Thursday, February 25, 2010

Addendum: A Beginner's Introduction To Frank Zappa

That wonderful (anonymous) comment from the last post made a good point. I'm one who celebrates his entire discography, although there are some real clunkers on his lesser albums.

Anyway, this revised list is for the people who might run away screaming from their stereo systems the moment they hear Uncle Meat. I need to keep in mind, what I consider Zappa's masterpieces just aren't for everyone.

Let's do round two, in which FZ's more accessible material is the focus:

10. Freak Out! (1966)
The last twenty minutes of this hour-long double album notwithstanding, this is a good, healthy blast of the mid-60's LA scene along with some finely-written pop songs...and a greasy doo-wop number that firmly established that often-repeated phrase from the LP's gatefold, "No Commercial Potential."

Oh, how we beg to differ.

Key tracks: "Hungry Freaks, Daddy," "Who Are The Brain Police?," "Motherly Love," "Wowie Zowie," "Trouble Every Day"

09. Joe's Garage (1979)
One of the best fusions of orchestral sensibilities with rock and roll instruments, this album has some of Zappa's most memorable (and quotable) moments. Peppered throughout are some amazing guitar solos, proof that Ike Willis is the most underrated singer in rock and roll, and some of Zappa's most beautiful (and haunting) melodies.

The only caveat is there's plenty of crude humor that might throw off an average listener with tales mocking religion, depictions of sex in German (later described in English - may want to brace yourself for that one), and incredibly unsubtle mentions of, uh...prison romance. Don't play this for your girlfriend if she's Catholic.

Definitely play this for your girlfriend if she's a lapsed Catholic.

Key tracks: "Catholic Girls," "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?," "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up," "A Token Of My Extreme," "Watermelon In Easter Hay"

08. The Grand Wazoo (1972)
I was a bit reluctant to have two jazz records on here, but this one is too damn good to pass up. Featuring a true big band, rather than the usual shit-ton of overdubbage from someone like Ian Underwood or Sal Marquez (although Marquez is very much on this record, in full trumpeting force), the album's title track wouldn't be out of place in some sort of historical epic. And George Duke's hot-shit keyboard solo on "Eat That Question" and its lead-in to one of Zappa's funkiest grooves is not to be missed.

The only thing that might throw off the "average" listener (whoever that might be) is the absence of lyrics. There really is sort of a demand, as Zappa pointed out with typical cynicism, that songs have words in the present day. Regardless, this is a great introduction for the jazz-head.

Key tracks: "The Grand Wazoo," "For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitchhikers)," "Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus," "Eat That Question," "Blessed Relief" (The whole album is five tracks...they're all great.)

07. Sheik Yerbouti (1979)
No libretto, no maniacal sonic experiments, no stage antics, just rock and roll - Zappa style, of course. This is the album for the "classic rock" fan. Terry Bozzio's vocal adventures, Adrian Belew's Dylan imitation (by the way, Adrian Belew is on this album), and the seamless dubbing of studio material onto live backing tracks make for one Hell of a trip.

The only real hang-up here is the song that caused some trouble for FZ back then: "Jewish Princess." Justify it all you want, give them the great Zappa quote of "Unlike the unicorn, the Jewish Princess does indeed exist in our society," explain that he wasn't a misogynist, and you might still have a very indignant reaction.

Don't play this album for your rabbi.

Key tracks: "Flakes," "Tryin' To Grow A Chin," "City Of Tiny Lites," "Dancin' Fool," "Wild Love"

06. Over-Nite Sensation (1973)
The debut of The Mothers mark III, this is a compact run of pop/rock/jazz numbers that shows off the incredible talents of Jean-Luc Ponty, George Duke, and Ruth Underwood. The real star here, though, is Frank, having lead vocals on nearly all of the songs (with MVP going to in-and-out-of-Zappa's-band-because-of-alcohol vocalist Ricky Lancelotti for his two madcap performances) and providing a great guitar solo - short or long - on EVERY tune.

The only snag? "Dinah-Moe Humm" plays like a porno. You can't hide behind hoping the listener will focus only on the music; the song is mixed in such a way that the vocals are pretty front-and-center.

Also, and this is my own hang-up, but I personally think "Montana" is one of his stupidest songs. Period.

Key tracks: "Camarillo Brillo," "I'm The Slime," "Dirty Love," "Fifty-Fifty," "Dinah-Moe Humm"

05. Hot Rats (1969)
Rykodisc nailed it when they referred to this album as "the album that people who don't even like Frank Zappa can enjoy" (or something to that effect). Possessing a distinctly rockier/bluesier edge than The Grand Wazoo, this really is one of the best all-around introductions to Zappa as a songwriter.

Key tracks: "Peaches En Regalia," "Willie The Pimp," "The Gumbo Variations"

04. Apostrophe (') (1974)
This is one of the easiest FZ albums to hunt down used on vinyl. It's just one of those mid-70's albums it seemed everyone owned, no doubt because of "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow." Unlike, say, "Valley Girl" and Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch, it's not hard to picture buyers giving equal time to both sides of this record.

Key tracks: The "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" suite on Side A, "Cosmik Debris," "Apostrophe (')," "Uncle Remus" (I actually know two people who have done as the lyrics to this song describe: stealing lawn jockeys out of rich people's lawns. One I don't think knew fact, they took the jockey and shot it with a Mosin Nagant rifle...the other guy did it because of this song.)

03. We're Only In It For The Money (1968)
Quintessential Zappa, with what many consider his best band (if just on principle - and with said principle in mind, they kind of were) and an even smaller contingency feel is his only band worth a good God-damn. Plenty of humor, bold musical experiments, and even a dash of pathos here and there.

Not to be played for hippies.

Key tracks: "Who Needs The Peace Corps?," "Mom And Dad," "Flower Punk," "The Idiot Bastard Son," "Mother People"

02. You Are What You Is (1981)
There's some bias in this. I love this album, and I contend it is Zappa's most accessible album in the milieu of pop-rock. The lyrical topics were life-altering (side C's series of songs on religion said things I'd been thinking for years by age 15) and just plain funny, sending up the shallower side of American society. Great vocal performances throughout courtesy of Bob Harris, Ray White, Ike Willis, and even the Indian of the Group himself, Mr. Jimmy Carl Black.

Frank's sneering vocal line on "Dumb All Over" sounds like he's on the brink of spewing acid. Unforgettably awesome.

Might want to skip the song where the protagonist smacks his (whiny, obnoxious shrew of a) girlfriend, though.

Key tracks: "Teenage Wind," "Harder Than Your Husband," "Doreen," "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing," "Dumb All Over"

01. One Size Fits All (1975)
I reviewed this one back in the summer of 2009, so you can read all about it there. It is the album I consider the finest example of Zappa's "Zappaesque" sound, with goofy lyrics that conceal two or three different layers of meaning, mean guitar work, and musicianship that will make you wonder why you're even bothering with your garage band.

Key tracks: "Inca Roads," "Can't Afford No Shoes," "Sofa #1," "San Ber'dino," "Andy"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

So, You Want To Get Into.........Frank Zappa?

Have I talked about this before, the AV Club's feature called "Gateways To Geekery?" It's one of the best columns they have, though I feel like they don't do it enough. There's plenty out there that seems daunting at least from the outset.

Anyway, this is the same premise - and be real, this might be an act of theft, but their own column is an act of theft of the type of conversations you would have with your friends ("I've always wanted to get into so-and-so, any suggestions on where to start?"), so don't even start - as the AV Club's column, making allowances for my own opinions. I really need to branch out from just music. In fact, since I still think my Dr. No review stands as proof that I'm reeeeeeally rusty at writing about films, it might be better for me to frame films through such a context - "So, You Want To Get Into.........Monty Python?" or "...Soviet Film?" would be good entries.

Let's start.

I'm a Zappa fan who is sort of on the fence about fellow Zappa fans. The ones I meet in person I get along with really well. I was telling a friend this past weekend it's a lot like meeting a fellow drummer, in that we can talk for hours about "What was your first FZ album?" or "Who's your favorite bassist?", fun stuff like that.

The online fan community, though? Rabid, contrary, bloviating, arrogant, misinformed, close-minded, vitriolic, territorial, and confrontational. There are some shining stars out there. My friends running Kill Ugly Radio are great. It's in the comment boards, however, that the discourse can veer into some unappetizing turf. Some of these bozos can't comprehend first of all that Frank Zappa was not only human, but one with many character flaws.

Second, anyone who doesn't appreciate one of his works is an uncultured Philistine who simply "doesn't get it." This especially becomes the constant cop-out in instances where Uncle Frank gets exceptionally vulgar. To them, if you find his work offensive, it has something to do with YOU, not the music.

Take my dad - a very open-minded guy musically, with everything from Beethoven to Juice Newton to Cheap Trick to Indian folk music in his collection. But for the most part, he doesn't like Frank Zappa, and it isn't a case of him not "getting it." Believe me, in all my attempts to proselytize to him I have had success in all other cases (I got him into The Ramones, The Residents, Wesley Willis, and pretty much any original blues rendition of a song later done by Cream or The Yardbirds), but with Zappa's discography it's almost completely been a brick wall. One notable exception was this past January when we listened to Orchestral Favorites in the car. He said it was "not bad," which on his grading scale is about a B.*

Trust me, he "got it" when he heard "Dinah-Moe Humm." He "got it" when Flo and Eddie sang about monstrous dicks on Fillmore East, June 1971. He "got it" when he heard this stuff originally, and he "got it" 30 years later when I tried playing it for him.

