Looking for a Virgin with Nice Breath.

Releases from the Zappa Family Trust:

In a previous post, I made the comment, rather flippantly, that “In the final analysis, it’s not what Gail (Zappa) says that is of any real importance, it’s her actions that speak volumes.” In this post, I’ve decided to put those smug words to the test.

First, I went to my Frank Zappa collection and identified all those posthumous releases (limited, of course, to those titles actually released by Gail Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust — thus, the list above).

Of these sixteen individual releases, I asked myself, which of them are the strongest, most worthwhile recordings, whether CD or DVD? Easy choice. Live recordings, particularly the full-length, or near full-length shows: FZ:OZ, Halloween, Imaginary Diseases, Buffalo, Wazoo, and The Torture Never Stops.

Next are those long awaited releases, and the archival type releases of interest to any diehard Zappa freak: QuAUDIOPHILIAc, Trance-Fusion, The MOFO Project/Object (the 4 CD version) and Classic Albums: Apostrophe(‘)/Over-Nite Sensation.

What’s left is a series of compilation CDs: Joe’s Corsage, Joe’s Domage, Joe’s XMASage, The Frank Zappa AAAFNRAA Birthday Bundle, The Dub Room Special! (the 2007 CD compilation of the 1982 video) and One Shot Deal. All of which seemingly lack Frank Zappa’s genius for conceptual continuity and compiled in such a hodgepodge of styles of musical eras as to be distracting to listen to overall.

By my simple math (okay, not my best subject), the ZFT released ten winners out of a possible sixteen since they first began. That works out to be 62.5%. Okay. Room for improvement, sure. But not that bad.

Not that bad at all.

16 Responses to “Looking for a Virgin with Nice Breath.”

  1. Paul Sempschi says:

    You also need to be careful not to confuse content with production. Of course the music and performance is going to spectacular but how about the editing? mastering? etc. Does the release have enough material to make it worthwhile? Why was material cut, moved, etc.

    With this in mind, I’d say that “Wazoo”, “Buffalo”, “MoFo” and “Quad” are the only ones in your list which seem like A+ releases.

    In your analysis, should you count albums which were produced by FZ? Does that really count as their effort or should they be saved or assessment of whether the product is accessable (literally, not artistically) and how the promotion and pricing work out? If that is the case, you need to exclude “The Dub Room Special!”, “Trance Fusion” and “Imaginary Diseases”, which are FZ masters (not just tracks produced by Zappa).

    Also, your list neglects “Civilization Phaze III”, “The Lost Episodes”, “Lather”, “Frank Zappa Plays The Music Of Frank Zappa”,
    “Have I Offended Someone?”, “Mystery Disc” and “Everything Is Healing Nicely”, as well as the remix jobs Chisulu made on “Tinseltown”, “One Size Fits All” and “Apostrophe”.

    Taking these releases into account- and assuming we’re going to omit the FZ master-projects, you also need to add:
    -”Lather”
    -”Mystery Disc”
    and the remix jobs.

    I dont mean to nitpick, I actually agree with what you’re trying to do, we should be assessing the ZFT’s competence and quality and I hope you’ll take these gaps into account.

  2. Mike Lerch says:

    I mostly agree with what you’re saying here, but would add two things. First, Paul Sempschi’s more complete release list has to be taken into acount, but I do see what you’re saying.

    Second, I have to take contention with your inclusion of Joe’s Corsage and One Shot Deal as not being winners. I’ve listened to Joe’s Corsage dozens of times. Hearing the early mothers do My Babe, the alternate lyrics to Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance…in fact I would go so far as to say that I love *every single music track* on Joe’s Corsage, and enjoy the interviews as well. Maybe that stuff was bootlegged to death and seemed old and rehashed to everybody, I don’t know…but I love it.

    Same with One Size Fits All. In terms of FZ’s conceptual continuity, as they note, the front and back half of that album are from FZ-made build reels… But I don’t even care about that, I just dig the tunes. Hearing a Xenocrhonous solo in its original context is something I’ve ALWAYS wanted to hear, something I even suggested they do a whole album of back in the day when they were soliciting fans, and choosing the solo from Fembot was brilliant. Truly amazing. The alternate version of Yellow Snow, the stunningly recorded straight blues of Bathtub Man. While I don’t love it as much as Joe’s Corsage, I have listened to it a lot.

    From my perspective the only posthumous CDs that haven’t gotten a lot of play from me are Joe’s Domage and Joe’s XMasage. The rest range from good to freaking fantastic. And from my perspective, I think it’s great that they are releasing the DVDs, and I buy the DVDs, but I don’t really *watch* concert DVDs (from any artist) more than like one time. The visuals on the DVDs are mostly non-essential to me in terms of repeat viewing (though I do rip the audio off of the mostly music ones and listen to it out of the visual context).

