Frank Zappa: Studio Tan

By Tim Schneckloth

DownBeat, 11 January 1979


STUDIO TAN DiscReet DSK 2291: Greggery Peccary; Let Me Take You To The Beach; Revised Music For Guitar And Low Budget Orchestra; Redunzl.

 Personnel: Not listed.

Rating: ★★★★½

During his recent performance as guest host of Saturday Night Live, Zappa told outer space refugees Mr. and Mrs. Conehead that Studio Tan is “an unauthorized collection of sound patterns.” For us earthlings, this means Zappa has signed with Phonogram, and his former record company must find new product by sifting through Zappa’s massive stockpile of unreleased efforts.

This practice is nothing new, and we tend to sympathize with the artist on such occasions. The fact remains, however, that Studio Tan is one of the most satisfying Zappa releases of the decade. It’s a well-balanced sampler of Zappa’s unissued ’70s work, including two major instrumental compositions, a hilarious parody of Southern California beach music, and a fully orchestrated, characteristically strange operatic piece.

The narrative line of Greggery Peccary, the side-long “opera,” follows the misadventures of the title character, a suave, hip young “pig of destiny” engaged in the heinous practice of “trend-mongering.” The story leads us into some social commentary that seems rather heavy-handed and dated by now, but a lot of it is genuinely funny, especially if the listener happens to be a sucker for cartoon voices.

Underneath the narrative, however, there’s some pretty amazing music, much of which deserves comparison with the work of the major 20th century composers. Zappa’s montage technique is at its most radical here; the music might shift from Stravinsky-like lines to boogie woogie to musique concrete to ludicrous pop music parodies in a very short space of time. The effect, as usual, is sometimes bewildering but often exhilarating. The musicians, especially the horn players and mallet percussionists, deserve a round of applause for their seemingly effortless handling of such rhythmically complex material.

On side two, we find Zappa’s exhortation Let’s Go To The Beach, where “everybody’s in love.” The idiotically bouncy synthesizer tones and high-pitched vocals (presumably by Flo and Eddie), replete with “la-la’s” and “ooh-ooh’s,” pound yet another nail into the coffin of the L.A. hedonism myth. Once again, the social commentary is a little dated and mines an overworked lode. It can be argued, though, that obnoxious trends deserve all the abuse they can get.

Revised Music is another pastiche of rhythms and instrumentations. The obvious influences here are Stravinsky, Varèse, maybe even some Schoenberg and Satie. But the humor, surprise and inventiveness of the juxtapositions are Zappa’s own. The composer’s acoustic guitar interacts with the other instruments (various combinations of horns, strings, piano and synthesizer) in such a way that the listener is compelled to pay attention, anxious to hear what’s going to happen next.

As Zappa segues into Redunzl, this sense of anticipation doesn’t flag as the group romps through rock, rhumbas, r&b and other pop styles. It’s all very fast-paced and goodhumored, especially a Latin-jazz tinged piano solo (George Duke?) and an all-stops-out rock guitar spot by Zappa.

Studio Tan may be unauthorized, but, like Zappa’s best work, it’s both emotionally satisfying and a lot of fun. Records like that are rare.

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