His criticisms are three simple, admittedly valid points:

1.) "He Just Tries Too Hard To Be Weird!"
This is where it simply becomes a matter of taste. Some chords, timbres, tones, and intervals that may seem harsh to one set of ears could very well be another person's conception of what Heaven itself sounds like. My dad didn't care for Uncle Meat, he said it was "harsh and atonal."

And you know what? He's right. That's also the exact same reason I LOVE that album.

2.) "He Can Be Too Vulgar Sometimes!"
Since Zappa regularly singled out Republicans (though he did target Democratic figures on occasion, too), it's a safe bet that just about any serious analyst of Zappa's work is at least slightly left of center. Unfortunately, this means more than a few of them (Kelly Fisher Lowe's The Words & Music of Frank Zappa does this to the point of annoyance) attempt to justify the existence of songs in Zappa's canon that contain references to bodily functions, sex, sexism, racism, and homophobia. Frank was no racist - his earliest bands featured black and Chicano musicians, before The Mothers Of Invention - and he was certainly no sexist. But he was fascinated by gender roles. He was fascinated by human nature. And guess what? Humans do some pretty interesting things. Put into an unflinchingly honest light, they can seem disgusting. They can even seem alien.

This is the thrust of so much of his "vulgar" works.

Ben Watson upped the ante with the claim that Zappa's trips to Vulgaria are a test on the listener's values. Things are only offensive because of one's own morals. Blah, blah, blah. It's all horse-shit. You know how some people (maybe even you, the reader) just can NOT talk about bowel movements? Yet others - myself included - can be pretty shameless in talking about our latest dump? It's not that the people - mainly women - who jokingly deny that they even create poo are close-minded moralists. They just think it's nasty.

Again, yes, poop is nasty. But it's something we all do...and, as before, it's a matter of taste, BUT - poop can be very, very funny. (Note to self: try to avoid having the words "poop" and "taste" in the same sentence.)

Zappa could be pretty vulgar, sometimes without using a single proper swear word. In fact, those are sometimes the worst (uh, "Keep It Greasey," anyone?). Same case can be made - how comfortable you are with such crudity is a tricky and highly subjective case.

3.) "God, That Guy Could Be A Cynical Asshole!"
Zappa wasn't exactly Mr. Sunshine, even when he was younger and slightly idealistic. For most of his career, I'd say he was a blunt realist. It is not an attitude everyone can appreciate, and I understand that. After about 1980, Frank got increasingly cynical - and I wager even bitter - regarding the declining state of affairs in the world of popular music, the world of "serious" music, and the United States. His dislike of punk music, baseless accusations of conspiracies levied on the American public, and the future of music make him come off like a cranky curmudgeon.

That said, there is a point where I think Zappa's music has to be separated from Zappa the human, otherwise you'll find it very hard to listen to Broadway The Hard Way without thinking of his dissolution of what would be his final band, or to hear any of his Synclavier albums without thinking of his claim that if he'd had a Synclavier in the 60's he never would have had a band.

So, where to start indeed? He released almost 60 albums during his life. Sixty. The guy put out more albums than years he walked this planet. With similarly long-lived groups like The Kinks or The Rolling Stones, you can point to maybe five releases that are absolute essentials. But again, their discography is roughly a third of the size of Zappa's. As a result, I'd say a core collection of Zappa albums would number maybe 10. Keep in mind, though, that the following lists are based on even representation of his multifaceted career. Some - not all, mind you - of my personal favorites might have seeped through onto this list, but (I assure you) not because of any bias.

The Core Collection:

01. Freak Out! (1966)
Remember everything I said about all those British Invasion debut albums? This is just the opposite. It's bold - oh, so bold - with lyrical put-downs of the authorities, education, love, the Watts riots, and close-minded conservatism. The song also has some catchy (in some instances, I think cloying) pop songs thrown in for good measure, with some incredibly bizarre avant-garde pieces to round out this 2-LP set. There's some great rock and roll, some surprising pop music, and experimental tunes you could use to frighten your grandparents.

In short, Zappa needed four sides of vinyl to introduce himself to the world. I don't think it's one of his best, but dammit if it doesn't prove he was incredibly ambitious (and talented as a songwriter/composer) from the very start.

Key tracks: "Hungry Freaks, Daddy," "Who Are The Brain Police?," "Wowie Zowie," "Trouble Every Day," "The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet"

02. We're Only In It For The Money (1968)
If you were to only get one Frank Zappa album, it is this one. Recorded in the wake of the Summer of Love, Zappa calls out the hippie movement as one that had been taken over by kids equating freedom with free weed and free tail as well as the record companies hoping to turn the music of the counterculture into something. Some of it gets even darker, suggesting a Kafkaesque nightmare where hippies would be rounded up and placed in internment camps and warnings of a murderous police state.

What was blasphemous to some and a nod-inducing manifesto to others then is a fine case of iconoclasm effectively calling the bluff of an entire generation that collapsed into itself like a dying star in a haze of self-importance. The Age of Aquarius would never come, frankly because the entire notion was bunk from the get-go. Frank was the one in the 1960's who was urging people to join the system if just to infiltrate it from the inside out. They could have listened...but the LSD and the titties were just too damn tempting.

All of this lyrical bluntness is set to an amazing sonic backdrop of rock, gorgeously illustrated with some fantastic performances by The Mothers Of Invention. There's also some extremely discomforting pieces of musique concrete...those with an aversion to harsh noise: avoid the album's closing track like the plague. (I think it's a masterpiece.)

Key tracks: "Who Needs The Peace Corps?," "Mom And Dad," "Flower Punk," "Mother People," "The Chrome-Plated Megaphone Of Destiny"

03. Uncle Meat (1969)
Another double album, this features Zappa using The Mothers in lieu of an orchestra by way of layering tracks upon tracks. The music has gotten more dense and complex, and the album itself marks the debut of many of Zappa's musical staples: tuned percussion, deliberately harsh editing between songs, and a monster jam on side D. The shifts between blues vamps, avant-jazz, chamber pieces, surrealistic tunes with gorgeous melodies, and field recordings might be jarring, but this sort of manic juxtaposition is all done with a purpose: Zappa doesn't want you to differentiate so-called "high art" music from so-called "low art" music. He doesn't.

Key tracks: "Uncle Meat: Main Title Theme," "Nine Types Of Industrial Pollution," "Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague," "Mr. Green Genes," "King Kong"

04. Hot Rats
The jump from avant-jazz to rock-infused jazz-blues isn't all that puzzling, although Kelly Fisher Lowe mulls over it incessantly in his book; for me, I consider it the next logical step after he broke up The Mothers. Being mainly instrumental, and featuring some really tight layers of keyboard/woodwinds (all played by ex-Mother Ian Underwood), this is a very melodic album. There's no musique concrete, no snippets of dialog, no underlying politics, just music for the sake of music - and an unforgettable guest vocal from Captain Beefheart on one of Zappa's signature tunes.

I could probably list this as the second most essential Zappa release, possibly even number one if you're playing this for someone who thinks 1967 was the zenith of the civilized world (even if they were born decades after, let them have their delusions!).

Key tracks: "Peaches En Regalia," "Willie The Pimp," "The Gumbo Variations"

05. 200 Motels (1971)
Another 2-LP set, this one the soundtrack to his 1971 film from the incarnation of The Mothers with ex-Turtles vocalists Mark Volman (Flo) and Howard Kaylan (Eddie). This has a little bit of everything, from early 70's comedy-injected cock rock to choral performance to some real classical explorations, as Zappa somehow managed to wrangle the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform his orchestral compositions. It's a treat to hear, and a musical kaleidoscope just as out-there as the film...which you need to see. Now.

Key tracks: "Mystery Roach," "This Town Is A Sealed Tuna Sandwich" and the related suite of tunes, "Lonesome Cowboy Burt," "Penis Dimension," "Strictly Genteel"

06. Apostrophe (') (1974)
With his final incarnation of The Mothers, Zappa scored a sleeper hit with an edit of a suite of songs from side A of this record, "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow." While it gave Zappa some long-overdue mainstream attention, the irony rests in the fact that the musically interesting passages from the suite are nowhere to be found on the single version. The flip-side features a great jam with Jack Bruce and a rare co-credit (with keyboardist George Duke) that offers a sentimental statement on the Civil Rights movement, in what I consider one of Zappa's most overlooked songs.

It is complex rock-funk-jazz fusion (which isn't a bad word, unlike in gastronomy) with goofy and at times nonsensical lyrics. The combination made it obvious that Zappa was able to market his product to two very different segments of the public.

Key tracks: "St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast," "Father O'Blivion," "Excentrifugal Forz," "Apostrophe (')," "Uncle Remus"

07. Zoot Allures (1976)
His first solo release after the final line-up of The Mothers, Frank offered an album with a dark, grimy edge. Lots of crunchy, distorted guitar, lyrics on all sorts of subjects (stupidity, disco, torture chambers, sex dolls, pick-up methods), extremely close-miked vocals (you can even hear the spit inside his mouth - do it with headphones and it's like he's right in your ear), two signature guitar solos, and the birth of a technique called xenochrony, where a bass solo from 1976, a drum solo from 1975, and a new guitar solo are all mixed together to make a cohesive whole. Frank would get better at making xenochronous music, but its premiere appearance (on "Friendly Little Finger") is nothing to sneeze at. It's a safe assertion that this album set the precedent for Zappa solo albums recorded in the rock milieu.

