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Fifty Year Friday: Nico, The Marble Index; Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, Cruising with Ruben and the Jets

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Nico: The Marble Index

Quite a contrast to her first album, The Marble Index is a true art-rock album, sounding more like a collection of twentieth century classical leider than a follow-up to her relatively accessible first album.  Her intonation and singing is also better as she navigates nicely against her harmonium accompaniment and John Cale’s detailed arrangements.

Track listing [From discogs.org]

All tracks written by Nico.

Personnel 

  • Words and music – Nico
  • Arrangements – John Cale
  • Producer – Frazier Mohawk
  • Production supervisor – Jac Holzman
  • Engineer – John Haeny
  • Photography – Guy Webster
  • Design – Robert L. Heimall
  • Art direction – William S. Harvey

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Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention: Cruising With Ruben & The Jets

I heard this album in the summer of 1969, and honestly didn’t know what to make of it: was it a satire of fifties music or an homage? I had several 45 singles from the late fifties that I received as gifts from my grandfather whose worked at Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, a forty acre complex in South Gate, California.  I don’t know how he got all these free 45s, but figured it had something to do with his work at Firestone;  many were marked as “Promotional” or “Promo”, and these various 45s, on a wide array of different record labels, provided me with an rudimentary education of fifties hits (and I believe misses, for most of this music I have never heard again since I listened to it as a child) that I am thankful for today.

So listening to this Cruising With Ruben & The Jets album for the first time at my cousin’s shared college-vicinity apartment in Sonoma County, having taken in the earlier Zappa albums there, this was a very confusing contrast to their other material.

Listening to it again, for the first time in forty-nine years, and fifty years after its initial release on November 2, 1969, I better appreciate the songwriting and solid musicianship.

And I am not so puzzled, I think.

This concept album about a fictitious band from Chino, California that eschews the modern rock of 1968 to play fifties music is both a tribute to fifties music and a satire of fifties music.  This well-balanced mixture of reverence and parody is not a characteristic of all satires.  Some satirical representations or portrayals are just totally fine with mocking, ridiculing, and belittling, and the worst examples do so with little regard towards faithfulness or accuracy.  But it seems the best satirical music, from PDQ Bach to The Ruttles to Cruising With Ruben and the Jets, are works of love, celebrating the artistic strengths as well as the individual idiosyncrasies of their target and touching our hearts as well as bringing a smile to our faces.

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Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Frank Zappa except as noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Cheap Thrills” 2:23
2. “Love of My Life” 3:10
3. “How Could I Be Such a Fool” 3:35
4. “Deseri” Collins, Paul Buff 2:07
5. “I’m Not Satisfied” 4:03
6. “Jelly Roll Gum Drop” 2:20
7. “Anything” Collins 3:04
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
8. “Later That Night” 3:06
9. “You Didn’t Try to Call Me” 3:57
10. “Fountain of Love” Zappa, Collins 3:01
11. “No. No. No.” 2:29
12. “Any Way the Wind Blows” 2:58
13. “Stuff Up the Cracks 4:35
Total length: 40:34

Personnel

Musicians
Production
  • Producer: Frank Zappa
  • Engineer: Dick Kunc
  • Cover Art: Cal Schenkel
  • Cover Design: Cal Schenkel
  • Artwork: Cal Schenkel
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Fifty Year Friday: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention; United States of America

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Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: We’re Only in It for the Money

In the summer of 1969 my family drove up to the San Francisco to take a cruise to Alaska on the Princess Cruise Line Ship,  MS Italia, and visited with my Aunt and then dropped me off for most of the day to visit with my cousin who was rooming with two or three other college students.  As typical, there the living room was the shared area, and it was well-stocked with a stereo system and dozens of LPs.  Several of them were recent recordings of Baroque music, this being the era of the baroque revival where driving around San Francisco one can find multiple FM stations playing mostly baroque music with works of not only J.S. Bach and Telemann, but seemingly dozens of Italian Baroque composers with names like Torelli, Tartini, Tortellini, Samartini, Scarlatti, Spumoni,  and on and on. So though my natural instinct was to dive into the treasures of Baroque music stacked around the stereo and against the sides of the speakers, my attention was redirected by an album that looked like Sgt. Peppers, but clearly was not.

