Zappa In New York is a live double album by Frank Zappa. It was originally released in 1977, but was immediately withdrawn. This resulted in 1977 being the sole year in Zappa’s career that not one Zappa album was released.
Around the time this album was released I didn’t know who Frank Zappa was (I was just 11 years old). I think I saw Zappa for the first time during a broadcast of the Dutch pop music program Toppop, when Dancin’ Fool was released as a single.
Palladium New York City
In December of 1976, Zappa and his superhuman band played the Palladium in New York City:
In 1976 we played for a crazy group of 27,5000 deranged fanatics in New York City (13,5000 for three shows at the Felt Forum, at Halloween, and 14,000 for four shows at the Palladium the week between Christmas and New Year’s). All of these sold out concerts were promoted by Ron Delsener (who we hereby thank), and attended by some of the nicest people we have had the experience of playing for (who we also hereby thank). New York last Christmas is what made this album possible.
Immediately following the shows Zappa added a lot of overdubs to the live recordings. Many songs were intended for release on the scheduled Läther album, which, during his lifetime, was never released.
1977 release and consequences
Zappa In New York was only released in the United Kingdom in 1977, on Zappa’s own DiscReet Records label. However, it had to be pulled back immediately. The record company that distributed the albums, Warner Bros. Records, didn’t want to release the song Punky’s Whips. Supposedly, because the company feared law suits that could be filed by Punky Meadows. Meadows was the guitar player for the group Angel and the subject of Terry Bozzio’s desire in the song. When the album was officially released on March 3rd, 1978, Punky’s Whips was vanished and the song Titties & Beer was shortened, ensuring the shout out to Punky’s Whips was not released as well.
The changes, which were made without Zappa’s approval, were in direct conflict with Zappa’s Warner Bros. contract. Therefore, he sued Warner Bros., in what turned out to be a lengthy dispute. To generate money, Zappa toured extensively in 1977. In 1978 Zappa albums like Studio Tan and Sleep Dirt were released, also without Zappa’s consent. Warner Bros. lost the law suit and, consequently, Zappa gained full artistic freedom over his albums and their content. On top of that, Zappa now owned his entire back catalog.
In 1991 Zappa released the album Zappa In New York, in remastered form, on cd. It contained 4 bonus songs, a different version of Punky’s Whips and the (re-installed) complete version of Titties & Beer.
About 20 years ago I ordered this album on-line through the (internet) site CD Now, which is now defunct. Every two months I ordered a package of cd’s to save on postage costs (CD Now was located in the US). This package, however, was in shambles. Upon delivery the package had clearly been ripped open. I refused to accept the package and lodged a complaint with the Dutch PTT Post. Luckily, CD Now re-delivered without hesitation. It later turned out that PTT Post had launched an investigation. It appeared more complaints were filed. After some time I received official notice from PTT Post, stating they had caught an employee red-handed. This employee had opened several packages, all coming in from the US.
Zappa In New York
Anyway, the live album In New York is a fantastic double album by Frank Zappa, with a frighteningly good band. The songs are 100% Zappa: humorous, masterly, complex. A few songs with their story.
Titties & Beer
The album starts off with a favorite within Zappa’s body of work: Titties & Beer, in which Zappa negotiates with the Devil about the return of Chrissy. A comical intermezzo between Zappa and the Devil (played by Terry Bozzio) ensues, after the Devil ate Chrissy and Zappa tried to shoot the Devil (to no avail of course):
TB: Oh, put it away… You know, I ate her all up… now what you gonna say?
FZ: You ate my Chrissy?
Titties ‘n all!
Well, what about the beer then, boy?
Ah… Were the cans this tall?
Even her boots?
Would I lie to you?
Shit, you musta been hungry!
Yes, this is true.
Don’t they pay you good for the stuff that you do?
Well, you know, I can’t complain when the checks come through…
Well I want my Chrissy ‘n I want my beer
So you just barf it back up now, devil, do you hear?
Zappa makes a deal with the Devil and gets Chrissy back, but she immediately runs off, with the beer.
The song gets interrupted when a note is passed to Zappa. The note requests whether Zappa can hook up someone (Bear or Bean) with Dirty Tom Nomads M.C.. After fulfilling the request, Zappa immediately returns to the story of the Devil.
The song that started Warner Bros.’ censorship. Saturday Night Live announcer Don Pardo introduces the song:
In today’s rapidly changing world, musical groups appear almost every day with some new promotional device… Some of these devices have been known to leave irreparable scars on the minds of foolish young consumers… One such case is seated before you… live on stage . . . yes, Terry Bozzio… That cute little drummer… Terry recently fell in love with a publicity photo of a boy named Punky Meadows, lead guitar player from a group called ANGEL… In the photo, Punky was seen with a beautiful shiny hairdo in a semi-profile which emphasized the pooched out succulence of his insolent pouting rictus… The sight of which drove the helpless drummer mad with desire!
At the peak of the sexual revolution, androgyny was the cool thing at the time. Big artists like Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Lou Reed openly flirted with bisexuality. Punky Meadows explicitly presented himself as the androgynous musician of the (glam) band Angel. Zappa criticizes the exaggerated presentation.
