Sheik Yerbouti—the title capitalizing both on the current disco craze and the ongoing conflicts in the Mideast—kicks off Zappa’s phase of recording the tracks live before subjecting them to multiple overdubs, edits and what he called xenochrony, which pits recordings from different sources against each other to make a new whole. All this attention to the musical detail was naturally sabotaged from the inside by the lyrics.
Right off the bat, “I Have Been In You” begins as modern doo-wop, but Frank’s greasy lead vocal turns it into a lyrical parody of Peter Frampton’s “I’m In You”. “Flakes” is a complaint about incompetence mostly notable for the lengthy overdone Bob Dylan impression courtesy of guitarist Adrian Belew (complete with harmonica blasts). Six minutes of this will realize that the melody and structure would later show up in Adam Sandler’s “Hanukah Song”. The sentiment of “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes” is pretty straightforward, but it’s incidental to the asides about gay culture and coda endorsing sodomy. “I’m So Cute”, histrionically vocalized by heartthrob Terry Bozzio is a parody of early New Wave (the ending restored on the current CD).
Adrian Belew does a similar vocal to “Jones Crusher”, in the same vein too, and then we have two Lumpy Gravy-style interludes of impenetrable conversation and musique concrete given their own titles (“Whatever Happened To All The Fun In The World” and what’s now called “Wait A Minute”) bookending “Rat Tomago”, a guitar solo from a performance of “The Torture Never Stops”, excerpted here for your pleasure and soon to spawn a series of similar albums. Released as a single everywhere but the U.S., where there’s no way it would get past the FCC for airplay, “Bobby Brown” is by far one of his most offensive lyrics, and funny despite itself. The rest of side two is instrumental, via the xenchronous bass-drums duet of “Rubber Shirt” and “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango”, another wild guitar solo.
“Baby Snakes” is best known as the title of one of the few films he actually finished, but a closer inspection suggests a reference to genitalia. Terry returns to sing the teenage anthem “Trying To Grow A Chin”, which improves at the closing chant (“please kill me ‘cos that would thrill me”), and Adrian sings the synth effect-heavy “City Of Tiny Lights”, where you can clearly hear the audience for the first time on the album. The song that sold the album was easily “Dancin’ Fool”, a disco parody destined for replays on the Dr. Demento show. But the song that really made people mad was “Jewish Princess”; apparently it’s bad enough to be a chauvinist, and worse to court anti-Semitism.
Side four has only two songs. “Wild Love” is musically ambitious with meticulously arranged vocals given the same puerile content to harmonize over, but “Yo’ Mama” makes much better use of its time, with an easier rhythm, silly rhymes and ten minutes of soloing, going from slinky to majestic.
Juvenile as it is, Sheik Yerbouti sounds good, and has a good balance of music vs. comedy. Using technology to create his albums from live performances was nothing new, but creating something seamless wasn’t successful until this one.
Frank Zappa Sheik Yerbouti (1979)—3