“My roommate is a big Frank Zappa fan”, explained my cousin. “He’s got all the albums.”

That is, all the albums up to the summer of 1969.  And so I started with “We’re Only In It For the Money”, intrigued and yet mostly thrown off balance for much of side one and, to a lesser extent side two, but comforted by having the lyrics printed on the back.   Then putting on “Reuben and the Jets”, I was even more puzzled, abandoning it at the end of the first side, going on to the next Zappa album, and then ultimately shifting to one of the many Baroque albums I had initially neglected.

A few weeks later, during my first semester in college, I was able to explore Zappa’s early catalog at my own pace, and appreciated better the musicianship, music, and unconventional point of view, though not particularly embracing the sarcastically, disparaging tone and the interspersed droppings of scatology that were as much a Zappa trademark as the predictably unpredictable musical discontinuity and divergent shifts. I would not become a Zappa fan until Hot Rats, but was still able to enjoy and laugh at these early albums, particularly Freak Out, Absolutely Free, and We’re Only it For the Money. 

So Fifty Years later, I am not yet ready pronounce, We’re Only it For the Money as a masterpiece of Western music, but can unequivocally state that it is a work of genius and something everyone should hear, if not just for purely musical reasons, for both musical and historical purposes.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Frank Zappa.

Side One

#

Title

Length

1.

Are You Hung Up?

1:23

2.

Who Needs the Peace Corps?

2:34

3.

“Concentration Moon”

2:22

4.

“Mom & Dad”

2:16

5.

“Telephone Conversation”

0:48

6.

“Bow Tie Daddy”

0:33

7.

“Harry, You’re a Beast”

1:22

8.

What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?

1:03

9.

Absolutely Free

3:24

10.

“Flower Punk[11]

3:03

11.

“Hot Poop”

0:26

Side Two

 #

Title

Length

1.

“Nasal Retentive Calliope Music”

2:03

2.

Let’s Make the Water Turn Black

2:01

3.

“The Idiot Bastard Son”

3:18

4.

“Lonely Little Girl” (“It’s His Voice on the Radio”)

1:09

5.

Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance

1:35

6.

“What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Reprise)”

0:57

7.

“Mother People”

2:32

8.

“The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny”

6:25

Total length:

39:15

united states of america

The United States of America: The United States of America

Two days after We’re Only in It for the Money was released on March, 4, 1968, another unconventional and relatively radical rock album was released, the work of Joseph Byrd, other band members including vocalist Dorthy Moskowitz, and producer David Robinson.

I first heard this band in my first semester in college in 1973 as part of Music History 251, when the track “Garden of Earthly Delights” was played on the classroom’s barely adequate stereo as part of the listening example included in the course workbook. I was impressed but when looking for that record that weekend could not find it in even the larger chain record stores and so forgot about it until years later when it became available again through reissue.

The first track, “The American Metaphysical Circus”, opens up much in the spirit of Charles Ives with competing marching bands, a piano playing “At a Georgia Camp Meeting” and a calliope.  But going beyond Ives is the electronic effects — no Moog synthesizer, this was beyond the financial means of the group — but creatively generated effects from more basic sound wave generation equipment.

More obvious than the Ives’ influence here, is the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ influence.  The lyrics of that first track hearkens back to “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” — at least in the first verse:

“At precisely 8:05, 
Doctor Frederick von Meyer
Will attempt his famous dive
Through a solid sheet of luminescent fire.”

However as the song progresses the lyrics darken:

“In the center of the ring
They are torturing a bear
And although he cannot sing
They can make him whistle Londonderry Air”

And then political:

“And the price is right
The cost of one admission is your mind.

“We shall shortly institute
A syncopation of fear
While it’s painful, it will suit
Many customers whose appetites are queer.”

And such goes much of the album with decidedly left-wing, if not communist-inspired viewpoints (one track is titled “Love Song for the Dead Ché”), embedded into adventurous, well-crafted music.   This album, the group’s only offering (they broke up shortly after the release) is sometimes mentioned as a forerunner to progressive rock. For anyone interested in building up a collection of more exploratory and ambitious 1968 “rock” music, it is worth the trouble to track this album down — and it is a suitable companion for We’re Only in It for the Money next time you have ninety minutes set aside for some uninterrupted listening of some of the more progressive and unusual music from 1968.

