going:Not bad.

I got some fliers for some other record shows coming up soon, but now I don't know where I put them. I'll be going. I realized I enjoy looking as much as I do buying.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mudhoney - Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (LP, 1991)

Does it get much better than this?

Mudhoney picked a great time to put out their best record, and this thing, while summing up everything that was great about early-90's rock, is untouchable from start to finish. From the organ intro (!) on the instrumental first track, "Generation Genocide," to the aptly-titled last track, "Check-Out Time," this record never stops. (Aside from the weird little harmonica-blowing intro to "Into the Drink," which I would love to know the story behind.) It's a front-to-backer, folks. Put it on and walk away from the stereo.

While Mudhoney were great on their first LP, they're certifiably brilliant on this one. The hooks are infectious, the recording quality has stepped up (but not too much), and guitarist Steve Turner, who was previously probably considered "good for what he's doing," is now "good" without any need for a further disclaimer. Songs like "Good Enough," "Something So Clear," and "Pokin' Around" are among the best Mudhoney would ever make, and I could really say that about almost every track on here.

Mark Arm is still unlucky in love, but instead of sounding overwhelmed with bitterness, he seems merely fueled by bitterness (which is a little bit better, right?), and he uses it to wrench all sorts of energy and even a little bit of hopefulness out of some of the songs. Tracks like "Thorn" and "Into the Drink" even make it seem like it's getting over things. Either that, or he's ready to murder someone. Whatever works.

I watch documentaries about the NW scene, or grunge, or whatever they want to call it, and people always say stuff like "I really thought Mudhoney was going to be the breakout band from Seattle." I'm not sure if I really understand that. Even when I was huge fan of theirs during this time, which was probably the peak of their popularity, I never felt like the mainstream would be accepting of them. They always struck me as that lovable gang of misfits who might get close to the big prize, but never really hit the big one. And that's exactly why I thought they were so awesome, and exactly why I still think they're so awesome. When they signed to a major label, I always pictured that these guys were finding a way to fuck up the system from the inside. Maybe that's just wanted to think. I don't even really know where I'm going with this.

But I do know that this would be Mudhoney's last album before they signed with a major, and they made it count. If you met somebody and they wanted to know what "grunge" sounded like, you could hand them this. I don't know if that's a good or a band thing, but like I said, this record sums it all up in less than 45 minutes. It's some landmark shit. And I say that in the midst of a huge Mudhoney phase that I've been wrapped up in for the last few weeks, but I mean it. This is a good one.

"Good Enough"

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mudhoney - Mudhoney (LP, 1989)

Mudhoney's first full-length may be, depending on your definition, the first really notable "grunge" album. After a string of singles and the half-step out of the gate that was the undeniably great (but overlooked at the time) Superfuzz Bigmuff EP, the band stormed into 1990 with this, a collection of 12 great songs that would forever give them the right to claim that they were doing this before anyone else. Of course, I'm sure you could make arguments for whether that's true or not, but to me, Mudhoney will always be the grunge band. Sometimes I think they're the only true grunge band. Sometimes I think the word "grunge" should never have been uttered. But it's usually credited to Mark Arm, so it's worth mentioning when you're talking about Mudhoney.

Though this record came out in 1989, I wouldn't hear it until a year or two later, at which time we were snatching up anything and everything from this band and their Sub Pop cronies. And though they would make some huge leaps forward on their next album, this one still sounded great a few years after its release. Mudhoney is brilliant for a number of reasons, but I've always thought that a lot of it had to do with the fact that this, like Nirvana's Bleach or any of the pre-1990 Sub Pop stuff, was immune to any sort of grand pretense. The NW was still insular; the swarms hadn't descended, and this record reeks wonderfully of the efforts of some dudes with no higher expectations than to, if everything went right, be huge in Seattle and maybe get to tour overseas.

Accordingly, the songs are rife with swearing, fuzzed-out beyond belief but entirely catchy, and smothered in sarcasm (I think). Of course, this pretty much sums up any Mudhoney record, but this one in particular is extra-snotty and really makes a point of harnessing aggression. But it's not sloppy. The songs are clearly carefully crafted, and there are few moments wasted. Really, there's not a bad song on this thing.

Right from the beginning, you can tell that Mudhoney has upped the ante. The first 30 seconds of "This Gift" are musically more advanced than anything on Superfuzz Bigmuff, and as soon as the chorus kicks in, the brooding intro morphs into a ragged hook that really nails it. "Flat Out Fucked" is self-deprecating Mudhoney at its best, and "Get Into Yours" shows that they can indeed write a strong four-minute rock song. "You Got It" was a teenage favorite of mine, a really basic tune with hilarious lyrics, even though I still don't know what they're about.

"Running Loaded" shows signs of the type of songwriting the band would embrace on their next record, and it really proves - not that it was ever in question to people who know the band's music - how versatile they are. The melody, the structure, everything - it's a great song. And the album is strong to the end, where they wrap it up with "Dead Love," the big closer. Not one of the better-known Mudhoney tracks, but a good one nonetheless.

I just picked this up on vinyl, and scored an original copy with the split-in-the-middle gatefold cover that is unlike any other LP I own. And it still has the original poster on the inside. It is awesome. Everything about this record is awesome.

"This Gift"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff (LP, 1988)

It isn't hard to love Mudhoney. They've got a knack for writing catchy tunes, they have a great sense of humor, and they always struck me as really nice guys. Or at least really fun guys. Apparently that's all it takes for me to really enjoy a band. Or at least it's been enough when it comes to these guys.

I still have my cassette of Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles, which was a big part of my introduction to the band. I can't remember exactly when I first heard them, but I know that tape was the first thing I owned by them. They've since put out a deluxe version that expands on that album and looks incredible, but I've decided that I want to get some of the original copies before I give in and buy that.

I already have a decent copy of the "Touch Me I'm Sick" 7" (Second Edition, blue vinyl), so this was my next order of business. I just purchased this record a few weeks ago, and it is a great one to have. Vintage Sub Pop. The copy I got is a first pressing on black vinyl, with the shrink still intact, and a Sub Pop singles club form still in it. Unfortunately, the poster that was originally included is not there, which sucks. But, I'm happy to have an original regardless.

It's impressive how much they've managed to expand this thing over the years. The deluxe version has 32 tracks; this has six. But they're a solid six, and they really represent the roots of the band. Mudhoney often get written off as jokers, but these guys knew how to put a song together. And while they would do nothing but get better as the years went on, this is really an impressive start.

"Need" shows, right off the bat, what this band's strength is: Mark Arm's vocals. Nobody sounds like Arm, and I'm not sure that anyone would want to. His voice wailing over the mega-fuzzy guitar parts is something that cannot be emulated. "Need" is, by all outward appearances, a sincere song, and a compelling one at that. Arm has no trouble sounding strained. "Chain the Door" contains the classic line, "You make me feel like a big dumb loser," which instantly made me favor this band when I was fifteen. They had distilled my existence, and I was more than happy to let them speak for me.

Mudhoney had a great way of evening out their more raucous songs with slow, swelling ones, and that exactly what "Mudride" does at the end of side 1. At almost six minutes, it's a long journey. But it's great to hear where the song begins and where it ends up.

