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THEM OR US

Frank Zappa

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Frank Zappa Them Or Us album cover
3.28 | 188 ratings | 13 reviews | 12% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential


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Studio Album, released in 1984

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Closer You Are (2:56)
2. In France (3:32)
3. Ya Hozna (6:26)
4. Sharleena (4:33)
5. Sinister Footwear II (8:39)
6. Truck Driver Divorce (8:58)
7. Stevie's Spanking (5:23)
8. Baby, Take Your Teeth Out (1:54)
9. Marque-Son's Chicken (7:33)
10. Planet of My Dreams (1:37)
11. Be in My Video (3:39)
12. Them or Us (5:23)
13. Frogs With Dirty Little Lips (2:42)
14. Whipping Post (7:32)

Total Time: 70:45

Line-up / Musicians

-- Frank Zappa / lead (5,6,9,12,14) & rhythm (3,7) guitar, vocals, arranger & producer

With:
- Steve Vai / lead (3,7-9,13) & rhythm (4,5,6,14) guitars
- Dweezil Zappa / lead guitar (4,7)
- Ray White / rhythm guitar (5-7,9,14), vocals
- Bobby Martin / keyboards (6,8,9,14), saxophone (11), harmonica (2), vocals
- Tommy Mars / keyboards
- George Duke / piano (10), vocals (3)
- Brad Cole / piano (11)
- Scott Thunes / bass, MiniMoog (12)
- Arthur Barrow / bass (1-3), percussion (13)
- Patrick O'Hearn / bass (10)
- Chad Wackerman / drums
- Ed Mann / percussion
- Johnny "Guitar" Watson / lead vocals (2)
- Moon Zappa / vocals (3)
- Bob Harris / vocals (8,10,13)
- Thana Harris / vocals (8,10)
- Ike Willis / vocals (1,2,7,8,10,11)
- Napoleon Murphy Brock / vocals (2,3,11)
- Roy Estrada / vocals (7,13)

Releases information

Largely sourced from Live recordings, mostly with added studio overdubs

Artwork: Donald Roller Wilson

2xLP Barking Pumpkin Records ‎- SVBO 74200 (1984, US)

CD EMI ‎- CDP 7 90080 2 (1984, UK) Remixed by Bob Stone
CD Zappa Records ‎- ZR 3870 (2012, US) 1984 Sony PCM 3324 Digital Master

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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FRANK ZAPPA Them Or Us ratings distribution


3.28
(188 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(12%)
12%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(31%)
31%
Good, but non-essential (42%)
42%
Collectors/fans only (11%)
11%
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)
3%

FRANK ZAPPA Them Or Us reviews


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Another double LP here, as Zappa used to release in the 80's. Like many of his 80's albums, there are TONS of catchy & addictive lead and backing vocals here. Because of the presence of Steve Vai on guitars, be ready to hear many crazy & monolithic solos from him and Zappa himself, like on "Truck driver's divorce" and "Them or us", among others. Ed Mann does an excellent job on percussions (xylophone), and many percussive bits like on "Sinister footwear 3" sound like the "Mothers of prevention" album, and even like the "Ship arriving too late" album. I like the funny & childish style of tracks like "Baby take your teeth out", "Planet of my dreams" and "Frogs with dirty little lips". It seems there are no horns: some keyboards seems to emulate the sound of trumpet and trombone.
Review by Bj-1
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I really dig FZ's 80's albums but I admit that they are not essential to any causual progfan due to the crude and sleazy songs peppered with Zappa's usual satire. This album is a fun one and is made mainly up from songs that were performed in the early 80's (like Man from Utopia) and mindbending instumentals that will get any guitar freak to drool. At 70 minutes few songs really stands out though but I have to mention that the version of "Sharleena" (originally from Chunga's Revenge) featured here kicks ass and includes a warping solo from Zappa's then 15 year old son, Dweezil. The shortest pieces are nothing to write home about but the rest is highly enjoyable, but again this album suits the Zappa fan better than the average proghead.
Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars The 80s was not the best decade for Frank Zappa, in my opinion. Sure, it yielded some pretty strong material (The Perfect Stranger and Ship Arriving too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, for example). Unfortunately, it was also a time where he released his most contrived and hackneyed albums. This album, while having a few songs that would stand the test of time and prove some worth, in the end is more underwhelming than one can even imagine and one might even ask the question, what was the point of it all?