Key tracks: "Wind Up Workin' In A Gas Station," "Black Napkins," "The Torture Never Stops," "Friendly Little Finger," "Disco Boy"

08. Jazz From Hell (1986)
The jump ahead ten years isn't to suggest the material released in the interim is worth ignoring - far from, I think it's his best period, especially from 1978-1982, where a whopping THIRTEEN albums were released - but his next major musical innovation, that is to say something he had truly never done before, came with this all-instrumental album. Aside from one live guitar solo, the other seven cuts are all realized on the Synclavier.

The idea behind it is that Zappa didn't want to mess with the human element of hearing his music. With a band came temperaments, pay rates, and the fact that some things might be extraordinarily difficult for his bands to play. On earlier songs like "The Black Page," "Mo 'N' Herb's Vacation," and "Drowning Witch" that almost seemed to be the point: test to see if his bands could play such dense music.

With every tick of the clock, the timbres on this album sound more and more like an old Nintendo, but the intricacies and sheer beauty of the works within still hold up almost a quarter of a century later...although the cover of the record is about as clinical and dreary as the outdated sounds of the Synclavier. This is Zappa the composer at his utmost.

Key tracks: "Night School," "While You Were Art II," "G-Spot Tornado"

09. Broadway The Hard Way (1988)
This audio souvenir from Frank's final tour featured a five-piece brass/sax section, demonstrating that Zappa is a great arranger on top of everything else. Zappa was also at his most political since We're Only In It For The Money. It sheds a similar light on the hypocrisy of what seems like a backwards age. I'm glad it was the time I was born in, not the time in which I grew up...Jesus.

Lots of barbed attacks on conservatism, Evangelical Christianity, Michael Jackson, and Jesse Jackson (who was making a bid for President at the time). Some people have lamented this album seems dated, but I say it's no more dated than the anti Flower Power stuff from 20 years prior. Still, musically exquisite, lyrically intelligent. What more could you ask for?

Key tracks: "Elvis Has Just Left The Building," "Any Kind Of Pain," "When The Lie's So Big," "Rhymin' Man," "Jesus Thinks You're A Jerk"

10. Civilization Phaze III (1994)
This album's status as being both the first posthumous release and the fact that it is currently available new for ONLY $140 on Amazon makes this a dark alley in a dense city of music...and that is a travesty. He might have had the honor of seeing his "impossible" music willingly taken on by the Ensemble Modern with 1993's The Yellow Shark, but it's here on CPIII where he uses the instruments of the Ensemble Modern as voices on the Synclavier, the resulting pieces interspersed with old (1967) and new (1993) dialog. The notion of death lingers over the album the way it hovered over its terminally ill creator as he slowly lost his battle with prostate cancer.

Find this album one way or another. Get a copy from a friend, pick it up dirt-cheap somewhere, Hell - TORRENT IT.

Key tracks: "Amnerika," "N-Lite," "Dio Fa," "Beat The Reaper," "Waffenspiel"

Intermediate Listening:

These albums won't have lengthy descriptions...I value both your time and mine too much to do that. They are grouped in thematic sections rather than in chronological order.

Given the breadth of Zappa's own albums individually, there is bound to be some overlap.

Special Mention:
Absolutely Free (1967) - this one deserves its own special place as a great silver medal, bridging the gap between Freak Out! and We're Only In It For The Money.

You Are What You Is
(1981) and Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (1982) - Surprisingly with-the-times musically, these albums aren't quite children of Zoot Allures...neither are his other three studio offerings from the 1980's, but as you'll see in the next section, they are filed under "Advanced Listening."

Fans of Uncle Meat and the classical portions of 200 Motels:
Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970)
Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970)
The Läther saga (originally intended to be released in 1977 as a 4-LP set; for some reason, the label wouldn't put it out...), which can almost entirely be found on these four sublime late-70's releases:
Zappa In New York (1978)
Studio Tan (1978)
Sleep Dirt (1979)
Orchestral Favorites (1979)
London Symphony Orchestra, Volume I (1983)
Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger (1984)
Francesco Zappa (1984)
London Symphony Orchestra, Volume II (1987)
Ahead Of Their Time (1993)
The Yellow Shark (1993)

Fans of Hot Rats:
Chunga's Revenge (1970)
Waka/Jawaka (1972) - which was unofficially dubbed Hot Rats II due to the cover.
The Grand Wazoo (1972)
Roxy & Elsewhere (1974)
Sleep Dirt (1979) - which was apparently going to be named Hot Rats III, but along with the other Läther albums it was an "unauthorized" release (according to Frank), right on down to the album who knows? The whole Läther thing is a confusing mess of a story, with dubious claims made by Zappa that seem to contradict other things he's said, and not something for the uninitiated, or even the initiated. Just enjoy the music.
Make A Jazz Noise Here (1991)

Fans of the rock portions of 200 Motels:
Chunga's Revenge (1970)
Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971)
Just Another Band From LA (1972)
Zappa In New York (1978)
Playground Psychotics (1992)

Fans of Apostrophe ('):
Over-Nite Sensation (1973)
Roxy & Elsewhere (1974)
One Size Fits All (1975)
Studio Tan (1978)
You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 2 (1988)

Fans of Zoot Allures:
Zappa In New York (1978)
Sleep Dirt (1979)
Sheik Yerbouti (1979)
Joe's Garage Act I (1979)
Joe's Garage Acts II And III (1979)

Fans of Jazz From Hell:
Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger (1984)
Francesco Zappa (1984)
Thing-Fish (1984)
Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention (1985)
(Note that in this category, the suggested listening all predates the album listed as essential. I'm not sure what that means, but it has to mean something, right?)

Fans of Broadway The Hard Way:
The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life (1991)
Make A Jazz Noise Here (1991)

Advanced Listening:

Note the absence of Civilization Phaze III as a starting point in the Intermediate category. That's because the only other album in his catalog that is remotely like it is the album that inspired it. There is some challenging material here, and in many cases it rewards those willing to give it multiple listens.

Descriptors here will be short. Like this one.

Lumpy Gravy (1968)
A true masterpiece in editing, with avant-classical, spoken dialog, beautiful orchestral themes, snippets of rock music (just enough to whet your appetite for more), and musique concrete experiments peppered throughout 31 crazy minutes. It's a little too short to my liking, but whatever, it's the musical equivalent of an Eisensteinian montage. This is one of the few works Frank consistently spoke well of throughout his career.

Cruising With Ruben & The Jets (1968)
This one's pretty simple, you have to ask yourself three simple questions:
1.) Do I like doo-wop music?
2.) Do I own a turntable?
3.) If not, can I stomach hearing digitally recorded drums and bass overdubbed onto vintage-style doo-wop and R&B?

If you have answered yes to Question 1 and yes to 2 and/or 3, then you will enjoy this album. (Buy it on vinyl. The remixing is atrocious, and the overdubs are even worse. Zappa did it because he didn't like the way it sounded, but then made up a bunch of shit about how the tapes were in awful condition.)

Thing-Fish (1984)
Would you enjoy a Broadway musical that dealt with gays, feminism, race relations, and sexual fetishes that had as its basis a hybridization of the Tuskegee Experiments and the conspiracy that AIDS was designed by the Reagan Administration to kill off blacks and gays, featuring Ike Willis as a black man-turned potato-headed mutant with a duck bill in a nun's habit who speaks in a stereotypical Negro dialect?

Wait, why are you running away?!

Funny enough, this is the other album besides Lumpy Gravy that Frank seemed to cherish. It's also (EASILY) the most divisive entry in his canon. Many hate it, some are merely indifferent, and a tiny lunatic fringe (including this guy) swear by it.

Final Exam:

These are the most difficult and/or uneven of releases. Zappa's work is so huge that every album has its defenders - like the one weirdo James Bond fan who claims Roger Moore is his favorite. Again, sorted by category.

In The (Cold, Sterile) Studio In The (Cold, Sterile) 1980's:
The Man From Utopia (1983)
Them Or Us (1984)
Something about these two albums make them "just kinda there;" although they both have their moments, the bad production and the lapses into humor that I think is just Frank being gross because he can outweighs the peaks. See my review of Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch for why it isn't in this category.

Thing-Fish, too, has been critiqued for sounding clinical, but that's not entirely fair. Much of it is (deliberately) recycled versions of old backing tracks - like a Broadway revue - with any new songs being done on the Synclavier. Part of FZ Meets The Mothers Of Prevention falls into this category, too, but the songs in question ("We're Turning Again," "Yo Cats") make up for the mediocre production with potent - and funny - lyrics.

Baby Snakes (1983)
Does Humor Belong In Music? (1986)
You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1 (1988)
You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 3 (1989)
You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 4 (1991)
You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 5 (1992)
You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 6 (1992)

Those first two albums listed are reasons I'm glad most Zappa fans are happy to share their music. No one should have to pay more than ten dollars for either release. Baby Snakes is a rip-off of a live document, featuring the studio version of the title track plus a measly 30-something minutes of music from the two and a half hour long movie. Anyone else I'd say, "Oh, okay, cool, a live album!" but this is a guy who wanted to release a 12-LP set in 1969 and wanted a 4-LP set in 1977. Excuse me, Frank, but I think we could have handled a double or even triple album.

Does Humor Belong In Music? is from a night with the 1984 band, an ensemble much reviled by this author. Other fans seem to think the '84 band has simply been overexposed.