"No One Has" is a sinister rocker, and probably my favorite song on this record. It's another tail of utter despair, and once again, Mark Arm just makes it. A great, great song. Many years ago, "If I Think" was just the kind of shattered love song my teenage self needed, and I was happy to have it. I still am. It's got a great loud/quiet, fast/slow thing going on.

"In 'N' Out of Grace" is the epic Mudhoney song, and there could be no better way to close out this record. Explaining the song would take a long time, so I'm not going to do it. But it sounds unlike anything Mudhoney would ever do again, so I'm glad they did it. There's hints of classic rock, blasts of punk, and just some crazy, crazy guitar playing. This was the song we all went nuts for when we were teenagers. It has screaming, swearing, and an overall fuck-the-world approach. I would highly recommend it to any troubled youth.

In fact, I would recommend Mudhoney to any troubled youth. They'll help you through the hard times.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mr. Bungle - California (CD, 1999)

Again, Mr. Bungle made us wait four years for a new album, and again it was completely different than the one that preceded it. In fact, it was completely different than both of the albums that preceded it. The biggest surprise was that this album was almost - and I can't believe I'm saying this - accessible. Now, keep in mind, that's completely relative. But I remember being shocked that I might be able to put a Mr. Bungle song on a mixtape for a girl and she might actually like it (I'm looking at you, "Vanity Fair").

As usual, it didn't matter what Mr. Bungle did or didn't do. The songs are incredible, and this album stands up easily with their other two. And on the plus side, there's less dicking around just for the sake of dicking around. Instead, this thing is completely packed with music. While Disco Volante was frustratingly short on lead vocals from Mike Patton, on this album he goes nuts. On "Ars Moriendi," he barely clams up during the entire thing, and it's incredible.

We always thought every Mr. Bungle album would the their last (same thing with Faith No More - Patton must be a bitch to work with), so when this dropped and it was clear they hadn't phoned it in, I couldn't have asked for more. While it was clear this album was a contract-fulfiller (the packaging is minimal and cost-effective), it never comes off as one. The songs are, in typical Bungle fashion, incredibly complicated and also insanely infectious. "None of Them Knew They Were Robots" blew my skull open the first time I heard it, and it continues to do so. Same with "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare." And if there's a better song title than "Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy," I'd like to hear it.

This ended up being the last Mr. Bungle album, and "Goodbye Sober Day" ended up being the last song on it. It's a perfect one to go out on. The lyrics are creepy and dark, and so is the music. It's scattered with controlled noise, and anchored by a middle section that will punch you in the face. And you will love it.

My brother and I saw Mr. Bungle in San Francisco on New Year's Eve 1999, and it was an incredible experience. I talked about a little in this post, and if you want to see how awesome it was, you can check out a clip here. Wow, that was over ten years ago. Yikes. Anyway, it was shortly after this album was released, and seeing them play these songs live was incredible. I was never real keen on the California theme, but whatever. I always loved the shit out of this record, and I still do.

And I've always been glad I got to see them live before they hung it all up. This album in particular has held up really well. Cop it.

"Pink Cigarette"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mr. Bungle - Disco Volante (CD, LP, 1995)

The four years between Mr. Bungle releases seemed like an eternity. It got to the point where I had almost given up hope, and then there it was, listed on the "upcoming releases" board at my local record store. Or at least I think that's how I found about it. Somehow I knew it was coming out, because I bought it the day it was released. And I was excited. Giddy, even.

Oh, wait! I know what happened. My roommate at the time worked at the University of Oregon campus radio station, and they received a promo copy of what was to be the first single from the record, "Desert Search for Techno Allah." I remember sitting in the studio, mashing a pair of headphones against my ears, and hearing the song for the first time. While I wasn't exactly expecting a sequel to their debut, it definitely took me a minute to process. The chorus is "Qiyamat qiyamat a tawil'/Qiyamat qiyamat insan al kamel," which just confused the shit out of me. Still does.

So, I had heard that song, and knew they were taking things in a different direction. When I bought the CD, I ran home, put it in, heard the first minute of "Everyone I Went to High School With is Dead," and realized they were taking things in a completely different direction. My friends and I spent the next month listening to Disco Volante, probably annoying everyone with it, while also learning to love it. Or at least most of it.

This is Mr. Bungle's most difficult album (by far), and one that, like Faith No More's Angel Dust, completely destroyed the foundations upon which the band was built. It frustrated me at first, but after I spent hours, days, and months with it, it made perfect sense. I don't know exactly what I'm talking about, but Mr. Bungle has always struck me as a band that is constantly moving forward, and probably gets sick of their old shit quicker than most bands. And instead of easing into a new sound, especially after four years, they clearly felt the need to completely redefine themselves. It worked.

And while this album is highly experimental and crazy tedious in sections, there's still plenty of great vocal parts, great musical performances, and a handful of tracks that certainly qualify as actual "songs." Of course, there's also tracks that toe the line, like "Violenza Domestica" and "Phlegmatics," and "The Bends," which is the closest they've ever come to making an unlistenable song. You made your point, guys.

One of my all-time favorite Bungle tracks is the one that closes this album out, the messy mind-warp that is "Merry Go Bye Bye." It's bashing, blaring noise, sandwiched between some of the lightest, most beautiful melodies that the band ever put together. And the lyrics have always been some of my favorites. Observe:

We reached for an outside point of view
But it's out of touch with me and you
I feel I'm walking into suicide
But you'll be right there by my side
To beam my message into space as I die
Bring back the shame of the many for the few
Get on your knees and I'll be coming back to you
Bring back the pain of an inverse world for two
It keeps me coming back to you

That's good stuff. I went - with a group of other Bungle fans - to see the band on this tour, and it was mind-blowing. If I recall correctly, they played "Travolta" and "My Ass is On Fire" from the first album, and they were very different versions than the ones that they had recorded. Other than that, it was straight Volante and a cover of Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend" during the encore. At one point, the crowd started chanting "Girls of Porn! Girls of Porn!," and we all agreed that they were idiots. It was clear to us that the "Girls of Porn" Mr. Bungle was only a faint memory. And, honestly, watching them pull of the songs from this album live made me not care in the least. It was amazing. And yes, they were wearing masks.

I somehow scored an original copy of this LP in a record store some years back, and though it's got a promo notch in it and it's missing the bonus 7" that was originally included, I still treasure it. Apparently there's a hidden track in a "double groove" on it somewhere, but I've never been able to get it to work.

"Chemical Marriage"

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mr. Bungle - Mr. Bungle (CD, LP, 1991)

When you talk about albums that shaped my teenage years (which I'm sure you often do), you can't not bring this one up. And while it definitely sounds a little dated now, it still brings back so many memories for me.

Faith No More hit it big in 1989/1990, and my friends, my brother and I were big fans. I'm not sure when we first found out about the existence of Mr. Bungle. Mike Patton wore a Bungle shirt in the "Epic" video, so that might have been the tip-off. Or maybe they were mentioned in a magazine article. Either way, we were aware of them, but had never heard them.

(As always, remember that this was pre-internet. You had to work - or wait - to hear the music you wanted, and it made the whole experience much more fulfilling. You kids today have no respect for music, and you're systematically killing it. Congratulations. But I digress.)

Then, one day, as I was flipping through the newest issue of Spin magazine, I saw it: a quarter-page ad for the forthcoming Mr. Bungle album. It had (from what I can recall - I've just spent the last 15 minutes searching for it on the web with no luck) a picture of the album cover, along with jokey text about some of the subject matter, and an admission that they couldn't reveal who the singer was because of a contractual obligation. The ad was for an album to be released on Warner Bros. and FNM were signed to Slash. Bingo.