The songs in question that stand the test of time are Ya Honza, Sharleena, Stevie's Spanking, and Whipping Post. The first is an instrumental that has a chord progression similar to that of Survivor's hit track Eye of the Tiger. It also features some zany backwards vocals taken from various songs from various eras of Zappa's overall output. It's a pretty solid track that is relatively heavy for Zappa's standards, which makes it somewhat unique. Sharleena is an updated version of the track that first saw the light on 1970's Chunga's Revenge album. While not as good as the original, it has a certain flare to it that makes it above most of the other songs.

Stevie's Spanking is probably my favorite song on the album, as it's got some humorous subject matter and some wild playing on all fronts (especially from "stunt" guitar player Steve Vai, who is payed tribute to in the song, much like Terry Bozzio with Punky's Whips). Whipping Post is the concluding track, a cover from the famous Allman Brother's Band original, and the strong vocals from Bobby Martin help make this track worthwhile (along with the magnificent Zappa guitar solo that dominates most of the track).

With only 4 good tracks out of the total 14, that makes for a pretty bland album overall. I can't really say that I recommend this album all that much. Really, it'd be for the completionists or fans of the poppier side of Zappa (which as you can see from the various reviews of Zappa albums from the 1980s I'm not that much of). Still, Them Or Us has some worth to it, not that much, but there is some certain miniscule allure. Mostly for fans of FZ, in my opinion.

Review by Prog Leviathan
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars This Zappa albums offers a lengthy collection of songs, most of which are uneven in quality and somewhat meandering, though the record's collective wit and energy almost make up for a lackluster show of songwriting and instrumental performance.

For the most part, Them Or Us alternates between silly satires of other musical genres (especially do-wap and soul), and the free-form instrumental madness Zappa is most known for. While this sounds good in writing, the result is a sort of gutless avant-pop that only occasionally gets the gusto to impress the listener with anything other than Steve Vai's guitar/sound effect solos. There simply isn't much here to grab hold of.

The collection of singers on this album does do wonders for its levity though, so while the songs themselves aren't especially great they can still be fun to listen to. There's a lot of wit to the delivery and lyrics in the satire pieces, and most of the isntrumentals contain a few gems to their performances-- especially when Them Or Us picks up the tempo and gets heavy. Sometimes catchy, sometimes toungue-in-cheek, and sometimes jamming, this album shows that Zappa still has the goods... we just have to slog through 3 or 4 songs of filler to get to the interesting parts.

So while it definitely won't convince anyone who's never heard a Zappa album to jump on board, fans of Frank will most likely warm to the style of this one in time. Would easily be a 3- star album with some thoughtful editing.

Songwriting: 2 Instrumental Performances: 3 Lyrics/Vocals: 2 Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Review by tarkus1980
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I might be all wet, but I kinda get the feeling Zappa didn't really have his heart into making "normal" albums by this time. Given that his other 1984 releases were a venture into modern classical (The Perfect Stranger), a tongue-in-cheek glimpse at very average "traditional" classical, and the grossest rock opera ever made (Thing Fish), none of which had a chance of selling heavily even by Zappa standards, I can't shake the suspicion that Zappa only released this album so he could cover the cost of his other projects. The thing that stands out most to me and to a lot of other people is that the album is almost defiantly conservative by Zappa's standards; it's the closest thing he'd done to a "career retrospective" (at least post-'73) yet. The album starts with a doo-wop cover and ends with an Allman Bros. cover, and in between there's an updated version of "Sharleena," a bunch of fun pop songs with offensive lyrics, and a LOT of guitar wanking (not just from Frank; Steve Vai is a beast on this album).

Call me a plebe, but I'm fine with Zappa making a "generic Zappa" album if it's as good as this one. The aforementioned opening doo-wop cover, a number called "The Closer You Are," is given the same goofy vocal treatment that Frank had given a lot of songs in this vein, but Frank and the rest do the song totally straight otherwise (which does a number on my automatic expectations of the song turning into smut). The closing "Whipping Post" is done totally straight (though it has the same generic 80's synths that occupy much of the rest of the album), and it sounds freaking AWESOME in every way that matters. Never dismiss the idea of Zappa playing straight blues-rock! And speaking of blues-rock, don't forget the mid-tempo amusement of "In France," where the vocalist makes allusions to all sorts of bad experiences Frank's band had there, wrapping it up with the clear moral, "Never try to get your peter sucked in France." Thanks for the tip.

