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Frank Zappa - Cheap Thrills CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



2.91 | 44 ratings

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3 stars 'Cheap Thrills' was released by the Ryko label in 1998 in order to celebrate the lowering of the price point on a number of Frank Zappa's back catalogue to make it more accessible to the general public. All of the tracks on here are selected off of different albums to generate interest in his recordings. As a result, it was a big seller for the label resulting in another collection released later called 'Son of Cheap Thrills' but that is a review for another day. So, how representative was this collection to Frank's music? It has several tracks taken from the 'You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore' series, some post-'Joe's Garage' studio albums and so on.

It starts with 'I Could Be a Star Now' taken from the 'behind the scenes' style album 'Playground Psychotics', the last track on the 2nd CD to be exact. It is one of Zappa's secret recordings of Martin Lickert, Don Preston and Jeff Simmons talking about how working with Zappa ruins their career and that they would be better off working for John Mayall. It is tongue-in-cheek humor reflective of Frank's own humor and stuck on this CD to introduce the questionable nature of FZs reputation among critics and the like. It is just a short 35 second conversation.

Next is a live version of 'Catholic Girls' taken from 'You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore Vol. 6' (from now on abbreviated to YCDTOSA), recorded in two different venues in February and March of 1988. It's a funny rendition with a kooky instrumental break led by a sax with whacky meters and FZ calls out 'Everybody Dance'. It's a good representation of Frank's humor on a funny song done live, but the humor might be lost on a first-timer listening to this collection. This then segues to 'Bobby Brown Goes Down' taken from YCDTOSA, Vol. 3 recorded in 1984, so the flow on the collection doesn't make a lot of sense. But first timers are going to be listening for the basic song anyway and not necessarily the 'eyebrows' from the show. This rendition is based on a reggae riff, and of course, you get the humorous lyrics, but since the secret word had to do with The Lone Ranger, so the references made in this performance won't make a lot of sense. However, it might get a first timer to explore the meaning of these references. Besides, Frank and the band keep cracking up so some of the lyrics get missed.

A studio version of 'You Are What You Is' follows, unfortunately, it's the awful version from 'Thing-Fish' and since the track is taken out of context, it won't make any sense to a first listener with the annoying Thing-Fish character inserting his stupid comments between each line. Bad choice. 'We Are Not Alone' from the studio album 'The Man from Utopia' comes next. It's an okay instrumental jazz fusion track that can give you an idea of FZ's instrumental music, at least his more accessible style. This is followed by one of the better doo-wop tracks from 'Ruben and the Jets'.

'The Mudshark Interview' is another track from Playground Psychotics which was an interview FZ did with the front office manager from The Edgewater Inn in Seattle, Washington. Frank tries to get the manager to talk about how they let guests catch fish from their hotel windows. Those familiar with the mudshark story in Zappa's mythology will get what's going on here, otherwise it seems like a useless track for a lay person beginning their foray into Zappa music. 'Hot Plate Heaven at the Green Hotel' follows and it is a live version done in 1988 taken from 'Broadway the Hard Way'. It is a good example of how Zappa used to edit long guitar solos into the middle of recorded live tracks, so the first timer will get to hear a good Zappa solo, though it is not necessarily one of his best. 'Zombie Woof' is a live version taken from YCDTOSA, Vol. 1, recorded in 1982, with the verses done at Milan, Italy and the guitar solo recorded at London, UK, and this one is actually a good solo. The show in Milan, however, got a guitar tech fired because Steve Vai was supposed to start the song but there were no guitars ready to start off the number and it just went on without the guitar introduction. If nothing else, it's a testament to how the band and Frank were almost always ready to let the show go on at a moment's notice.

'The Torture Never Stops' comes next. It is the original version of the song performed live and sung by Captain Beefheart with the repeating guitar riff stolen from 'Mannish Boy' and the harmonica and guitar solos, all recorded live from the album YCDTOSA, Vol. 4 in a show at Austin, Texas in 1975. It's interesting they would put this version on the compilation, unless it was to try to get Zappaphiles to buy the collection, but there are no program notes, so how would they know? The performance is pretty great though. After this 9 minute version, the next track is 'Joe's Garage' performed live at Chicago in 1984 and taken from the YCDTOSA Vol. 3 album. It's a good example of the band singing and playing tightly together live and still leaving room for playing around. The live version of 'My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama' is from Universal City in California in 1984 from YCDTOSA Vol. 4. is a pretty standard recording of the track. Everything finishes up with the short field track 'Going for the Money' from Playground Psychotics which is a pretty useless track, but just finishes everything up.

I'm not sure if the collection helped sell the back catalogue albums or not, at least from the newbies checking out his music, but it probably helped the collectors decide what they were wanting to look for. I remember an employee that I worked with, that actually knew a lot about bands, but hadn't really listened to much Zappa before, bought the collection because he thought he would get a good example of his music, only came away from the ordeal even more confused than before. Whether it influenced him to buy more Zappa material or not, I'm not certain, but I know he had no idea what was going on in most of these tracks. I think most newbies would be better off getting 'Shiek Yerbouti', 'Hot Rats' or 'Waka/Jawaka' depending on what style of FZ's music they were interested in. The moral of the story is, don't go exploring FZ without someone along that knows what they are doing.

By the way, this is just a so-so collection. I don't think it accomplishes what it sets out to do and a lot of this stuff is out there in better formats or collections. At least it's cheap.

TCat | 3/5 |


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