I showed the ad to my younger brother when I got home, and we proceeded to get very anxious. This band was real. Mike Patton was clearly in it. And they looked to be weird as all get-out. We couldn't wait. I don't remember if the album was already out, or if we had to wait a few weeks for it to actually be released, but at some point shortly thereafter, my brother bought the cassette. I remember the first time we listened to it. We put it in, prepared ourselves for "Travolta," and stood back. Nothing. Then, after at least 30 seconds, something shatters like a bottle being broken on the ground and, because we had the volume cranked up in an attempt to hear the music that wasn't there yet, the guitars that open up the record blared through the speakers. Mission accomplished, Mr. Bungle. You scared the shit out of us.

It's little things like that, mixed in with all the mind-blowing songs, that make this record what it is: both incredibly brilliant and also pranky and borderline annoying. And we couldn't get enough of it. These guys played brilliantly, made music like nothing we'd ever heard before, and didn't seem to give a fuck about anything. At one point (during the end of "Slowly Growing Deaf"), there is what appears to be a recording of someone taking a monster dump. As a teenager, this amused me to no end. Eh, it still does.

There are ten songs on this album, and the shortest one clocks in at 5:14. The longest is 10:40. They are all meticulously written, arranged, and recorded. The lyrics are juvenile but the melodies are intricate and astounding. Classifying the music is impossible. Wikipedia calls it "experimental rock/avant-garde metal," but that might only be half of it, especially when you consider how much their sound changed over the years. But we'll get to that. For now, we're talking about this one. And I'm going to have to break it down song-by-song so I don't miss anything.

"Travolta," later to be known as "Quote Unquote" is, like I said, the album's opener, and it's a monster of a song. It is actually about John Travolta, and it's not complimentary. This was the only song that saw a video release from this album, though it never got any airplay. I never saw it until the internet came along. Key lyric: "He's a bird in flight, a hermaphrodite/And he fucks himself as he fucks the world."

"Slowly Growing Deaf" is a loud/quiet, fast/slow beast, a song that seems to be about the band's disdain for playing live, or maybe their hatred for shitty bands. I've never been sure which. This was an early favorite of mine when I first started listening to this album. Key lyric: "Wax within my ears has grown/Just like the snot inside my nose."

"Squeeze Me Macaroni" is a crazy funk-ish number that features Patton half-rapping and going completely nuts. The lite-pop payoff at the end is one of the greatest things ever. Key lyric: "I got yogurt meat loaf smeared all over my ass."

"Carousel" always struck me as the most radio-friendly song on the whole record, and it's also the shortest. It sounds like circus music, and features a great chorus. Like most songs on this record, it is best enjoyed through headphones. A lot going on here. Key lyric: "The clown that painted a smile on you/Is now the one unmasking you."

"Egg" is seven minutes of abstract metal/ska ridiculousness, followed by three minutes of what sounds like a recording of some dudes walking around. It is awesome. Key lyric: "The flooded cyst drains itself of pus/The lonely stomach chills unless it's drunk."

"Stubb (A Dub)" was always one of my favorite songs on this record, and it still is. The lyrics (which seem to be about a dog named Stubb A Dub) are actually sentimental if you want them to be, and the song has a breakdown that just gets me every time. Key lyric: "It's time to wipe your butt/Sliding down butt hill."

"My Ass is on Fire" is, surprisingly, the most lyrically abstract song on the record, though I've always suspected it's just about an old dude with hemorrhoids. It's probably my least favorite song on the album, but I still like it. Key lyric: "Impotence/Boomerang/I'll stab you."

"The Girls of Porn" is a song about watching porn and beating off to it. The band probably regretted it soon after making it. Loved it when I was 15, but this song in particular has really not aged well. Though the chorus is very catchy... Key lyric: "Nobody's home I'm alone/Aja & John Holmes."

"Love is a Fist," aside from having the greatest song title ever, is another abstract song, and another song that seems to be about masturbation. It is metal-heavy, and a great, great song. Maybe not as catchy as some of the other ones, but a quality rocker. Key lyric: "Clenched emotions/'Round my ween."

"Dead Goon" is the most musically abstract song on the album, and a perfect one to end on. It's complex, stacked with layers of sound, and sort of summarizes everything that preceded it. If you are a champ, you will sit through the whole thing. Key lyric: "Sex? There's no such thing/Choices left me laughing, choking, laughing."

I used to have this album on limited edition picture vinyl. Then I got poor and sold it. I got a bunch of money for it, but I miss it. I'm working on getting another copy. It's one of my major record-collecting regrets. But I'll always have the music, and that's something. Right?


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention in the 1960's (2008)

Because I am an idiot, I just found out this movie existed a few weeks ago. Without hesitation, I Netflixed it, and then watched the shit out of it. I had no idea what to expect, but I came away completely satisfied. If you want a two-hour crash course on the original Mothers of Invention, this'll do the trick.

Starting with the roots of the Mothers, this movie documents (it's a documentary, if that's not clear) Zappa's early musical life, briefly, then dives right into the story of how the Mothers formed. After that, each of their albums are discussed in fairly great detail, chronologically. My kind of movie. It's logically constructed, and the story is told mainly through the interviews, with minimal narration. Clips of the Mothers performing are included (though there's nothing new and the bits are usually short), and music from each album plays while it's being dissected. Like I said, it's put together nicely.

The interview subjects are a varied bunch, and I've seen some online reviews criticizing the film for the long-winded answers and explanations that some of the interviewees are allowed. Yes, some of the segments are long. But, the dudes interviewed (at least the ones that I've seen complaints about) are music nerds who have done their research and get almost every point correct. On top the biographers and music geeks, there are also, thankfully, interviews with some of the original Mothers of Invention: Jimmy Carl Black, Bunk Gardner, Don Preston, and Arthur Tripp are all in the film, and it's their first-person accounts that really make the film.

While it's clear that the ex-members do harbor a little bit of bitterness (mostly regarding Zappa's oddly-timed dissolution of the group), they spend most of their segments recalling the more positive experiences they had with the band. Jimmy Carl Black, particularly, has some great stories to tell, and his pride in being in the band is apparent in every one he tells. There are tales of the infamous Zappa audition process, shows gone completely wrong, and what it was like to be in a band that rehearsed for hours a day, almost every day.

Personally, I didn't find any of it windbag-ish at all. Yes, some of the people interviewed weren't actually there, but they know what they're talking about. I even learned a few new things about the chronology of some of the recorded output, and seeing the current interviews with the Mothers members (especially Jimmy Carl Black, who died shortly after) was fantastic.

It might be a little to detailed for someone who just wants an overview of the band, but if you're looking for some analysis and some in-depth discussion of all the original Mothers of Invention albums, this is a great way to find it all in one place. I recommend the heck out of it.

You can watch the first few minutes here.

And by gosh, I think that does it for The Mothers. We started on January 1st, and here we are on the 24th. Three and a half weeks, folks. Thanks for hanging in there. Now go buy Freak Out! and introduce yourself to the greatest band ever.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - Ahead of Their Time (CD,1993)

This is probably about as close as you'll come to getting an idea of what a Mothers of Invention show would have been like in their heyday. Recorded on October 25, 1968, this album is a must for any serious Mothers of Invention fan. For those of you who consider yourselves fans but aren't as serious about it, I'd suggest you start at track 11.

