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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: 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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