Side One

Title

Length

1.

“The American Metaphysical Circus” (Joseph Byrd)

4:56

2.

Hard Coming Love” (Byrd, Dorothy Moskowitz)

4:41

3.

“Cloud Song” (Byrd, Moskowitz)

3:18

4.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights” (Byrd, Moskowitz)

2:39

5.

“I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar”

(Byrd, Moskowitz)

3:51

Side Two

Title

Length

6.

“Where Is Yesterday” (Gordon Marron, Ed Bogas, Moskowitz)

3:08

7.

“Coming Down” (Byrd, Moskowitz)

2:37

8.

“Love Song for the Dead Ché” (Byrd)

3:25

9.

“Stranded in Time” (Marron, Bogas)

1:49

10.

“The American Way of Love”

  1. “Metaphor for an Older Man” (Byrd)
  2. “California Good-Time Music” (Byrd)
  3. “Love Is All” (Byrd, Moskowitz, Rand Forbes, Craig Woodson, Marron)”

6:38

Personnel

The band

Additional musicians

  • Ed Bogas – occasional organ, piano, calliope

Technical staff

  • Glen Kolotkin, Arthur Kendy – remixer
  • Richard Durrett – instrument design engineer
  • David Diller – engineer
  • David Rubinson – producer

Fifty Year Friday: Jobim “Wave”; Zappa, “Absolutely Free”; Beefheart “Safe as Milk”

 

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Jazz fan’s will likely know of Antonio Carlos Jobim two albums with Stan Getz, particularly the first one, Getz/Gilberto containing “Desafinado” and the classic version of “The Girl from Ipanema” with  Astrud Gilberto‘s seductive vocals.    That first album, added fuel to the already burning fiery desire of Americans to hear and dance to bossa nova, and elevated Jobim to a marketable American music business commodity.

“Wave”, released in 1967, became Jobim’s best selling album, providing smooth, comforting music for middle America and many non-jazz record consumers. The music is well-crafted, well-arranged and well-performed with Jobim playing guitar, piano, celeste and harpsichord, Ron Carter on bass, Urbie Green on trombone, and a small string orchestra with french horn and flute/picolo all providing the most mellow dance music possible.   It is not exactly jazz and, in a sense, sets the tone for a genre of music that would be called smooth jazz,  a style not demanding listener attention or involvement, but played for its soothing, relaxing qualities.  Such smooth or background music became prevalent in shopping centers, in restaurants and in many work places that now added such music or substituted smooth jazz for the previously provided muzak. In 1987, Los Angeles radio stations KMET, once one of the coolest, most progressive album-oriented,  FM radio stations in Southern California, changed its letters to KTWV and called itself “The Wave” playing “adult contemporary jazz” becoming one of the un-coolest, most un-progressive stations in the Greater Los Angeles area ultimately influencing other radio stations to take the same path.

Of course, none of the blame should be attributed to this fine Jobim album; it is just worth noting that soon background music became virulently prevalent, irking many musicians that believed music should be actively listened to and not absorbed.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All tracks composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim.

  1. Wave” – 2:56
  2. “The Red Blouse” – 5:09
  3. “Look to the Sky” – 2:20
  4. “Batidinha” – 3:17
  5. Triste” – 2:09
  6. “Mojave” – 2:27
  7. “Diálogo” – 2:55
  8. “Lamento” (lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes) – 2:46
  9. “Antigua” – 3:10
  10. “Captain Bacardi” – 4:29

 

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Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention did not produce either easy listening music or anything that could be considered conservative.   This is the Mothers of Invention’s second studio album and every bit as adventurous as the first including mixed meter and quotes from Stravinsky’s three most famous ballets, “The Firebird”, “Rite of Spring” (“Le Sacre du printemps”) and Petrushka.  Each side of the original LP can be viewed as a single piece rather than a set of unrelated tracks due to redeployment and relationship of music material.  Humor is a inseparable part of this innovative album that many Zappa fan’s cite as one of their favorites.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Frank Zappa.