    In short, I applaud them for the stuff they’ve been releasing, and triply applaud them with their choice of MusicToday.com for fulfillment. I had to order Civilization Phaze III twice because they lost my first order, and got my name left off the OZ CD because they screwed up that order too. Not only are they releasing quality stuff, the process of ordering and delivering it has finally become solid.

  3. Math Is Important says:

    Where I come from 62.5% comes awful close to a “D-” also known as “poor but (and) barely passing.”

    But maybe we are grading on a curve.

  4. xorg says:

    How does the ZFT success rate compare with FZ’s own? During his lifetime he didn’t always maintain a gold standard. In my book, for example, Thingfish is a turkey, Playground Psychotics should have been edited down to a single album, and not every track on Meets the Mothers of Prevention is up to par. But any assessment is inevitably subjective and made more so by the variety of FZ’s output, different aspects appealing to different people.

    But the ‘Joe’s ****age’ series is a rip-off whichever way you look at it. Even if there are a few items of interest in amongst the waffle, these albums should have been included as bonus discs with other releases and not used as vehicles for extracting more loot from the Zappa audience.

  5. urbangraffito says:

    I agree, Paul Sempschi’s more complete release list could very well have been the list I would have chosen if I were to conduct a complete analysis of all the posthumous FZ releases. That said, I limited the list to focus primarily on assessing the ZFT’s competence as a record label and the quality of their product. As present, though, I also must agree we are grading on a curve. Perhaps if the ZFT focused more of their energies on future releases, instead of paying lawyers to harass and bully, their score would most certainly rise.

  6. Chuck says:

    xorg above is pretty correct… some FZ stuff was a bit iffy too in places.

    As a very anti ZFT type person, the one thing they have done quite well is do some good releases. The live ones such as Wazoo, Buffalo, FZ:OZ etc are great.

    The dodgy efforts are the Joe’s series which are a bit unecessary and One Shot Deal is not really worth the effort.

    I have more objections to their practices. For one thing why is it impossible to buy so much of this stuff unless I pay a fortune ordering them and paying excessive postage. They need to distribute the stuff..

    They also do things a little wrong sometimes, like the stereo only audio on the Torture video, the ridiculous Birthday Bundle release; the different MOFO releases etc; the terrible track selection on Halloween etc. Also not releasing Dance Me This and having waved the carrot of Roxy (probably their biggest mistake.. I’m sure they regret that!!)

    Still if they were all nice and friendly without lawyers, seemed to like the fans, did no crap releases and didn’t over charge… oh and if Gail Z didn’t do those awful liner notes I would be happy.

  7. Donan says:

    I would like to add in perspective of what other artists do, is release one record every year, or even two years. FZ always raised the bar for himself as he was a workaholic and release a few each year. It seems to me that ZFT is trying to do the same.
    Lets think of what great albums would have come out of the vault if they just chosen the best of the OSD and Joe’s ***age series and took there time for it.
    And these live recordings such as Wazoo, Buffalo and Imaginary Diseases are just great meals, everybody wants to have a bite from, but maybe with more time…well all i’m saying is that the ZFT in my opinion, should take the time for every record (i mean, it feels strange that DZ calls OSD ‘a quicky’) and make the best of it.

    But for me personally, as a fan, I find myself just enjoying that there’s this new material that I can listen to. Not everything is great, but like URBANGRAFFITO said, not bad at all.

  8. Propellerkuh says:

    What would do if you were the ZFT? For example, how much work would the release of “Dance Me This” need? Is the data ready? Would it need reupholstering? Frank destilled most recordings and compositions into a release, so the rest might be some kind of left-overs. Would it be a true Frank Zappa recording when too much editing is involved? Frank did with any material whatever seemed fit for him to put on a record, but you wouldn’t do that as ZFT.
    I am over the years used to do restore and archive works of art and books and I think this is a lot more time consuming than “editing-as-the-artist-himself”, especially when you have to consider the possibilities and extrapolations of a conceptual continuity.
    As ZFT you have a lot of responsibility and much criticism to reap. Your work can never be sufficient for all the kinds of audience around.
    And BTW: for this writer it is feels extremely pathetic to always take some words of Zappa’s lyrics for any reason – be it a band name, a posting or the brand name of a coffee cup with Zappa’s picture on it. It is truly beyond ridiculousness and if I ever visit some Zappanale I think I’ll vomit on seeing the cheesy stands of Zappa devotionalita. And I’m sure Zappa would too.
    Sorry, otherwise I like you all.

  9. Jeroen says:

    As a funny coincidence: I was listening to FZ:OZ disc 1 yesterday and thought: we can bitch about the ZFT all we want, but some of those releases are awsome. Nice to see this posted simultaneously.

