Ranking The Frank Zappa Albums #34 Chunga’s Revenge

Lol, my boss just called me into his office and told me I’ve been spending too much time on Twitter.

Hold on he’s saying something else now….

Chunga’s Revenge is the third solo album by Frank Zappa, released on October 23, 1970. Zappa’s first effort of the 1970s marks the first appearance of former Turtles members Flo & Eddie on a Zappa record, and signals the dawn of a controversial epoch in Zappa’s history. Chunga’s Revenge represents a shift from both the satirical political commentary of his 1960s work with The Mothers of Invention, and the jazz fusion of Hot Rats into a more juvenile, smutty incarnation of the band featuring tales of sex, groupie encounters and life on the road as a touring band.

Regular readers of these posts may know that I’m not the biggest fan of this version of the Mothers; other than this album and Just Another Band From L.A. I do not have a lot of time for them. In my mind, probably the best thing to happen to this band was Zappa being pushed off the stage in London (by a jealous fan) and sitting in a wheelchair focusing on writing proper music. And if that sounds snobby to some people, we’ll then I’m a snob.

Chunga’s Revenge is quite a schizophrenic album: there’s a couple of great guitar heavy songs (the title track and Transylvania Boogie), the bluesy Road Ladies, a jazz number recorded during the Hot Rats sessions (Twenty Small Cigars) and they rub shoulders with several poppy numbers (Tell Me You Love Me, Would You Go All the Way?, Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink, Sharleena) that have some small charm to them, although Sharlenna and Tell Me You Love Me would be performed much better by later Zappa bands. The vocal songs were also, according to the sleeve notes, a preview for the forthcoming 200 Motels film/record released the following year (an album/film I have little-to-no time for).
The guitar tracks on here save it from being much lower down on the list, (as does The Nancy and Mary Music an avant-garde improvisation taken from a live performance of King Kong) but this album is still lower mid-tier Zappa. 3/5

Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals, harpsichord, Condor, drums and percussions
Ian Underwood – organ, rhythm guitar, piano, electric piano, alto saxophone, pipe organ, electric alto saxophone with wah-wah pedal, tenor saxophone, grand piano
Aynsley Dunbar – drums, tambourine
John Guerin – drums
Max Bennett – bass
Jeff Simmons – bass, vocals
George Duke – organ, electric piano, vocal sound effects, trombone
Howard Kaylan – vocals
Mark Volman – vocals, rhythm guitar
Don “Sugarcane” Harris – organ

Ranking The Frank Zappa Albums #35 Broadway The Hard Way

I started a pessimism jar – kind of like a swear jar where you put money in if you have negative thoughts. It’s already half empty.

Broadway the Hard Way is a live album recorded at various performances from Zappa’s troubled final 1988 world tour. It was first released as a 9-track vinyl album through Barking Pumpkin Records in October 1988, and subsequently as a 17-track CD through Rykodisc in 1989.
The album features a lot of songs that are satirical of prominent contemporary figures, chiefly in the political sphere, and of current social and political trends and it was probably one of Zappa’s most political album and tours, on the U.S. legs at least, for a while. Some of his songs hit their target: Dickie’s Such An Asshole (originally written in 1973) references both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk (the album’s highlight for me) deals with notorious TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Pat Robertson and the rise of the evangelical Christians’ influence on the Republican Party (Robertson was rumoured to be running as a candidate in the ’88 election); other tracks like the cod-country RhyminMan (a song about Democrat candidate Jesse Jackson) and Promiscuous, an ill-advised ‘rap’ ‘song’ that talks about surgeon general C. Everett Koop and the AIDS virus (and is actually the worst piece of music Zappa’s ever written) miss the mark in spectacular fashion. There’s some good moments on here: Stolen Moments is a lovely little jazz number enhanced by the 5 piece horn section and leads nicely into an appearance by Sting and a cover of his Murder By Numbers song; album opener Elvis Has Just Left The Building is fun as is Why Don’t You Like Me-a reworked Tell Me You Love Me with lyrics about Michael Jackson but like other mid to late 80’s Zappa releases it’s another non-essential record that does not have that it factor to induce repeated listenings. 3/5