Moving on, "Ya Hozna" is a hypnotic processed guitar-jam filled with fake backwards vocals from various Zappa family members (Frank's revenge on people looking for Satanic messages encoded in rock music, I guess). "Sharleena" is an okay re-recording of the Chunga's Revenge number (that has an out-of-place Dweezil Zappa solo in the middle, but the absurdity makes it work), and then we come to a couple of nine-minute guitar wanks. They're good wanks, though, and while "Sinister Footwear II" is all instrumental (with Zappa credited with "guitar solo" and Vai credited with "written guitar lines"), "Truck Driver Divorce" starts off as a "normal" track (with lyrics mocking truck drivers, and a call back to "No Not Now" on Ship Arriving) before morphing into a jam for the second half. "Stevie's Spanking" is about Steve Vai's experience (I don't know if it's real or fake) with a groupie, but more importantly it features some great riffing and a pair of great solos (first from Vai, second from Dweezil) that show that, even with the sterile production that accompanied Zappa's early 80's albums, he could still put out great hard rock (of sorts).

There's not a real need to namecheck all of the rest (I'd say the cute "Frogs with Dirty Little Lips," with cool imitations of frog croakings, is the best of the rest), but suffice it to say that pretty much everything else is on more or less the same level of good as the aforementioned tracks. No, not many of the album's tracks stand out as Zappa classics, but most of them clearly qualify as "good," and that means a lot. The album may not have a lot of depth, and it may not have the best sound overall, but it's a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it to anybody who likes Zappa's "normal" albums in general.

Review by Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars 'Them Or Us ' - Frank Zappa (3/10)

My respect and acknowledgement of his vast talent aside, Frank Zappa and his music have never been my thing. Often, I find the music too silly and obnoxious, or otherwise too emotionally shallow to sustain much interest for me. Although I have had a few fun experiences with Zappa's music, it is an album like 'Them Or Us' that really affirms why I could never consider myself a fan of his music. Released in the middle of the 80's when popular music was agreed to have hit rock bottom, Zappa's own quality seems to have really taken a dive with 'Them Or Us'. While there is certainly much creativity at work throughout the album, the end result is unfortunately a piece of work that is dreadfully inconsistent, and sometimes downright unpleasant to listen to.

Much of 'Them Or Us' is a satire on different old styles like doo-wop, focusing heavily on a host of different voices. While the instrumental work here is generally well-arranged and complex within the constraints of the somewhat silly compositions, it is the vocal work on the album that really turns me off. While there are is some good singing in the soul style on tracks such as 'Whippin' Pole', alot of the vocal work falls on Zappa himself, who- while being an undeniably good guitarist- leaves far too much to be desired on the singing end. Coupled with boring, poorly executed lyrical topics like truck drivers and the clothing worn by frogs, Zappa's shallow vocal technique has little to work with from the get-go.

The album is inconsistent to the point of dread; this also brings up the point that there is in fact good music to be heard on 'Them Or Us'. Frequently, the music and songs will alternate between asinine musical comic rock, derivative blues and doo-wop (done fairly poorly) and every once in a while; a very cool complex instrumental section to dive into. It is the few moments of enjoyment here that saves 'Them Or Us' from being a completely unpleasant piece of work in my eyes.

While the doo-wop and blues satires have their place, they certainly cannot warrant the length of an album which exceeds an hour. Perhaps with some fat trimmed off of this partial failure, 'Them Or Us' would have been far more bearable, and even quite enjoyable to listen to, as long as the bad jokes were kept few and far between.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars This album, which I think tries to capture the magic of "Sheik Yerbouti", seems to be a mostly pop-ish (for Frank Zappa) album, with a few shining moments, some of Zappa's worst music of the eighties, but mostly average songs.

First, the good stuff: at the top are the instrumentals and guitar solo pieces. Sinister Footwear II, Marqueson's Chicken and Them Are Us all fall into this category. Also up there is a very hot rendition of the Allman Brothers' Whippin' Post.

