Friday, September 28, 2012

Frank Zappa 9: Burnt Weeny Sandwich

After the original Mothers were dismissed, Frank talked of releasing a multi-disc set of records culled from the hours of live and studio performances he’d managed to capture on tape. Such an endeavor would take about twenty more years to accomplish, but at the time, he did manage to put together a couple of albums from disparate sources of all-new material that worked as both an acknowledgement of what the band could do, and to show the world what they missed.
The first of these had the wonderful title of Burnt Weeny Sandwich. The moniker has a few possible meanings; whatever the truth, it’s nicely complemented by the two doo-wop covers that bookend the program—incidentally, the only tracks with vocals. Those of us living in the New York metropolitan area will be surprised that a certain radio station selected its call letters after hearing “WPLJ”, which otherwise extols the virtues of mixing white port with lemon juice. Another sandwich exists in the way of the two short horn-played “phases” of “Igor’s Boogie”. The first is followed by “Overture To A Holiday In Berlin”, a melodic instrumental with a mild Oktoberfest motif, which segues into a more intricate melody along the lines of his other classical pieces. An abrupt stop via a few percussion swipes leads to “Theme From Burnt Weeny Sandwich”, a four-minute wah-wah guitar solo over two chords, soon enveloped by even more percussion. The second snippet of “Igor’s Boogie” (this time with bicycle horns) heralds “Holiday In Berlin, Full-Blown”, expanding on the suggestion heard earlier to show off both the horns and another guitar solo. After he’s done, you can just barely discern Frank saying “ABC”, which brings in the elegant sea chantey duet with Ian Underwood’s piano, cleverly titled “Aybe Sea”.
That’s a nice setup for the piano solo that begins “The Little House I Used To Live In”. This fascinating piece takes up most of side two, consisting of several themes and ideas, some of which would reappear down the road, covering all the Zappa trademarks and blending into an amazing display of tightness. The horns dance their melody atop the dual drums, with the occasional “MOO-AH” interjection, working with and against the guitars. Suddenly Sugarcane Harris—whom intrepid fans would remember from his appearance on Hot Rats—arrives to deliver an incredible electric violin solo for what doesn’t feel like eight minute, stepping back in the middle for Don Preston’s piano. The rhythm changes a couple of times, then an almost pastoral section leads into a frantic drum workout with the “Aybe Sea” melody fighting for attention with an organ solo. When it all stops, a British audience cheers until Frank offers to play “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” if the crowd complies with the hall security. Some guy is shouting about uniforms; Frank tells him, “Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don't kid yourself” in an attempt to keep the guy from getting beat up. The crowd applauds this, but the guy’s still hollering. Finally Frank says, “You'll hurt your throat, stop it!” and the crowd laughs. This provides a nice setup for “Valarie”, is the closing slice of doo-wop, and we highly recommend the original recording by Jackie & The Starlites, with its completely over the top sobbing lead vocal.
With its reliance on musicianship over shock value, Burnt Weeny Sandwich is one of the more enjoyable Zappa albums. The whole thing flows very well as a single piece, despite being cobbled together from at least four separate pieces of scored music, and who knows how many edits and performances. It’s highly recommended for newcomers, as it provides a nice stepping stone to his more challenging material.

The Mothers Of Invention Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970)—

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