Frank Zappa – guitar, producer, main performer, vocals
Eric Buxton (an audience member) – spoken narrative during middle 8 on “Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk”
Sting – lead vocal on “Murder by Numbers”
Ike Willis – guitar, vocals
Mike Keneally – synthesizer, vocals, guitar
Robert Martin – keyboards, vocals
Scott Thunes – bass guitar
Chad Wackerman – drums
Ed Mann – percussion
Paul Carman – alto saxophone
Albert Wing – tenor saxophone
Kurt McGettrick – baritone saxophone
Walt Fowler – trumpet
Bruce Fowler – trombone

Ranking The Frank Zappa Albums # 36 Them Or Us

artwork by David Roller Wilson

Them or Us is a double album by Frank Zappa that was released in October 1984 by Barking Pumpkin Records. As with other Zappa rock albums of this era, many of the tracks are sourced from live recordings and later on studio overdubs were liberally applied, although there is no mention of these overdubs in the album notes.

This was my first Zappa album I bought and although I loved it at the time, it does not bear many repeat listenings in my household. Now it has the usual mix of Zappa infused rock, blues (In France is an excellent bluesy number featuring the always fantastic Johnny’Guitar’Watson on vocals) and doo-wap: the album’s opener The Closer You Are is one of Zappa’s best vocal moments. It also has a ton of guitar solos: the title track, a reworking of Sharleena, Marque-Son’s Chicken and Sinister Footwear II, for the more complex solos; and there’s nothing really too bad on here: Planet of My Dreams, a 1981 studio recording taken from the score of Zappa’s unrealized 1972 stage musical Hunchentoot, it OK it just seems out of place amongst all the guitar solos and Ya Honza, a song satirising the ‘backward-masking’ panic of the 80’s and featuring lyrics from Sofa #2, Lonely Little Girl and unreleased Moon Unit vocals from Valley Girl, is OK for the first few listens but is easily skippable, are probably the two weakest ones on here. The best two on here are Zappa’s version of The Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post (a cover 7 years in the making, thanks to recruiting Bobby Martin for Zappa’s ’81 tour who knew the song) and Be In My Video, which pokes fun at clichés in music videos with particular reference to David Bowie and his Let’s Dance video, and yet despite all these highlights the album is disjointed and lacks any focus. It’s a good album with some good stuff on here but it’s not an album I want to listen to the wholeway through. 3/5

Frank Zappa – guitar, vocals
Ray White – guitar, vocals
Steve Vai – guitar
Dweezil Zappa – guitar
Tommy Mars – keyboards
Bobby Martin – keyboards, saxophone, vocals, harmonica
George Duke – piano, vocals
Brad Cole – piano
Scott Thunes – bass, Minimoog
Arthur Barrow – bass
Patrick O’Hearn – bass
Ed Mann – percussion
Chad Wackerman – drums
Ike Willis – vocals
Napoleon Murphy Brock – vocals
Roy Estrada – vocals
Johnny “Guitar” Watson – vocals
Moon Unit Zappa – vocals
Bob Harris – vocals
Thana Harris – vocals

A Sting In The Tail (GDLIYWI) #47

Rudy Schenker is appalled by the lack of creativity in the post title.

Tokyo Tapes is a live album recorded by the Scorpions during the band’s Japanese tour in 1978 and were the last performances of guitarist Uli Jon Roth, who had announced his departure after the release of the studio album Taken by Force. As well as two cover versions (Hound Dog and Long Tall Sally) the album also features Kōjō no Tsuki (荒城の月, lit. The Moon over the Ruined Castle, a Japanese song written in the Meiji period 1868-1912). The Scorpions’ version is in the form of a power ballad and is said to be one of the rare tracks that follows Taki’s original song. (A jazz arrangement was recorded by Thelonious Monk under the title Japanese Folk Song on his 1967 album Straight, No Chaser. This version can be heard in the movie La La Land, as one of the main characters tries to memorize and play it).