Tracks 1-10 represent a short play/musical that Zappa would later call Progress?, a loose story about some of the Mothers quitting to form their own splinter groups and the trouble they encounter along the way. There's music mixed in with the semi-improvised dialogue, but it's all fairly abstract stuff that is meant to (I'm assuming) evoke the feelings of the characters in the bit. I find it quite interesting, but that's because I can tell who everyone is. There's also short film clips of this performance in a few Zappa movies, so I don't have any trouble picturing it. But that's me: I'm a cool, cool guy.

Really though, the point I'm trying to make is that if you don't at least kind of understand what's going on, it won't be of much interest to you. I usually view it as a long intro to the musical section that makes up the second half, which is where things really get moving. So, in that fashion, it's a nice warm-up.

Track 11 is a rousing, eight-minute version of "King Kong," where the band, who had been holding back for the duration of Progress? finally gets to let loose. It's an incredible jam, ending with warbling feedback and click-clacky percussion that segues right into an amended, minute-and-a-half version of "Help, I'm A Rock." I'm pretty sure that's the last track with vocals on the album.

From there, it's on to "Transylvania Boogie," which runs right into a wacky version of "Pound for a Brown" that twists and turns all over the place (as that song tends to do). Zappa's guitar solo on it is muffled and relegated to the near background, but it's fantastic nonetheless. That moves right into short, tight, peppy instrumental versions of "Sleeping in a Jar," "Let's Make the Water Turn Black," and "Harry, You're a Beast," which are melded together and pulled off seamlessly.

The album wraps up with two sections of "The Orange County Lumber Truck," one very short and right before "Oh No" (which is sandwiched in between the two), and one ten-minute-plus section that beats the show into submission and ends it poignantly. Parts of that song (and that specific performance), I believe, appeared on Weasels Ripped My Flesh but in a different version.

This CD is one of my most recent Mothers purchases, and I can't stop listening to it. The second half of it, as long as you're OK with the lack of vocals, is practically untouchable. In the liner notes, Zappa calls it a "fair" performance (this was one of the last Zappa-related albums released before his death), but he'd never admit that it was great. I'll admit it: it's great.

Can't find any audio for this specific album, but here are The Mothers of Invention in 1968




Friday, January 22, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - Playground Psychotics (2xCD, 1992)

Ready to get hardcore?

Playground Psychotics is not for the casual Mothers fan. The vitals: 57 tracks, clocking in at 132 minutes. The majority of the tracks are hand-held-recorded audio tape snippets of the band between shows. On the bus. In the hotels. Backstage. Talking. The version of "Billy the Mountain" on this collection is the unedited one. It is over a half an hour long. Just look at the back cover of this thing. Scared? You should be.

The good news: Thanks to technology (and by that, I mean iTunes), you can pare this thing down to a great little live album, one that supplements both Fillmore East - June 1971 and Just Another Band from L.A. quite well. Yes, this is Flo & Eddie-era Mothers, back for one more crack at it. If you're a huge fan of this version of the Mothers, this collection will give you a crazy boner. If you're not, this will do nothing to change your opinion. But I have to say, some of the best second-version-of-the-Mothers stuff resides in these discs. I'll break that down in a bit. First, I have to tell you how this sprawling set is designed to be listened to.

Set up like a sort-of audio documentary, the album is sequenced thusly: Tracks 1-11 on Disc 1 are "A Typical Day On the Road, Part 1." These are audio bits of the band traveling, trying to coordinate a photo shoot, getting to the hotel, etc. This stuff will bore you to tears if you don't know who these people are. If you do, it's quite interesting. Once or twice.

Tracks 12-21 are a mix of live recordings from the '70-'71 tours, a nice mix of noisy experimental stuff ("Zanti Serenade," "Don't Eat There," "Super Grease") and more traditional songs, some of which might be familiar ("Sleeping in a Jar," "Sharleena," "Cruising for Burgers"). The recordings are great, and all the songs are played really well. It's all made to sound like one big show, but I know there's substantial editing throughout the whole thing.

Tracks 22-26 were recorded during the same shows as the Fillmore LP, but weren't released (by Zappa, at least) until this album came out. They feature (and this has always been so weird to me) John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and are some of the most surreal recordings of the Mothers I've ever heard. The band does five songs with Lennon on guitar and vocals, and Yoko on vocals as well. "Well" is a blues number that John says he "used to play in the Cavern in Liverpool" but hasn't played in a long time. Yoko yelps along in the background, and after a few verses, Lennon screams "Zappa!" and FZ busts loose with an incredible guitar solo. It's great.

"Say Please" is about a minute of everyone screeching at what I'm assuming is Zappa's commands, because they're quite tight. "Aaawk" is Zappa and Lennon jamming while Yoko warbles and screeches. "Scumbag," which is easily the highlight here, is a rambling rock number that just repeats the title of the song over and over. There's some vocal improv, but it's really the instruments that get a workout. It's a terrific song. It's followed by the aptly named "A Small Eternity With Yoko Ono," which is basically six minutes of Yoko cry-singing over feedback. Good luck with that one. Still - historic recording? Methinks so.

Tracks 1-10 on Disc 2 comprise "A Typical Day On the Road, Part 2." It's more of the band rambling, and it's occasionally funny. Tracks 11-19 are more live tracks (interspersed with a few talking spots), and they're the best part of this whole set. The band runs through "Status Back Baby," "Concentration Moon," and "Mom & Dad," before launching into the mega-mad rock operatics of "Billy the Mountain." I think I said it before, but attempting to explain "Billy the Mountain" is impossible. My ex-roommate who used to drunkenly sing along to the entire 30 minutes of it on a nightly basis could probably break it down for you, but I've never been able to wrap my head around it.

Disc 2 wraps up with 12 tracks collected as "The True Story of 200 Motels," which isn't much more than audio taken from the film of the same name. Phew. It's a lot to listen to, folks. But take out the talking and some of the more questionable tracks (I'm looking at you, Yoko), and you've got yourself some great Mothers live shit. Seriously. Flo & Eddie doing "Mom & Dad" is actually a little bit moving.

The Mothers and Lennon at the Fillmore - (site might be NSFW)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - 'Tis the Season to Be Jelly (LP, 1991)

This is a bootleg of a Mothers show in Sweden from 1967, and one of the more common ones you're bound to see. Not sure when it was originally bootlegged, but it's been around for a long time in one form or another.

In 1991, Zappa, tired of all these random bootleg recordings floating around (without any compensation on his end), collected the most common ones and released them through Rhino as the Beat the Boots box. (They were also released on CD.) The copy I have is from that era, and it must have been released on its own (not in the box set), because I can't believe anyone in their right mind would break up the box. Beat the Boots is on my list of Zappa LPs to buy, but it's quite expensive if you can find a decent copy with everything intact. So, I've been putting it off. As of right now, I have two of the LPs from the box, but I want the whole damn thing in its complete form. Someday.

So, like I said, this show is from Sweden in 1967. The date is often disputed, but it's commonly listed as September 30. It's a great (and most likely incomplete) show, with the Mothers doing a nice variety of stuff. The first side features a waltz version of "You Didn't Try to Call Me," along with a fairly straightforward take on "Big Leg Emma." There's also short bits of such rock classics as "Baby Love," "Blue Suede Shoes," and "Hound Dog," along with a few other random pop songs.