And why's that? Because a lot of the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series seems to be devoted to showing their crisp, picture-perfect renditions of complex pieces and breakneck-fast treatments of songs for casual listeners more than any other incarnation. Between Guitar and the YCDTOSA series (with Volume 2 solely from 1974 and Volume 5 consisting of works from 1965-1969 and 1982), I count 67 songs that were recorded and included.

All while several touring lineups went almost completely ignored, including his 1972 big band, The Mothers' final tour in late 1975/early 1976, and Zappa's first solo tour in 1976. It's a shame.

On the upside, Volume 2 is a complete concert of the Roxy-era band at their performing peak. The fifth volume consists of one disc of early Mothers recordings, including some studio outtakes (I guess you can't really do those on stage, can you?) that are all worthwhile.

One would think Frank would have given equal time to all lineups, or at least made it a little less '84-centric. Still, these packages were 2-CD's...and there were six released, in some weird way fulfilling the plans Frank had in 1969 with the 12-LP set he'd planned called The History And Collected Improvisations Of The Mothers.

The Guitar Albums:
Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar (1981)
Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar Some More (1981)
Return Of The Son Of Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar (1981)
Guitar (1988)
Two questions:
1.) Do you like Frank Zappa's soloing styles?
2.) Are you yourself a guitarist?
If you answered yes to both of these, you are within all your rights to buy this albums once you have We're Only In It For The Money.

I like them all right, but I don't think I've ever listened to Guitar end-to-end. The three SUNPYG albums are actually pretty listenable, though some pieces (like his electric bouzouki duet with Jean-Luc Ponty on violin, "Canard Du Jour") stick out more than, say, the three title cuts, which are all different solos from the same song ("Inca Roads") from different nights. It's the sort of thing you might find yourself excited about as a guitarist...I think?

Extra Credit:
From this point on, strictly optional.

Beat The Boots:
These were two different volumes of bootlegs given an official release on Rhino Records with Frank's blessing. Even though Frank (allegedly) had these shows in soundboard-quality mixes in his vault, he sanctioned only the release of the bootleg tapes. As a result, some recordings are LP-quality, and others are almost unlistenable.

That said, Volume One (1991) of Beat The Boots was released as a boxed set and also as individual CD's. Volume Two was a boxed set only, making it a pretty nice collector's item. In a slightly cruel twist, Volume Two (1992) contains the best of the bootlegs, in terms of performance quality, historical importance, and sheer sonic fidelity. Makes me wonder if Uncle Frank did this on purpose.

Beat The Boots, Volume One:
As An Am (1981-1982)
The Ark (1969)
Freaks & Motherfuckers (1970) - awful sound
Unmitigated Audacity (1974) - ABYSMAL sound
Anyway The Wind Blows (1979)
'Tis The Season To Be Jelly (1967)
Piquantique (1973)

Beat The Boots, Volume Two:
Disconnected Synapses (1970) - with Jean-Luc Ponty on guest violin
Tengo Na Minchia Tanta
Electric Aunt Jemima (1968)
At The Circus (1978, two tracks from 1970)
Swiss Cheese / Fire! (1971)
Our Man In Nirvana (1968)
Conceptual Continuity (1976)

Posthumous Albums:
Aside from Civilization Phaze III, which was finished and in the can when he passed away, the canonicity of all other posthumous releases is speculative and contentious.

The only posthumous releases that I think are essential are The Lost Episodes (a collection of early stuff and outtakes, like The Beatles Anthology except good) and Have I Offended Someone?, a compilation of remixes of FZ's more controversial songs. Both were in the same boat as CPIII, projects approved, mixed, and mastered by Zappa before he shuffled off his mortal coil.

As for the rest? All bets are off. Any of them that aren't complete concerts (FZ:OZ, Buffalo, Philly '76) or Lost Episodes-lite discs of early recordings (Joe's Corsage, Joe's Xmasage, The Making Of Freak Out! Project Object, and Lumpy Money) I say caveat emptor. You could be buying some real garbage, like noisy lo-fi rehearsal tapes for the 1972 big band tour (Joe's Domage) or some head-scratching odds 'n sods collection of seemingly unrelated tunes (One-Shot Deal) or something of dubious origins that someone in the Zappa camp (usually either widow Gail, son Dweezil, or vault-keeper Joe Travers) swears was an unreleased project of Frank's (Trance-Fusion, which was just another guitar feature album).

That said, happy hunting and welcome to one of the most esoteric music cults this side of The Residents.

*The Eric DiBlasi Sr. grading scale is a patented system of oft-repeated phrases that I've aligned up with letter grades:
"Now, THAT was a good...(album/movie/book)" - A+
"Pretty good" - A
"It was okay" - B+
"Not bad" - B
Holding out hand and tilting it from side-to-side - C
"I didn't care for it" - D+
"Oh, MAN, that (album/movie/book)", usually accompanied by laughter - D
"I prefer not to think about the time I (heard this album/saw this movie/read this book)" - F

Friday, February 19, 2010

Frank Zappa - Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (1982)

I'm beginning to think my rating system might not be 100% accurate. I'm not just talking about the inherent biases I have - I'm well aware, thank you - but I'm wondering just how an album with less tracks will fare against something with, like an average Beatles album, maybe 14 tracks?

In all unfairness, I am selecting an artist I tend to bias in favor of, no matter what sort of guy he was in real life. In fact, the more I learn about the guy, the more I'm glad I never had an inkling of a chance to meet him - he died when I was 6 going on 7 - because we would not have gotten along. He wasn't nuts about punk music, he was a staunch pseudo-Libertarian capitalist, he ran his bands like workhorses, and his attitude from about 1980 was a painfully bitter one.

He's the reason I try to warn people to not be consumed by negativity and become cynical towards everyone and everything. Conan O'Brien was right, it is not an attractive characteristic to be had by anyone, and too much of it just as a listener and you'll find yourself falling victim to it. I can say some pretty harsh words about music, artists, and writers that I don't like, but these are rather trifling discussions about art and the various approaches to writing criticism.

Believe it or not, I am an optimist. I see the good in most things, I hope for the best, but I'm also not a blind idealist.

I'll save all that deeper material for my other blog, which is somehow even more vapid and dumb than this one.

At some point with Zappa's dense, labyrinthine catalog, you have to understand that studying each record's genesis is something best left to the experts. Considering he'd pretty much always been the boss since day one, and definitely since he disbanded the original Mothers in 1969, it's a fair assessment that Frank was a one-man unit behind all of these albums. He wrote the songs, he produced them, and after 1981 he began recording them at his own studio, the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen.

With other bands, it's not incredibly difficult to delve into artistic intent. Not really my favorite subject, either in criticism or "serious" analysis, it's made all the worse that the one guy who could explain his artistic intent has been dead since 1993. (Like he would have given his secrets away? He wasn't a fan of critics or I said, we probably would not have gotten along. At all.)

Another thing with Zappa is that any preconceived notions you may have about live versus studio recordings needs to go out the window. He recorded (allegedly) every concert he put on since 1972, with plenty before getting taped as well. When he wanted you to hear a live album, he would let the sound of audience applause appear on the multi-track mix. When he wanted you to hear some fantastic material laid down in real time with a shit-ton of overdubs, he would mix out the audience as much as possible.

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch is a half-studio, half-live album, at least in terms of where the songs were recorded. The live side is all-new material, so the ambient sounds of the audience is pretty much mixed out. If you put the CD on in your car or have it on at a party (because people party to Zappa, right?), you might not even notice it.

Anyway, there's no linking concept. It's not an art project. It's just an album. Sometimes an album is just an album, and that is totally okay with me. It makes for a shorter review, requiring little in terms of back story and letting the songs just play out as their own pieces.

And with Zappa, whether you consider him a composer trapped in the rock world or a rock and roller with a knack for classical music, using the term "piece" instead of song is fittingly appropriate.

01. No Not Now [8]
02. Valley Girl [10]
03. I Come From Nowhere [10]
04. Drowning Witch [11]
05. Envelopes [7]
06. Teen-Age Prostitute [9]

My humble apologies that the album versions of tracks 4 and 5 could not be found on YouTube. After all, you should go out and buy CD's. In fact, make sure you're patronizing your local independent store and not some soulless big box chain. I owe so much of my musical development to 13th Floor Music in my hometown. The owner is a grade-A bad ass. He deserves your money. The douchebags at Best Buy, Borders, Sam Goody, fye, and other overpriced shit-palaces do not.

And fuck the iTunes store, too. Do the math and tell me that is smart shopping. Look me in the eye and tell me that is smart shopping. That's something for consumers, not listeners.

[Additionally, as I'm prepping a conference presentation on Zappa's 1984 masterpiece Thing-Fish, I promise I will do a straight-up review of the songs without veering off into the dangerous kitchen of esoteric analysis that is what Ben Watson calls Zappology. I think I scared enough of you away by taking a dump on Buddy Holly in my last review.]

01. No Not Now [8]
Lovely phase-shifter on the guitar here, and the barrage of falsetto vocalists are actually a welcome sound...normally, they annoy the shit out of me. I'm reminded of Tommy Mars' falsetto scat solo in the film Baby Snakes and how much I wanted to reach through the television and tell him to shut up and stick to playing. Anyway, it plods along with a surprisingly accessible melody and (even more surprisingly) danceable beat. No bizarre time shifts, no breaks while Art Barrow shows off his chops in a bad-ass bass's actually pretty normal by Zappa's standards.

