Frequently Asked Questions
A: There's a concept in Zappa fandom called "Conceptual Continuity," the idea of the oeuvre being one long composition which takes various forms; a one-off riff here might metamorphose into a song later on, a cover of "Whipping Post" on an album from 1984 can be traced back to an audience member in the 1970s, et cetera.
This guide traces the conceptual continuity of Zappa's albums.
The guide evolved from a wonderful document written by Vladimir Sovetov in the early (-er) days of the Internet. It later found its home on the web, and was maintained by the wonderful Bossk(R) for many years. Bossk(R) then bequeathed it to me, your humble webmaster.
The Zappa Versions/Vinyl Vs. CD guide is designed for the Zappa newbie, the expert, and everything in between. FZ released a lot of albums, and his love of change--and, specifically, his hands-on approach to issuing his catalog on CD--means that the Zappa catalog is especially confusing in its scope. Thus, hopefully it will aide new fans in making purchasing decisions, while also explaining to the 1970s-era Zappa fan why his recently purchased CD of "Sleep Dirt" has singing on it, for god's sake.
It also hopefully appeals to those who find this kind of music-related investigation to be as fascinating as I do. Zappa fans do not have Lewisohn's Recording Sessions to tell them why certain changes happened; as such, it's all detective work, and given the sheer variety of issues to contend with...well, it's a lot of detective work. Not everyone may find revelations about the sequence of "Yeah"s in "Wild Love" to be the focus of their particular interest, but someone might (and, if you do, you'll find a lot of other stuff to like here).
A: The same stuff in new packaging. If you haven't heard of this line of CDs, they came out in Japan in 2001/2002, in little paper-sleeve replicas of LP covers. They look very nice, and come with all sorts of fetishistic wonderment, but are completely ignorable otherwise.
A: Yes, in most cases.
(Read more on the individual pages for each album, which you can reach from the main page.)
A: Yes, in several cases.
A: Throughout the various album pages, you'll find statements asserting that various CDs are "identical."
To explain what we mean by this, we first need to explain the idea of discs being "the same." Pre-digital formats--vinyl, tape, wax cylinders, and the like--were analogue media. You could have two records, pressed around the same time, with the same basic content that nevertheless sounded very different; location pressed, condition of the stamper, quality of vinyl, and other factors all would influence how a record would sound. Vinyl-philes often search out specific pressings that have good reputations for exactly these reasons.
Compounding this issue is another innate quality of analogue sound reproduction: no two playthroughs will ever be exactly the same. Let's say that Frank transfers the old "Chunga's Revenge" album master to digital in the UMRK. He transfers the master for side one, then accidentally transfers side one again. These two transfers were performed on the same tape machine, using the same tape, within 15 minutes of each other. Despite this, the two transfers wouldn't be exactly the same. They'd probably sound pretty similar, but if you attempting to synchronize them, they would drift ever so slowly out of sync.
Digital audio, on the other hand, operates on an entirely different paradigm. Digital audio is a series of ones and zeroes that is not inherently dependent on the medium; a consequence of this is that digital audio playback will (for all intents and purposes) for the same source be the same every time. Now, Frank transfers side one of "Chunga's Revenge" to digital. He uses this digital tape to make a CD. Five years later, he "approves" the same digital transfer for a reissue campaign, and makes new CDs. If you started the CDs at the exact same time, they would stay in exact sync, provided nothing went wrong in the pressing process.
Thus, a conclusion: two discs that are derived from the same digital transfer will stay in sync.
[Note two quick caveats to the above. Firstly, this particular analysis is borderline meaningless when talking about albums that were recorded digitally. "Them Or Us," for example, is a digital recording; consequently, it is expected that all CDs will stay in sync. Secondly, just because two recordings do NOT stay in sync does not mean that they cannot derive from the same digital transfer. Bah!]
There's another level to this, though. Two albums derived from the same digital transfer with no further "tinkering" will cancel out to perfect digital silence when subtracted in an audio editor. Thus, there's another, stronger conclusion: two sound files that cancel out in this manner are digitally identical.