The second side is comprised of two songs: A seventeen-minute version of "King Kong," and a strangely faithful-to-the-album version of "It Can't Happen Here," or at least initially. After the lyrics cut out, the band goes into noise-improv mode and it gets all sorts of weird. "King Kong" is pretty good, but the band sounds a bit directionless in certain spots. The same goes for the rest of the album. I'm not trying to say this isn't good. Any bootleg of the Mothers from this era is worth listening to. It's just that the recording's not particularly great, and the performance probably wasn't one of their better ones.

I still play this record every once in a while, but I can't say it's one of my favorites. Great cover though, huh?

Can't find any audio, but here's a weird version of "Let's Make the Water Turn Black" from 1967.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - We Are The Mothers and This Is What We Sound Like! (LP, 1985)

This is a weird one.

I found this LP in a local record store, probably five years ago, and paid eight bucks for it. I had never seen it before, and assumed it was a bootleg. But when I looked at the vinyl, I saw that it had a Bizarre label on it. This record didn't look like it was that old (the cover was glossy and the whole thing was in just too good of shape), but the Bizarre label hadn't put anything out since 1973. However, the label, while having the correct Bizarre font and the logo, didn't have much other information. On top of that, the back cover featured artwork that was much in the same style as the inner sleeves of Joe's Garage, which wasn't released until 1979. My curiosity grew.

The music made things even more confusing. This isn't some poorly-recorded show, slapped onto wax to turn a quick profit. These are genuine Mothers outtakes that I had never heard before, along with snippets of the band talking. There were a few tracks that I recognized ("Igor's Boogie" and "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance"), but they were not the versions on the albums. However, "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" sounded suspiciously like the version I'd heard on The Lost Episodes, a compilation released in 1996.

At the time that I bought this record, I had a terrible time finding any information about it on the internet. I saw copies on eBay every once in a while, but nobody seemed to be paying any attention to them. That made me think, again, that this was in no way legit. (At least as far as the release went. The music was/is undeniably the original Mothers.)

Recently, I finally figured out what the heck this thing is. I got most of my information from this page, which you're free to read if you really want to nerd out. It is indeed a bootleg, but it has an interesting story. I guess it was supposed to be released in 1969, and they got to the point of making an acetate test pressing, but then it didn't happen for some reason. But one of the Mothers had the copy of the acetate, and let someone copy it for money. It was originally released (bootlegged) as Necessity Is... and Rustic Protrusion. This LP is a bootleg of those bootlegs, released (from what I can tell) around 1985.

Turns out a bunch of this stuff was on The Lost Episodes; I just don't listen to that album much and didn't put it together. Most of the other tracks have found subsequent release on other posthumous Zappa collections, but a few still haven't, as far as I know. They're nothing special (and I think one of them - "Hey Nelda" - might even be a Ray Collins solo track), but they're cool to have. This record is cool to have. It would have been super cool to have before The Lost Episodes came out. But it's still a nice one for the ol' collection.

Can't find any audio for this one, but here's some incredible footage of The Mothers of Invention in 1967.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention (LP, 1975)

Sometimes referred to as Transparency, this is yet another Mothers compilation put together by Verve, without any input from Zappa. I'm fairly certain this was the last one to come out, because by this point, even the second version of the Mothers had disbanded. (Though Zappa would still sporadically use the name for a while. More on that when we get to the Z's.)

Like the other ones, there's not a whole lot worth mentioning here unless you're an obsessive nerd, so let's get into it. First off, this LP contains both "Big Leg Emma" and "Why Don't You Do Me Right" (often also seen as "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right?"), two songs that were released as a single in 1967, but wouldn't see an official album release until 1995, when they would inexplicably be plopped right in the middle of Absolutely Free. (If you own Absolutely Free and it's in your iTunes, do yourself a favor and move those songs to the end. It fucks up the flow of the album as it was intended to be heard.) So, those would have been cool to have at this point if you didn't have a copy of the original 7".

There's also a cut called "Excerpt from Lumpy Gravy - The Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra & Chorus," which is the chunk of Lumpy Gravy that includes "Dog Breath," if I'm not mistaken. So that's a unique edit, which is interesting.

Other than that, there's 19 other tracks, and by my count, 12 of them are from We're Only in It for the Money. Of course, they're from the highly censored version of the LP, so they sound weird to me. They'd sound weird to you if you're used to listening to the CD version of the album. So, "flower power sucks" and "I'll love the police as they kick the shit out of me on the street" are missing, but a line about the Velvet Underground that is not (if I recall correctly) on recent reissues is in there. Odd.

Yet another comp that Zappa snobs turn up their noses at, and yet another one that I own the shit out of. If nothing else, it's fun for the mini-bio on the back where they refer to Jimmy Carl Black as "Jim Black."

"Why Don't You Do Me Right"

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Mothers - Just Another Band from L.A. (LP, 1972)

Recorded a few months after the Fillmore East - June 1971 LP, this is the other big Flo & Eddie-era live album released by The Mothers, and due to an unfortunate injury sustained by Zappa shortly thereafter, it would be the last. But it's a great one to go out on.

If you didn't like the Fillmore LP, you probably won't like this one. But if you did, you'll love this oddball grouping of five tracks. The groupie stories are gone, and they've been replaced with a random variety of songs. The entire first side of the LP is devoted to "Billy the Mountain," the 25-minute rock-opera-ish giant that I still don't quite understand. I think I used to, but it's been a while. My roommate in college loved the song, but he didn't even fuck around with this version. He went straight for the unedited, thirty-minute-plus version from 1993's Playground Psychotics. (Don't worry - we're getting to that.) I've heard "Billy the Mountain" a hundred times, but it's been a decade since I really gave it a go.

But I still like it. It's stop-and-go, with short bits of song interspersed with the dialogue from Flo & Eddie. And when the band is allowed to let loose a little bit, the grooves can get going. So that's nice.

The second side of the record starts with an updated, more rocking version of "Call Any Vegetable," which adds some new sections and ends up being an almost completely different song. Pretty damn fun. After that, it's the falsetto majesty of "Eddie, Are You Kidding?," which I always thought had something to do with Eddie of Flo & Eddie, but I guess it's about some guy who was on TV at the time. Regardless, it's a nice little pop number, and one of the shorter songs on the record.

"Magdalena" is a peppy, slightly dirty number that starts off sort of shitty but ends up going through a series of twists and turns and ends up being pretty entertaining. "Dog Breath," which appears in different versions on a bunch of Zappa records, winds things up here. And it remains one of my favorite Mothers songs. The version here is different than all the others, and Flo & Eddie just nail it. It's great.

Put this record together with the Fillmore LP, and you've got yourself a solid representation of what The Mothers were all about during the first few years of the 70's. And if you can tell the difference between Flo & Eddie's voices, consider yourself a true aficionado.

"Call Any Vegetable"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: The True Story of Frank Zappa's 200 Motels (1988)

You've watched the film version of 200 Motels at least ten times, and you've spent hours, headphones-clad, listening to the original motion picture soundtrack. What's left for a 200 Motels junkie like yourself? Why, the making-of documentary, of course. Yes, that's right. You heard right. An hour-long documentary on the trials and tribulations of one of the weirdest films ever to be released.