And after mining that little fact-nugget, we delve into yet another live album I’m really familiar with. The Scorpions were one of my favourite bands when I first started getting into rock/metal, mainly from around the Lovedrive period, and it was a few years later that I started listening to their older stuff (the aforementioned Taken By Force being the first Roth album I bought); and whilst I’ve not really been interested in them since around Wind of Change, I do find myself going back and enjoying their 70’s material as I find it to be some of their best work. Tokyo Tapes sees the 70’s incarnation of the band in full flight; vocalist Klaus Meine is excellent, Roth’s guitar playing is fluid and electrifying and the rythym section of Schenker, Bulcholz and Rarebell keep the band’s hard rock/quasi-metal sound going.

As with the Thin Lizzy album (see previous post), this is an album I’ve grown up with and barring one or two mis-steps (the two rock n roll covers, Uli’s vocals – a great guitarist no doubt, but not a great live singer, and the drum solo in Top of the Bill) it still holds up 40+ years later. If you want to hear prime Roth-era Scorps, then this is the album to pick up. It’s not very excessive or overblown (the drum solo is dropped in halfway through a six-and-a-half minute song), just a slab of great hard rock by a band who’ll go onto bigger, but not necessarily better, things. 8.5/10

When I first started this, I did so wondering how excessive, and overblown live albums from the seventies were but with the past few albums it seems to be moving away from excessiveness, the 20 minute drum solos, and the triple albums. Maybe it’s the punk era and influence of counting to four and just going for it. And with that said, join me next time for a band that personified counting to four! Until then, TTFN.

Tales From Fat Margaret (GDLIYWI) #46

Released in June 1978, Live and Dangerous is a live double album by the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy (The band deciding to release a live album after their producer Tony Visconti did not have enough time to work on a full studio session). The album reached No. 2 in the UK album charts, ultimately selling over half a million copies. It has continued to attract critical acclaim and it has appeared in several lists of the greatest live albums of all time.

What can I say about this classic album that hasn’t already been said? A million words have been written in ink and on monitor, by infinitely better writers than me (hell, even a caveman banging two rocks together ciykd put it better than me), about how fantastic and essential this album is; how it captures Phil and the gang in all their pomp and glory blasting through classic rock tracks like Emerald, The Boys Are Back In Town, Jailbreak and the magnificent Still In Love With You. You know the songs, you’ve heard the album hell, some of you have even grown up with this record, I know I did, I’ve been listening to this on and off for over 40 years! This and Bad Reputation were my first exposure to Thin Lizzy, thanks to a friend from school who would tape his older brother’s albums for me. Guitarist Brian Robertson left shortly after the release of this album and, other than Black Rose, Thin Lizzy would never sound so good again (they’d make a good stab at it with 83’s Thunder and Lightning but it was a bit too little, too late for me).

The album is proof, if proof be needed, that Phil Lynott is the ultimate frontman: the stage banter, leading the crowd sing-a-long on Baby Drives Me Crazy, his driving basslines that – in tandem with the criminally underrated drumming of Brian Downey – help underpin the Lizzy sound. This album is so good that I don’t even mind the drum solo on Sha-La-La or the fact that Are You Ready sounds a little out of place at the end of side 3 rather than a concert opener. So it’s no surprise that this album gets top marks from me, is heartily recommended and you can bet your bum I’ll be listening to this for at least another 40 years.

Next time around, we feature a German invasion of Japan, but until then, TTFN!

Little Feat, Big Tunes (GDLIYWI) #45

Waiting For Columbus is the first live album by the band Little Feat, formed by ex-Mother of Invention George Lowell, and was recorded during seven performances in 1977. The first four shows were held at the Rainbow Theatre in London on August 1–4, 1977. The final three shows were recorded the following week at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C. on August 8–10. The band were backed by the Tower of Power horn section with whom they had recorded for their 1974 album Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. The result was one of their biggest selling albums.

