Page 1 of 4 1234 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 100

Thread: The 80's Zappa re-appraisal thread

  1. #1

    The 80's Zappa re-appraisal thread

    I admit that for some reason - mainly sheer prejudice - I had persistently ignored the albums that Zappa released during the 80's decade. I always felt that there was good music in there, mixed with stuff I didn't care about, and in any case there was a severe slump compared to his earlier, majestic output.

    And this, despite the fact that Zappa is probably my favorite artist ever.

    So lately I have been digging into his 80's catalog, and I must say I am very pleasantly surprised by the high quality of music he produced during this era. There is a lot of music I listen to for the first time! Is it as good as what came earlier? Probably not, but the times had changed, and how could it be anyway? He still continued to evolve his sound and writing - there is stuff that is intimidating in its density.

    If I may highlight some basic characteristics that mark this Zappa era:

    - a new focus on Zappa the guitar player, the soloist, with the heavy use of xenochrony, as it is portrayed in his Guitar and Shut Up and Play Your Guitar albums

    - his symphonic collaborations with LSO and Boulez

    - the synclavier works, which opened new paths for ultra-dense composing

    - a massive production of songs which use the current culture and subculture (everything fits: disco, reggae, ska, punk, post punk, heavy metal etc) along with completely obscene and vitriolic lyrics that also draw from the mundane and the current state of affairs

    - a huge output of live performances, edited and often mixed with studio music in the same record (the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series is monumental)

    ...all this thrown into the huge melting pot that the genius of Zappa is.

    One of his most consistent efforts of this era is the album Them Or Us, which has a balance that perhaps other of his albums of this time are lacking. Tracks like Ya Hozna, Sinister Footwear II, Truck Driver Divorce, Marque-son's Chicken and the scorching guitar solo of s/t track are top Zappa music, and could very well fit to any of his 70's albums in terms of quality.

    So what do you think of 80's Zappa nowadays? And if you care to specifically comment and N-Lite me on the albums I intend to visit in this thread, like the aforementioned Them Or Us, I would appreciate.

  2. #2
    Member thedunno's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Netherlands
    Posts
    1,024
    I think noting of 80ies zappa because I have heared none of it. Just tagging along to see which ones are worth getting.
    Last edited by thedunno; 03-04-2020 at 11:16 AM.

  3. #3
    Member StarThrower's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Upstate NY
    Posts
    689
    Shut Up...
    Them Or Us
    Guitar
    Jazz From Hell

    ...are the albums I've listened to the most. And there are many good live tracks on the 6 volume series. Zoot Allures, and Let's Move To Cleveland are a couple of fine performances to listen to from the Does Humor Belong In Music CD. And Sinister III from You Are What You Is. The Drowning Witch title track is another great piece. I usually listen to the version on Vol 3 which is a composite. Of course, most of Shut Up was recorded in the late 70s. Guitar is more representative of his 80s playing style.
    Last edited by StarThrower; 03-04-2020 at 11:20 AM.

  4. #4
    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Utopia
    Posts
    2,645
    Quote Originally Posted by StarThrower View Post
    The Drowning Witch title track is another great piece. I usually listen to the version on Vol 3 which is a composite.
    ...as is the "studio" version, which is actually cobbled together from various live performances. Uncle Frank explains:

    Do you know how many edits there are in "Drowning Witch"? Fifteen! That song is a basic track from 15 different cities. And some of the edits are like two bars long. And they're written parts -- all that fast stuff. It was very difficult for all the guys to play that correctly. Every once in a while somebody would hit the jackpot, but it's a very hard song to play. So there was no one perfect performance from any city. What I did was go through a whole tour's worth of tape and listen to every version of it and grab every section that was reasonably correct, put together a basic track, and then added the rest of the orchestration to it in the studio.

  5. #5
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    Westchester, NY
    Posts
    9,780
    Quote Originally Posted by Zappathustra View Post
    I admit that for some reason - mainly sheer prejudice - I had persistently ignored the albums that Zappa released during the 80's decade. I always felt that there was good music in there, mixed with stuff I didn't care about, and in any case there was a severe slump compared to his earlier, majestic output.

    And this, despite the fact that Zappa is probably my favorite artist ever.

    So lately I have been digging into his 80's catalog, and I must say I am very pleasantly surprised by the high quality of music he produced during this era. There is a lot of music I listen to for the first time! Is it as good as what came earlier? Probably not, but the times had changed, and how could it be anyway? He still continued to evolve his sound and writing - there is stuff that is intimidating in its density.

    If I may highlight some basic characteristics that mark this Zappa era:

    - a new focus on Zappa the guitar player, the soloist, with the heavy use of xenochrony, as it is portrayed in his Guitar and Shut Up and Play Your Guitar albums

    - his symphonic collaborations with LSO and Boulez

    - the synclavier works, which opened new paths for ultra-dense composing

    - a massive production of songs which use the current culture and subculture (everything fits: disco, reggae, ska, punk, post punk, heavy metal etc) along with completely obscene and vitriolic lyrics that also draw from the mundane and the current state of affairs

    - a huge output of live performances, edited and often mixed with studio music in the same record (the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series is monumental)

    ...all this thrown into the huge melting pot that the genius of Zappa is.