That said, there's plenty to hear with headphones, including Art Barrow's wonderful bass line, a percussion chart from Ed Mann that (unlike a lot of other parts FZ wrote for tuned percussion) doesn't sound like cartoon music and instead adds a perfect counter-melody, and the tag-team vocals consisting of Bobby Martin, Tommy Mars, and Roy Estrada doing falsetto, Ike Willis' distinct and slightly gravelly voice and Ray White's soulful vocals that somehow make "String beans to Utah!" and "But I've had her sister" (respectively) sound like the coolest lines ever song, plus Frank's occasional interjections - "Shut up! You need a vacation, boy!" - making him, as usual the master of ceremonies.

Lyrically, the song is about a woman refusing to, um..."give it up" for a guy, hence the title, and the follow-up comment "...maybe later!" There's later references to the song's protagonist making a truck delivery of string beans to Utah, a not-so-subtle poke in the eye of Utah residents (and Mormons) Donny and Marie Osmond, and the woman from earlier opting instead to ride a mechanical bull instead of her trucker boyfriend's wiener. It's a love Zappa described as a country/western song on PCP.

When the song mentions her riding the mechanical bull, former Mother Roy Estrada's falsetto laughter, trills, and disturbingly pleasured vocalizations crack me up. I wonder if this song is at all related to his later number, "Truck Driver Divorce." Maybe even "Baby, Take Your Teeth Out?"

The only drawback with this song is a lot gets lost unless you're listening closely. Something like "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" demands your attention because it grabs you. "No Not Now" works on a subtle level, with so much going on you could invariably thing it's a funky danceable number with some (seemingly) repetitive tags sung by The Bee Gees.

02. Valley Girl [10]
Boy howdy, when Frank wants everyone to hear his message, he can be as unsubtle as Johnny Rotten declaring himself to be the Antichrist. The song was a joint effort between Frank and his 15-year-old daughter Moon Unit. The story goes that Frank was so busy working in his basement studio that Moon slipped a note under his door saying she wanted to bond with him. Her constant imitations of her less intelligent classmates served as the inspiration for her contribution, while the music Frank creates shows that, if he really wanted to, he could have written songs that appealed to the masses. He just didn't want to.

The song was a hit - it became sort of a meme in its time. Inevitably, it spiraled into something ridiculous, with the Valley Girl coloring book and even a movie (that no one named Zappa had anything to do with, although it did star Elizabeth Daily, who I know best as Dottie from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure). Some Zappa fans - the very topic of Zappa fans is worthy of an anthropological dissertation - seem to disown anything the man did that people outside of the standard FZ niche of freaks and geeks enjoyed.

Whatever, let them be killjoys in their own little worlds. This only goes to enhance my argument that you should listen to whatever you want. If you found out your archenemy listened to the same music as you, does that mean you should stop listening to that music? I sure hope not. That's just stupid.

I think "Valley Girl" is still funny, even when separated from my two-month whirlwind romance with an over-privileged chick from the region in question. She didn't sound like Moon in the song, but she would occasionally bring up some bizarre subjects in a casual manner, as if it was normal that her college-aged male friend had to have a glass of warm milk before bed every single night or he couldn't sleep, stories about finding her dad's weed...lots of fun stuff that would have been a gas to explain to our kids about why Granddad smells like Venice Beach.

I digress. The song is hilarious, even on repeated listening, I happen to really enjoy the music - I know FZ was doing a send-up of New Wave music, which he wasn't nuts about, but whatever, I consider his opinions post-1980 to be misinformed and arrogant - and while the dialects might be different today, we can think of the obnoxious sorority chick on the bus telling her mom to shut the fuck up over the phone, those rotten little brats on Jersey Shore, even little charmers like Paris Hilton and hum to ourselves, "Valley Girl, she's a Valley Girl..."

They don't even need to be from the Valley.

03. I Come From Nowhere [10]
Closing out Side A is a considerably less normal piece, featuring Estrada again on lead vocals (given his appearances on this album and Jimmy Carl Black coming back for some material on You Are What You Is, one has to wonder how the Hell Frank was able to make that happen). Plenty of complex little runs in the intro, but when that riff/groove comes in at 0:18, I want to get up and dance.

Then Roy starts singing...I can almost picture this being music performed by a pop singer from another planet. Anyway, it's a delightfully bizarre delivery. The lyrics are about "Nowhere" being a land of people who mindlessly smile...perhaps a commentary on there being a pill for everything?

Where a traditional song would end, in this example, this is where Steve Vai takes over, wasting no time in showing why he is credited with "Impossible Guitar Parts" in the sleeve. Great solo...and one Hell of a song.

Later projects to come out of the UMRK would sound cold and sterile, but on these studio numbers only the drums have the punchiness that could only be achieved in a digital studio from the 1980's. At least it wasn't that God-awful gated drum sound that made the 80's a bad time to be a drummer.

04. Drowning Witch [11]
This song is a massively insane construction, and a testament not only to Frank's skills as a composer - for me, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites are all you need to convert nonbelievers - but to how incredibly tight his bands could play. Much of this song plays out like a composition, although the brief lyrics about how even witches deserve a better place to die than "America's spew-infested waterways" showed that Zappa cared about the environment.

Ecology-rock, now that would be an interesting genre.

As a twelve-minute long piece, this song is in constant flux, while all carrying an aural tone that is incredibly suggestive of being underwater. Next time I'm in my bathysphere I'll have to remember to listen to this album on my iPod. The whole band stars throughout, as Frank and Steve Vai turn in some gorgeous guitar solos (I'm not much of a guitarist to be able to tell you which solo belongs to which player, all I know is they sound great), Scott Thunes adding some great pulse on bass, especially from 2:10 to the 3:15 mark, the synths of Tommy Mars and Bobby Martin add ambiance - don't miss that SICK arpeggiated run they do right before the song's end at 11:40, and the percussion section of Ed Mann (who I contend steals the show) on tuned percussion and Chad Wackerman on drums, playing better than he ever would on later FZ releases - in my opinion. Then again, he was filling some mighty shoes, and as one of my Zappa buddies pointed out, who knows what sort of feel FZ asked Chad to play? Maybe he wanted him to keep it relatively simple.

Ed Mann gets the MVP award. Either he is part octopus or just one incredibly talented musician. Since we are living in the real world and not a comic book, I'll assume it's the latter.

Zappa, with his typical affection for his band, was quick to point out how many splices he had to make, as in his opinion the band "never got it right" in real time, so he'd piece together different performances of the same song from different nights on the road to make a definitive version.

This one clinches the 11, and not just for the magnitude of its construction or the performances. That helps, sure, but it's the end result that matters. It is a lot more than a band flexing their muscles for the audience - it sounds great.

05. Envelopes [7]
Side B all segues into one another. This song is one Frank would do again, but with an orchestra. It's fun comparing the two, but it sounds so much cooler with the band. It's another example of Zappa the composer at his best: a beautiful melody that even non-musicians can enjoy amidst a "statistically dense" backdrop.

I'm deducting some points because of several factors. To start, I don't think the song is balanced all that well. The bass is almost completely absent, and the synthesizers sound like they are sitting in your ear canal as they play while the rest of the band is up on stage. Additionally, while I like hearing someone's synth emulating a harpsichord, I don't really dig hearing (what I'm guessing is) Tommy Mars' synthesizers attempting to duplicate the sounds of brass instruments. It just sounds shitty. I don't even think modern synthesizers are capable of doing it with all the inflection and intonation a real player could bring to the table.

This almost seems like a deviation, a pause from the two songs that sandwich it. I still like it, but I don't see it making its way onto a mix CD anytime soon.

06. Teen-Age Prostitute [9]
Then there's this manic ditty, flying by like scenery on the Interstate. It's chaotic, yet finely structured, with a memorable soprano vocal appearance by Lisa Popeil.

This song was the b-side of the "Valley Girl" single. First of all, imagine all the kids who bought the 45 and, just out of curiosity, gave this one a spin. Second, it's a fitting flip-side, representing a girl on the opposite end of the economic spectrum as the Valley Girl. While the airhead from Encino is a homophobic, shallow little wench, the portrait of the Teen-Age Prostitute is a sad one: a girl who ran away from an apathetic father to help her penniless mother, now living with an abusive pimp who keeps her loaded on drugs as she walks the streets at night. It isn't a fun read.

The soprano vocals make the song comical, taking the edge off the lyrics, and the musical interludes are deftly executed. One flaw comes with this humorous presentation: we have to wonder how the composer feels about the song's subject? Is he sympathetic towards her, or is she an object of ridicule, responsible for her own circumstances? It's unclear...and given that his oldest daughter was two years younger than this song's titular figure, that doesn't sit well with me.

Still, what a way to end an album.

Subtotal: 90.0% A-

Replayability Factor: 2
There's too much going on for you to just have this one on as background music, especially with "No Not Now" and "Drowning Witch." Excellent driving music, though, just keep the A/C on low and your windows rolled up.

Consistency Factor: 1
The studio side seems to pick up where You Are What You Is left off, although "I Come From Nowhere" is a warped little delight masquerading as a pop song. Similarly, the live material carries on what Uncle Frankie started with songs like "The Black Page" on Zappa In New York, songs that are chock full of passages that I'm sure look downright terrifying on sheet music but are pleasing to the ear. In short, this one just falls short of being part of the core Zappa releases.

It's worth picking up...eventually.

