Ranking The Frank Zappa Albums #49 Playground Psychotics

Playground Psychotics is a two-CD live album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and was originally released in 1992 through his mail order label, Barking Pumpkin, and was re-released in 1995 through Rykodisc. The album features recordings of Zappa and his band, the Mothers of Invention, around the time of the film 200 Motels. The live material on Playground Psychotics is interspersed with excerpts from taped conversations among band members whilst on tour, and the release includes three conceptual sections: A Typical Day on the Road, Part 1, a collage of dialogue which opens the first disc; A Typical Day on the Road, Part 2, which opens the second disc and The True Story of 200 Motels, which appears at the end of disc two. The album also includes a live session with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, an alternate mix of which appears on Lennon’s Some Time In New York City (1972).

As mentioned on previous posts, this era of Zappa and the Mothers has never been my favourite era to listen to. The music is good, but compared to the previous incarnation, and future incarnations, it just seems quite simplistic for the most part. This is one of a few Zappa albums that I’ve never owned, I listened to it on youtube, and I’m glad I never spent money on it but I do think this could have been so much better and it was a bit of a missed opportunity. If it was released just as a concert (akin to Just Another Band From L.A.) and left all the conversations back in the Vault, then it would probably rank higher up the list because the music parts of the cd are enjoyable. I’ve always loved Billy The Mountain and the version here is excellent, it’s also always good to hear them do the 60’s MOI material; and the Lennon/Ono/Mothers jam is pretty rad too. But to get to the music you have to wade through a lot of conversations that aren’t even interesting to listen the first time you play the cd; you’ll be hammering that skip button a lot. Proof that Zappa’s need to record everything (music and conversation) didn’t always pay off. One for completists only. 1.5/5

Aynsley Dunbar
Drums
Bob Harris
Wurlitzer
Howard Kaylan
Composer, Vocals
John Lennon
Composer, Guest Artist
Yoko Ono
Composer, Guest Artist
Jim Pons
Bass, Vocals
Don Preston
Composer, Electronic Sounds, Keyboards
Jeff Simmons
Composer
Ian Underwood
Composer, Keyboards, Sax (Alto)
Mark Volman
Composer, Vocals
Walter Ward
Composer
Frank Zappa
Arranger, Composer, Guitar, Primary Artist, Producer, Vocals

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Framptonstein’s Alive! (GDLIYWI) 27

I was going start growing bonsai trees as a hobby but they are so expensive! 
So I got a normal tree instead and just planted it further away.

So how does one approach an album that had 8 million sales in the US alone, 11 million worldwide? An album that everybody in the world had? An album, that if you lived in tbe suburbs, came in the mail with samples of ‘Tide’? (thanks Wayne). After leaving Humble Pie in 1971 and after four poorly selling solo records, guitar whiz and bloke that didn’t know how to button up a shirt, Peter Frampton released what would be a huge monster of a live album: Frampton Comes Alive! an album that stayed on the charts for 97 weeks! This record was always a bigger success in the States than in the UK (where it sold 100,000 copies) and I can’t recall growing up listening to this nor did I know anyone who had it. I’d already heard, and raved, about Frampton’s guitar work with Humble Pie and knew a couple of songs from this album so I was curious to hear the whole record. Is it still alive after 40 years?

Third Track Main Camera Four Minutes

Considering its history, and mythos, I was expecting to be blown away and amazed at this huge, career-defining record but as the first two sides plodded on, I was just left deflated. For the most part, the songs on here are kinda bland; there’s some really nice guitar work on Doobie Wah (is it meant to sound like the Doobie Bros? Is the title ironic?) It’s A Plain Shame and I Wanna Go To The Sun (despite the awful lyrics: “salty air, seagulls everywhere!”) but the rest of the songs are really bland, AOR FM rock guff that just didn’t tickle my fancy. I was not looking forward for the second half of this album. However, after a brief acoustic number, the album kicks into gear with (I’ll Give You) Money; maybe because they finally turned the guitar’s volume up, maybe because it borrows the riff from the Who’s The Seeker, either way it piqued my interest in this endeavour. The songs on the latter part are definitely more heavier and rockier and Peter’s guitar playing is on point and the band seem more engaged than the first half. I like what they do with their cover of Jumping Jack Flash, slowing it slightly and giving it more bluesy/jazzy feel (it sounds better than the way I’m describing it). The epic Do You Feel Like We Do, talk box and all, ends this record on a pretty high note considering it started off so weakly. Hey, I just realised what the title means: Frampton comes alive in the second half of the album!

