Saturday, March 26, 2011

Frank Zappa • MOTHERS • Just Another Band from L. A.


   After few good years of playing and recording with Mothers of Invention, came weariness and disappointment. In December 1971 took place two accidents that changed life of Frank Zappa and career of the group. First took place in Casino de Montreux, where during the concert one member of the public shot the flare causing the fire and burning the building „to the ground” with all they had on the stage. One week later, using rented equipment Mothers were playing in London Rainbow Theatre. A guy from the audience pushed Zappa from the scene to the orchestra pit. The rest of the group were convinced Zappa had been killed. Falling to concrete floor Zappa broke his leg, and had many serious injuries. For months he was confined on the wheelchair what makes impossible cruising or playing live gigs. Due to crushed larynx his voice pitch dropped down a third. 
   What looks like the bad luck, gave musicians a chance to summarize their achievements and regroup to deal with some new plans. First album produced in period of Zappa’s restricted activity was live recording from concert on August 7, 1971 in Pauley Pavilion, widely known sport arena of UCLA in Los Angeles. Frank Zappa and Mothers incorporating three members of The Turtles were playing 7 persons show – Frank Zappa played guitar and sung, Mark Volman and Howard Keylan were singing leading parts, Ian Underwood was playing woodwinds, Aynsley Dunbar – drums, Don Preston – keyboards and Jim Pons on bass guitar who was also singing. 
   New album came March 26, 1972 with Cal Schenkel’s cover including some „intentionally” graphic references to the Uncle Meat and Ruben and the Jets covers. The full title of this work spells: „Was MOTHERS Just Another Band from L. A. – RIFA”. But it’s hard to decide the first words are  „Las Mothers” or „Was Mothers”. There are many different explanations of „RIFA” comment or sign under the title and no one is convincing. Graphic clues are more legible. The group in the car is easy to recognize, and the leader is laying on the rear seats with his head and plastered leg outside side windows of the car. His guitar is erected pushing out through the car’s roof.  

Just Another Band From L. A.

   The most significant part of this album fulfilling the whole A side was 24-minute composition Billy the Mountain. It was shortened version of wider concert event which was parody of rock operas. Growing popularity of projects like Tommy by The Who was the sign of this time but sometimes they gave nothing more than bunch of simple songs illustrating the main and in most cases trite story. Based on expanded song structure, where some episodes added between iterate parts. It’s construction has characteristic features of ritornello form. Billy the Mountain is also continuation of Zappa’s idea of conceptual album he developed in the mid-sixties. Composition is a masterpiece of satirical rock narrative form. In original concert version Billy the Mountain was more than half hour gig, but for LP edition Zappa cut it to fit in one LP side. In abbreviate form composition is 24:42 (in remastered CD reissue 24:46). In 1991 double CD album New York Fillmore East performance of Billy the Mountain recorded June 5-6, 1971 is 30:26 long. 
   The matter of this composition is the story of mountain Billy and his wife Ethell, who was a tree growing off of his shoulder. They were living in Los Angeles area until the day Billy received royalties for posing for the postcards. Billy decides to take a vacation and move with his wife to New York with first stop in Las Vegas. Demolishing everything on their route Billy and Ethell became the sensation in tabloids. After flattening of test stand and rocket sled in Edwards Air Force Base, Billy’s destructive power became attractive to military forces, so he received note he has been drafted. Ethell doesn’t agree, so she has been called a communist practicing witchcraft. To stop Billy comes new hero, man with secret briefcase Studebacher Hoch. Intensification of surrealistic connections to popular culture give this part character of satirical extravaganza leading to final where Studebacher Hoch staying on the Billy’s jaw is threatening Billy and Ethell. Billy laughs and Hoch falls what is leading to the moral: „mountain is something you don’t want to fuck with, don’t fuck around”.
   Some songs played August 7, 1971 in Pauley Pavilion were skipped, especially some known from previous 200 Motels album published in October 1971. Four songs from B side of Just Another Band from L. A. are just perfect life performances of Call Any Vegetable – extended version of song from 1967 Absolutely Free album with improvised scenic dialogues of Frank Zappa, Mark Volman and Howard Keylan, Eddie, Are You Kidding? – song referring to local commercial, Magdalena – bitter satire on Canadian maple syrup worker trying to incest his teenage daughter and Dog Breath known from 1969 Uncle Meat album but here in daring, internally diversified interpretation which is much more lyrical and expressive than before. Although during concert in Pauley Pavilion musicians played many more songs, the whole record should be listen as complete set and remains one of best Zappa’s recordings – no matter live or studio ones. 

1 comment:

shisha said...

One of my favorites of all time and my first FZ album that I listened to consciously (in a sense that I wasn't a child that listened to just anything its parents had on their records).

Ironically (Zappa would love this anecdote) I think "Billy the Mountain" is my first encounter with prog rock (if Zappa would have ever called it prog rock at all ;-))

Post a Comment