    One of his most consistent efforts of this era is the album Them Or Us, which has a balance that perhaps other of his albums of this time are lacking. Tracks like Ya Hozna, Sinister Footwear II, Truck Driver Divorce, Marque-son's Chicken and the scorching guitar solo of s/t track are top Zappa music, and could very well fit to any of his 70's albums in terms of quality.

    So what do you think of 80's Zappa nowadays? And if you care to specifically comment and N-Lite me on the albums I intend to visit in this thread, like the aforementioned Them Or Us, I would appreciate.
    I can't help read the above words, "And if you care to specifically comment and N-Lite me on the albums I intend to visit in this thread," using that stereotyped African-American voice from Thingfish. Thingfish is probably the only 80s Zappa I've heard, and while I enjoy it, it's more like listening to a Firesign Theater album than a "music' album.

  6. #6
    Member StarThrower's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Upstate NY
    Posts
    689
    Quote Originally Posted by Mister Triscuits View Post
    ...as is the "studio" version, which is actually cobbled together from various live performances. Uncle Frank explains:

    Do you know how many edits there are in "Drowning Witch"? Fifteen! That song is a basic track from 15 different cities. And some of the edits are like two bars long. And they're written parts -- all that fast stuff. It was very difficult for all the guys to play that correctly. Every once in a while somebody would hit the jackpot, but it's a very hard song to play. So there was no one perfect performance from any city. What I did was go through a whole tour's worth of tape and listen to every version of it and grab every section that was reasonably correct, put together a basic track, and then added the rest of the orchestration to it in the studio.
    An amazing amount of work! But as a whole I never really warmed to that album other than the title piece. I really like the vocal performance and the two guitar solos on the vol 3 version.

  7. #7
    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Utopia
    Posts
    2,645
    Quote Originally Posted by StarThrower View Post
    An amazing amount of work! But as a whole I never really warmed to that album other than the title piece.
    Side one is one of FZ's weaker efforts, IMO. "No Not Now" and "Valley Girl" are a lot of fun, but both very repetitious and low in actual musical content. "I Come from Nowhere" is much more adventurous, but not very pleasant to listen to. Side two I think is pretty great, even "Teenage Prostitute."

  8. #8
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Copenhagen, Denmark
    Posts
    4,178
    Definetely not my favorite period.

    But I own and like very much:

    Shut up'n Play Yer Guitar 1-3
    Boulez conducts..(Perfect str)
    Jazz from Hell
    Civilization Phase III

    You cant do that on stage volume II (which is from 74, but released in 88)

  9. #9
    I like the LSO albums, and I love his Synclavier work from around this time--Resolver + Brutality is pretty amazing. And the bootlegged versions of Chalk Pie and Crush All Boxes certainly have their moments (Clowns on Velvet with Al di Meola!). And who doesn't love the Old Masters remixes (jk)? Seriously though, this is the point where Zappa the musician becomes secondary to Zappa the businessman, a lot of his energy seems to have gone into Barking Pumpkin around this time, and especially repackaging his old catalog(ue) to protect/maximize profit. And what he did produce tends to be a little less all-over-the-place, and more focused (but not in a good way). We get more "pop" comedy Zappa songs, but also more "serious" work, though rarely crossover between the two areas. As a result, the individual pieces just feel a little less complete (IMHO).

  10. #10
    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Utopia
    Posts
    2,645
    Quote Originally Posted by eyerolls View Post
    And what he did produce tends to be a little less all-over-the-place, and more focused (but not in a good way). We get more "pop" comedy Zappa songs, but also more "serious" work, though rarely crossover between the two areas. As a result, the individual pieces just feel a little less complete (IMHO).
    Them Or Us and Mothers of Prevention are exceptions; those have a good balance of satire/comedy/pop vocal pieces and serious instrumentals.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Mister Triscuits View Post
    Them Or Us and Mothers of Prevention are exceptions; those have a good balance of satire/comedy/pop vocal pieces and serious instrumentals.
    Very true. Them Or Us has always sounded to me more like an odds-and-ends collection, the last two sides are especially lacking in flow, but I definitely see your point. The same goes for Mothers of Prevention, but it just works better because the individual tracks are all so choppy anyway. And What's New in Baltimore is just the best, that super-dense intro opening out into that incredibly expansive guitar solo...

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Mister Triscuits View Post
    ...as is the "studio" version, which is actually cobbled together from various live performances. Uncle Frank explains:

    Do you know how many edits there are in "Drowning Witch"? Fifteen! That song is a basic track from 15 different cities. And some of the edits are like two bars long. And they're written parts -- all that fast stuff. It was very difficult for all the guys to play that correctly. Every once in a while somebody would hit the jackpot, but it's a very hard song to play. So there was no one perfect performance from any city. What I did was go through a whole tour's worth of tape and listen to every version of it and grab every section that was reasonably correct, put together a basic track, and then added the rest of the orchestration to it in the studio.
    In fact all of side two of that album is live, with overdubs (like a lot of Zappa's 80's rock cuts).