Side one: “Absolutely Free” (#1 in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
No. Title Length
1. Plastic People 3:40
2. “The Duke of Prunes” 2:12
3. “Amnesia Vivace” 1:01
4. “The Duke Regains His Chops” 1:45
5. “Call Any Vegetable” 2:19
6. “Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” 6:57
7. “Soft-Sell Conclusion” 1:40
Side two: “The M.O.I. American Pageant” (#2 in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
No. Title Length
1. “America Drinks” 1:52
2. “Status Back Baby” 2:52
3. “Uncle Bernie’s Farm” 2:09
4. “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” 1:33
5. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It 7:26
6. America Drinks & Goes Home 2:43

Personnel[from Wikipedia]

Note that there are several additional musicians on this album including Don Ellis on trumpet on “Brown Shoes Don’t make it”

 

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Another less-than-easy-listening album is Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band’s “Safe as Milk” which starts from a blues foundation but includes uncommon time signatures and unique instrumental divergences. On one hand, a traditional blues fan might prefer to spend their time listening to a true blues album by someone like Howlin’ Wolf rather than this Don Van Vliet (A.K.A Captain Beefheart) psuedo-blues album. However, despite some superficial similarities in Howlin’ Wolf’s and Beefheart’s voices, and “Safe as Milk’s fairly straightforward first track, there are enough deviations here, musically and lyrically, from other more solid blues albums of the time to take this album on its own terms. Guitarist Ry Cooder, having played with Taj Mahal in the short-lived Rising Sons, makes important arrangement and performance contributions. Historically, this is an important album as it captures a band in transition to a more adventurous style that merges blues, free jazz and art-rock into a genre I could only call head-spinning, head-splitting, free-style post-blues

So even though this is much closer to standard fare than later Captain Beefheart albums, it contains a number of adjustments to standard rock/blues that make this an album worth checking out.  “Yellow Brick Road” borrows the first part of its melody from “Pop Goes the Weasel” but strays off into its own tune with a mix of innocent and suggestive lyrics. “Autumn Child” pushes into both art-rock and progressive rock territory with its Zappa-like opening and changes in meter, texture, tempo and mood.  Electricity” is the stand-out track, with lyrics and music flirting with psychedelia (note the guitar imitating the sitar), blues, bluegrass, and rock, and, once past the brilliant introduction, is very danceable. The rising oscillations of a thermin closes out the song.

 

Whereas one can put on “Waves” (and even “Absolutely Free” under the right circumstances) and delegate it to the background with little trouble, if one does this with some of the Beefheart “Safe as Milk” tracks like “Electricity”, “Plastic Factory” and “Abba Zaba”, they simply become distracting and annoying; however, play this album on a good audio system that can untangle the aggressive texture into individual and distinctive voices and the music flies by and, if not always pleasant, is unexpectedly absorbing and engaging.

Track listing[from Wikipedia]

All songs written by Herb Bermann and Don Van Vliet except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Sure ‘Nuff ‘n Yes I Do” 2:15
2. “Zig Zag Wanderer” 2:40
3. “Call on Me” (Van Vliet) 2:37
4. “Dropout Boogie” 2:32
5. “I’m Glad” (Van Vliet) 3:31
6. Electricity 3:07
Side two
No. Title Length
7. “Yellow Brick Road” 2:28
8. “Abba Zaba” (Van Vliet) 2:44
9. “Plastic Factory” (Van Vliet, Bermann, Jerry Handley) 3:08
10. “Where There’s Woman” 2:09
11. “Grown So Ugly” (Robert Pete Williams) 2:27
12. “Autumn’s Child” 4:02


Personnel 
[fromWikipedia]

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band
  • Don Van Vliet – lead vocals, harmonica, marimba, arrangements
  • Alex St. Clair Snouffer – guitar, backing vocals, bass, percussion
  • Ry Cooder – guitar, bass, slide guitar, percussion, arrangements
  • Jerry Handley – bass (except 8, 10), backing vocals
  • John French – drums, backing vocals, percussion
Additional musicians
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