Zoot Allures, released in October 1976, is mostly a studio album (there are some basic live tracks, as in the title track and "Black Napkins") featuring a revolving cast of musicians who, oddly, do not correspond to the ones pictured on the album cover (for instance, Patrick O'Hearn and Eddie Jobson did not contribute). Compared to previous releases like One Size Fits All, Roxy & Elsewhere, or even Over-Nite Sensation, and to upcoming ones such as Zappa in New York, Studio Tan, or Sheik Yerbouti, Zoot Allures sounds very stripped down to bare essentials.
Among Zappa's grittier works, ZOOT ALLURES is a strong piece of mid-'70s work that focuses more on the interaction of Zappa and a small group that includes Terry Bozzio, Ruth Underwood and Roy Estrada, temporarily abandoning the jazzy, large-scale efforts of previous albums like ONE SIZE FITS ALL. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but all the disparate ingredients for a satisfying whole. There are simple, catchy rock tunes like "Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station," "Ms. Pinky," a synth-led ode to a sexual toy, and "Disco Boy," which foreshadowed Zappa's hit "Dancing Fool." The lovely instrumental "Black Napkins" is among the prettiest compositions in Zappa's canon, highlighting his guitar work in an uncharacteristically restrained mode. The arguable centerpiece of the album is the epic-length "The Torture Never Stops." Sung by Zappa in his deepest, dirtiest, most ominous voice, the song recounts the tale of an evil monarch who does unspeakable things in the depths of his castle. Full of Zappa's bluesy guitar interjections, its one of the most deliciously unsavory things FZ ever committed to tape.
Sleep Dirt was never conceived as a stand-alone album. Five of its seven tracks were suppose to appear on the ill-fated 1976 box set Läther; three had been recorded for Zoot Allures but were shelved after Zappa decided to trim it down from a double to a single LP; finally, three had been written as part of the abandoned musical Hunchentoot. Zappa pieced the album together from these various discarded parts. "The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution" (one of the leftovers from Zoot Allures) is now considered to be one of his finest instrumental rock pieces.
Official Release #50. Released in 1988, Guitar may be the most important and ironically one of the least-known entries in Frank Zappa's voluminous discography – which spans over seven-dozen LPs as of this writing. His proficiencies as a composer and instrumentalist have long been lauded. However, anthologies of this nature provide an outlet for the remarkable breadth and depth of Zappa's manual dexterity and improvisational scope, which can now be enjoyed on a myriad of levels. The casual enthusiast can revel in the seemingly endless personas and sounds summoned from the soloist and band alike.
This short but delectably sweet release is for most intents and purposes the soundtrack to the Frank Zappa concert film of the same name. Both were captured on location at New York City's Palladium (formerly the Academy of Music) in 1977, during the artist's brief yearly residency in the Big Apple in and around Halloween. By the time of these concerts, Zappa was embroiled in all manner of unpleasantness with Warner Bros. Records – a fact not lost to listeners as he comments upon their tumultuous relationship during some off the cuff dialogue with Terry Bozzio (percussion/vocals), as heard on "Titties and Beer."
An uneven, nearly all-live double-record set, Tinseltown Rebellion mixes new material and versions of Zappa oldies like "Love of My Life," "I Ain't Got No Heart," "Tell Me You Love Me," "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," and a reworked "Peaches en Regalia," titled "Peaches III." These songs, as well as the band's stellar instrumental work, provide the album's best moments. Elsewhere, the title track is an only partially accurate satire of punk; Zappa's intentionally smarmy crowd banter is featured on "Dance Contest" and "Panty Rap," the latter a bit involving the collection of female audience members' underwear.
ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES contains five symphonic works written by Frank Zappa, performed by Zappa himself and his mid-'70s rhythm section with a full orchestra. Recorded at the Royce Hall in Los Angeles in 1975, ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES is similar to Zappa's other symphonic works (parts of BURNT WEENY SANDWICH, 200 MOTELS, etc.). The album was not released until four years later however, due to a skirmish with Warner Bros. Zappa wanted to release a three-record set entitled LATHER, which was to include material from ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES plus the other late-'70s releases SLEEP DIRT and STUDIO TAN. But Warner Bros. forced him to release the complete work as separate albums (LATHER did finally appear as a three- disc set in 1996).
In order to finance his artier excursions, which increasingly required more expensive technology, Frank Zappa recorded several collections of guitar- and song-oriented material in the late '70s and early '80s, which generally concentrated on the bawdy lyrical themes many fans had come to expect and enjoy in concert. Sheik Yerbouti (two LPs, one CD) was one of the first and most successful of these albums, garnering attention for such tracks as the Grammy-nominated disco satire "Dancin' Fool," the controversial "Jewish Princess," and the equally controversial "Bobby Brown Goes Down," a song about gay S&M that became a substantial hit in European clubs.
Studio Tan is one of four albums culled from the ill-fated 1976 box set Läther and released by Warner Bros. without Frank Zappa having a word to say about the final product (including the horrible artwork). The 21-minute opener, "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary," is the culmination of Zappa's art of storytelling. A complex piece painstakingly assembled in the studio over three years, it allies the comedy rock of the Flo & Eddie era with the jazzy feel of The Grand Wazoo and the twisted prog rock of the 1973-1974 band.
One of Frank Zappa's most commercially successful albums, APOSTROPHE is also among his goofiest. The album found its way to the semi-mainstream chiefly on the strength of "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow." As the title of that single indicates, the scatological humor and cheap jokes that are part of Zappa's stock in trade abound here (see also the self-explanatory "Stink-Foot"). Part of Zappa's genius, though, much like that of Gong's Daevid Allen, was to deflate his sophisticated instrumental excursions and conceptual work with lowbrow humor and downright silliness. Nowhere is that process more apparent than on APOSTROPHE.