So is it excessive? Not really. There’s only one long song out of the fourteen on offer here and it pretty engaging. Would I listen to it again? The second half most definitely but I’d probably skip the first half. Would I recommend it? Not really, if you wanna hear Frampton live, I’d recommend the Humble Pie record. This is OK but only the second half of FCA! is worth listening to. Is there a drum solo? No, but there is some tasty talk-box work on here.

I’m giving this a 5. As mentioned, the second half of the album is a lot more fun and engaging than the first and that’s what the points are awarded for. I fail to see, or hear, what was so special about this record or what this such a monster success. That’s the wonder of the mid-seventies, I guess! On deck next: GDLIYWI favourites the Grateful Dead make their fourth appearance on here! What will those wacky, happy-go-lucky, ragamuffin hippies delight us with this time? Stay tuned! TTFN

Cover Me #4 And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

The First World War has always had an affect on me. Whether it was going to the library and reading All Quiet On The Western Front at a young age (8 or 9 I think) or watching a TV documentary on the Pals Battalions, which were specially constituted batallions of the British Army comprising of men who had enlisted together in local recruiting drives, with the promise that they would be able to serve alongside their friends, neighbours and colleagues, rather than being arbitrarily allocated to Battalions and hearing about small villages that had lost a large amount of their young men (usually in one battle) I always got emotional (and still do) when reading or hearing about the sheer senseless waste of human life in what was a very avoidable war.

If you want to hear a song that sums up the futility and waste of human potential in war, then this Eric Bogle-penned tune is a really good place to begin. And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda was written in 1971 and the lyrics recount the experiences of a member of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps(ANZAC) in the Battle of Gallipoli. Folk singer-songwriter Eric Bogle is originally from Scotland but emigrated to Australia in 1969.   

From Wikipedia:

The song is an account of the memories of an old Australian man who, as a youngster, had travelled across rural Australia with a swag (the so-called Matilda of the title) and tent. In 1915 he had joined the Australian armed forces and been sent to Gallipoli. For ten weary weeks, he kept himself alive as around [him] the corpses piled higher. Eventually he is wounded by a shellburst and awakens in hospital to find that both his legs have been amputated. He declares it to be a fate worse than death, as he can go no more waltzing Matilda.

When the ship carrying the young soldiers departs from Australia the band plays “Waltzing Matilda” while crowds wave flags and cheer. When the crippled narrator returns and the legless, the armless, the blind, the insane are carried down the gangway to the same popular music, the people watch in silence and turn their faces away.

The first video is by English folk singer June Tabor. This was the version of thesong I first heared and when I did, it moved me to tears; in fact it’s really hard for me not to cry every time I hear it. I think it’s the haunting tone of June’s unaccompanied voice that makes the words hit home harder. Whatever the reason, it’s a very powerful song for listen to.

The next two videos features the author’s version of the song and Irish band The Pogues’ interpretation from their 1985 album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. They’re both very good, however for me, they lack the emotional gut-punch of June Tabor but I’ll put them here so you can decide which rendition you prefer.

Biting The Silver Bullet (GDLIYWI) 26

Mandatory temperature checks will be required for fans attending the Foreigner reunion concert.  If you’re hot blooded, they’ll check it and see.

Today’s album is a strange ‘un and no mistake. ‘LiveBullet is, unsurprisingly, a live album by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band which was released in April of ’76. It was recorded in Seger’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan at Cobo Hall during the heyday of that arena’s time as an important rock concert venue. This album along with Night Moves, is said to have helped with launching Seger into mainstream popularity.

Bob Seger never really made in dent in my household and their name was never bandied about by friends or classmates. We were too busy getting into heavy metal or post punk to want to listen to ‘old fart rock’. These days, most of the ‘classic rock’ acts that I and my brethren dismissed all those years ago, get regular rotation via CDs, Spotify, YouTube or whatever (let’s face it, good music is good music) but BSATSBB just never made that move. They sound like a pretty tight live band (In a 2015 article Seger states, “We were doing 250 to 300 shows a year before Live Bullet. We were playing five nights a week, sometimes six, as the Silver Bullet Band, and we just had that show down.”) and maybe that’s the problem. It sounds well rehearsed and well played, but just a little soulless for me; kinda like rock and roll by committee. I just couldn’t hear the soul or passion in the songs and after listening to this, other than Turn The Page, Katmandu, Get Out of Denver, I was struggling to recall anything from this record. Oh, and kicking off your show with an ok version of Nutbush City Limits is not a great way to let the listener know that this is going to be a wonderful experience.

Is it excessive? No; it’s dull, worthless and sterile but not excessive. Would I listen to it again? No. I did re-listen to it again before writing this review, just in case I’d missed something, but it still didn’t register. Would I recommend it? No. I just can’t see the appeal of this album, it just seems very boring to me.