Zappa put this little movie together himself, and I have to say: it might be more entertaining than the actual film it documents. There's behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with members of the band, some bonus live performances, and best of all, some of Zappa's own home movies from 1970. Yep, FZ just kickin' around his house with his wife and a few of his kids. It's pretty awesome.

Narration is done on-screen, with Zappa providing informational asides through written bits superimposed over whatever's happening. Usually these give insight into how the person talking fucked up the movie or otherwise prevented things from being easy in one way or another. There is also a current (at the time) interview with Zappa where he provides further information on the technical aspects of the film and the hoops they had to jump through to get it made.

It's not a traditional documentary, but at an hour long, it makes for a great companion piece to the film. The biggest bummer of 200 Motels is revealed here, which is even more troubling when you consider how much more awesome this documentary could have been: The producers of the movie, after it was done, took all the film used to shoot the movie and erased it. So all the scenes that didn't make the final cut, and all the random shit that got shot over the week of filming was lost forever. And they recouped four grand on a movie they were paying over $675,000 to make.

Pretty weak. But Zappa found the guy who made his own documentary about the making of the film (for a news station or something), got a hold of his footage, and re-edited it and made his own movie out of it. And that's basically what this is. It's impossible to find (and of course hasn't been released on DVD), but if you have any desire to see it, you can watch about the first forty minutes of it
and here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Mothers - 200 Motels (2xLP, 1971)

The soundtrack to 200 Motels is almost as confusing as the movie. The songs don't follow the order in which they appear in the film, the incidental music (the orchestral stuff) is mixed in with the rock stuff, and some of it includes dialogue from the film, which sounds like it was recorded directly from the film itself.

So, the recording quality varies throughout the album, which is a little distracting, and any plot devices that were used in the film are pretty much lost on the soundtrack. In some ways, it makes a perfect companion to the film. You can't follow it, there are slow parts throughout, and unless you're really paying attention (and know some stuff going into it), you most likely won't be able to make any sense of it.

This is easily The Mothers album I have heard the least, so I can't say a whole lot about the intricacies of it, but there are some great Flo & Eddie-led jams on here. Like the movie, and like the Fillmore LP, the songs are mostly based on life on the road, specifically about groupies and sex. The lyrics are sometimes dirty, often juvenile, and some focus on back-and-forth exchanges between Flo & Eddie, who play caricatures of themselves and others. If this sounds like a busy collection of songs, it is. It's a long, haphazard group of tracks, but overall, a good album.

The orchestral tunes are what they are: well-recorded pieces of Zappa's music, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. If that's your thing, you'll love the stuff in that format presented here. The Mothers stuff often sounds like slightly better-than-average bootleg recordings, which doesn't deter too much from the overall effect of the songs. In fact, it mostly works, considering the subject of the songs. Cuts like "Mystery Roach" and "Shove it Right In" are some of the more rocking songs The Mothers of this era would produce, and "She Painted Her Face" contains a really powerful melody.

There could be a little more rock here, in my opinion, but if you have the patience to plow through the entirety of this thing, you'll get some serious satisfaction out of it. And if you can find a decent copy of the LP, it's a great-looking one. Gatefold cover, and if you're lucky, the original booklet that was included with original pressings. It's sort of a weird 200 Motels storybook. Of course, it doesn't make much sense, either, but the pictures are nice.

"Mystery Roach"

Friday, January 15, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: 200 Motels (1971)

Like Uncle Meat, I hadn't seen 200 Motels in years. And also like Uncle Meat, 200 Motels was tough to track down because it hasn't been released on DVD, and not quite as bad as I remember it being.

Before I had seen either of these movies (for the first time, many years ago), I had some slightly exaggerated expectations for both of them. It was The Mothers; how bad could it be? Plenty bad, of course. But re-watching both of them, I already knew basically what I was in for, so I just relaxed and took them for what they have since come to represent: The Mothers captured on film during their still-kind-of-early days. Which is cool, regardless of things like "story" or "plot." I also watched them by myself this time around so I didn't have to apologize to anyone for subjecting them to these flicks.

As I said during the recap of Fillmore East - June 1971, Zappa was, throughout this short era, entirely consumed with life on the road. Specifically, what a semi-struggling rock & roll band has to go through on a day-to-day basis. If you take the time to try and figure out what 200 Motels is about, this is probably what you'll roughly come up with. But, it's tough to glean a whole lot more than that from the acid-y random segments (ironic, considering Zappa's staunch anti-drug stance and hatred of psychedelic culture) and loosely scripted vignettes of air-headed groupies and frustrated rockers.

I have to be honest: it's really hard to explain a film like 200 Motels, especially without explaining how each character (usually a member of the band, in this case, and usually reliant on the viewer's knowledge of who they are in relation to The Mothers) relates not only to the equally inexplicable plot, but to the nonsensical happenings around them. This movie watches like a dream, literally. The only difference being that there's some really good music in certain sections. Of course, Zappa's barely in it. It's mostly Flo & Eddie, and a little bit (but not nearly enough) of Don Preston.

The final scene is fantastic, with both the movie and the music building up to a huge ending. But really, it's just the fact that this thing got made that ends up being the most impressive thing about it. Nobody seems to know what they're doing, they never leave the one room they're in, and nothing really happens. Yet Ringo Starr and Keith Moon are both in it. It's just incredibly fucking bizarre. And if you're a fan of this era of Zappa, you should see it. Just to say you saw it.

I'm planning on watching it every decade or so.

200 Motels trailer

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - The Worst of the Mothers (LP, 1971)

Not much to say about this one. It's another unauthorized (by Zappa) Mothers compilation that contains tracks from the first three Mothers of Invention albums.

Fairly standard stuff, except that it starts off with an amended version of "Help, I'm a Rock" that, from what I can tell, only includes the "In Memoriam, Edgar Varèse" section (the second part of three). Kind of cool in that it leads off the album, but from there, it's all (from what I can tell) the album versions of the rest of the songs. Seems like about half of them are from We're Only in It for the Money. They are edited together fairly nicely, so the songs almost blend into one another.

I have KBOO's (Portland's community radio station) DJ (promo) copy of this record, which I think is kind of cool. (I know it's theirs because it has "KBOO" written in magic marker on the cover.) The promo is by no means rare, and neither are any copies of this album. It's just another one that I picked up for fairly cheap because I wanted to have it.

Terrible cover, nothing better on the back. Really the ugliest of all Mothers records. And another one that Zappa purists scoff at. Good for them.

"Status Back Baby"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Mothers - Fillmore East - June 1971 (LP, 1971)

As I said, Zappa disbanded the original Mothers of Invention around 1969. However, he kept Ian Underwood (wind instrument dude) and Don Preston (keyboardist and pure stallion) around for the band's next incarnation, which would mostly be referred to as, simply, The Mothers. This is the first record that left off the "of Invention" and it's also the first record to feature what some refer to as the "Vaudeville" Mothers. I never refer to them as that. I refer to this period as "The Flo & Eddie Years."