The next step down are In France featuring Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, Stevie's Spanking (although there are better live versions of this one), Be In My Video a dig at MTV, and which also had a video made to go along with it, and Frogs With Dirty Little Lips witha writing credit from a young Ahmet.

Then there's The Closer You Are, an unimpressive doo-wop song, and an unnecessary remake of Sharleena.

All the way at the bottom are Ya Hozna a repetitive backing track, with backwards vocals from Sofa and Moon Unit (possibly outtakes from Valley Girl), Truck Driver Divorce, with a badly sung melody, but a pretty good guitar solo, Baby, Take You Teeth Out, which just isn't as funny as Frank probably thought it was, and Planet Of My Dreams, which is almost unlistenable.

For a mixed bag like this, three stars, I guess.

Review by TCat
COLLABORATOR Eclectic Team
4 stars The Frank Zappa album 'Them or Us' was a more comedic and rock record than most of the albums released around this time. It follows on the heels of one of his classical collections performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and before the not-so-great soundtrack to his odd play 'Thing-Fish', his interpretations (with only the synclavier) of music from the baroque composer Francesco Zappa, and another classical record 'Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger'. So 'Them or Us' kind of sticks out as the odd one out during this period of time, but it was also perfectly timed to break up the mostly classical releases. It would be the last studio "rock" album he would record.

This album harkens back to the more carefree feel of the 'Sheik Yerbouti' days, and attempts to borrow from it for inspiration. And it succeeds for the most part. The album includes both studio and live tracks, but, like 'Sheik Yerbouti', it is considered a studio album.

Steve Vai fans will be happy to know that this album features more of the prolific guitar player than any of the albums released while he was with Frank's band, at least on a studio level. Other band members include Chad Wackerman, Tommy Mars, and other special guests. You get a variety of music here, with the main sound being rock, but there are some avant garde pieces here too. The first three tracks are studio tracks. 'The Closer You Are' is a slow, harmonized, doo-wop song. 'In France' is a comedic take on the song 'In Cars' by Gary Numan, but making fun of the French. It is an upbeat, funky song. 'Yo Honza' is a strange, backward version of previous FZ songs 'Sofa' and 'Lonely Little Girl' played against a repeating riff. The story behind this backwards track is that there was a bill reportedly going through Congress where they were going to make it illegal to record anything backwards on an album. Of course, Frank took advantage of this and put this 6 minute backwards track on the album. At least Frank allowed Steve Vai to play a guitar solo (frontwards) towards the last part of the track over the repeating riff. Moon Unit Zappa also provides some of the backwards vocals.

'Sharleena' comes next. The basic track for this doo-wop song with a reggae beat comes from a live show around 1981 and embellishments and etc. were added later. Dweezil Zappa plays a killer guitar solo on this version which were actually edited together from 4 different performances, according to Dweezil. Next is the avant-garde, solo showcase instrumental called 'Sinister Footwear II'. The solo that takes up most of this track comes from two different shows. The first part is from Maryland in November of 1981, performed on FZ's usual Stratocaster, and the second part is from Germany in June of 1982, performed on the Hendrix Stratocaster. During the playing of the main theme here, you will notice Frank playing along with the band note for note. To most, this would sound like improvisation, but playing the same notes together proves that it is not, that it is actually a testament to the complexity of Frank's more classically-styled compositions. There are again many embellishments added in the studio. 'Truck Driver Divorce' uses a basic track recorded live in 1982 and inserts a guitar solo taken from the performance of 'Zoot Allures' from the Ritz in NYC, recorded in November of 1981. The funny, satirical lyrics are sung by Frank Zappa in a lounge style while the band improvises. The song makes fun of country songs and Donny and Marie (Hawaiian Punch commercials and string beans).

'Stevie's Spanking' is a funny track about Steve Vai's true life escapades with a acquaintance of Frank's, Laurel Fishman, written with her permission. Frank said she was quite proud of her accomplishments, which are vividly described in the song. The basic track here is culled from many different live shows. The lyrics, of course, can be offensive to the sensitive listener. Vai does the first guitar solo and Dweezil does the second guitar solo. The short track 'Baby Take Your Teeth Out' was first realized at a sound check before a concert. Frank wrote some lyrics and said to give them to Ike, 'He will sing anything'. The backing music sounds like a tropical style song. 'Marque-Son's Chicken' goes back to an avant garde style foundation recorded at one venue and pastes a FZ guitar solo from another venue on top of it. The title comes from the fact that Marque Coy (Frank's monitor engineer) hung a rubber chicken on a mic at one of the shows. The band came out to do this song as an encore (it had a different title at the time) and saw the chicken and renamed the song after him.