External Factors: -1
This is rough. It's too short, a paltry 34 minutes in length, right after a stream of albums from 1978 to 1981 that was tightly packed: the double album Zappa In New York in March 1978, Studio Tan in September, Sleep Dirt in January 1979, the double album Sheik Yerbouti in March, Orchestral Favorites in May, Joe's Garage Act I in September, the double album Joe's Garage Acts II & III in November, the double album Tinsel Town Rebellion in May 1981, a triple-LP mail order set called Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar, and the double album You Are What You Is in September.

Mind you, all of this stuff came out while Zappa was battling Warner Brothers in court, shooting and editing his concert film Baby Snakes, recording, and touring. He was a busy man...I can't help but imagine this album seeming so inconsequential, only six songs (sure, they're mostly long, but still).

While Zappa's seamless editing on "Drowning Witch" is a feat, his own growing frustrations with his band - and shortly after this album, the London Symphony Orchestra - would prompt him to cut out the human element altogether and realize his compositions on the Synclavier. I don't hate his Synclavier albums, though some FZ fans swear at them and others swear by them, but his proclamation that if he had a Synclavier in the 1960's he never would have had a band is a pretty heavy insult to his own former bandmates and to musicians everywhere. It also showed Zappa as a callous asshole who didn't seem to play well with others, eager on being his own boss to a career-altering fault.

Total: 92.0% A-

I will admit, this sounds like an appropriate score for Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch.

My rating system actually works...or at the very least, I want it to work so I make it work. Whatever. I'm glad I did this just to make sure. Next time I might just have to test out a double album, see how that pans out.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Beatles - Beatles For Sale (1964)

Well, this is embarrassing, isn't it? My longest hiatus yet.

If it's any consolation, listening (read: having the time to listen) has not been a luxury afforded to me. I figured I'd start back with something I could write in my sleep: a Beatles review. This means three things:

1.) Me extolling the virtues of George Harrison.

2.) Me taking the chance to explain to all of you why John Lennon wasn't what he seemed...and that his best work comes from his acknowledgment of this fact, not his "efforts" to save the world while doing very expensive drugs and acting as if his first son didn't exist.

3.) Lots of hyperbolic, and yet thoroughly deserved, praise for one of the greatest things to happen to Western civilization.

A couple of haircuts ago back in 2005, when I actually gave a shit about my own image and tried to wow girls by talking about how I "explicate" films and wanted to make movies myself (ha!), some bozo I went to high school with tried to start a site called Punk Press Online. He asked me to do some album reviews. I did three: Get Behind Me Satan by The White Stripes, which has just come out, Arthur, Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire by The Kinks (which I was just talking about to a friend earlier tonight in a Facebook message), and Beatles For Sale.

Why this album and not Pepper or Revolver? It's simple: those albums have earned their due, their place in the pantheon of great 20th Century art. Rightfully so, they tilted Earth's axis just a little bit. But there's plenty to be found even when The Beatles weren't setting out for anything, just wanting to put out another collection of songs in time for Christmas. In a way, this makes it a bit of a parallel to With The Beatles.

A year after With The Beatles, having conquered America, made a terrific film, released an album of all-original tunes, and discovered the music of Bob Dylan all in the wild whirlwind of Beatlemania that was 1964, Beatles For Sale serves as a bit of a progress report.

So, just how are the boys doing after a year of superstardom? Well, looking at the cover (which can be found here), George looks like he just got back from a funeral, John and Paul look either burnt out or smoked out (easily both), and Ringo looks terrified. Maybe it's just the effects of what appears to be a cold day in the photo.

It was still fun for all involved at this point, no chinks in the armor or cracks in the facade forming here...but the band's chief songwriters (at this point, it's just John and Paul) are beginning to grow in ways that suggest they might not be limited to making damn good pop music.

I jumped the gun mentioning him above, but Dylan's influence is first felt on this album. One of my old bandmates, who seemed to have it in for Dylan, pointed towards Beatles For Sale as being the first folk-rock album. But the fusion of folk and rock isn't what made Dylan, well, Dylan. That magic ingredient, the one that appealed so much to John, Paul, and George is all in the lyrics. Even on Another Side Of Bob Dylan, where the focus shifted away from lonesome deaths, finding answers in air currents, and the unbearable yet imminent precipitation that comes with nuclear war, where Dylan actually looks at himself - "My Back Pages," "It Ain't Me, Babe" - he's opening up some major doors.

Suddenly, it was okay to write about yourself. No more hand-holding, no more "she told me what to say-yay," and yet here on Beatles For Sale one can sense a tentative approach to these new sensibilities. Not every song here is an eye-opening revelation into John Lennon's psyche. (Although that would eventually come.) There's a good selection of pure pop songs here, without any subtext, any deeper meaning, or anything more than a catchy-as-Hell hook. But when it's time to be serious, they (and I really just mean John on this outing, though Paul offers a sleeper of his own) nail it.

This album finds the band in a provisional state, eager to test some new ground but not quite ready to let go of their A-side/B-side pop hit mentality. They couldn't have charged right into "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "Yesterday," or "Nowhere Man" without the smaller steps taken here. Some authors bitch about this album being a collection of songs rather than an "album," that is, a cohesive whole. Such detractors need to remember that in December 1964, everyone was still putting out collections of songs. Not "albums" defined as cohesive wholes.

Consider where The Beatles' peers were at this point:

+ The Rolling Stones had two albums out in America, one in the UK. No US number one hits, but they'd had two number ones in their homeland and - get this - one in Sweden with the (vastly underrated) original tune "Tell Me."

+ The Kinks had one album out, two flop singles, two massive hits (come on, you have to ask?) and an EP that included a craptastic, possibly drunken, rendition of "Louie, Louie."

+ The Who had yet to release "I Can't Explain," their first proper single. Or at least, their first single as The Who.

In short, this was the time where The Beatles were the undeniable leaders of the proverbial pack. There were plenty of first-wavers from the UK who weren't songwriters (The Dave Clark Five, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Herman's Hermits) still in the running, but by the time Dylan went electric and The Beatles did Rubber Soul, it was all over for them. That's still a year from Beatles For Sale, but the executioner's axe would be coming.

Not a moment too soon, either...that man-baby Peter Noone and all his cutesy faces make me thank the Lord that The MC5 were learning how to tune their guitars right in time for these clowns to get chased off to the state fair circuit.

That said, yes, Beatles For Sale IS just a collection of songs. But so was 12x5 by The Rolling Stones. Beatles authors need to recognize that they don't need to put down their "lesser" works to build up the undisputed masterpieces.

Let's get it on.
(I've never done this before, but maybe it will help if I list all the tracks first, providing possible YouTube links - and there's plenty for The Beatles - and such here.)

01. No Reply [10]
02. I'm A Loser [10]
Baby's In Black [9]
Rock And Roll Music [10], originally by Chuck Berry.
I'll Follow The Sun [10]
Mr. Moonlight [10], originally by Dr. Feelgood & The Interns.
Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! [2], originally by Wilbert Harrison / Little Richard.
Eight Days A Week [10]
09. Words Of Love [1], originally by Buddy Holly.
Honey Don't [8.5], originally by Carl Perkins.
Every Little Thing [10]
12. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party [11]
What You're Doing [10]
14. Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby [8.5], originally by Carl Perkins.

01. I Feel Fine [10]
She's A Woman [3]

Honorable Mention:

01. Leave My Kitten Alone [10], originally by Little Willie John.

01. No Reply [10]

Their first album started off with the most raucous count-off this side of The Ramones. The second album had a song similarly rambunctious, but it started with just voice - no instruments - and to great effect. The third album was kick-started by the most epic chord ever strummed. (Okay, enough in-text links.)

This starts with a fairly melancholy (by 1964 standards) song about a dodgy woman, who it turns out is seeing another guy. It is never spelled out if she's a cheater, or (better still) if the narrator is a jealous ex. I like the ambiguity...though it's highly likely that I'm giving the song a modern reading.

Regardless, the heartbreak in this song is palpable, with the "I SAW THE LIGHT" / "I NEARLY DIED" / "NO REPLY" refrains sounding like pained lamentations. There's a gorgeous melody, with a slight Latin flavor (mainly in the syncopated drum beat and the achingly dramatic bridge). In only two minutes and twenty seconds, John Lennon invented power pop...and it still holds up 46 years later.

02. I'm A Loser [10]
Paired up with the gloomy "No Reply," it's easy to see why and how I point to this album as the sprouting seeds of John Lennon the emotional troubadour. He'd always turned to music when faced with a crisis. It was there for him when his deadbeat father and doting (but immature) mother weren't. It's what drew he and Paul so close in the early days...but to actually use music as an outlet instead of therapy?

I hate that John lived with such misery hanging over him: a shotgun marriage, the stresses of fame, and the increasingly differing expectations of the fans and the critics. He bottled up his insecurities and grief behind a tough, intelligent, and smart-assed front...and if you've ever seen A Hard Day's Night, boy, did he have us all fooled. The art Lennon created, though, as a result of all this suffering? Along with Ray Davies' work, it's some of the best stuff ever scribbled out by a British songwriter.

Either audiences were incredibly stupid and aloof, or they really just didn't give a shit about the lyrics, because "I'm A Loser" reads like a suicide note. Though it's something that Ray Davies and Randy Newman are better known for, John takes these self-loathing lyrics and sets them to a bouncy melody. There is an interesting tension in this song when the harmonica comes in; previously, the harmonica had epitomized The Beatles' poppy qualities, a sprightly and cheerful sound. Here, having picked up a few lessons from old Bob, the mouth organ sounds like a scream.

