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Frank Zappa - The Lost Episodes CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.33 | 92 ratings

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4 stars As suggested by the title, this album features a lot of Zappa material that had managed to get lost in the winds of time. It's not exactly a comprehensive collection of rarities, as that would require a lot more than just one CD, but it gives a really fascinating look at aspects of Zappa that never made it onto record previously (and that's a pretty amazing feat, given how much material he had). Casual fans might not care, but for somebody who thinks they've otherwise assimilated everything there is to know about Zappa, this is a pretty neat listen.

The structure of the album is a little crazy, interspersing the "real" material with recorded dialogues/monologues and short orchestral bits, and while this isn't exactly new for Zappa, I have to admit that it bothered me a little on first listen. I had expected this album to mostly consist of unreleased music, and all these other little bits made it seem to me like the people who compiled this were just dumping whatever they could find to fill out the space. I eventually got used to this, fortunately: I'm not thrilled with all of the spoken bits (Two takes on a story about boogers? Seriously?), but a lot of them are funny, and they certainly give the album a very fun, loosey- goosey kind of feel. The funnest bits are a recording of a cop complaining about repeatedly having to visit Zappa's apartment due to complaints about the noise (and Zappa attempting to bribe him with buns), and Captain Beefheart reading a piece reflecting Zappa's memories playing in bands led by people with no musical competence ("I'm a Band Leader").

The main purpose of the album, though lies in the music. There's a lot of material from Zappa's musical life before Freak Out! and before the Mothers, and it's fascinating to see that Zappa's musical skills and bizarre sense of humor were well honed from a pretty young age. A few of them feature a young Captain Beefheart (as Don Van Vliet) on vocals, and they're a total hoot. "Lost in a Whirlpool" starts with Don pulling off an eerie imitation of a female blues singer, before switching into his more typical vocal style, and it's really funny to hear this voice singing lyrics that are this hilariously raunchy (especially for before 1960!). "Tiger Roach" is some kind of up-tempo blues number (I think I detect some surf elements in there too, though I might be wrong), and it's highlighted by a moment where Van Vliet makes a sound that kinda sounds like a hog squeal. Then there's "Alley Cat," a light blues jam over which Van Vliet improvises some clever lyrics, all to good effect, and finally there's "The Grand Wazoo," which has nothing to do with the jazz number but instead features Van Vliet reading a script Zappa wrote and a Synclavier composition Zappa later wrote to accompany it. It's not brilliant, but it's not bad either.

The early days are well-represented with other interesting and strange highlights. There's an excerpt from a concert performance (by a small orchestra) of a classical piece Zappa wrote as a young man, and it's immediately followed by an awesome 1961 jazz instrumental version of "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance." There's an early version of "Fountain of Love," and it's most notable for having a fuzz bass part that completely overpowers the mix and makes it rattle, and a straightforward (not silly like on Freak Out!, and not overdone as on Cruising) version of "Any Way the Wind Blows" that would have been a hit in a fair and just world. And finally, the other big highlight from this era is "Charva, "a hilarious doo-wop piss-take that could have easily fit in with the "regular" songs on Freak Out!. I know that humor is subjective and all, but anybody who doesn't at least smirk a bit at, "I love you more and more/I swear it ain't because your father owns the liquor store" is either lying or is somebody I wouldn't enjoy hanging out with.

Past the early days, there's an interesting smattering of material from Zappa's career through the end of the 70's or so. Fans of Zappa's more complex material will be happy to hear early versions of "RDNZL" and "Inca Roads," neither of which have been expanded as far as they would go but both of which already have many of the recognizable themes in place. Fans of his sillier work will be really amused at a version of "Wonderful Wino" sung by Ricky Lancelotti (the guy who sung on "50 50": I like the Zoot Allures version plenty, but Ricky's vocals are more perfect for the song than Frank's could ever be) and an early, slowed-down version of "Drafted Again" (here called I Don't Wanna Get Drafted) that has a light funk, almost disco-ish feel to it. Serious Zappa historians will be fascinated by "Basement Music #1," a neat 1978 instrumental that sounds an awful lot like synth-based electronica from the 90's and beyond. And finally, there are a couple of great performances done by people from the Hot Rats lineup: a blues shuffle ("Lil' Clanton Shuffle") dominated by great violin work from Don Harris, and an early version of "Sharleena," sung by Harris and featuring more great violin work (as well as great playing from everybody else). The latter of these actually ends the album, and while it's not really the perfect way to end the album (it seems like kind of an arbitrary and odd finishing point), it makes me think well of the album.

This isn't a perfect collection by any means, and it's not essential, but it's sure a lot of fun. Zappa fans could find much worse ways to spend their money.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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