It’s a highly regarded album, it’s been called “one of the best live albums of all-time” (Rolling Stone had it at #26 out of 50 best live albums) but it just does nothing for me. 3/10

Cover Me #3 Next

I gave up looking for my Cure CD last night, so I put Placebo on instead. Couldn’t tell the difference.

I loved this song almost immediately when I first heard it and, more importantly, when I first saw Alex Harvey perform it. It was watching a re-run of the Old Grey Whistle Test that I first saw the video below and it introduced me to the genius showman and singer that was Alex Harvey and his Sensational Band. The pain and anguish in his gruff, Scottish voice and gnarled face really sell the story of the lyrics and it still remains my favourite version of this Jaques Brel song, titled Au Suivant in French. And I prefer the Brel version to the Scott Walker attempt; as great a singer as Scott is, some of his versions of Brel songs fell a little flat or sounded clumsy, though Jackie is an absolute cracker.

Below are the 3 different versions of the song, let me know which is your favourite.

Shakespeare Rushes The Stage (GDLIYWI) 25

I’m starting a campaign to get Sudocrem promoted to the status of a fully recognised cream.

All The World’s A Stage is a double live album by Rush and was released in 1976. The album was recorded at Massey Hall in Toronto on June 11-13, 1976, during the band’s breakthrough 2112 tour. The title of the album alludes to William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It, which would again be referenced by Rush in the 1981 song Limelight. According Geddy Lee, the release of a live album in late 1976 “was definitely something we used to buy us more time” as Rush worked on the studio followup to their commercial breakthrough album 2112, released earlier that same year. ATWAS marks the end of the “first chapter of Rush” and would begin a trend of Rush releasing a live album after every four studio albums. This lasted until 2003, when the band released a live album and DVD of each subsequent studio album’s tour.

After Frank Zappa, Rush are probably the one band whose music I play most often, or have little snippets of their songs popping into my head for no apparent reason. Exit Stage Left (another Shakespeare reference) was the first live Rush album I heard, after getting into them around 79/80 and it took a while before I got round to buying this; I’d already bought 2112, did I really need to hear the live version of that so soon?

Well yes I did, as it so happens. The version on here is a highlight of the album as well as By-Tor And The Snow Dog. Quick aside: maybe its my age, (maybe it’s Maybelline), but I could have sworn that By-Tor was the song that had the drum solo on it and so I was happily surprised when re-listening to this that it wasn’t the case.

ATWAS was never my go to Rush live album, that was and always will be Exit Stage Left, however this is a good album, not great, but sometimes live albums are like that. I was never a huge fan of their first album so the three songs on side 4 really hold no joy for me, which is a shame as the first 3 sides are great showcases of prime early-Rush, with the highlights being the aforementioned 2112 and By-Tor as well as blistering versions of Bastille Day, Anthem and In The End.

Is it excessive? No, despite 2112 being played in it’s entirety, it’s not an excessive album. Only 3 of the 10 tracks are over 10 minutes. Would I listen to it again? Probably not. If I’m sticking some Rush on, then it’ll be the studio albums more than likely. Would I recommend it? Again, probably not. I point them to Exit Stage Left instead. Is there a drum solo? There is, whaddya expect from Rush, but it’s on side 4 so can be completely avoided.

ATWAS gets a respectable 7/10 from me. It’s a good live Rush album but nothing you really need to hear. On deck next: a band who Warren Zevon would find quite handy to have around. TTFN.

Ranking The Frank Zappa Albums #50 The Man From Utopia

Police are issuing an appeal after recieving complaints from farmers that their cows are being stolen during the night.
Apparently they’re looking for someone with a huge moo-stash.

cover art by Tanino Liberatore

Today’s Frank Zappa album sees us with the 1983 album, The Man From Utopia with its iconic album cover art that features the work of Tanino Liberatore. It portrays Zappa on stage trying to kill mosquitoes, a reference to a concert held in Italy on 7th July 1982 at Parco Redecesio (which is also referred in a street sign on the album cover) in Segrate, near Milan. While Zappa was playing, a huge number of mosquitoes began flying on stage and gave the band a hard time. The back cover shows the audience as seen from the stage during the 1982 concert in Palermo, which ended in a riot (which some footage can be seen on the Dub Room Special video released in 1983).

The sleeve art is also a reference to Liberatore’s comic character RanXerox.

