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Tuesday, 4 March 2014

35 Years Ago: Frank Zappa’s ‘Sheik Yerbouti’ Released Read More: 35 Years Ago: Frank Zappa's ‘Sheik Yerbouti’ Released

Zappa Records
On many levels — creative, personal, and business-related — 1979 would go down as a banner year in the long and storied career of Frank Zappa. But perhaps nothing else accomplished during those significant 365 days left as large and lasting an impact as the double album cheekily named ‘Sheik Yerbouti,’ which arrived in stores on March 3.

To put things in perspective, ‘Sheik Yerbouti’ was already Zappa’s second product of 1979 (‘Sleep Dirt’ having arrived on January 19), albeit the first released by his brand new Zappa Records. With the launch, he officially announced his hard-won freedom from former label Warner Bros. and its onerous contract, though WB would only finish unloading their trough of unsanctioned recordings with ‘Orchestral Favorites,’ that May.

That contract had driven a belligerent Frank into bootlegging his own, originally envisioned sequence for all this material (entitled ‘Lather’) on the radio airwaves a few years earlier — then hoarding whatever music he subsequently wrote or recorded until he was legally free to package it as he saw fit, beginning with the largely concert-recorded, then studio-manipulated ‘Sheik Yerbouti.’ This explains both the opening of Zappa’s creative floodgates throughout 1979 — later to include the ambitious three-album rock opera known as ‘Joe’s Garage’ — and the inspired songs collected in ‘Sheik Yerbouti,’ which served as a virtual omnibus of Frank’s wide-ranging musical pursuits.

On the one hand, there were free-form instrumental guitar workouts (‘Rat Tomago,’ ‘The Sheik Yerbouti Tango’), avant-garde techniques (‘Rubber Shirt,’ which mixed two entirely separate performances in the studio, a process he dubbed “xenochrony”), jazz-inflected prog-rock (‘City of Tiny Lights’), and select snippets of dialog and virtuosic instrumentation in the tradition of musique concrete.

On the other, there were surprising amounts of relatively straightforward, hard-rocking numbers, filled with titillating comedy such as ‘Broken Hearts Are for A–holes,’ ‘Jones Crusher’ and ‘Tryin’ to Grow a Chin’ — all of which appealed to Zappa’s twenty-something male audience sweet spot, ever-prepared to lap up the man’s most extreme examples of social commentary and all-purpose controversy.

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