Why should we care? Hearing is a very subjective thing, as any review of sound quality will attest. As such, the above method is the closest to objectivity we can get in describing versions. If two CDs have the same data, they are digitally identical, and should thus sound exactly the same. As there is a tendency to expert "remastered" issues to sound better than older CDs, this can occasionally go against common sense, which is why the above explanation should be helpful.
A: Sound quality issues are often subjective. An album that sounds "bad" to one person might sound quite spiffy to another. The Hot Rats remix is one such example; some people absolutely hate the remix, while some like it.
That said, there are a few CDs in Zappa's catalogue which exhibit signs of particularly nasty audio defects, like drop-outs and volume swells. Many of these discs come from the same few batches in the late eighties, and their problems can (apparently) be blamed on a combination of a "state-of-the-art" digital workstation and Zappa's deteriorating hearing/health. Many of the problems occur in the right-channel of the stereo spectrum, for some reason. As the above might imply, we've never really gotten a satisfactory answer to what exactly happened here, only a description of a confluence of factors (we can, however, rule out bad analog to digital transfers as the culprit, as at least one of the "bad batch" items is a pure digital recording).
Some of these discs are worse than others. The revised (as of 2006) list of the "bad batch" includes the following discs:: You Are What You Is (all post-EMI CDs, fixed in 1998), Tinseltown Rebellion (all post-EMI CDs, fixed in 1998), Sheik Yerbouti (all post EMI CDs), Them Or Us (Zappa Records and '95 Ryko), Zoot Allures, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Chunga's Revenge, the Apostrophe/Over-Nite Sensation twofer (only the Zappa Records edition), and--oddly enough--L. Shankar's "Touch Me There," which was released on Barking Pumpkin and Zappa Records. A few other discs (like JABFLA) are also theoretically from the same bad batch, but do not exhibit the same audio problems. You Are What You Is, Tinseltown Rebellion, Sheik Yerbouti, and Them Or Us have EMI CD (and Ryko, for "Them or Us') variations which do not have these audio issues, and YAWYI and TR were reissued in corrected editions by Ryko.
Apparently, all non-EMI versions of the above albums have these problems. This includes issues on Zappa Records, and various releases on Rykodisc. Unfortunately, improved digital masters were not delivered for the 1995 reissue campaign, and so these problems persist to this day. The ZFT will hopefully see it fit to correct these issues sometime in the future.
A word about the "bad batch" items: you may not be bothered by the audio defects on these titles. People enjoyed "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" on CD merrily for years without noticing that there are right-channel dropouts throughout the album. We are not attempting to imply that you shouldn't buy these titles, but merely that they have problems, which may bother some more than others.
A: Because Zappa wanted it that way. The fact is that Zappa loved to change things, and sometimes he would make a mistake or just make a change that you don't like. A lot of the time, when Zappa fans don't like something, they blame it on "the record company", because they know Zappa didn't like record companies and had run-ins with some of them. But what you have to remember is that Zappa was, for a great part of his career, in effect, his own record company. This is not the case with most other artists. There are many differences between different versions of his albums, and only very, very few of them can be blamed on record companies. Almost all of them are because of Zappa: he remixed an album, he remastered an album, he re-recorded parts of an album, he made a mistake, or he approved a mistake that someone else had made.
Examples of things that people don't like that are Zappa's fault include:
And that list could be several pages longer. Examples of versions that people don't like that are a record company's fault (and this list couldn't be much longer at all) include:
So, criticising a record company when a Zappa album sounds strange is almost like criticising them when we don't like a Zappa song. Zappa made album versions like other artists make songs - sure he made some bad songs in his day, but we love him anyway!
A: This is a fantastically complicated question to answer. Ryko's 1995 re-releases included some discs that were remastered, some discs that claimed to be remastered (but really weren't different at all), and some discs that were explicitly not remastered at all.
Some of the most important new CDs include:
The CDs which Ryko explicitly states were not remastered (and are thus least important) are:
Those were made from the exact same masters as the old CDs, so they sound exactly the same. The only difference is that they have new and more accurate timing information on them, very minor differences in cover/booklet artwork and possibly some liner-note corrections.