Before it makes much of an impact, in comes George with a great Chet Atkins/Carl Perkins guitar solo, bringing us back into the happy world the music has painted for us.

It's a slice of genius, that's for sure, one of the pivotal points in The Beatles' early catalog. Thank God for it.

03. Baby's In Black [9]
This one is a bit understated, but it rounds out a trifecta of songs with sub-poppy subject matter. One of my favorite early (see Appendix at the bottom of this entry for my definitions of Beatle eras) Beatles tunes, "I'll Be Back," closes out A Hard Day's Night with a sense of spite not heard elsewhere on an otherwise happy album.

One listen to the working version on Anthology One, in 3/4 time, and you'll hear the boys straining themselves as a band musically. The verses work well, but it all collapses during the bridge, devolving into slightly embarrassed laughter. The next cut on the CD is the song in 4/4 time, and the moment it kicks in (without the intro it has on the finished album) everything just sounds perfect...even if John flubs a note and laughs.

"Baby's In Black," which made it past the drawing board in waltz time, does feel a little clunky in parts. Still, an A for effort is in store. I can't imagine this song in straight time or in shuffled 4/4. It would sound awful. Still, that's a pretty sloppy solo, even for the not-so-dexterous George.

Where this song succeeds is in the lyrics. Like "No Reply," only to a more extreme degree, there is a subtext to this song that extends beyond the surface. At first, it sounds like a rather benign pop song about a girl whose world has ended due to a break-up. She wears black and shuns other men.

Sad, sure, but the whole "my heart is broken, therefore, life is meaningless" thing isn't uncommon.

What I love - and I mean LOVE - are the subtle hints at a much more macabre scenario: her lover is dead.

"She thinks of him
And so she dresses in black,
And though he'll never come back
She's dressed in black"

The best part is it could be read either way. I don't think the screaming girls gave it much thought.

The academic in me told the critic in my to run a quick check on Wikipedia, just to see if there's anything validating my suspicion. Sure enough, with some sources cited that I've read before and trust wholly, it turns out I was more right than I thought. It's about Stu Sutcliffe's bereaved fiance Astrid Kirchherr.

Wowie Zowie!

04. Rock And Roll Music [10]
I'd like to just go ahead and invent a saying; my apologies if some guy I've never heard of said something to this effect before me: "When in doubt, Chuck Berry."

Here's a guy who not only defined rock guitar (though I must pay respects to Paul Burlison for inventing raga rock on The Johnny Burnette Rock & Roll Trio's version of "The Train Kept A-Rollin'") and wrote some high-energy pieces to show it off, he was a Hell of a lyricist. You can keep Elvis, Pat Boone, and Buddy Holly. I'll take Chuck...and Eddie Cochran.

No point in making some lame-ass, long-winded build up to my bottom line about this song, I'll just say it:


I like "Twist & Shout." I love the way George handles "Roll Over Beethoven." The delicate affection of "You Really Got A Hold On Me" makes it worthy of any mix-tape for that special someone. And their rendition "Money" can still put some cracks in your ceiling.

But this one, to crib a phrase from Ian Fleming, "has the delivery of a brick through a plate-glass window." Modern, worldly-wise, and politically correct "journalists" (note the floating quotes) would call such an unabashed celebration of rock music over jazz, mambo, tango, and conga to be "rockist," whatever the Hell that even means. The dopes who throw that word around can't even seem to agree.

To me, it's an unabashed celebration of rock music as the music of youth, energy, and rebellion, something to drown out the Lawrence Welk records that parents in the 1950's danced to. And whatever, rock and roll at its essential core of youth, energy, and rebellion is something immune to the "-ism" label. Save that for the guy jacking off to Styx, Journey, or some other overproduced mid-tempo arena-ready dreck.

Everything about this song is perfect. The way John's voice echoes. The way George Martin plays the shit out the piano. The fact that John calls it "rock-roll" music. The very timbre of John's vocals as he shouts like the building is on fire. The way the songs stops and starts with every trip back to the chorus. Its placement on the album, with three incredibly depressing songs about infidelity, self-hatred, and death preceding it, is perfect.

05. I'll Follow The Sun [10]
Trust Paul to give us a song that can cool us off after the last number without lulling us to sleep. This song is old - a demo from 1960 exists in all its lo-fi glory - and yet it fits in perfectly among these newer, more mature songs. Granted, the original version sounds more like a Tin Pan Alley tune you'd hear in an early talkie, but with a new bridge and some incredibly tight harmonies with John - which until I heard the album in remastered mono I had thought was just a double-tracked Paul - and you have one of Paul's finest songs.

It's short and sweet, even with the delicate electric guitar solo in the middle. This song keeps up the early Beatles trend of including Latin/Caribbean flavors in their music. With a different singer and arrangement, this could make for a passable calypso number.

06. Mr. Moonlight [10]
This is one of the most reviled tunes The Beatles ever released...and frankly, I love it. It sounds like music you'd hear at a seedy cocktail lounge in Tijuana, circa 1961. The organ is great, John sounds like a worn-out bandleader (hey, he sort of was!) singing for the table of ladies in the front row.

What can I say? I love this song, and I love it without any sense of "it's so bad it's good" at all. Not to get all Anthony Bourdain on you, but this is the dirty water hot dog of the bunch. Get a neon-coral colored beverage known only as "Papaya Drink" to wash it down, and you've got yourself a meal.

A song like this, it's pretty simple: you either hate it or you love it.

07. Kansas City / Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! [2]

Why hasn't anyone singled this little dumpling (emphasis on the "dump") out as an awful Beatles song? John flubs his enunciation on "Rock & Roll Music" and it sounds like he just couldn't give a shit, Paul does it and he sounds drunk, lazy.

It really doesn't help that I've heard plenty of white boy blues just as half-assed, slow, and tired as this.

This only goes to prove my argument that while we owe The Beatles for a lot of wonderful innovations and noteworthy firsts, we also have them to blame for some things, as seemingly every single song they did inspired another band's entire discography. Without Pepper, we might never have gotten The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and we definitely wouldn't have gotten We're Only In It For The Money. However, we also wouldn't have gotten the overwrought garbage that is English prog rock (excluding Brian Eno).

Anyway, I kind of hate this song, a pock-mark on an otherwise outstanding album.

The strange thing is, I love Wilbert Harrison's original.

Thankfully, The Beatles wouldn't revisit the blues again until "Yer Blues," which seemingly goes against my oft-made assertion that the Fab Four sucked as a blues band.

08. Eight Days A Week [10]
I said this in my review of Instant Replay by The Monkees, but it bears repeating since I haven't written a review in 27 years: I acknowledge that my tastes by and large seem to sidestep the so-called "classics" of an artists' oeuvre. Not always - there's a reason a song like "My Sharona" (RIP Doug Fieger) was a one-hit wonder: the rest of The Knack's stuff isn't that great! - but something like The Beatles compilation 1 or any of the seemingly infinite Stones and Who compilations floating out there only serve to rub me the wrong way. "Start Me Up" isn't a good song. "Dancing With Mr. D" is, and yet that one isn't on Forty Licks.

And so on.

Anyway, here's the tried-and-true "classic" on an album that I'll admit has been treated like a bit of a wallflower in The Beatles' discography. Not only is it a "classic" (again, note the floating quotes) Beatle tune, it's a great Beatle tune.

They sure knew how to pace an album: three pieces of John's heart for us to consume, a riotous Chuck Berry song, a Paul ballad, and two R&B covers to round out side A. Flip the record over, and you're politely reminded that this is indeed the same band that brought you such timeless confections as "All My Loving," "A Hard Day's Night," and "Can't Buy Me Love."

Not only that, the song FADES IN! Can you imagine what that must have sounded like hearing it for the first time?

It's a shuffling Motown-esque love song - oh, hey, The Supremes covered it! - and musically, there's something oddly triumphant about that fade-in. You can almost assume it's The Beatles giving us an almighty, "Yeah, we did 'No Reply,' but we can still do a masterpiece like this in our sleep!"

Imagine if this had started the album proper, and not Side B. Makes me wonder how differently history would have treated it.

09. Words Of Love [1]
That's right. A one. I might stand as the only white person who doesn't get a boner over Buddy Holly. It isn't something as shallow as it being a matter of my own hatred for the veneration of the dead...I just don't like his music. I won't deny his influence, but I think the music that all his fans enjoyed was trite lovey-dovey nonsense.

In fact, Buddy Holly is kind of like the Mozart of rock and roll. Everyone talks about him, everyone seems to worship him...but I just don't see the appeal. Of course, I've outlived him since June 7th, 2009, and he did all he did in 22 years, 4 months, and 27 days while I'm still adrift in a sea of reading responses, scholarship applications, conference presentations, travel grants, and job interviews.

So...yeah. I had to flame myself before any of you did it in the comments.

That said, I hate the original, and I think The Beatles' version is worse. The eighth-note handclaps bug me to no end, John and Paul's harmonies are God-awful and an aural depiction of them going out of their way to sound American, the guitar tone hurts my ears, and what a waste of a good slapback echo. that I've pissed you all off, let me take this opportunity to remind you that any comments left get screened first.

10. Honey Don't [8.5]
Right on time! Ringo gives us a great Carl Perkins number on this, his latest vocal since "I Wanna Be Your Man."

