Sunday, June 23, 2013

Frank Zappa Buyers Guide #23: Zappa in New York

Frank Zappa’s fourth proper live album is a treat, a dazzling return to form after the dismal Zoot Allures and the true debut of his magnificent late ‘70s band. But it almost didn’t happen – at least, not in the way we’ve come to know it. That’s why, in order to talk about Zappa in New York, one first needs to talk about the great lost album known as Lather.

In 1977, Zappa was in the throes of a legal battle with his former manager, Herb Cohen. Zappa had sued Cohen for allegedly taking too much money from the coffers of DiscReet Records, the label the two of them owned. In October of 1976, Zappa bypassed DiscReet and released Zoot Allures on Warner Bros., the company that had been distributing Zappa’s albums for years. Cohen then sued Zappa for not complying with his DiscReet contract.

Despite this falling out, Zappa was still signed to DiscReet (and hence to Warner Bros.), and still owed four more albums. In an unprecedented move, Zappa delivered Lather, a four-record box set that he hoped would cure his obligations all at once. This, naturally, did not sit well with Warner, but since no one had ever tried this tactic before, there were no rules in place to prevent it. The record company suits were further displeased by the content of Lather – the complexities of the present-day composer, submerged for most of the ‘70s, were finally on full view again here.

Warner Bros. refused to release Lather as a four-record set. They also prevented Zappa from releasing it through Phonogram Records, claiming ownership of the material despite their intention to mothball it. Zappa responded by playing a test pressing of Lather over the air on California radio station KROQ, which further angered Warner Bros. In the end, Zappa was forced to cut Lather into four separate albums, which Warner agreed to release, thus fulfilling Zappa’s contract.

Though reluctant to do so, Zappa made the cuts, and even actively participated in the preparation of the first of those reconfigured albums, Zappa in New York. This double-record set documents a series of shows performed at the Palladium in New York in December of 1976, though much of the material was heavily overdubbed, as it was intended to sit beside studio recordings on Lather.

But Warner Bros. did not stop interfering. DiscReet issued Zappa in New York with Zappa’s intended track listing in 1977, but Warner Bros. quickly put a stop to it before it could be widely distributed. The problem was a track called “Punky’s Whips,” which poked fun at drummer Terry Bozzio for his infatuation with Punky Meadows, guitarist for a then-popular band called Angel. The song is fairly graphic, and Warner objected, cutting it from the “official” release of Zappa in New York in March of 1978. They also edited a song called “Titties and Beer,” which is a lot funnier than it sounds.

That was the last straw for Zappa, who left the artwork and promotion of the other three Lather albums up to the record company suits. When full rights to the material were returned to him, Zappa reissued Zappa in New York, restoring all the originally intended content and adding four bonus tracks. This is the version we know today, the one reissued by the Zappa family in 2012.

And it’s terrific. Zappa’s late ‘70s band is in full force here, including guitarist and vocalist Ray White, bassist Patrick O’Hearn, keyboardist Eddie Jobson, percussionists Dave Samuels and Ruth Underwood, and a dream horn section including the Brecker Brothers (Randy and Mike), saxophonist Donnie Cuber (who went on to join the J. Geils Band), and saxophonist Lou Marini and trombonist Tom Malone, both members of the Saturday Night Live band at the time.

But the star is drummer Terry Bozzio, breaking out of his deliberately constrained performance on Zoot Allures and emerging as a dynamic live presence. Bozzio gets to shine as a lead vocalist on both “Titties and Beer” and “Punky’s Whips,” and he grabs the spotlight on the impossible drum solo “The Black Page #1.” With Bozzio providing the bedrock, this band jumps nimbly from bluesy rock to jazzy funk to insanely complicated instrumental pieces with ease.

Only two tracks (six on the extended edition) are renditions of previously released songs. The rest is new material developed for this band, and their sheer joy at performing this stuff is palpable. The album opens with “Titties and Beer,” Zappa’s attempt to dumb down Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (A Soldier’s Tale) for the masses. Over a raucous repetitive saxophone riff, Zappa plays the part of a biker who faces off with the devil, played with gusto by Bozzio. In concert, Bozzio would don an uncomfortable-looking devil mask for this tune.

“Titties and Beer” is crass, but it’s making a wider point – anything can be delivered to the masses in a palpable way. As in the Stravinsky piece, a deal with the devil is made, but in this case, the devil upsets Zappa’s single-minded character by eating his “big-titted” girlfriend and his beer. The devil offers them back in exchange for Zappa’s soul, and when he willingly agrees, it takes the devil by surprise, leaving him open for a sucker punch. It’s presented in the most juvenile way imaginable, but it’s fun.

“Titties and Beer” ably displays the difference between this album and Zoot Allures. Where its predecessor was dark, claustrophobic and ugly, Zappa in New York is vibrant, grinning at you the entire time it plays. The lyrics here continue Zappa’s obsessions with sex, much like his early ‘70s material, but performed the way they are here, they seem more harmless than puerile. But make no mistake, there are some lyrics on here that will turn away the squeamish. Even the prettiest of the instrumentals is called “I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth.”

The most egregious is “Honey, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me,” which Warner Bros. apparently had no issue with. It details a bad date between two shallow people, doling out disdain on both of them – her favorite group is Helen Reddy, singer of “I Am Woman,” while he is the type of guy who thinks substituting “puck” for a similar-sounding obscenity is hilarious. At the end of the date, she refuses to kiss him, which provokes a series of major obscenities and a slammed door. It ends with a dead car battery and oral sex, and with Zappa’s patented derision, equally heaped on both parties.

Similarly discomfiting is “The Illinois Enema Bandit,” a lengthy blues piece that takes the true-life story of serial sexual assaulter Michael Kenyon as its source. For roughly 10 years, Kenyon terrorized students at the University of Illinois, administering unwanted enemas. There’s something funny here, but Zappa just goes straight for the crass – Ray White sings “He just be pumpin’ every one of ‘em up with the bag fulla Illinois Enema Bandit juice,” and “He’s looking for some rustic co-ed rump that he just might wanna pump…” Zappa does play with blues conventions near the end, and makes a grand reference to “It Can’t Happen Here,” off of Freak Out. But unless you think forced enemas are inherently funny, this one may not (ahem) sit well with you.

But what of “Punky’s Whips,” the song Warner Bros. actually cut? Truth be told, it’s a funny and maddeningly complex piece of work. Stretching to nearly 11 minutes, the song delves fully into Bozzio’s infatuation with Meadows’ publicity photo, pausing to riff on a line from Angel’s PR materials that called Meadows “more fluid than Jeff Beck.” The song ends with Bozzio adamantly proclaiming that he is not gay, but is “just a little fond of chiffon in a wrist array,” before hoping Punky can “yank my crank all night long.”

Warner Bros. was concerned about Meadows’ reaction, but he was a good sport, even appearing on stage with Zappa in later years. And despite the finely crafted music, it’s clear from Bozzio’s throaty delivery that this song is not serious. In fact, all these songs are delivered this way – special guest Don Pardo, the voice of Saturday Night Live, even drops by to introduce both “Punky’s Whips” and “The Illinois Enema Bandit,” further encouragement not to take them as anything more than larks.

Speaking of Pardo, he pops up one final time, brilliantly hamming up the final verse of “I’m the Slime.” This was one of Zappa’s bonus tracks (along with the awesome instrumental take on “Cruising for Burgers” and the renditions of “Pound for a Brown” and “The Torture Never Stops”), and now it seems integral to the record. Pardo clearly has such fun shouting this out. “You will obey me while I lead you and eat the garbage that I feed you!” The irony of using a man best known for his TV work to criticize TV is not lost, either.

Most of the album’s second disc is devoted to sheer musicianship. The band makes an unbelievably complex piece like “Manx Needs Women” seem effortless, and they run through all three versions of the inhuman “The Black Page” with grace. “The Black Page” got its name when Bozzio saw the sheet music – there were so many notes, he said, that it looked like a black page. Every note and every drum hit is written out and very precise. It’s an extremely difficult piece to play.

And once again, Zappa shows his equal commitment to precision and improvisation by giving the fourth side of the album over to “The Purple Lagoon/Approximate,” a 17-minute jam with a complex head and some wild solos. Zappa’s guitar solo was overdubbed in the studio, but the fiery contributions of (in order) Mike Brecker, Ronnie Cuber, Patrick O’Hearn and Randy Brecker were all captured live. It’s a testament to the skill of this particular band.

Zappa in New York is an embarrassment of riches. (We haven’t even mentioned the superb renditions of “Big Leg Emma” and “Sofa,” or the way “The Torture Never Stops” comes alive here, easily surpassing the studio take.) Though most of this material was included on Lather, which itself saw release after Zappa’s death, hearing it in this context is a treat. In its extended form, this is more than 100 minutes of terrific music played by terrific musicians. What more could you ask for?

Rating: Essential

Which version to buy: If you’re looking for a CD, it doesn’t matter. The only version available is the extended one, with the four bonus tracks (which you want), and this album was not remastered for its 2012 re-release. It sounds great regardless.

Next week: More Lather goods with Studio Tan.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Frank Zappa Buyer's Guide #22: Zoot Allures

If Bongo Fury was a step down from Zappa’s early-‘70s work, then Zoot Allures, released almost one year later, was a sharp plummet. The album is an absolute mess, one of the worst collections released under Zappa’s name, and its thrown-together feel mirrors the chaotic state of Zappa’s musical career in 1976.

The composer’s previous four albums were released on DiscReet, a label owned by Zappa and his manager Herb Cohen. But in 1976, that relationship evaporated. Zappa sued Cohen for taking more money than he was owed, and Cohen counter-sued Zappa. It was a dark time, and in response, Zappa created a dark album, which he delivered directly to Warner Bros. records, the label that had been distributing DiscReet records for years.

It’s difficult to tell just what his intention was in creating Zoot Allures. It’s such a hodgepodge that its cover doesn’t even represent it – the photo shows Zappa’s pared-down 1976 touring band, but neither bassist Patrick O’Hearn nor keyboardist Eddie Jobson appear on the album. Instead, the nine tracks hail from various sources and sessions, with various players. Drummer Terry Bozzio is the only constant – this is his true Zappa debut – and 10 other musicians, six of whom had never played on a Zappa album before, cycle in and out.

Zoot Allures is Zappa’s idea of a stripped-down rock record. It brings his thick, angry guitar tone to the fore – it sometimes drowns out other instruments – and includes some of Zappa’s simplest, most primal songs. The production is dark and vicious, Zappa taking most of the lead vocals and using a close-mic technique that allows him to speak-sing most of the lyrics. The sound is claustrophobic and sinister, clinical and off-putting.

The songs are also repetitive slogs, particularly the six studio pieces. While opener “Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station” provides a moment of hope, with its slippery time shifts and high-pitched vocals from Davey Moire, the remaining pieces are generally far simpler than anything Zappa had yet done. (Including Ruben and the Jets.) Zappa forgoes the use of a bassist on most of these songs, preferring synth bass tones, and on songs like “Miss Pinky” and “Wonderful Wino,” he delivers single-minded rock riffs and thumps them into submission.

As if that were not enough to repel listeners of his early ‘70s work, Zoot Allures marks the point at which Zappa’s curmudgeonly humor ossifies into ugliness. Perhaps because the sound itself isn’t any fun, Zappa’s lyrics this time slip from observational snarkiness to unfiltered bile.

“Find Her Finer” posits that men should pretend to be stupid in order to bed women. “Wind Up Workin’” seems to be a critique of the educational system, but ends up just calling service workers dumb. “Wonderful Wino” is about how awful homeless people – homeless people – are, while “Disco Boy” is the tale of a ‘70s disco dancer who can’t attract women, so he goes home and masturbates. The repeated “you never go doody that’s what you think” is a clear indication of how far from the social criticism of the ‘60s albums this material is.

So the album is messy and stupid and offensive and careless, but it’s also impossible to dismiss outright. In between the venom are three guitar instrumentals, and two of them – “Black Napkins” and the title track – were chosen by Zappa as “signature pieces.” He considered them trademarks, indicative of his unique style, and it’s hard to argue. “Black Napkins,” recorded live in Japan in February of 1976, is a piercing blues with a sharp melody and delightful backing vocals by Roy Estrada and Napoleon Murphy Brock. When Zappa flies off into his solo, it’s extraordinary. His combustible style meshes with the smooth backing, particularly Bozzio’s drumming.

And “Zoot Allures” is fantastic, a beautiful melody sculpted from long sustains and feedback. It’s another of Zappa’s rare moments of unabashed beauty, with accents from Ruth Underwood on marimba and Lu Ann Neil on harp, and some sublime playing from the composer. In comparison, the third instrumental, “Friendly Little Finger,” can’t stand up. But it is another example of xenochrony – the solo was recorded live in 1973, and the jam around it, with Zappa on bass, Bozzio on drums and Underwood on percussion, was created two years later. It’s abrasive, but it works.

Zoot Allures also contains one of Zappa’s most enduring songs, “The Torture Never Stops.” A nearly 10-minute crawl that describes an evil prince’s dungeon of pain in grisly detail, “Torture” quickly became a live staple, played on every subsequent tour. It follows “Black Napkins,” so it’s clear that its square version of the blues is on purpose. Zappa plays all the instruments, except for Bozzio’s drums, and for the endless female screams overlaid atop the final five minutes. Zappa bills himself here as “director of recreational activities,” but there’s nothing recreational about this song. It’s dark and foreboding, Zappa’s electric piano creating a fine atmosphere.

“Torture” is one of two songs, along with sex toy anthem “Ms. Pinky,” that later appeared in Zappa’s ungodly vulgar musical Thing-Fish. The lyrics to both songs make more sense when placed in the Thing-Fish context, and Zappa’s reuse of the original recordings for that project further developed his idea of conceptual continuity. Everything is tied together, for no other reason than that it is tied together.

The downside of this is an inability to simply chuck Zoot Allures in the bin. It’s an ugly, repugnant little record, difficult to reconcile with the joyous and complex music that came before (and, blessedly, after). It still contains hints of the composer’s genius, and some of his most blistering guitar playing. But there isn’t enough here to recommend it.

Rating: Skippable.

Which version to buy: The 1995 Ryko master of Zoot Allures is appalling. Boxed in, echoey, full of digital reverb, and with a poor edit at the beginning of “Disco Boy.” Thankfully, the 2012 Zappa/Universal remaster corrects all of these problems, and sounds splendid. If you must buy Zoot Allures, buy that version.

Next week: My New York trip was delayed a week, and so now I am obsessed with the idea of reviewing Zappa in New York while actually in that state. Look for it on Monday, hopefully.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Frank Zappa Buyer's Guide #21: Bongo Fury

Frank Zappa and Don Van Vliet met in the late 1950s, when Vliet was a teenage sculptor and Zappa the drummer for a California band called The Blackouts. They quickly formed a lasting (yet volatile) friendship and musical partnership. Their band The Soots in the early ‘60s performed some of Zappa’s first rock compositions, and Van Vliet took his stage name, Captain Beefheart, from a film script Zappa had written called Captain Beefheart vs. the Grunt People.

In 1969, the Zappa/Beefheart collaboration reached its arguable zenith, when Zappa produced Beefheart’s surreal double album Trout Mask Replica, and in turn invited him to sing on “Willie the Pimp” on Zappa’s own Hot Rats. Beefheart’s raspy voice and free-verse poetry seemed to unleash Zappa somewhat – their collaborative material has a ferocity not often found in the composer’s work.

The Mothers of Invention and Beefheart’s Magic Band would frequently tour together, but it wasn’t until 1975’s Bongo Fury that Zappa and his longtime friend made their first and only collaborative album. Bongo Fury is credited to Zappa, Beefheart and the Mothers, and is largely made up of live recordings from two shows at Armadillo World Headquarters in May of 1975, one of the few times Beefheart performed on stage with Zappa’s band.

As a historical document, it certainly captures a musical anomaly well. Bongo Fury is loud and bluesy, the Mothers matching Beefheart's raspy, shouty vibe. Much of it stands in contrast to the relatively slick material Zappa had been producing for the previous three years – there’s an unrestrained messiness to the opener, “Debra Kadabra,” that had not been heard on a Mothers album since Weasels Ripped My Flesh.

But with that ferocity comes a certain simplicity, and beyond the jump-cut arrangement of “Debra Kadabra” and the odd, loping “Cucamonga” (one of two studio tracks here), this album traffics in traditional blues and rock. Both “Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy” and “Advance Romance” pound their singular riffs into submission, though “Carolina” does so with a breezy feel and some lush harmonies. “200 Years Old” is a straight-up blues, while closer “Muffin Man” begins with a lengthy spoken section (yes, about a guy who makes muffins) and ends with three minutes of the same guitar riff on repeat.

That’s unfortunate, since Bongo Fury offers the final chance to hear the Roxy band in action. George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Bruce and Tom Fowler and Chester Thompson return here, joined by slide guitarist Denny Walley. The most notable debut here belongs to drummer Terry Bozzio, a mainstay of Zappa’s late ‘70s band. There’s scarcely a trace here of the insanely complex work Bozzio would deliver in just a couple short years, however.

The star of this album, musically speaking, is Zappa himself. While the early ‘70s Mothers were an ensemble, with most members able to turn in a solo, virtually all of that lead space is taken by Zappa here, ripping things up on the guitar. He’s especially incendiary on the 11-minute “Advance Romance,” trading licks with Beefheart on the harmonica. His playing on this album catches fire, snarling and spitting and stamping its hooves. The solos on this album set the stage for the more guitar-centric work Zappa would deliver through the rest of the ‘70s and into the ‘80s.

Beefheart contributes two of his trademark acid-fueled vignettes, with typically Beefheart titles: “Sam with the Showing-Scalp Flat-Top” and “Man with the Woman Head.” They serve to break up what is an otherwise fairly monotonous recording. Zappa also has some fun with the impending bicentennial celebration (and its attendant commercialization of patriotism) in the cautionary tale “Poofter’s Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead.” “T-shirt racks, rubber snacks, poster rolls with matching tacks, yes a special beer for sports and paper cups that hold two quarts… this buy-cent-any-all salute, two hundred years have gone ka-poot…”

Despite this, and the undisputed catchiness of “Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy,” Bongo Fury is a severe step down from the rest of Zappa’s 1970s output. It feels like a side project, and brings to an end a four-album streak of excellence. Zappa would collaborate with Beefheart once more, on the Captain’s aborted (and now resurrected) Bat Chain Puller album, and Van Vliet would make scattered appearances on Zappa albums (including the next one, Zoot Allures). Though their one full record together is at times a delight for fans of dirty blues, his absence from here on is probably for the best.

It is with this album that we bid farewell to the Mothers of Invention as well. Zappa would never again use the band name on a new album, and nearly all of the Roxy band would dissipate before the sessions for Zoot Allures. By the time of the next tour, Ruth Underwood would be the only holdover. The eons, as Zappa once said, truly were closing.

Rating: Skippable.

Which version to buy: The 2012 Zappa/Universal remaster uses the original 1975 analog mix as its source, and sounds tremendous.

Next week: Well, I’ll be in New York. (And it’s still two entries too early to make a Zappa in New York joke.) But the Buyer’s Guide will return on June 24 with Zoot Allures.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Frank Zappa Buyer's Guide #20: One Size Fits All

One Size Fits All marks the end of an era.

While the Captain Beefheart collaboration Bongo Fury is actually the last new album credited to the Mothers of Invention, One Size – released in June of 1975 – is truly the final bow of the band. Similarly, while most of the Roxy and Elsewhere band appears on Bongo Fury, this album is the last chance to hear them in all their dazzling glory.

It’s also the last time Zappa would explore this jazz-rock style. His later records would break cleanly between “serious” compositions and sleazy, guitar-heavy rock, and the next time he’d put together a horn-driven ensemble of this caliber would be for his final tour in 1988. One Size Fits All caps off a four-album streak of complex yet vastly popular work from this jazzy little orchestra, and that work is so indelible that many simply consider it Zappa’s style, all but disregarding the expansive multitude of genres he delved into.

In many ways, One Size Fits All is the counterpart to Roxy and Elsewhere, showcasing that extraordinary band in a studio setting. It’s the furthest thing from sterile, however. In fact, there’s enough freeform jamming on this album to almost qualify it as a live recording. But One Size also contains some of the most intricate material Zappa had yet written for this group, putting (in particular) bassist Tom Fowler, drummer Chester Thompson, keyboardist George Duke and mallet percussionist extraordinaire Ruth Underwood through their always-amazing paces.

As a last hurrah, then, One Size Fits All is a remarkably solid piece of work. It opens with “Inca Roads,” perhaps the most sophisticated piece Zappa wrote for this band. The basic tracks for this and “Florentine Pogen” were in fact recorded live as part of a television special (released on DVD as A Token of His Extreme), which makes it all the more impressive. It begins with a simple bass-and-vibes groove, but as soon as Napoleon Murphy Brock’s vocals come in, the complexity of the song becomes clear.

“Inca Roads” also contains the first instance of a Zappa technique called “xenochrony.” This involved lifting interesting parts of concert recordings – in this case, the long, languid guitar solo – and building new studio tracks around them. The guitar solo was recorded in 1974 in Helsinki, and transplanted whole onto this recording of “Inca Roads.” This technique created surprising new interplays between instruments recorded at different times. Zappa was fascinated by this as a form of composition, and would use it extensively throughout the rest of the 1970s.

The solo fits perfectly into “Inca Roads,” an eight-minute, constantly shifting story of UFO sightings (among other things). George Duke takes a superb synthesizer solo, and Ruth Underwood closes things out with some more of her jaw-dropping runs on the vibes. This song takes a few listens to truly appreciate, since it seems to begin in the middle and end abruptly, with no real structure in between. It’s a sign of Zappa’s particular genius that it segues into the straightforward rocker “Can’t Afford No Shoes,” a brief 2:38 of crunchy guitars and 4/4 beats.

The Zappa classic “Sofa” appears here in two nearly identical versions, one with vocals and one without. The song is oddly romantic, lush and full, with synth bass from Duke and a glorious harmony guitar refrain at the end. (This album contains a lot of synthesizer, a sign of things to come.) The instrumental take is first, at track three, with the vocal version (sung in German) closing out the album. It’s a peculiar yet lovely sentiment to end with: “I am all days and nights, I am here, and you are my sofa.”

“Po-Jama People” is almost a straight-ahead boogie, showing off the Thompson-Fowler-Duke-Zappa powerhouse. It’s defiantly simple, darting back and forth between two chords while Duke and Zappa wail away for seven minutes. The lyrics rail against those who sleepwalk through life, a common Zappa target: “The Po-Jama People are boring me to pieces… Wrap ‘em up, roll ‘em out, get ‘em out of my way…” “San Ber’Dino” is similar, a rollicking tribute to the San Bernardino, California area with some sharp solos and fun jamming. (And Captain Beefheart on harmonica.)

“Florentine Pogen” is another well-regarded piece, a slower crawl that pauses every few seconds for another musical detour. It has a singable melody (which Brock sells beautifully), but around that, the song is maddeningly complicated. It also contains another instance of the “Louie Louie” lick, as well as the greasy “Pound for a Brown” bass line, both showing where Zappa’s sympathies lie in this tale of a rich daughter and her proclivities.

“Pogen” isn’t an attack, but “Andy” certainly is, and its target remains uncertain. Brock spends the first few minutes of the song asking the intended listener “Is there anything good inside of you, if there is I really want to know,” but ends up talking about actor Andy Devine and his “thong rind,” reportedly the residue left after wearing thong sandals for years. It’s surreal, yet the anger in it feels real. The song itself is another complicated stunner. Its main melody is devilishly difficult, and yet will stick in your head, and the start-stop herky-jerky rhythms show off just how good Thompson and Fowler are.

Which just leaves “Evelyn, a Modified Dog,” a quick piano ditty that serves as the fourth poodle reference in as many albums. But this one is simply loaded with conceptual continuity clues, most of them leading back to the piano people from Lumpy Gravy. Evelyn, hearing noises from within a Steinway piano, ponders “the significance of short-person behavior in pedal-depressed pan-chromatic resonance and other highly ambient domains,” and coming to a particularly apt conclusion: “Arf, she said.” This same “arf” can be seen on the inner spines of all of the 2012 reissues from Zappa Records.

Listening to One Size Fits All is a joyous experience, but tinged with the sad realization that this is the last time the Roxy band will be featured on a Zappa record. He could not have asked for a more talented and in-sync group of players to bring his foray into jazz-rock to life. With his early-‘70s albums, Zappa was playing the long game, writing popular music to bring in an audience that would stay for the rest of his life. This tactic worked smashingly well, allowing him to alternate between crowd-pleasers like Sheik Yerbouti and more taxing works like The Perfect Stranger in later years.

And while this band would dissipate over the coming years, Zappa would immediately begin assembling his late-‘70s band, including Terry Bozzio, Patrick O’Hearn, Adrian Belew and the Brecker Brothers. So while this album does mark the closing of one chapter, the next one begins shortly. One Size Fits All is a fine farewell to the Roxy band, and to this particular jazz-rock style. Zappa would score scattered hits in later years (including his only top 20 single in 1982), but would not release four albums in a row with this level of popularity and acclaim again. His work from Over-Nite Sensation through One Size Fits All remains among his most cherished, and for very good reason.

Rating: Essential.

Which version to buy: No doubt, the 2012 reissue from Zappa/Universal. Remastered from the original analog mixes by Bob Ludwig, it’s the definitive One Size Fits All on CD.

Next week: Bongo Fury.