The excellent cover art, by the great Neon Park (who created the artwork for the Mother’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh album), depicts items from the Americas unknown to Europeans before Columbus: an anthropomorphic tomato on a hammock in front of a backdrop of American native foliage and cactus.

Another band that shows up my ignorance! I’d always thought Little Feat were a country rock outfit a la Poco, Flying Burrito Brothers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band type group but I was very pleasantly surprised at how wrong I was. For the fellow uninitiated out there (you must be out there, right? It’s not just me is it?) Little Feat play a glorious mixture of swampy blues rock, R&B, country and a sprinkling of jazz fusion for good measure and once again my backside is sore from kicking myself for sleeping on this group. In defence of my ignorance, what little (ha!) I music I’d heard was from studio albums, where the late Lowell George’s influence had been damped down in the studio, deferring to his bandmates’ writing and singing, but Columbus is a different kettle of salmon altogether. Waiting is dominated by George’s gruff, lyrical vocal presence and the mercurial tang of his indelible slide guitar. Many of their more well-known songs were either re-worked or extended: for instance, one of their signature songs, Dixie Chicken, was heavily extended to include a lengthy piano solo by keyboardist Bill Payne, a Dixieland horn arrangement and finally a dual guitar jam between the band’s two guitarists, Lowell George and Paul Barrère. With the addition of the Tower of Power Horns the songs on here are injected with razor-sharp horn work, which romps through the Feat songbook of southern-fried rock with aplomb.

The first three sides of this album are great, perfect for summer listening or to crank out on a sunny day somewhere: Oh Atlanta, Old Folks’ Boogie, Time Loves a Hero Day or Night, Mercenary Territory and the aforementioned Dixie Chicken, showcase the uptempo delight of the band’s music but, and you knew there would be a but coming, side four brings the album down for me. Except for the last track, the wonderfully titled Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, side four lacks the energy and vigour of what came before it and the songs failed to connect with me or make me care about them.

In summary, this is a very good live album; the production is super crisp and you believe you are actually at the concert. The songs are great, maybe give side four a body swerve, the playing is excellent and overall I really enjoyed listening to this album. No drum solos (praise Jubus, praise Odin, praise Miriam!) and there are no long songs on here, just great swampy blues-rock numbers with lashings of horns. 8/10, definitely recommend and definitely worth several re-listenings.

As we start approaching the end game of this series (we’re at 1978 already!), the final few albums will be live albums from bands I’ve heard of AND that I actually owned! Will miracles never cease? But until those momentous occasions occur, TTFN!

Sponsoring The Moshpits 3 (b): a guide to HMHB

The next few years of the 2000’s saw the band do their usual 3 year gap between releases and touring giving us 4 new albums and a compilation of previously released eps.

3 years after the magnificent Achtung Bono, the lads followed up it with 2008’s equally magnificent CSI: Ambleside, a play on all the various CSI franchises that seemed to dominate TV schedules. The petty vagaries and annoyances of everyday life are once again set to angry post-punk guitars, ranging from bad loses on yahoo chess, problem chimps, roid rage and blue badge abusers. On the plus side, if your name is Joyce then HMHB have wrote a song in your honour! But the highlight of the album is the closing track National Shite Day, a 6 minute diatribe about how shite modern life can be.

3 years later the lads run of great albums continue with 90 Bisodol Crimond, one of the more lyrically darker HMHB albums.

RSVP, a country folk tinged ballad, tells the story of a dumped boyfriend who just so happens to be providing the catering at the wedding of his ex. It turns out he’s a dab hand at poisoning. If mass murder is not your bag we have Excavating Rita a song about necrophilia! Over the course of the rest of the album lifecoaches are killed in car crashes, Nigel talks of jumping off the roof of Dignitas and a spurned lover launches himself in front of a train. Highlight of the album is once again the closing track (a common theme most HMHB albums have): Rock and Roll Is Full of Bad Wools, an amazingly well pitched stab at celebrity musicians on Soccer AM on one hand and glib bar bands on the other.

