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Frank Zappa - Studio Tan CD (album) cover

STUDIO TAN

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.75 | 335 ratings

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TCat
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars The link between "Studio Tan" and "Lšther"

The story behind Frank Zappa's album "Studio Tan" can be a bit confusing. In actuality, it is one of Zappa's best albums, but many have noted that the album has quite a strange mix of song styles, which is a little odd for Zappa albums. The reason for this is that this album was one of four albums put out by Warner Brothers without Zappa's permission. Most Zappa-philes know the story behind this, but what happened, basically, was Zappa and Warner Brothers were planning on going their separate ways, but there was this issue of a contract where Zappa owed more albums. Well, Zappa made enough music for a 3 album set that was going to be called "Lšther", and this is the music he gave to Warner Brothers for their final contractual release. However, WB didn't want a 3 disc album because they didn't think it would sell, so they went ahead and split up the music and released 4 albums without Zappa's permission. The albums they released are "Studio Tan", "Sleep Dirt", "Orchestral Favorites" and "Zappa in New York". WB even hired an artist to do the covers. For many years, this was the only way to get the music Zappa made for this period of time, which was around 1977. "Lšther" wasn't released until 1996 and it wasn't until then that the public was able to hear all of this music the way Zappa wanted it heard.

So, Studio Tan is one of these albums WB put out. It contains four unrelated tracks as it was more of a catch all album for the left over tracks from Lšther. Much of the music on these four WB albums was altered somewhat, and Zappa didn't like the mix of the albums saying that there is no top end sound on them, so he thought they sounded bad, though he did like the music that was on them. On Studio Tan, the only track that is significantly different is the 20 minute track "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary", but the difference is only on the CD version of the album, which contains a remix/reedited version of the original. The other tracks have no huge differences, except for the fact that everything is out of sequence.

The Adventures of Greggery Peccary

Beside the fact that this isn't the way that Zappa wanted this material to be presented, it is still a great album, and the variation in the styles of music gives one a taste of the different styles and wide talent that Zappa had. The album starts out with "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" which takes up the entire first side of the record. This track is a story type track with narration, characterization and orchestration. The song was originally written in 1972. and was an idea similar to the concert favorite "Billy the Mountain" (which, by the way, is referenced in this story). The music is a complex style with a cartoonish, soundtrack style of music that accentuates what is going on in the story. The silly story is about a corporate pig person, who, as a result of pressure from the higher ups in the corporation, invents the next "new big thing", which is a calendar. Of course, people love it at first, but then many also hate this new device all to Greggery's peril. The vocal parts are both narrated and characterized with processed vocals so you can easily tell who is saying what. Not all of the parts are simply spoken, however, many are sung also. The story and music is quite entertaining and is a testament to Zappa's genius.

The track was performed by Zappa on guitar and vocals, George Duke on keys and vocals, Burce Fowler on trombone, Tom Fowler on bass and Chester Thompson on drums. The overall recording took about a month to complete. The rhythm section was recorded first which included bass, drums, percussion and four keyboard instruments. Then the guitars were added. The regular instrumental parts that were hard to get "perfect" were done by a synthesizer so that speed and accuracy could be adjusted. After that, the rest of the score was transcribed for orchestra with strings, brass and woodwinds all recorded on two tracks each over separated days. Then the narration was added in last. An interesting side note is that one of the violinist's manuscripts was run over by a tire of some sort and had the tread marks on it. She denied that it was intentional.

Most people think this track is named after the actor Gregory Peck, but in reality, it was named after Pope Gregory XIII, who is responsible for correcting the calendar in 1582, thus creating leap year and determining a table of moon phases in order to help when to celebrate Easter, a holiday actually based on the pagan holiday for Spring Equinox. The music on this track is quite complex, and it almost sounds like much of it is improvised, but in reality, each and every note is written down as a score. The full orchestra was known as "Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra" and actually consists of a very large collection of performers, some of the best that were available. Even with the cartoon-soundtrack style of the music, there are returning themes throughout that pop up from time to time, and there are several styles of music throughout the track that support the story that is going on. The entire thing is a masterpiece, albeit a very humorous one, even the section that represents "a six-foot pile of transistor radio (each one tuned to a different station)". It is so easy to let the craziness of the music overshadow the genius behind it all. But, Zappa's humor is as multi-layered as his music, so just enjoy it for what it is, that is what it's all about.