  10. Paul Sempschi says:

    Between 1994-2002, there are these massive gaps in Zappa Records, where, it would seem, they had all the time in the world to be restoring and cataloguing this stuff. But who knows, perhaps they were…

    FZ:OZ = great performance but a questionable release (sections where it shifts to bootleg and lacking “Canard du Jour” because of lack of material). I also believe that they had to cannibalize (once more) that Tokyo show, making it more of a compilation of live material rather than a ‘concert’ in itself- false advertising?

  11. Birdman! says:

    False advertising is Chad Wackerman’s kick drum in Chester Thompson’s kit. It seems like a metaphysical point. Who knows how many “patches” there are on live albums FZ himself released? It’s a part of the terrain.

  12. the holy grail says:

    Well, well, well…this is high praise! We knew we could wear you down to our level. Thanks for joining the ZFT mule train. Hope to see you soon at a ZPZ show in your ‘hood.

  13. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Propellerkuh:

    What would do if you were the ZFT?

    I would…

    * embrace, communicate and work with non-profit FZ fan sites
    * … instead of treating them like dirt
    * continue releasing fabulous live concerts
    * put the sub par “Joe’s [whatever]” series to rest
    * distribute FZ’s back catalogue, through iTunes or any other retailers
    * set up a pay-per-track/album online download service
    * communicate in a way that the rest of us can understand
    * step off the “accept no substitute” ZPZ high horse
    * tell Berger Kahn lawyers to shove it where the sun don’t shine
    * release the Roxy DVD, finally

    Yourself, Propellerkuh?

  14. Clark Gwent says:

    ….put some more live Mothers Of Invention stuff out for us poor beleaguered Mothers Of Invention fans. (this one is waaay down on the likelihood list)

  15. Propellerkuh says:

    I agree with you Barry’s Imaginary Publisher, not one point in your listing is indecent. I just wanted one thing to be considered too: Why do people normally curse and rant in the most obscene manner at each other when sitting in a car while they would apologize or be polite face to face. There is a lot lacking in human communication when we don’t see each other’s face, our Mirror Neurons have a lot to do and we are missing their workg when communicating via the web or other remote means.
    One should give the woman time and some friendliness. She got a lot of bashing and nobody is immune to this slowly seeping venom.
    We should regress from the wish that the ZFT churns out releases in the same pace as Frank did. And live our own lifes.
    Nevertheless I too want more and new Zappa, badly, maybe more than you can imagine, Mr. Imaginary. I am the one who considered to reverse whole albums of Zappa material to hear something new. My brain cells are so used to Zappa that I tried thus to wean them to hear Zappa reversed again like the first time. That’s desperation, whot?
    Greetings

  16. Paul Sempschi says:

    A quote from Barry’s Imaginary Publisher:

    I would…

    * continue releasing fabulous live concerts

    You should just do a fast-dump of whole tours, especially the 80′s endeavours, offering the audio for download at $10 a performance, while saving exceptional or famous concerts for physical (cd/dvd/etc.) release. You could make quite a buck while saving a lot of money, time and hassle re:shipping, distributors and packaging.

    Continue the Joe’s series but give the damn things away as promotional items at ZPZ events, this would ensure a higher turn-out and win over the fans and tributed alienated and/or marginalized. If you’re gonna be the be-all and end-all of live Zappa performances, you need to justify it on and offstage.

    I for one, in general, agree with the philosophy of the Joe’s series, which allows a forum for the release of misfit build-reels, alternate edits and just things that dont deserve top billing. Though ‘Corsage’, IMHO should have been part of the MoFo project, ‘Domage’ a giveaway and “OSD” another bastard in the Joe’s series.

    I know it’s an old idea but if the estate were to set up a subscription service which would guarantee them #X of products, downloads and plus fun little things in the mail, such as cheap-ass discs, stickers and glossies, they would make more money (more people buying more product which is slightly cheaper than the mediocre selling clunks of expensive stuff). Such promotional items and so many months of subscription could even be given away with advanced purchase or with the purchase of so much money’s worth of material. Keep prices lower and give the public all the free CRAP they can carry and they’ll love you more than Jesus.

    Allow and encourage tribute bands and events while opening up the audience for Zappa’s music by creating contests where people are encouraged to remix and/or rerecord Zappa’s catalogue, this should bring out the turn-table crowd and who knows, maybe even lead to break throughs in music.

    I would also make it a point to release “The Collected Improvisions of the Mothers of Invention” boxset, preferrably in its complete form (12 records worth) or in its final permutation (Zappa re-edited this work multiple times) while making sure that any material or significant edits could be downloaded or viewed online- with purchase. Ditto for “Crush All Boxes” and “Chalk Pie”.

    Free “Francisco Zappa” for all!

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