Apart from that, it gets a bit confusing. For many Zappa albums, the "Zappa Approved Masters" of 1992-1993 which were used in the 1995 Ryko releases were, in fact, the same masters used for some of the older CDs. Ryko's 1995 campaign is less of a true "remastering" series than it is a standardizing of the Zappa album catalogue under the Ryko label (whereas before, various albums were on several different labels). See the Great 2004 Zappa CD Rundown for a work-in-progress estimation of which are the same and which are different, or view the individual pages for each album, which you can reach from the main page.
A: Audiophile versions of Apostrophe (') and One Size Fits All. They're not just gold versions; they were made from different master tapes than the regular Ryko 1995 CDs. These master tapes were remasters of the original vinyl mixes - in the case of One Size Fits All, the vinyl and CD mixes are the same, so it's just an improvement in sound quality, but in the case of Apostrophe ('), the original CD was remixed, so the vinyl mix on the Au20 CD is different from the regular CD. The Au20 releases were part of a series of gold discs released by Rykodisc which also included some entries by David Bowie and Elvis Costello.
However, at some point in production, Ryko started using these masters for new pressings of their regular CDs, too, so new production runs of the regular CDs are Au20 versions without the gold. Or some are, anyway; recent reports have implied that Ryko is back to using the old masters for the aluminum CDs. Anyway, remember that they're marketed as "audiophile" versions, so if you've never been an audiophile, there's a chance you won't hear the difference at all, or not at all care about it.
The EMI CDs are an oddity in Zappa's CD catalogue, in that they're the only "rogue" official releases out there. Zappa didn't like them, and attempted (successfully) to get them removed from the marketplace.
EMI is a very big record company. In the mid-eighties, EMI was Zappa's main European (and, apparently, at least one of his Japanese) label for his new album releases. EMI also re-released some of his slightly-older albums--like Sheik Yerbouti, for example--in "digitally remastered" vinyl releases. At some point, EMI apparently realized that they could take the digital masters provided by Frank for these digitally-remastered LPs and slap them on the marketplace in the sparkling-new Compact Disc Digital Audio format. The following discs were issued: Sheik Yerbouti, Joe's Garage, Tinsel-Town Rebellion, Shut Up & Play Yer Guitar, You Are What You Is, The Man from Utopia and Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch (as a "two-for-one" release), Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger, Them Or Us, Thing-Fish, Does Humor Belong in Music?, Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention and Jazz from Hell (also as a two-fer).
Safe to say, Frank was not pleased. He viewed these discs as cheap rip-offs, and in some ways they were. They were clearly taken from masters intended for the vinyl medium; they featured fade-outs between sides, and were clearly equalized for vinyl frequency response. The EMI CD releases were thus available for a comparably-short time in Europe, and were superseded by the "Zappa Records" label CD issues and later the Ryko '95 issues.
Thanks to Zappa's tendency to change his albums for subsequent reissues, however, some EMI CDs are still necessary for completists, and in some cases are the only "good" versions of those albums currently on CD. Sheik Yerbouti, Tinsel-town Rebellion, You Are What You Is, and Them Or Us are part of the "bad" batch of current CDs (Tinsel-town and You Are What You Is have subsequently been corrected), while The Man from Utopia, Boulez Conducts Zappa, Thing-Fish and Does Humor Belong in Music were reworked and remixed for later release.
A: Tough one. First of all, his "entire catalogue" (actually, it was most of it) was re-released on CD in 1995, on the Ryko label. These are known as the "new CDs" or the "1995 CDs", and most of them are easy to recognise because they're in green-tinted trays (unless they're BMG versions of the 1995 CDs, that is). Before that, there were different CD versions in the US, Europe and Japan: in the US, most CDs were on Ryko or Barking Pumpkin; in Europe, they were on Zappa Records, and in Japan, they were on Music Scene Inc. (MSI) or Video Arts & Music (VACK). Before that, there were a few European CDs on EMI (see above), which were soon withdrawn. (According to Mikael Agardsson, there were also some Japanese EMI CDs - maybe five.)
Before that, there was vinyl. Early vinyl albums were on Verve, and, a bit later (1969), they were on Bizarre in the US and Reprise in Europe. In 1973, DiscReet took over, and around 1979 or so they were coming out on Barking Pumpkin in the US and CBS in Europe. EMI took over the European side in 1984, and the last regular vinyl releases, in 1987-1988, were on Zappa Records.