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Mister Triscuits View Post
    Them Or Us and Mothers of Prevention are exceptions; those have a good balance of satire/comedy/pop vocal pieces and serious instrumentals.
    I agree with this statement
    Quote Originally Posted by Mister Triscuits View Post
    Side one is one of FZ's weaker efforts, IMO. "No Not Now" and "Valley Girl" are a lot of fun, but both very repetitious and low in actual musical content. "I Come from Nowhere" is much more adventurous, but not very pleasant to listen to. Side two I think is pretty great, even "Teenage Prostitute."
    I very much dig side A. Valley girl in particular is addictive, and the bass guitar is killing it.
    The whole album is the most 70's like album of the era in my opinion. It's a great album.
    Quote Originally Posted by Zeuhlmate View Post
    Civilization Phase III
    I believe this one belongs to the 90's.
    Quote Originally Posted by eyerolls View Post
    And What's New in Baltimore is just the best, that super-dense intro opening out into that incredibly expansive guitar solo...
    That's an absolutely stupendous composition, and one of the tracks that on first listen made me start thinking that there is more in 80's Zappa than I initially supposed to.

  14. #14
    The eons are closing
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    NY/NJ
    Posts
    1,101
    For me - I always return to "Best Band..." "Broadway..." and "Make a Jazz Noise..."

    Never listen to the 80s studio releases.
    No one plans to take the path that brings you lower

  15. #15
    I think most of what I have to say has already been covered. My favorite 80's era Zappa albums are:

    Guitar (well, DUH! Look at my screen name!)
    Them Or Us
    Meets The Mothers Of Prevention
    You Can't That Do That Onstage Anymore Vols. 3, 4 and disc two of Vol 5 (those are the ones that focused on the 80's bands)

    This happens to be my favorite period for Frank's guitar work. He had the Performance Strat copy with the hot Seymour Duncan pickups, custom EQ system and the Floyd Rose tremolo, and he got seriously wild sounds from that guitar. I love his guitar tones on Guitar, particularly on tracks like Sunrise Redeemer, Inna-Gada-Stravinsky, and GOA. And I love the looping madness he gets into at the end of When No One Was No One.

    And I've mentioned many times that I wish he kept the Envelopes/Drowning Witch/What's New In Baltimore?/Moggio suite, which was played on a nightly basis on the 81 US tour, intact on vinyl.

  16. #16
    Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2019
    Location
    Stevens
    Posts
    63
    Glad to say that I ignored the '80s derangement craze when it was all the rage among rock rubes back in the late 2000s. I've always had a proportionate liking for Zappa's '80s era, particularly his 1982-86 output.

  17. #17
    Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
    Location
    Land of Wind and Ghosts
    Posts
    14
    Long time fan of You Are What You Is. I like it the best out of Frank's 80's output

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by ctoelle View Post
    Long time fan of You Are What You Is. I like it the best out of Frank's 80's output
    Same here. Not afraid to say it’s one of my favorite Zappa albums.

    I’ve always loved Zappa’s vocal arrangements and pop (such as it is) dalliances. The juvenile lyrics? Could seriously care less—ok, “Jumbo” is cringey. But those delicious melodies and harmonies? Those monster players? Those solos? Seriously undervalued album by those who can only listen to his heavy music.
    I want to dynamite your mind with love tonight.

  19. #19
    Member moecurlythanu's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    The Planet Lovetron
    Posts
    6,801
    This is a fucking howl:

    "If you want to see the true nature of humanity, just look at the internet."

    http://www.discogs.com/user/moecurlythanu/collection

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by GeneTull View Post
    Glad to say that I ignored the '80s derangement craze when it was all the rage among rock rubes back in the late 2000s. .
    The what now?

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by ctoelle View Post
    Long time fan of You Are What You Is. I like it the best out of Frank's 80's output
    About the only studio album from his 80s output that is consistently excellent throughout. This would be in the top 5 for me if Zappa hadn't filled the album with annoying background bullshit. The songs themselves and production are all top notch. And the lyrics are among his shrewdest ever even if they are in your face.

  22. #22
    Ah this was my era as teenage Zappa fan. Ship Arriving Too Late and Man From Utopia were on constant play. Still my favourite era, you can't go wrong with dirty jokes and teenage boys!

  23. #23
    Nice to see You are what you Is getting some love. It is a very good album indeed. Maybe a bit too focused on the short song formula, and perhaps a bit too long to sustain such a formula. Still some great and truly hilarious songs in there.

    Of course if one expects from Zappa music like Uncle Meat, Hot Rats or Grand Wazoo, this one could come as a bit shallow. It's part of the prejudice against the 80's albums I think.

  24. #24
    Make a Jazz Noise Here would be in my top 5 Zappa albums.

  25. #25
    Member Guitarplyrjvb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Northeast Pennsylvania USA
    Posts
    641
    You are What You Is seems like a long, bad, Saturday Night Live skit. I know there's just "Conehead" on there, but, man, I just don't like that whole record. "Jumbo" is the other tune that sticks out. Never listen to YAWYI anymore. There's too much other great music out there from him.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •