(out of a possible five)
If this were strictly a live album, and all the songs on it were compiled from various
live sources, then this album would be incredible. One of Frank's best. Ranking up there
with "Lather" and "One Size Fits All" in the upper echelon of Frank
classics. Instead, it barely passes muster.
Don't get me wrong- I like this album. There are some genuinely great moments here (um,
well, 2 genuinely great moments), and some decent songwriting from Frank, but the
performances and production are seriously lacking. A lot has been said about how Frank
overworked himself on this one, playing most of the instruments, producing the album,
taking himself too seriously, yadda yadda yadda. Whether there is any truth to this, who
knows (I mean, when did the guy ever relax?), but for some reason, the album is seriously
lacking in life. It is as if it has no pulse. As live performances would eventually
reveal, "Wind Up Working in a Gas Station", "The Torture Never Stops",
"Find Her Finer", "Zoot Allures", and heck, even "Disco Boy"
and "Ms. Pinky", are all decent if not incredible songs when performed by the
right band. Here, on this album, they are quite boring. They merely plod along, with no
passion, no humor, none of the life that a normal Frank composition contains. "The
Torture Never Stops" probably works the best of all these tracks, simply because the
subject matter lends itself to the overproduced treatment it is given here.
The two songs that do work, appropriately enough, are the guitar solo vehicles.
"Black Napkins", a live cut, is one of Frank's best solos ever, released or
unreleased, and "Friendly Little Finger", one of Frank's long overlooked
classics, is probably the best example of xenochronization Frank ever whipped up. While
"Black Napkins" is available elsewhere (FZPTMOFZ), the inclusion of
"Friendly Little Finger" makes this album a must buy for the true Zappa fan.
THE LIVE EFFECT
Every song other than "Friendly Little Finger" was frequently performed live
throughout Frank's touring career. With the exception of "Black Napkins", each
of these songs was greatly improved upon when performed live, either gaining a lengthy and
typically outstanding guitar solo, or receiving a warmth seriously lacking in these
lifeless studio versions.
WIND UP WORKING IN A GAS STATION- This song premiered during the Winter '76 tour, and
sadly only stuck around through the Fall tour of that year. While the Winter performances
were not that much different than the album version, the Fall performances were
incredible, thanks mainly to Bianca Odin's contributions (YCDTOSA VI).
BLACK NAPKINS- This song first came to fruition during the Orchestral Favorites shows of
September '75, when a somewhat incomplete version of the main theme popped up. During the
tour that followed, the song began its official touring duties as part of a "Sleep
Dirt/Black Napkins" pairing, in which the Napkins theme (though slightly tweaked) was
played over the "Sleep Dirt" vamp, with a Zappa solo following. This did not
last too long, and by mid-October, the "Black Napkins" we know and love was
terrorizing set lists. It acquired a Brock saxophone solo for the Winter '76 tour (along
with Zappa's solo), and for Fall '76/Winter '77 ("Pink Napkins"), acquired a
Jobson violin solo in place of Brock's opening sax solo. (Bianca Odin frequently had a
vocal solo during her brief stint in '76). It then continued to frequently work its magic
over all of the following tours: Fall '77, Winter '78, Fall '78, all of '80, '81, '82, '84
[in which there was one "Sleep Dirt/ Black Napkins" performance (12/13)], and
'88 (MAJNH). While I have not heard every "Black Napkins" performance obviously,
I must recommend that everyone track down a copy of 10/13/78- easily the sickest
"Black Napkins" guitar solo (solo is such the wrong word for what Frank does
here) that I have ever heard.
THE TORTURE NEVER STOPS- This song premiered during the Bongo Fury tour, as a
"Smokestack Lightning" rip-off/homage, known by the title "Why Doesn't
Somebody Get Him a Pepsi?" (YCDTOSA IV). It then disappeared for a tour, got a
complete overhaul, and reappeared on the Winter '76 tour in much the same shape heard
here. It stayed this way through the Winter '77 tour (Xmas '76- ZINY), before being
revamped into the arena rock version heard on YCDTOSA I (and is there a better performance
than that, I ask?). Through the Winter '78 tour it was performed like that ("Rat
Tomago"), and then disappeared until Fall '80. At this point it reappeared in much
the same shape it was in when it disappeared, but with a sprechsgang third verse. Plus,
the solos during this tour were outrageous, with Frank, Tommy, and Vinnie going ballistic
almost every time out. It popped up a couple times in '81 (around Halloween, as heard on
"As An Am"), and then not again until 1988 (TBBYNHIYL).
MS. PINKY- This song premiered on the Winter '76 tour, and was an occasional encore
number. Not being the greatest of songs, it disappeared until 1980, where it occasionally
popped up- yet again- as an encore throughout that year (YCDTOSA VI).
FIND HER FINER- This song premiered late in Fall '75, did not sound too good, and was
promptly put away. It was given another chance in Fall '76, did not sound all that
different, but did manage to nicely diversify the set lists of the '76 Xmas shows. It came
out of nowhere for the '77 New Year's show, and then went into hiding until '88, when it
popped up fresh, funky, and full of life. Easily one of Frank's best resurrections of the
FRIENDLY LITTLE FINGER- Never performed live.
WONDERFUL WINO- This song was a staple of the '70/'71 Flo 'n' Eddie bands
("Playground Psychotics"), and a fine one at that. The song did not seem to make
it with Frank, however, as it only appeared again on the Fall '76 tour, and a only handful
of times at that.
ZOOT ALLURES- The opening chords to this tune were commonly used by Frank as a springboard
for many of his solos during the Fall '74 tour. Nothing came of this, though, until almost
a year later, when the song premiered on the Fall '75 tour. For this tour and the Winter
'76 tour that followed, this song was a Monster, containing some of Frank's most
adventurous and experimental guitar outings (FZPTMOFZ). Frank retired the song until 1981,
at which point it returned as the guitar solo vehicle with which we are most familiar
(TBBYNHIYL, YCDTOSA III- the solo).
DISCO BOY- The music for this premiered during the tail end of a Winter '76 guitar solo;
the song- with lyrics and all- did not officially debut until Fall '77, at which point it
became a common set closer for the next two tours ("Baby Snakes"). Then, along
with disco, th