Another 3 year gap? Check. Another HMHB album? Check. Another album chock-full of great songs and sarcastic wit? Errr, not quite. Whilst Urge For Offal is fundamentally rocky and occasionally loud, with prominent bass aplenty and these are almost all of the elements you would expect to find in a HMHB album, in some places it does feel a little HMHB-by-numbers for me. It’s been a while since there’s been mis-steps on a HMHB album (Four Lads Who Shook The Wirral) but Urge… has me pushing the skip button on a few occasions. False Grit, Mileage Chart, Stuck Up A Hornbeam and the instrumental Theme For Something Or Other offers very little replay value. Adding to my disappointment of this album, The Unfortunate Gwatkin (one of HMHB’s usual ‘talking’ story album closers) feels like it’s missing a couple of extra minutes of the story. It’s still a great song with a great shout-a-long chorus but it does seem incomplete. It’s not all negative though, Urge For Offal does offer some great HMHB tracks: My Outstretched Arms, Westward Ho!…Massive Letdown, the title track and Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride are all top-tier Biscuit tracks but the highlight of the album is the very un-Biscuit sounding Adam Boyle Has Cast Lad Rock Aside (tied with Old Age for thd best track name) with its many references to the cult movie The Wicker Man (the good one). As an aside, In December 2014, readers of The Guardian voted Urge for Offal best album of the year even though that newspaper had never reviewed or even mentioned it!

2 years later And Some Fell on Stony Ground was released. It’s a compilation album of previously-released eps: Eno Collaboration, Editor’s Recommendation and Saucy Haulage Ballads plus David Wainwright‘s Feet from Colours Are Brighter, a 2006 compilation album in aid of Save The Children. The song is a genuinely funny, cautionary tale about pestering one’s nan for fashionable trainers which has never been addressed before pin the world of rock music (though I’m happy to be corrected!)

After a 4 year hiatus the band released their fourteenth album in 2018, the very wordily titled No-one Cares About Your Creative Hub So Get Your Fucking Hedge Cut (hereforth referred to as No-one). Neil’s targets for his scathing lyrics and wit this time around were ignorant contestants on quiz shows, people organising bat walks and the film It’s A Wonderful Life. So far, so HMHB but then comes Terminus, a moving tale about death and growing older; Terminus has some glorious wordplay and imagary worthy of Phillip Larkin and is possibly the best song HMHB has written in their 30+ year career.

So what’s next? Well even if the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions never happened, and going by their previous release schedule, I doubt there would be much movement from the Biscuit chaps until this or maybe next year and true to form, there are signs of life. They did a few tracks for Andy Kershaw’s radio show (in his kitchen, no less!) and they’ve also released a folky track for the Left Bank Soundtrack animated music walk of their home town of Birkenhead, called Frequent Electric Trains, so the hopes for a new album spring eternal and https://halfmanhalfbiscuit.uk/ would be the best place to discover when it’s due and judging by the new material so far, it’ll be, once again, top quality from Britain’s greatest folk band.


Get in the Vann (GDLIYWI) #44

My ignorance on musical groups has been on display since I started these live album posts. Because of the name I thought these guys were Dutch!

Vital: Van der Graaf Live is the first live album by English progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator. It was recorded 16 January 1978 at the Marquee Club in London and was released in July, one month after the band’s 1978 break-up. The album (on vinyl and, later, on CD) was credited under the abbreviated name Van der Graaf, like the previous year’s Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, and featured the same line-up plus newcomer cellist/keyboardist Charles Dickie, who had officially joined the band in August 1977, and original saxophonist and flautist David Jackson, who re-joined the band for this recording.

