Light Listening

Uncle Meat

By Sherwood L. Weingarten

Audio, November 1969

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"Uncle Meat," a madcap creation of Frank Zappa, leader of the Mothers of Invention, allegedly is "an album of music from a movie you will probably never get to see." In a booklet that accompanies the LP, which contains a zany film synopsis and photos of the Mothers, Zappa explains that the "film is stashed away in my basement, while we scheme on how to raise $300,000 so it can be shown in your local teenage neighborhood theatre."

The music (some of the sounds can be so designated), recorded over a five-month period, ranges from electronics nonsense to good, hard jazzy, swinging rock. "The words to the songs on this album," Zappa indicates on the liner notes, "were scientifically prepared from a random series of syllables, dreams, neuroses, and private jokes that nobody except the members of the band ever laugh at, and other irrelevant material. They are all very serious and loaded with secret underground candy-rock psychedelic profundities," Arghhhh!

Adults may find listening an ordeal, especially with the sprinkling of obscenity on several of the 28 cuts; youngsters probably revel in the put-on. The whole thing was written by Zappa (who plays guitar and "sings"), to whom absolutely nothing seems sacred.

The gig begins with the title tune, starting with a tinkling sound that moves on to music box quality and ends with electronic squeals. Next is "The Voice of Cheese," a 27-second interlude narrated by "Suzy Creamcheese," who speaks of not being able to fit with any of the "in" groups. "Zolar Czakl" is a disharmonic melange, but "Dog Breath in the Year of the Plague" is a marvelous spoof (it starts as a satire on the rock 'n' roll of the '50s (similar to earlier Zappa pastiches starring his Ruben & the Jets), proceeds into a Latin bag, and then utilizes a sped-up tape gimmick resembling that of David Seville's "chipmunks"). One section has 40 tracks built into it via overdubbing.

"Louie Louie," recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London, is replete with crowd noises, laughs, and anything but music. Yet that can be expected, for even the credits are outlandish ( Bunk "Sweetpants" Gardner is cited as playing piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax and bassoon – "all of these electric and/or non-electric depending ").

"The Uncle Meat Variations" (one of two "reprises," the other being "The Dog Breath Variations") leads the second of four sides (Zappa sustains the spoof for two full discs) and is noteworthy by a zinger tossed at opera (again using the chipmunk effect). "Electric Aunt Jemima" manages to, riddle, simultaneously, bubble gum music, the r 'n' r of the '50s, and the black-white confrontation. "Prelude to King Kong" sounds as if someone threw a monkey wrench into the engineering booth where a Stravinsky composition was being touched up. "God Bless America" is an irreverent recording (reputedly taped live at the Whisky A Go Go) featuring an instrument sounding like a kazoo.

The first segment of the composition (entitled "King Kong Itself ") is actually a brief (53-second) interlude of fantastically good rock. But then "King Kong" becomes noise, switches to music, again retreats into noise, interjects a vocal "vo-do-de-oh-do," and then slips back into musical acumen (not forgetting to stop along the way to incorporate the Eastern influence).

What Zappa is trying to prove is anybody's guess. But it's obvious that, like clown divers who first must be diving experts, he is a master musician who chooses not to show his abilities straight.

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