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Frank Zappa: The Flo and Eddie Years

Continuing my chronological tour through Frank Zappa’s albums (I’m in no danger of stopping yet)… As I said last time, this group of albums is generally not regarded in very high esteem by Zappa fans. This incarnation of the band features the tandem vocals of Flo (who’s a guy, by the way) and Eddie, both formerly of the Turtles (the song you probably know is “Happy Together”). The music here takes a weird turn towards juvenile vaudeville, with leering and often offensive lyrics that are usually sexual and when they’re not still tend to be pretty gross.

And you know what, I like it a lot more than I thought I would. Part of it is reveling in the sheer musicianship of the band; the high points of the albums are live 20+ minute suites that even though they contain a fair amount of vamping still have an incredible amount of music that needs to be performed precisely, and listening to everyone nail their cues the whole way through is kind of exhilarating. They make it sound easy, and as someone who has had to memorize hours of complicated ensemble music, I know it’s not. It’s kind of a shame that the lyrics are often stupid, but after you hear them a few times, the words stop being so in the foreground. Yeah, that is about the most positive thing I can find to say about the lyrics.

Chunga’s Revenge (1970) is my least favorite album of this period, an unfocused grab-bag of leftovers from old sessions and new songs with Flo and Eddie.

Fillmore East — June 1971 (1971) is a live album featuring the infamous “groupie routine”, one of the aforementioned suites. The highlight for me, though, is the last track, “Tears Began To Fall”, a glorious soul song with, unbelievably, no trace of sarcasm (which maybe is why Zappa unfortunately never performed it again).

200 Motels (1971) is a double-album soundtrack to the movie featuring the band (and MCed, mystifyingly, by Theodore Bikel), and as you can tell from the clips on YouTube, the movie is a total mess and so is a lot of the music. I like big messes, but even I needed a few listens to get into it. Equal parts stupid rock and mostly-atonal orchestral pieces, with very little in between.

Just Another Band From L.A. (1972) is probably my favorite album of this era. Side one is occupied entirely by another suite, “Billy the Mountain”, which is a lot of fun and for once more silly than offensive. (That gets evened out by the second side, whose centerpiece song is a cringe-inducingly gleeful celebration of incestuous urges.)

Four albums of this is about all I can take, but “luckily” someone threw Zappa off the stage during the tour documented in Just Another Band From L.A. and he disbanded this group and spent the next six months in a wheelchair convalescing and composing. Stay tuned for Frank Zappa: The Big Band Years!

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  1. […] an update on my previous survey: after a couple more listens, I am really digging 200 Motels. It casts the widest net of any of the […]

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