I'm not going to go into the whole story of Flo & Eddie (really Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, respectively), but if you want a quick synopsis, you can check out their Wikipedia article. Bascially, they were the dudes from The Turtles. And for the short time that they were with Zappa and the newly formed Mothers, they were Zappa's mouthpieces, performing songs/skits and generally hamming it up. Some people love this era of The Mothers, others struggle with it. I, sometimes against my better judgment, love it. I got into the Flo & Eddie shit before I even turned twenty, and I think I was smoking enough pot that it all made sense to me. Now I've just got a soft spot for the whole damn thing.

Don't get me wrong: I still prefer the original Mothers of Invention, but I like this a lot, too. And in a different way. But I understand why folks wouldn't. There's a lot of talking. Seriously. A lot.

At this point in his career, Zappa was certifiably obsessed with showing the world his interpretation of the life of a touring rock band. It's really all that this album and 200 Motels (the film and the album - both of which we'll get to) are about. And, like I said, this era of The Mothers is very lyric-heavy. And, considerably and consistently dirtier than anything Zappa had done up to this point. Does it feel a little juvenile at certain points? Definitely. Are there some great songs mixed in with the performance dialogue? Yes. So, I've always felt that if you have the patience for this record, it really pays off.

Yes, "Do You Like My New Car" is basically seven minutes of Flo & Eddie talking over a slow groove. But, the four songs that follow it (and conclude the album) are full-on fantastic. They even throw an amended cover of "Happy Together" in there, and it somehow works. There are some slow cuts (if you don't like hearing Flo & Eddie talk) during the beginning-middle of the LP, but "Latex Solar Beef" and "Willie the Pimp" are tough to beat.

This album, like a lot of Zappa's stuff, takes patience. But wait until we get to Playground Psychotics. It's from this same era, is three times as long, and features backstage conversations between band members. Fillmore East seems like an EP compared to that thing. But that one will have to wait. But not too long.

Anyway. There is a time and a place for this record. If you can find it, there's some serious enjoyment to be had here. I firmly believe that.

Not from this actual album, but a live recording from the same era.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - Weasels Ripped My Flesh (LP, 1970)

I mentioned earlier that The Mothers released two albums post-breakup, both containing previously unreleased material. Burnt Weeny Sandwich was the first, and this one's the second. While the style of music is relatively the same on both records (long instrumental songs, some experimental stuff), Weasels Ripped My Flesh is a bit looser, probably due to the fact that the majority of it was recorded live.

Still, it doesn't necessarily sound live, which makes for an interesting feel throughout the album. Meaning - and I guess this is the most significant aspect of the "not sounding live" part - you don't often hear the crowd, even during the quieter breaks in the songs (of which there are many). But, you can tell from the recordings that these aren't studio takes - there are minor blips and voices heard, and there is certainly some improvisation (within the predetermined structure of the song, of course) taking place. But it's not until the end of each side of the LP that you hear the audience applaud.

Recording his band live and not necessarily listing the album as such became a go-to move for Zappa, and I think this record might have represented that method in its nascent stages. This record also features another favorite move of Zappa's: blending two different recordings to form one complete song. "Toads of the Short Forest" contains two different sections, the first recorded in the studio, and the second recorded live. They blend seamlessly, and you wouldn't know it unless you read the liner notes. "The Orange County Lumber Truck" contains portions of two different live recordings, which must have been the better sections of each performance.

If Burnt Weeny Sandwich was meant to challenge listeners, Weasels Ripped My Flesh certainly wasn't intended to cut them any breaks, either. A track like "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask," which in its second half contains long portions of Roy Estrada howling, is sure to send the uninitiated running. Same with the title track, which is pure noise for two minutes. But, while there's also some of the Mothers' trademark hyper-technical instrumentals, there's also some really accessible material here.

"Directly from My Heart to You" is a Little Richard cover done in a straight-up blues style with great vocals from guest Don "Sugarcane" Harris. "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" (in its first released version here) is a catchy tune with uncharacteristically forceful lead vocals by Zappa. And "Oh No," previously heard as part of Lumpy Gravy (Zappa's first solo record that we'll get to later), is mega-catchy.

Again, would I recommend this to someone who hasn't already tried out The Mothers of Invention? Nah. But I love this record. If nothing else, the cover's great and the abstractness of the music will impress your friends. Or drive them away. Whatever.

"Didja Get Any Onya?"

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - The Mothers of Invention (LP, 1970)

Possibly also known as Golden Archive Series, this is another unauthorized Mothers compilation that consists of previously released material from their first three records.

While this is another comp that is poo-pooed by Zappa purists, it is slightly notable for a few reasons. While it doesn't contain any unreleased material, it does contain strange edits of a few tracks, which is a bit amusing.

"Mother People," the first track on the LP, starts from the second verse, and then contains a small portion of the beginning of "The Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny," the song that originally followed it on We're Only in It for the Money. "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" and "Absolutely Free" both fade out really abruptly, because they were seamlessly edited into other tracks on the original version.

So, nothing too major, but it's interesting for what it is. There's also some spelling errors in the tracklisting on the back, the most blatant being on "Son of Suzy Creamcheese," where they have it spelled "Son of Suzi Cream Cheese." Not helping their cause.

I have a pretty beat-up copy of this record, but I'm always hesitant to replace it with a better one. It's actually kind of hard to find, and I never listen to it. Eh, the vinyl's in fairly good shape, and that's probably enough for me.

"Flower Punk"

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - Burnt Weeny Sandwich (LP, 1970)

Zappa disbanded the original Mothers of Invention in 1969, but still had enough unreleased material left over for a few additional albums. This is the first, a nine-track collection of mostly instrumental songs that capture the Mothers at arguably their tightest and most ambitious.

The album is bookended by two doo-wop-ish cover tunes, "WPLJ" (by the Four Deuces), and "Valarie" (by Jackie and the Starlites). It wasn't often that Zappa would whip out a cover song, but these two fit extremely well within the framework of the previous homages The Mothers made to the early genre of rock.

The remainder of the album consists of abstract instrumentals, ranging from the under-a-minute horn-blowing of "Igor's Boogie, Phase One" and "Igor's Boogie, Phase Two," to the impressively sprawling blues and jazz-tinged madness of the eighteen minute-plus "Little House I Used to Live In." In the end, it all basically blends into one big piece of music, and it's another Mothers album that is intimidating at first, but heavily rewarding once you realize what it entails and what you can expect.

"Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown" runs through complex arrangements for its first half, then turns into a distinctly-Zappa guitar solo towards the end. "Aybe Sea" is a sparse, piano-based number that ends up being one of the most beautiful songs The Mothers ever recorded. But, really, it's all about "Little House I Used to Live In." The song takes so many twists and turns that you can get lost in it. In a good way.

Another album that's probably not a good place to start with The Mothers, but a great place to go to if you're in the mood for some of their more complex (and well-recorded) early instrumentals. I like this one a lot.

"Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown" & "Aybe Sea"

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - The **** of The Mothers (LP, 1969)

The Mothers started out on the Verve record label, but beginning with Uncle Meat, they moved to Bizarre, which was a sub-label of Reprise that (from what I understand) was created just for Zappa. Previously, I spoke about Mothermania and how it was the only Mothers compilation approved and compiled by Zappa himself.

Apparently Verve still wanted to capitalize on the success of The Mothers, so they released this compilation after the band went to their new label. As I said, a lot of Zappa fans consider a record like this fairly worthless, as it contains no new material, wasn't released with the band's permission, and basically comes off as a cash-grab. I agree with those sentiments, but I like to own the damn thing anyway. It's got interesting cover art, and after all, it is technically a Mothers album, so the completist in me demands that I have it.