The album is noted for its sometimes radical reworking of the older material. Although Van der Graaf Generator were seldom less than intense on stage, the 1977 and 1978 tours were remarkable for their ferocity. The absence of Hugh Banton, whose organ work was a hallmark of the group’s sound before his departure in 1976, as well as frontman Peter Hammill’s increased duties as a rhythm guitarist, account for much of this and sacrificing the subtlety for ferocity is detrimental to this record.

For a well-known prog rock band, Vital displays quite a punky attitude and sound in its songs: the bass sounds loud, fuzzy and dirty which is sometimes nice, especially pounding out the riff to Pioneers in C, but at other times it overwhelms the rest of the group and the record is not helped by the rather poor production. It’s a strange album to listen to: part punk, a dash of free-from jazz, awful 6th form poetry disguised as something deep and meaningful, and just a whole bunch of noise that the songs just seems to blend into one another. The production on this album (well the version I heard) is godawful and leads me to believe that the producer has some sort of ear infection when he took this job on.

I didn’t want to give up on this band, they’re loved in prog-rock circles, so I decided to give this band a fair shake and see if I was missing anything. I listened to the studio versions of the songs on here and, knock me down with a feather, they were far more superior and dynamic than the live versions. Hugh Banton’s organ fleshes out the studio songs in a deeper way that the, very different, live versions here fail to do.

Whilst I’ve not been fully converted to VDGG’s music, I now do enjoy a song or two of theirs and I can see what the fuss is about them, prog wise, but dear lord this live album should be given a serious body swerve. There was not a lot of enjoyment here for me, the really dire production did not help its cause, the overly fuzzy bass and the lack of any subtlety in the songs made this a slog for me and I listened to it three times!

Slightly better than that Camel record but not by much. Avoid this one and try their studio albums instead. 3/10

Up next, more of my musical ignorance on display as Little Feat appear in my crosshairs. TTFN.

Flatter Than the State (GDLIYWI) #43

Two for the Show is a double-live album by American progressive rock band Kansas, released in 1978 and was recorded over the course of the band’s three previous tours in 1977 and 1978.

Now, other than Carry On My Wayward Son, Dust In The Wind and Point of Know Return, I knew little to nothing else about prog-rock band Kansas when I was growing up. Sure, they had a violin player and big bushy hair kinda similar to ELO, so I just dismissed them as an American ELO and went on with my day: how foolish I was to dismiss them like that.

You can see how 10 year old me could conflate the two bands

Unlike the previous prog entrant in this series (Camel with their snooze-fest A Live Record) Kansas have the prog chops to excite, write tunes that rock and are bloody kilometres better than ELO (not a diss on ELO, I just Kansas are musically better, prog-wise). This was a delightful listening experience for me; lots of keyboards, guitars and time-changes to keep me hooked. I could see why the, short-lived in the UK, prog revival of the early 80’s mentioned Kansas as an influence. I can hear early Marillion, Pallas and IQ in the songs on here.

There’s only one song here over 10 minutes (the rather grandiosely titled Magnum Opus), the band have a knack for writing short-ish (for prog!) catchy, rocking tunes. I’ve not been this happily surprised about a band since the Gentle Giant live album. It’s not all fun and games though. Whilst the first two sides rock and prog with thd best of them, side 3 opens with the execrable Dust In The Wind (complete with acoustic guitar solo) and then wobbles and lurches and starts listing all over side 3 before, thankfully, Closet Chronicles opens side 4 and rightens the uptempo prog ship and the band sails on unskirmished.

I gave Gentle Giant a 7.5/10 (points knocked off for drum solos and hey-nonny-ness) and Two For The Show gets an 8.5/10. There’s no drum solos but the wobble on side three stops it from getting full marks. If you only know a couple of Kansas songs then I would totally recommend you listen to this live album if good and catchy prog-rock is your bag (it is mine).

Next time I listen to yet more prog-rock! Will it be good? Will it be bad? Will it be a bag of shit tied up with chicken wire? Tune in to find out but until then, TTFN.

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