Yes, in the vinyl days, a lot of countries made their own LP versions - in Europe, South America, Asia and Oceania - and these did not follow simple patterns. (All the Bizarre-in-the-US LPs were released in Canada on Reprise, but with identical catalogue numbers and packaging). Then there were re-issues upon re-issues of re-issues. Some of Zappa's own re-issues were re-mastered. And of course, there have been cassette versions. And 8-track tape, and reel-to-reel, and even versions for the short-lived Sony PLAYTAPE format.
(Interesting footnote: in February 1999, Ryko started selling selected Zappa tracks as MP3s through their website. These were of course all taken from the 1995 CDs, but compressed into the smallish MP3 sound file format. [press release] :)
(And a mini-history of Zappa distribution from Biffy the Elephant Shrew:
A: Rarely. (Of course, since vinyl is an analogue medium, there can be differences in pressing quality and vinyl quality, and these differences can be subtle or not so subtle. But as a rule, there was no remixing of vinyl versions, even though a few albums, such as You Are What You Is, came out in digitally remastered vinyl versions. In some countries there was censorship, so certain regional versions may be shorter or have different tracks on them. And the Old Masters boxes of LP re-issues were not made from the old master tapes at all - they were same remasters and remixes that were used for the first CDs. And there were almost always differences in artwork and packaging.) Read more on the individual pages for each album, which you can reach from the main page.
A: from David Goodwin:
A: You're crazy! It's impossible, but for the theory behind it, see this Completist's Guide.
A: In February, 2003, DTS Entertainment released Halloween, the first Zappa release in one of the new "high resolution" digital audio formats. Both formats promise better-than-CD audio quality, and are completely incompatible with each other. There are no Zappa CD releases in the SACD format as of now, so let's focus on the DVD-Audio format.
DVD-Audio (which is the format used in Halloween and QuAUDIOPHILIAc) is actually two formats in one. The DTS Entertainment DVD-Audio discs contain a DVD-Audio session and a DVD-Video session. The DVD-A session can only be accessed by DVD-Audio players, and offers lossless surround and (although not on the DTS discs) lossless high-resolution stereo playback. Lossless refers to the method used to compress the audio; lossy compression schemes like MP3 and Dolby Digital "throw out" parts of the audio they think you cannot hear in order to reduce file size, while "lossless" compression schemes are more like zip-files, in that they preserve everything about the original file while reducing the size. The DVD-Video session can contain anything a DVD-Video disc normally contains--including video, discographies, etc.--but can only contain lossy (DTS or Dolby) surround tracks. The stereo tracks can still be uncompressed, however. DTS's Zappa discs contain a DTS surround track and an LPCM (essentially CD quality) stereo track.
So, in summary: the DTS Entertainment Zappa releases should be playable in any standard DVD player, but you will need a DVD-Audio capable player in order to access the higher-quality, lossless surround tracks.
A: Thankfully, it isn't that difficult to "rip" the LPCM tracks from these discs, and use them to make your own two-channel CDs. The process requires a small amount of technical know-how (and at least one step might involve software that isn't free), and is fairly easy to follow once you understand what it involves. Unfortunately, the very act of ripping the audio portion of these DVDs might very well be illegal in your country, as many ill-informed legislatures have made it a crime to circumvent the easily-circumventable copy-protection routines on most DVDs (in fact, it's illegal in the USA to even talk about how to do this...see the sacrifices I make for you guys?). However, many Zappa fans have been asking about this on AFF-Z, and we at the Patio believe that it's well within the realm of morality to alter your DVD in such a fashion.
Without further ado, here's how to free the uncompressed LPCM track from your spankin' new copy of Halloween or QuAUDIOPHILIAc (at least on a PC...Mac users, hopefully you'll be able to translate what follows into its Mac equivalent):
DISCLAIMER: people quoted may not share webmaster's opinions (on James Brown); information culled from many sources with no guarantees; site may look bad in other than latest Internet Explorer for Windows (I wish I were skilled enough to change this last one).