And quite frankly (heh!), the backstory of the artwork and the wonderful cover itself deserves to grace a much better album. Only Cocaine Decisions and two instrumentals (Moggio, We Are Not Alone) save this from being the worst Zappa album I’ve heard. The lyrics are asinine, the songs seems half-thought out and very pedestrian (by Zappa’s standards) and the awful half-sung, half-spoken performances on 3 of the songs just kill any enjoyment that may have been lurking on there. Those 3 songs (The Dangerous Kitchen, The Radio Is Broken and The Jazz Discharge Party Hats) were an experiment that did not work and Zappa never went back to this style. To be fair, both Kitchen and Radio have the bones of being good songs; Dangerous Kitchen on the Does Humor Belong In Music video shows that, it’s just the dreadful use of Sprechgesang that ruins them (Party Hats is just a terrible song with no redeeming features). Maybe if he featured the songs and riot incidents from that infamous tour it would have easily made for a much better record than the one we got.

Not the best place to start if you’re new to Zappa. One to avoid unless you’re a completist. 1.5/5

Personnel :
Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals, drum machine, ARP 2600, Prophet 5 Synthesizer
Steve Vai – guitar, acoustic guitar
Ray White – guitar, vocals
Roy Estrada – vocals
Bob Harris – boy soprano
Ike Willis – vocals
Bobby Martin – keyboards, saxophone, vocals
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Arthur Barrow – keyboards, bass, micro bass, rhythm guitar
Ed Mann – percussion
Scott Thunes – bass
Chad Wackerman – drums
Vinnie Colaiuta – drums
Craig Twister Steward – harmonica
Dick Fegy – mandolin
Marty Krystall – saxophone

Cover Me #2 Stairway To Heaven

“I could play “Stairway To Heaven” when I was 12. Jimmy Page didn’t actually write it until he was 22. I think that says quite a lot about me, don’t you?”– Vim Fuego, philostopher and mullet-haired guitarist.

Today’s Cover Me post deals with, quite possibly, one of the greatest rock songs ever made. A favourite of guitar stores everywhere, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven has been covered by the great and the good: in 1985 the Far Corporation, a British band created by record producer Frank Darian who created the band’s Boney M. and Milli Vanilli, took the song to #8 in the UK charts; the song was included on Frank Zappa’s last tour in 1988 (getting to see him and his band play this live is a personal highlight, especially as the first part of the guitar solo is played by the horn section); Country royalty and Covid vaccine saviour Dolly Parton took a swing at it on her 2002 album Halos And Horns and the version performed by Heart at the Kennedy Center Honors moved Robert Plant to tears. There have been many others who have covered this classic in various ways and none more so strange than the ones found on this album.

The Money or the Gun was an Australian comedy/talk-show on the ABC network that ran from late 1989 to mid-1990, with occasional specials until 1994. It was written by Andrew Denton, Simon Dodd, Bruce Griffiths, and George Dodd, directed by Martin Coombes and produced by Mark Fitzgerald.

Each episode was based on a significant theme, with Denton interviewing a number of people as well as conducting vox pops on the street. Significant episodes include “Guns-The Musical” and the award-winning episode on disabilities, “The Year of the Patronising Bastard” (which picked up a United Nations Media Peace Prize). In 1993, a one-off special was called “Topic of Cancer”, which talked to teenagers with cancer (while at a CanTeen weekend).

Each week a guest would perform their own version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (which Denton said was the greatest song ever made) and generally the performances would be a break in the program and the artists would have no other part in the program. Two compilations of the performances were released in 1992: a video which featured 25 of the 26 performances, and an album, called Stairways to Heaven, which featured 22 of the 26 performances. An album consisting of 12 tracks was released internationally in 1995.

The album features wildly different musical styles (swing, folk, blues, 80’s pop and even a sea shanty!) and sometimes the whole song is not covered. As with anything of such a varied musical scale, not everything is going to land (the ‘comedy’ takes wear thin pretty quickly) but I believe there are more hits than misses on this endeavour considering it’s 26 versions of the same song (the Australian Doors take is superb). I’ve left a link below for a YouTube playlist featuring 25 of the 26 versions (disgraced TV star Rolf Harris is not featured) for you to check out and discover your own favourite, but I’ll leave you with mine which is by the Beatnix who perform the song in a early Beatlemania-stylee.

Bonus interview: whilst promoting the UnLedded release No Quarter, Page and Plant were interviewed by Andrew Denton on his talk show Denton, and performed two songs: Black Dog and Sun Arise.

NB: this interview took place in 1994, Rolf Harris was convicted of sexual assault of underage girls in 2014.

Ranking The Frank Zappa Albums #52 Jazz From Hell.

Whilst Fred Astaire danced down the steps, his brother Stan just slowly carried an old woman up them.