This has everything that I feel "Words Of Love" is lacking. It's got a nice beat, the instruments are all balanced quite well, George turns in not one, but TWO great solos (after all, Carl Perkins was one of his idols), and what's not to love about Ringo saying, "Aw, rock on George, for Ringo!" Great rockabilly guitar riff throughout, too.

11. Every Little Thing [10]
My good friend and once non-sexual domestic partner Eric Condon and I had an interesting discussion about whether or not anything by The Beatles can truly be called underrated. It's a good question, because with 13 albums that (for better or for worse - I'm looking at you, Please Please Me!) have been scrutinized and eaten up time and again by the record buying public, it's a bit like saying there's an overlooked play by Shakespeare, or that one of the corners of the Mona Lisa doesn't get enough respect.

Still, everything in context: these records, tapes, 8-tracks, CD's, and MP3's have sold in the millions. Even still, I postulate that there are some dimly-lit nooks and crannies in The Beatles' works. It's mainly, as I said in my With The Beatles review, on the flip-sides of these early LP's and singles. You know "Lady Madonna," but have you heard George's b-side, "The Inner Light?" It's one of their best songs.

There's plenty of songs that just seem...forgotten. The underside of With The Beatles I've discussed before. For A Hard Day's Night, the b-side is all songs that weren't in the unfortunate position for all six of those songs. "Things We Said Today," although it might be the only pro-love love song in a minor key, is reason enough to still love Paul McCartney after "Silly Love Songs." "You Can't Do That" is a glimpse into John's darker side...the inspiration for the (in?)sincere "Jealous Guy" from 1971. And as I said before, "I'll Be Back" is great. Period. It's a barrage of songs that, had they been the ones in the film would be the songs venerated and celebrated the way their side-A counterparts are today. Help! fares even worse, and for the exact same reason.

Now, on Beatles For Sale, the three other Lennon/McCartney originals stand in the shadow of "Eight Days A Week." Eric and I both agreed that these songs, discreetly tucked away on the b-side of what is an uneven, hastily cobbled-together album, stand as proof that, yes, Virginia, there are underrated and overlooked Beatles songs.

To begin, "Every Little Thing" was written by Paul, but has John on lead vocals. This was never a common Beatle practice; there's only one instance where George sang a Lennon/McCartney song ("I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"), and as for John or Paul singing the other's song (not counting duets) - and I do welcome corrections on this - I really think it's a one-time occurrence.

Anyway, John's vocals are great here. I can't really picture Paul singing these lyrics, even though he wrote it. And speaking of the songwriting, oh, my God! Paul is writing something that isn't a radio-ready love song with an infectious chorus? John isn't the only one in the band growing up.

McCartney gibes aside, this is a great song. Gorgeous melody, and the piano/timpani combo gives a nice weight to the music, a nice complement to the sweet lyrics. Glenn Gass did note that the song's chorus:

"Every little thing she does
She does for me, yeah!
And you know the things she does,
She does for me, ooh!"

...hasn't exactly aged well. What can you do? McCartney was a traditionalist; a man needed a maid. In fact, it was this tension that broke up his relationship with Jane Asher. She didn't want to give up her acting career to be a stay-at-home wife. Who did he think she was, Maureen Starkey or Cynthia Lennon?

Pre-feminist sexism aside (again, it was a different time, they came from a different culture,) the song gets enough of a pass on its other merits to get a ten.

12. I Don't Want To Spoil The Party [11]
Take away those trademark Beatle harmonies, and this is something straight out of the Ray Davies songbook. I praised the pacing of the album earlier...but the more I think about it, the more I have to say that only applies to Side A, which is where this song belongs. Lennon's self-portrait just as pathetic as "No Reply," as self-aware as "I'm A Loser," and distraught as the narrator of "Baby's In Black." This almost got the crown of being awarded an 11 score.

"I had a drink or two and I don't care..."

...and yet he's wondering why his lady has ditched him? Man, the irony, the desperation - intentional or not - is magnificent. Even though it's implied he's behaved like a drunken ass, that chorus has him acting like he's the victim:

"Though tonight she's made me sad,!"

Although there's some decent competition from the songs on either side of it, never mind the two songs at the start of the album, it wasn't much of a debate for me to pick this as the best cut on the record.

13. What You're Doing [10]
That drum cadence is something I could listen to all day. George's 12-string calls back to the sound he had with his Rickenbacker 360-12 on A Hard Day's Night (and yet this song is not a hold-over from those sessions), and where's the chorus? There isn't one.

It's unconventionally structured, with its bizarre rhyme scheme, Paul's syncopated verses (all sung while hitting impossibly high notes), and a fairly complex - for 1964 - melody. This is the kind of song that the early Monkees' stuff (the songs Micky Dolenz sang) tried so desperately to ape, no pun intended. Not even the best of the best Tin Pan Alley veterans could come close.

14. Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby [8.5]
Two Carl Perkins covers on one album? Good as they both are, and also indicative of their love for Perkins' music, it's definitely a sign that they had a bit of a song shortage.

After 13 tracks, we finally hear George's beautiful baritone voice on lead. It bops on with a lovable rockabilly swagger. It sounds like they're having a Hell of a good time, too, but they also sound worn this last song on the album might have even been the last one they recorded for it. Still, a memorable performance, plenty of that marvelous echo that I love on the vocals.

Before I do the subtotal, let me just say...I'm a little surprised by how uneven this album is.

Subtotal: 85.7% B

Replay Factor: 1

I have to say, side A plays fairly well, though I might skip that awful two-for-one thing at the end. Side B? Less so...kind of uneven. Those Perkins covers are good, but they're still filler. In between, though, are some real treasures of Lennon/McCartney songs.

Consistency Factor: 0
It is kind of rare for me to give a zero in this regard, but it is a pretty bumpy ride. If you're wanting to introduce someone to Moptop Beatles, play With The Beatles or A Hard Day's Night. If you want to treat someone to some great mid-phase Beatles, look no further than Help! and Rubber Soul. This really is them in transition, and while I generally think the phrase "advanced listening" applies to other albums I might give a zero to (like Lumpy Gravy, Studio Tan, Thing-Fish, or Broadway The Hard Way by Frank Zappa), because that implies these are albums worth holding out for. As I define in my Just The Facts entry, a zero is an album generally classified as "for the die-hards only." That doesn't really apply here...more like, "Of the 13 Beatles albums, this is second only to Yellow Submarine or Please Please Me as being the last one you should purchase." Still an essential part of your collection? Yes. But if you were really hurting for cash and could only buy, say, one, three, seven, or even nine Beatle albums...this one wouldn't make the cut.

External Factors: 1
This really is a thrown-together-for-the-Christmas-market release. That's not common in the business anymore, not in this era where you can write some stupid original Christmas song (that isn't "Father Christmas") and put it out as a single, bribing your way to getting it shown on the MTV. The fact that they were expected to have a Christmas disc ready showed balls on The Beatles' part for rising to the challenge. There's plenty of criticisms to lob:
+ No George-penned songs
+ Six cover tunes...a bit of a step backwards considering that A Hard Day's Night was 13 all-original tunes
+ The covers, barring one, aren't as memorable as their earlier efforts
+ A dismal three "Paul-only" vocal performances, one of them being their shitty fake blues medley?

...but there's also plenty to praise:
+ Four-track recording meant more room for overdubs and a crisper sound altogether
+ All of the original songs are bold moves forward
+ Plenty of John to go around

Total: 87.7% B

Now, a single and an outtake.

01. I Feel Fine [10]
The subject of love is a tricky one to write about. How do you define it? What is it, even? Can you really sum up the feelings of being in love in a simple two-minute song?

With "I Feel Fine," the answer is yes. Ask me to define love, and I'll just tell you to listen to this song. If this had been on Beatles For Sale, it would be an undisputed 11.

02. She's A Woman [3]
They still don't quite have the art of making a decent b-side down yet, do they? I kind of hate this song...but the chorus makes up for how awfully Paul is singing. And on that note, what is with his singing? He's shouting, he's yelping, he's mumbling...tuneless muck. That scene in Help! when Eleanor Bron's character plays this song on a reel-to-reel tape player for Leo McKern and he goes, "Uggghhh! Shocking!" kind of sums up my thoughts on this song.

01. Leave My Kitten Alone [10]
WHOA! This outtake remained in the can for 31 years until Anthology One. All I can ask is what the Hell they were thinking leaving it off the album! This song instead of "Words Of Love" would have made the album a 92% A-, throw in the tilt factors and it would be a cozy 94% A.

It's a shame. Oh, well, at least it's out for us to consume now.

Have fun debating this one!


I divide The Beatles' discography into three (technically four) periods -

Their first recording ("That'll Be The Day") through the Decca Audition (1958-1962) Reserved almost exclusively for die-hards, there's plenty of treasures here like the Decca Audition, the Tony Sheridan tapes, and their gigs at The Star Club in Hamburg. There's also some real shit, though, too, like their incredibly lo-fi rehearsals from 1960 that might or might not feature original bassist Stu Sutcliffe.

Early: Please Please Me through Beatles For Sale (1962-1964) The moptop phase, where they wore matching suits, shook their heads and went "WOOO!!!!", and were poised to take over the world.

Mid-Phase: Help! through Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / "All You Need Is Love" (1965-1967) With the world placed in their hands, they don't quite know what to do with it...except make their greatest music.

Latter: Magical Mystery Tour through Let It Be (1967-1970) From the first fumble to the last, with a bitchin' double-LP and a slickly over-produced farewell sandwiched in between.