Revised Music for Guitar and Low-budget Orchestra

This track is an example of Zappa's ability to transcribe impossible music. In its original form, this track was composed to show off the talent of one of Frank's violinists Jean-Luc Ponty. Frank took the underlying part of the track and improvised a guitar solo in the place of Ponty's violin and then had it transcribed (by trombonist Bruce Fowler) for various instruments for his band to play. If you have heard Frank's guitar solos, then you know how complicated they could be. Also, in Frank's instrumental music, you can often hear several instruments playing the same musical line, usually a very complicated one, that sounds like it was improvised. Well, many times, it originally was improvised. But to blow everyone's mind, he has many instrumentalists play the same line in tandem so that it doesn't sound like it is made up. Zappa said that he liked the idea of several instruments all trying desperately to play the same line.

The basic band line up is the same as in the previous track, but there are several other musicians also involved as there are several other instruments involved here too. Listening to this track as a guitar solo transcribed for several orchestral instruments makes the entire thing make better sense. Otherwise, it seems to be a track without any real aim to the novice listener, when in reality, it is a work of orchestral genius, which is also a testament to the instrumentalists, because it is one of Zappa's nearly impossible to play compositions. The sound is much less of a soundtrack style and more like a classical piece. From heavy guitar to orchestra, it all just shows how music of any genre is connected, yet interpretation through instrumentation makes all of the difference in the world as to how it is perceived.

Lemme Take You to the Beach

This short track is really the oddest duck out of all of the tracks here, but at the same time, is the most traditional as far as rock and roll is concerned. This was the track that Zappa thought would be his hit single. Apparently, Frank got Mark Farmer from "Grand Funk Railroad", Eddie Jobson (one of Frank's keyboardists who also worked with "roxy Music" and "UK" among others), Davey Moire (one of Frank's recording engineers) and himself together, went into a studio and recorded the vocal parts for this fun little beach song. The credited performers here are Davey Moire on vocals, Frank Zappa on guitar and vocals, Eddie Jobson on keyboards and yodeling, Max Bennett on bass, Paul Humphrey on drums and Don Brewer on bongos. The end result is a fun, but silly song satirizing beach music with bongos and everything.

RDNZL

The name of the last track was always a mystery for quite some time. Eventually, Dweezil Zappa explained that it was a combination of the word "redundant" and the fairy-tale character "Rapunzel", pronounced Redunzel. This was Frank's nickname for his wife Gail because she liked to repeat things that Frank found funny. Gail's liscence plate apparently was "RDNZL", which also backs up this theory, but the fact that Dweezil said it was about Gail pretty much solidifies this theory.

The band line-up for this track is FZ on guitar, George Duke on keyboards, James "Bird Legs" Youman on bass, the amazing Ruth Underwood on percussion and synth, and Chester Thompson on drums. This track is a definite showcase for Ruth's talent with the use of percussion, specifically the xylophone. It also showcases George's piano. The track is more avant jazz oriented with some complex rhythmic passages, but is also quite melodic. Frank comes in with a guitar solo after two minutes, but the background is a lot more complex than many of the supporting patterns that back up Frank's solos, so the track remains interesting for everyone involved. The guitar solo stops before the 5 minute mark, and the spotlight returns to the tonal percussion, piano and synths again for the remainder of the 8 minute duration. The music changes style, meter and rhythm quite often, and then settles into a fast and jazzy piano solo that rivals some of Keith Emerson's best. The last minute takes it back to complicated rhythms and passages for the last minute of the track.

Summary

So, even though this is one of the unauthorized WB albums, it is a great showcase of several of FZ's styles in one album. Of course the centerpiece is the epic first track, but all of the tracks easily stand on their own, even the short Rock n Roll song. But, the variety is a big plus for this album, and it goes by rather quickly because it is so entertaining. Digging into the album also helps one appreciate it more, seeing the work that Frank would put into his music and that each and every one of his compositions had rationale behind it and not just a random set of noises as many naÔve Zappa listeners might want you to believe. Frank Zappa was an amazing composer who knew music as well as any classical composer, but simply liked to put humor in his music. He used humor to help bring attention to his music and it really worked in his case. Many Zappa fans only like certain styles and tend to shun his more classical or complex style compositions, but at least they get exposure to them. Those that are curious about music, however, want to explore the reasoning behind some of the more complex compositions, and, to me, when you understand more, you appreciate more. Still, some of his music may not be for everyone, but that doesn't mean the music is not the work of a genius. Anyway, this is a great album, and, even though it is not the way Zappa intended for people to hear these songs, it is still a great representation of his styles, 4 excellent masterpieces on one album. Sweet!

TCat | 5/5 |

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