Jazz From Hell is an instrumental album whose selections were all composed and recorded by American musician Frank Zappa. It was released on November 15, 1986 by Barking Pumpkin Records on vinyl and cassette, and in 1987 by Rykodisc on CD. Jazz From Hell was Zappa’s final studio album released in his lifetime; for the remaining seven years of his life, he would only release live concert albums, although the posthumous Civilization Phaze III was completed shortly before his death.

Zappa won a 1988 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for this album.

This wasn’t the first Zappa album to feature the synclavier, 1984’s Boulez Conducts Zappa featured synclavier compositions and orchestral tracks, but it is almost wholly the first that is synclavier driven. Frank also used a synclavier, sparingly, on his final tour in ’88.

The album has few highlights for me: The opener Night School is an excellent track: upbeat, frenetic and exciting. I can hear this played by humans, and there’s a great ‘guitar’ solo in it. G-Spot Tornado is another cracking frantic number that Frank assumed it would be impossible to play by humans, though it would be performed by Ensemble Modern on the concert recording The Yellow Shark (1993). The non-synclavier, St.Ettiene is a guitar solo excerpted from a live performance Zappa gave of Drowning Witch during a concert in Saint-Étienne, France, on his 1982 tour and a lovely little number it is.

And that’s where the good stuff ends. The rest of the tracks are quite a chore to listen too, especially the slower, sinister-sounding numbers. Nothing really stuck with me and I struggle to recall the any of the songs. I do like some of Frank’s synclavier stuff, but a whole album of it is not what I call a good time. Not an album I would listen to by choice. 1.5/5

Ahab, Ishmael and Me (GDLIYWI) 24

“Chocolate is poisonous to cats.” “Wait…. I think you mean dogs.” “No, no, it’s definitely chocolate.”

And now, we return to the scene of the crime, the album that is patient zero for my hatred of drum solos (and any unaccompanied solos to be fair). The Song Remains The Same is the live soundtrack album of the concert film of the same name by Led Zeppelin . The soundtrack was recorded 27–29 July 1973 and released three years later on 28 September 1976 on Swan Song Records

Upon its initial release in 1976, the album received some mixed reviews, with a number of critics considering it to be over-produced and lumbering. Indeed, the band’s members themselves have since expressed a lack of fondness for the recording. Page has admitted that the end product was not the best representation of Led Zeppelin as a live band.

The power of Crowley compels you to like this blog post!

I was a little apprehensive about reevaluating this album. Of all the Led Zeppelin albums, this one was never high on my Zepp-rotation and after hearing How The West Was Won, the 2007 remastered version of this album and a couple of bootlegs, I realised just how poor the original The Song Remains actually is. The first side I’ve got no complaints about; strong performances and great songs but this goes downhill when side 2 rears it’s head and we get dazed and confused into boredom.

Look, I really do enjoy long songs (hello Supper’s Ready) and when I first heard this I loved it (I taped this track and would play it on my Walkman when I would walk to my mate’s house, it was just the right length). And seeing the visuals in the movie that accompanied this song, made a lot more sense. But this album doesn’t have the visuals, just a long, messy song that could have lost 15 minutes and no-one would have cared. My mind started wandering (where it will go).

Side 3 grabbed my attention again with an excellent No Quarter and a very energetic Stairway and then side 4 comes into view and off to snoozeville we go.

Nurse, ready the nyquil!

Is John Bonham a great drummer? Undoubtedly. I’m not claiming otherwise. Was he essential to Led Zeppelin? Damn straight! Just listen to any Zepp reunion performance. They sound like a shadow of their former selves because they lack the power, strength and subtlety of Bonzo. Do I want to hear him hammer away, unaccompanied for 10 minutes? Uuh-uh. I never did like this song when I first heard their second album: the riff is sloppy, the pace of the song is slow, oh and there’s a drum solo in the bloody middle of it! Anyway, Black Sabbath did it better with Rat Salad, coincidentally on their second album too! And I hate that drum solo too! Ending with an extended Whole Lotta Love, including an unnecessary rock’n’roll medley, ends the album on a rather dull note.

Is it excessive? Oh, yeah! 5 of the 9 tracks are over 10 minutes and and 1 track takes up the entirety of side 2. If the ELP live triple(!) album was exhibit A in excessiveness, then this is exhibit B. Would I listen to it again? Maybe side A and No Quarter, but not much else. Would I recommend it? No, not unless it’s the remastered version, with 6 other songs and a much brighter, cleaner production or How The West Was Won, which is a great document of a Led Zeppelin show.

So as I step off the Pequod, I’m giving this album a 5/10. Highly disappointing. Next time, more long songs and drum solos. Yay!

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