'Planet of My Dreams' is another short track that was originally part of a planned musical that never really came about, but parts of it was made into the album 'Sleep Dirt'. This is just another part from that musical and it is made up of edits from several different venues. It is pretty amazing how it is all brought together to sound like an expensive production. 'Be in My Video' is all recorded in studio. This is a faster style doo-wop song which is quite fun to listen to. Of course it is making fun of making MTV videos and the silly things bands would do in their extravagant videos. You should get a hold of the lyrics and follow along because it is quite funny. 'Them or Us' is pretty much a Frank Zappa guitar solo that was taken from a performance of 'Black Page 2' in Bolzano, Italy in July of 1982. This time, the backing track is all performed at the same time, and it is also a lot more complex than most of the backing music for Frank's other solos, especially the wild drums. Rumor has it that it is culled from a Bartok composition.

'Frogs With Dirty Little Lips' is another track completely done in studio. Frank said his youngest son Ahmet wrote the lyrics when he was 7, as he would walk around the house singing a different tune, but the words in the title were always the same. Frank sings it in his sinister, whispery voice. The last track is an awesome cover of the Allman Brothers classic 'Whipping Post'. At the end of a concert in Finland, the audience yelled out 'Play Whipping Post', and when Frank asked if anyone in the band knew the song, they said no. Well, Frank didn't want to let his audience down, so when Bobby Marin joined the band, Frank asked if he knew it, he said yes and sang it beautifully, so Frank told him to teach the band how to play it and have it ready for tomorrow. Zappa plays the scorching guitar solo in this version, which is taken from two different concert performances.

This is really a great Zappa album that tends to get lost in the vast array of Zappa recordings. It introduces several tracks that were concert staples to the non-concert goers and it also has a lot of great performances and variety. Some of Zappa's best albums are when he manages to bring in different styles, yet keeps the excitement going through the album. You get a good taste of many of his styles here, so there is something for every Zappa fan, excellent guitar solos, doo-wop, avant garde music, comedy and so on. This album isn't one of the best, but it is definitely far from one of the worst. 4 stars easily.

Latest members reviews

4 stars This is an excellent 80s album from Frank Zappa and one that I revisit often. Frogs With Dirty Little Lips is one of the coolest and funniest tracks in his catalog. The Closer You Are is a fantastic start while it continues with In France, another stellar track. This 70 minute album is underr ... (read more)

Report this review (#2150348) | Posted by javajeff | Thursday, February 28, 2019 | Review Permanlink

4 stars While not as consistant as his opus Joe's Garage this album will still always have a place in my heart, known as one of the albums to feature the legendary Steve Vai i found it funny that there are some songs on this that Frank doesnt even appear in and who cudda guessed that Dweezil Zappa could ... (read more)

Report this review (#289292) | Posted by FarBeyondProg | Monday, July 5, 2010 | Review Permanlink

2 stars When you have a dog wearing sunglasses and a dress on your album cover, it makes for a good way to tell the potential listener about the randomness of the collection of songs within. It begins with a doo-wop song in "The Closer You Are", then onto the blues-based "In France", a couple of instrum ... (read more)

Report this review (#213427) | Posted by Stooge | Saturday, May 2, 2009 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This album is Zappa's last studio rock album. Its sad because the only reason why he stopped doing rock was because he was getting sick. Not only could he not play the guitar with as much vigor at this point, mental blocks from 2000+ mg's of caffiene and lack of sleep every day, and overall acc ... (read more)

Report this review (#85392) | Posted by BaboonSweat | Tuesday, August 1, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This album is good, but not essential Zappa. The Closer You Are: This song, I find quite boring to be perfectly honest. I can't picture many progfans liking this too too much. In France: Some may find it funny, but I didn't find the humour in this that funny, and the song itself was not that ... (read more)

Report this review (#58477) | Posted by | Monday, November 28, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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