Do I ever listen to it? Nope. But I like to see it sitting there. It features cuts from their first three records, with the only interesting anomaly being that of the three-part "Call Any Vegetable" trilogy (discussed in the previous Mothermania post), it includes only the second two parts, which effectively omits the basis for the conclusion. So, that's a bit odd, but not really that interesting.

I still consider it a solid part of my Mothers collection, though. It's a good-looking record.

"Concentration Moon"

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - Uncle Meat (2xLP, 1969)

This album will always bring one hilarious personal memory to mind for me. While talking to my friend Nate one night, the subject of what record he likes to put on while he's making love to a lady came up. He didn't even hesitate: "Uncle Meat by The Mothers." This is not funny to you. But if you knew Nate and you knew Uncle Meat... Just trust me. It's the best answer ever.

Like the movie - but not to such a crippling degree - the soundtrack to Uncle Meat takes patience. But once you let it into your brain (and your heart - awww), there is no going back. I have never listened to Uncle Meat while physically romancing a lady, but I'll tell you what: it's a great road trip record, a great record to clean the house to, and a great record to just put on and stare at the ceiling to. It's everything that was ever great about the Mothers in one hour-plus package (actually, I think the CD is much longer than that): jaunty instrumentals, random dialogue, unidentifiable sound effects, incredibly catchy songs, and bootleg-quality live recordings that threaten to negate the whole thing until you realize how brilliantly they fit into the scope of the album.

This is a record that demands to be listened to beginning to end. If you don't find something to love in track 3, the six-minute abstractness that is "Nine Types of Industrial Pollution," then this might not be for you. But if you find it intriguing - even if you're not sure why - stick with it. Play the rest of the album and let it suck you in.

Witness the beauty of the pepped-up doo-wop in "Dog Breath, in the Year of the Plague." Try to get "Sleeping in a Jar" out of your head, even though it's less than a minute long. It will haunt you. And when you've finally made it through all six parts of "King Kong," you will be a convert. Or maybe you'll have hated it. I don't know. But the first time I heard this record, I couldn't wait to hear it again. And I still listen to it more than probably any other Mothers album. I think.

A note on the CD version: it contains some tracks that were not included on the original double-LP set, and should not be listened to. They are "Uncle Meat Film Excerpt, Pt. 1," "Tengo Na Minchia Tanta," and "Uncle Meat Film Excerpt, Pt. 2." Avoid them, as they are useless.

This is also one of my favorite Mothers albums, art-wise. Sweet gatefold cover, incredibly strange artwork inside and out, and a 12-page booklet that contains the actual Uncle Meat story, as Zappa envisioned it. It makes little sense, too, but a bit more than the movie.

I recommend the shit out of this album.

"King Kong"

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Uncle Meat: The Mothers of Invention Movie (1987)

Thank goodness for Movie Madness. When you need to rent a straight-to-video release from Frank Zappa's Honker Home Video that was put out on VHS in 1987 and never released to DVD, you can count on them. I think they had three copies. Which is sweet, because I really didn't want to shell out forty bucks for it on eBay, when I know it'll see a DVD release at some point in my lifetime.

Here's the deal with Uncle Meat (as far as I know). Zappa and the Mothers started filming the flick around 1968, quickly ran out of money and time, and never finished it. Almost twenty years later, Zappa pieced the footage they did have together and released it to home video independently. Mothers fans had been waiting for it forever. How did they know about it? Because The Mothers released the soundtrack to it in 1969 (we'll get to that next), with this subtitled on the front: "Most of the music from the Mother's (sic) movie of the same name which we haven't got enough money to finish yet." So, the legend was born.

Was it worth the almost two-decade wait? I could probably find some folks who would tell you it was. But those people would be hardcore Mothers fans. This movie is not for the casual fan, my friends. Though, I do have to say, it was not nearly as boring as I remember it being. I watched it about ten years ago and really struggled with it. This time around, I knew what I was in for, so I just sat back, relaxed, and watched keyboardist Don Preston (in the title role) dick around for almost two hours. And really, that's all it is.

There's a loose story about the love between Uncle Meat (aka Don Preston aka Biff Debris) and Sheba Flieschman (aka film editor Phyllis Altenhaus, who also plays herself), which is both portrayed as part of the scripted film and part of the making-of documentary, which is sort of what the movie ends up being anyway. Sheba gets excited when Don transforms into Uncle Meat, but she can't understand why. He attempts to coax her by drinking dry-iced concoctions and rubbing her all over with raw hamburger. Cal Schenkel also plays a cymbal with pliers in the middle of a supermarket aisle. Confused yet? You should be. Because it barely makes sense.

But for some (and sadly, I'm one of these), watching the original Mothers dick around for an hour and a half ain't too bad. But, here's the crap part: Zappa's barely in it, and there's hardly any actual music in it. They show the stage show where the Uncle Meat character came from (sort of), but it's cut short after only a little music. And later in the film, there's a short bit of "Mother People." There may be a few other short interludes, but that's about it.

But, hey, if you want to see Don Preston naked in the shower rubbing raw meat all over a fully-clothed girl, this is the flick for you.

Long clip of Uncle Meat here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - Mothermania (LP, 1969)

Zappa/Mothers fans get a boner for this early "best-of" LP, and there's a few reasons for that.

First, it's the only Mothers of Invention compilation that was ever authorized and hand-picked by Zappa himself. There were a few others released later (we'll get to those), but this was the first, and many hardcore enthusiasts consider it - because of FZ's stamp of approval - the only one worth owning.

Second, this album - while containing previously released material - contains different edits of a few tracks. For instance, on Absolutely Free, "Call Any Vegetable," "Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin," and "Soft-Cell Conclusion" all bridge together to form one long song, based around the "Call Any Vegetable" refrain. On this record, "Invocation" (which is a seven-minute instrumental break) has been removed, with the two surrounding tracks combined and called, simply, "Call Any Vegetable." There's also a few extra bars of filler in there to join the two sections.

On Freak Out!, "Help I'm a Rock" is listed (on the vinyl only) as "A Suite in Three Movements," with the first being "Okay to Tap Dance," the second being "In Memoriam, Edgar Varèse," and the third being "It Can't Happen Here." On Mothermania, "It Can't Happen Here" is removed from the suite and stands alone as its own song, but it's also a different edit with an abruptly looped ending and a few additional spoken words from Zappa. (In the original version, Zappa tells Suzy Creamcheese that they've been "very interested in [her] development." On this version, he adds, "since you first took the shots.")

However, the major factor in all this (and I probably should have mentioned this first) is that this remains one of the only Zappa-related albums that has never seen an official release on CD. The Zappa family finally released it as a digital download this past year, but the only physical copies to own remain the original LPs. There are different versions of these, as well, and though I don't know how many, the label variations on the LPs themselves seem to determine the price.

I held out for a long time before picking up a copy of this LP, because record store jerks frequently try to jack up the prices on copies that aren't that great. My wait paid off, and I found a copy in incredible shape for a reasonable price. As it stands now, it's probably my most valuable Zappa LP. I checked some completed listings on eBay, and was surprised by how much a copy identical to mine sold for. So that's pretty sweet.

Now keep your dirty mitts off of it.

The Mothers of Invention, Live in 1968