And so the music is flowing, from A to Z, with the emphasis on Z . . . as in “Zappa.” Following this month’s release of three new Frank Zappa albums, the Zappa Family Trust and UMe are continuing their extensive reissue campaign by releasing five iconic works of the musical innovator on vinyl for the first time in decades: Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, Joe’s Garage, Lumpy Gravy, Weasels Ripped My Flesh and We’re Only In It For The Money. The albums spanning Zappa’s incredibly fertile late ’60s-late ’70s period will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl and available December 9. Talk about rockin’ around the Christmas tree!
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Zappa’s first release, the Mothers of Invention’s debut album Freak Out!, and to celebrate the Zappa Family Trust and UMe are steadily reissuing the cultural icon’s catalog and rarities from his famed vault on CD, LP and digitally as part of a long-term licensing agreement. The five vinyl releases follow new albums Meat Light (The Uncle Meat Project/Object Audio Documentary) Little Dots and Chicago ’78, released earlier this month, and several other exciting projects. The 50th anniversary of Zappa’s first single “How Could I Be Such A Fool” is also being celebrated with a limited edition pink vinyl 7-inch; the flipside will feature “Help I’m A Rock (3rd Movement: It Can’t Happen Here).”
The five albums represent some of Zappa and his cohorts’ most challenging, exhilarating and groundbreaking work.
Zappa’s first solo album, Lumpy Gravy is the work of Zappa the composer. Recorded at Capitol Studios in 1967 by legendary producer Nick Venet, Zappa’s compositions were performed by the 50-piece Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra, which included several musicians from the legendary Wrecking Crew. Armed with the session tapes and a razor blade, Zappa sat in his New York City apartment and pieced together a masterwork that included the use of tape collages, dialogue, parody, musique concrete and DADAist tendencies. The self-produced album became one of his personal favorites. The LP will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl from a pristine 1968 analog safety tape found in Zappa’s vault.
In the top 300 of Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums, We’re Only In It for the Money is a scathing satire of right-versus-left politics that’s as fresh in today’s charged political atmosphere as it was upon release in 1968. In part a parody of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album pits the hippies against the squares, skewering them equally, as pawns held sway by corporate sellouts catering to the masses in the name of profit. The restored original 1968 mix is pressed on 180-gram vinyl from FZ’s approved Digital Master.
Cruising with Ruben & The Jets is the fourth Mothers of Invention album. Released at the end of 1968, the concept album was written in the style of 1950s doo-wop and classic R&B, a childhood love of Zappa’s and members of the band, including singer Ray Collins, who all came up with the idea while in the studio recording other music. It is being reissuedwith the original 1968 mix from the master analog tape on 180-gram vinyl.
Weasels Ripped My Flesh is the last album of recordings made by the original Mothers of Invention lineup released after it was disbanded by Zappa. The group, which included a horn section, made the blend of studio and live experimental and traditional tracks from 1967-69. Weasels Ripped My Flesh, released in 1970, provides a fascinating look at the group’s range and diversity of influences, from avant-garde tracks like “Didja Get Any Onya” to the straight-up R&B of their cover of Little Richard’s “Directly From My Heart to You.” In an interesting historical footnote, Lowell George makes an appearance here with the band previous to forming Little Feat with bass player Roy Estrada.
Conceptually and musically as challenging as anything Zappa released in the ’70s, three-act rock opera Joe’s Garage was released as two separate packages in 1979 (the new release arrives as a three-LP set). Zappa described the dystopian tale as “a stupid little story about how the government is going to do away with music.” The rock opera proved prophetic years later when the government began to examine ways to limit the spread of explicit content in music. The song cycle, conceived over a weekend, tells the story of a young rock ‘n’ roller who’s thrown into prison and released into a world turned upside down by evil corporate, political and religious forces who’ve outlawed music. Zappa used the practice of “xenochrony” to record parts of the album, taking previously cut live guitar solos and overdubbing them onto new studio tracks. This 2016 vinyl edition is mastered in all analog by Bernie Grundman using the 1979 1/4” safety master tapes from The Vault.
Taken together the albums are a master’s class in subversive wit, creative genius and uncompromising artistry that flies in the face of convention.