Rumor has it that the band Angel didn’t like the song too much. Punky Meadows said he felt honored.
The Illinois Enema Bandit
Another musical highlight. However bizarre this sounds, the story of the song is based on actual facts. The song is about Michael Kenyon, who, covering a period of 10 years, did several raids. Female victims were all given an enema (!?). The song was written after Zappa learned about the story listening the news on the radio. Zappa and the band could hardly believe it.
Kenyon was convicted for the raids, but not for the enema’s, hence the remark Apparently, there was no law against that during Don Pardo’s introduction.
The Black Page
The Zappa In New York album is probably most famous for this song among music lovers: The Black Page, included in three versions on this album: The Black Page Drum Solo, Black Page #1 and Black Page #2. The song is written in reaction to the fear amongst professional musicians that they, one day, would be confronted with that one music sheet that was all black (from the notes). In short: the fear of being confronted with the unplayable. Zappa thought that was funny and took it as a personal challenge. So he wrote his version of that fear: The Black Page.
The song is renowned for the fact that it truly is unplayable. Well almost. Especially composed for him, master drummer Terry Bozzio learned how to play it, after practicing for two weeks. It has a number of different arrangements, two of them are on the Zappa In New York album.
Just the description of the song alone, is too much for me, so I copied it off the song’s wikipedia page:
It is written in common time with extensive use of tuplets, including tuplets inside tuplets. At several points there is a crotchet triplet (sixth notes) in which each beat is counted with its own tuplet of 5, 5 and 6; at another is a minim triplet (third notes) in which the second beat is a rubato quintuplet (actually a tuplet of 7), and the third beat is divided into tuplets of 4 and 5.
During the introduction of Black Page #2, Zappa tells the story of the actual composing of the song:
All right now watch this.
Let me tell you about this song,
this song was originally constructed as a drum solo.
That’s right, now after Terry learned how to play The Black Page on the drum set,
I figured: “Well, maybe it would be good for other instruments”.
So I wrote a melody that went along with the drum solo and that turned into Black Page, Part 1, The Hard Version.
And then I said: “Well, what about the other people in the world who might enjoy the melody of The Black Page, but couldn’t really approach its statistical density in its basic form?”
So I went to work and constructed a little ditty, which is now being set up for you with this little disco type vamp.
This is The Black Page, Part 2, The Easy Teenage New York Version.
Get down with your bad self, so to speak, to The Black Page, Part 2.
Of course, Black Page #2 is in no way a simplified version. The disco type vamp Zappa refers to, is the 4/4 beat playing in the background.
Nowadays, the complete, 3 part, piece is used in academic circles and considered to be the ultimate test for precision and virtuosity for drummers.
I regard Zappa In New York as the ultimate Zappa album (number 46 in my top 50 albums of all time). Musically complex, adventurous and at time breathtaking. Lyrically intelligent, funny and sordid. Zappa, the way Zappa is supposed to be. His band at these concerts is out of this world.
The songs listed below have been released on the 1991 re-release on cd. This is the version I bought at the time.
All songs composed by Frank Zappa.
- Disc One
- Titties & Beer
- Cruisin’ For Burgers *
- I Promise Not To Come In Your Mouth
- Punky’s Whips
- Honey, Don’t You Want A Man Like Me?
- The Illinois Enema Bandit
- Disc Two
- I’m The Slime *
- Pound For A Brown *
- Manx Needs Women
- The Black Page Drum Solo/Black Page #1
- Big Leg Emma
- Black Page #2
- The Torture Never Stops *
- The Purple Lagoon/Approximate
* = bonus track.
- Frank Zappa – conductor, lead guitar, vocals, guitar overdubs
- Ray White – rhythm guitar, vocals
- Eddie Jobson – keyboards, violin, vocals
- Patrick O’Hearn – bass, vocals
- Terry Bozzio – drums, vocals
- Ruth Underwood – percussion, synthesizer and various humanly impossible overdubs
- Lou Marini – alto sax, flute
- Mike Brecker – tenor sax, flute
- Ronnie Cuber – baritone sax, clarinet
- Randy Brecker – trumpet
- Tom Malone – trombone, trumpet, piccolo
- Don Pardo – sophisticated narration
- David Samuels – timpani, vibes
- John Bergamo – percussion overdubs
- Ed Mann – percussion overdubs
- Lou Anne Neill – osmotic harp overdub
What do you think of this album? Just as good or do you have other preferences when it comes to Zappa?
Frank Zappa – Zappa In New York – Back cover image: soundstation.dk
Frank Zappa – Zappa In New York image: allmusic.com
Frank Zappa – Zappa In New York – cd 1 image: pjlgroep.nl
Frank Zappa – Titties & Beer – Terry Bozzio as the Devil image: zappa.com
Punky Meadows Publicity photo image: reddit.com
Frank Zappa – Zappa In New York – The Illinois Enema Bandit – Newspaper clipping image: kompaktkiste.de
Terry Bozzio – Playing with Zappa image: terrybozzio.com
Frank Zappa – The Black Page – Sheet music image: jaced.com
Frank Zappa – In New York – Innersleeve & Frank Zappa – Zappa In New York – Musicians images: littleumbrellas.nl