Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention: One Size Fits All, Bongo Fury

By Mikal Gilmore

DownBeat, 26 February 1976


ONE SIZE FITS ALL – DiscReet DS 2216: Inca Road; Can't Afford No Shoes; Sofa No. 1; Po-Jama People; Florentine Pogen; Evelyn. A Modified Dog; San Ber’dino; Andy; Sofa No. 2.

Personnel: Frank Zappa, all guitars, lead and background vocals; George Duke, all keyboards and synthesizers, lead and background vocals; Napoleon Murphy Brock, flute and tenor sax, lead and background vocals; Chester Thompson, drums; Tom Fowler, bass; Ruth Underwood, vibes, marimba, and other percussion; James “Bird Legs” Youman, bass on Can’t Afford No Shoes; Johnny “Guitar” Watson, lead vocals; Bloodshot Rollin’ Red, harmonica.

Rating: ★★★

BONGO FURY – DiscReet DS 2234: Debra Kadabra; Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy; Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top; Poofter’s Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead; 200 Years Old; Cucamonga: Advance Romance; Man With The Woman Head; Muffin Man.

Personnel: Frank Zappa, lead guitar and vocals; Captain Beefheart, harmonica and vocals; Napolean Murphy Brock, sax and vocals; Bruce Fowler, trombone; Tom Fowler, bass; Denny Wally, slide guitar and vocals; Terry Bozzio, drums; Chester Thompson, drums (tracks 5 and 6).

Rating: ★★★★

Frank Zappa has so much going for him as a musical mind that even his less-than-excellent collections come across as virile and fleshy albums. On One Size Fits All, Zappa furthers his satiric and musical visions of rock and jazz on a small scale, crowded with a near surfeit of stock imagery. He shares the vinyl with Capt. Beefheart on Bongo Fury, his latest release, and both sound as they haven’t in ages.

In recent years, the Zappa sound has consisted of thick instrumental layers, harmonically dispersed and rhythmically interrelated. Unlike so many others who pursue such a course, Zappa never clutters his mix to obscure weak performances; sounds are sharp and present, and performances rarely weak. On One Size this construction works best on Inca Roads, with its complex, precise and rapid tempo changes and fiery guitar blasts, and Florentine Pogen, a gutsy piece in a majestic rock framework which utilizes jazz and classical embellishments.

But no matter how majestic isolated moments may appear, Zappa dilutes the album with a conspicuous reworking of his favorite themes. Can’t Afford No Shoes is highly accessible rock, but it is also the same blues-based funk he has been writing since Absolutely Free. A parallel criticism applies to San Ber’dino, which, if not for sophisticated tempo changes and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s hot vocal, could pass as a leftover from 200 Motels.

In Bongo Fury, we find Zappa and cohort Beefheart working in more jagged, musically remote and ultimately more valuable contexts. The two have not collaborated since Zappa’s Hot Rats of nearly six years ago, and their chemistry here suggests that the association, particularly in the Captain’s case, revitalizes a latent adventurous spirit. The highminded, eccentric quality of consciousness had diminished in Beefheart’s work of late, and, by the time of his misguided Mercury albums, that quality had degenerated to the “product” level. Where his previous albums, most notably the landmark Trout Mask Replica, asserted an arcane, musically unique perspective, disenchanted believers had come to wonder whether his best moments were merely accidents.

If nothing else, the brief realliance with Zappa has taught the Captain that the company one keeps can make a difference. Beefheart’s gruff, blues-based vocal style is better suited for Zappa’s facetious lyricism, as so clearly evident in Debra Kadabra, a convulsive sampling of loosely related musical and lyrical images, and Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead, a country ditty about bicentennial regalia, similar to Jimmy Buffett’s excesses. Both of Beefheart’s compositions, Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top, and Man With The Woman Head, are attractively grotesque poem forms laced with allusive fills, call and reply riffs, and alien backgrounds.

Zappa flexes his imagination throughout Bongo Fury. Although lyricism is still the focus of his performances, he takes the time and muscle for some flamboyant guitar work during 200 Years Old, Muffin Man, and Advance Romance, the latter credit shared with Denny Walley’s grim slide guitar.

As far as the Captain goes, we’re keeping our fingers crossed. And hopefully Frank will soon break down and release another instrumental album.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)