Rykodisc Plots Zappa Attack

Releases 53-Title Mother-Load

By Drew Wheeler

Billboard, 6 May 1995

Frank Zappa's composition "Once Again, Without The Net" may have a special resonance for Rykodisc, as the Salem, Mass.-based label attempts the hair-raising feat of rereleasing 53 newly remastered Zappa albums in a span of 26 days.

"That's about our average annual output," says Don Rose, president of Rykodisc, which last October purchased the Zappa catalog from Gail Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust for an undisclosed sum. "At least it's one marketing campaign," he adds. "It's not 53 marketing campaigns."

Aside from rereleasing titles issued in the past by Rykodisc, the series includes albums on Zappa's Barking Pumpkin label previously distributed by WEA.

"We've dealt with significantly large rerelease series, but nothing this big and not all at once," says Bob Carleton, Rykodisc VP of sales and marketing. He acknowledges that the reissue series may be overwhelming for retailers as well. To simplify things, Rykodisc is offering a liberal returns policy for the new issues as well as the earlier Ryko versions.

The first group of six reissues shipped April 18; the second, 41-title slate is due Tuesday (2); and the final group-consisting of the six two-CD "You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore" titles-will be released May 16.

Because Rykodisc has not let its older Zappa titles go out of print, Rose says, "we don't necessarily expect everybody to buy in on every title all at once."

Zappaphiles will be intrigued by the improved audio quality of the new releases, the remastering of which Zappa supervised in the final years of his life. In many cases, he corrected minute sonic glitches from his earlier analog-to-digital remastering of his work. Much original album artwork has been restored as well, with graphics that fold out to approximate the original vinyl-album art. Some titles will have newly added credits, lyrics, and photos inside the jewel boxes and on the discs.

Ryko enlisted longtime Zappa graphic artist Cal Schenkel to create new designs where needed. "Cal has really kept us on target, maintaining the sense of humor and the sense of irreverence and the fun that's supposed to be part of this," says Carleton.

"Ryko's great to work with," says Schenkel. "They were really eager to do whatever they could to recreate the original quality of the albums."

To oversee the marketing, Ryko hired Jill Christiansen as Frank Zappa catalog development manager. (The Zappa catalog product specialist in London is former Demon Records managing director and Zig Zag editor Andy Childs. The catalogs overseas release dates are the same as those in the U.S.)

The label's initial six releases will be of special interest to Zappa's fans. Foremost is "We're Only In It For The Money." Zappa had digitally reissued the 1968 Mothers Of Invention classic in 1984 with new bass and drum tracks, as the original masters had deteriorated over the years. Some fans viewed this rerecording as unwarranted tampering, even though Zappa was the tamperer. Later, Zappa found the album's original analog 2-track master. Ryko plans a limited edition box-set of the title-newly remastered from the analog 2-track with a CD, an LP, and other materials.

Also included in the initial slate:

  • A double-CD of Zappa's two albums with the London Symphony Orchestra; the earlier reissue of these works was incomplete.
  • "Does Humor Belong In Music?," a 1986 live album previously unavailable in this country. The new issue has album art by Schenkel.
  • "Money" and "Lumpy Gravy," originally reissued as a twofer, are now separate titles. The same is true for "Over-Nite Sensation" and "Apostrophe (')."

Looking ahead, Ryko has given the catalog a chronological number series, with a spot left open for the soundtrack album to the 1971 film "200 Motels," the sole title to which Zappa was unable to gain the rights. "Being record geeks as we are and [having] the completist mentality under which we live, it's just our goal," says Carleton.

"What we need to do is find ways to treat this body of work as a living, breathing entity," Rose says, "and something that needs to be worked and developed and promoted as something that has vitality."

Due to its ambitious nature, the Zappa series may face some tough hurdles at retail. Al Wilson, senior VP of merchandising for the 152-store, Milford, Mass.-based Strawberries/Waxie Maxies chain, says, "I totally love what they're doing, but – certainly not intentionally – they didn't alert the retailer as to the where and why and how" of the catalog rollout. He adds that returns could create a "huge hidden expense."

Mike Meyers, VP of purchasing at the seven-store, Tempe, Ariz.-based Zia Enterprises, describes himself as "a huge fan" and says that Ryko sent his company "a lot of literature that was very professionally done." Meyers does wonder, however, if there will be consumer resistance to buying the newly separate titles previously available as twofers.

Mike Jones, a buyer for Zia, says they plan to stock the entire reissued catalog, rather than replace individual titles. "I tend to let the customer make these decisions," he says. As for Ryko's return policy, Jones says, "It sounds like they're going to be fairly liberal."

Ryko promises catalog-oriented co-op ad programs and extensive Mother's Day promotions, posters, postcards, pamphlets, and a Mother's Day card.

As for returns, Carleton says that Ryko "knows what retail needs to feel secure. We've ensured that no retailer will get stuck with any Frank Zappa product, ever. Our old versions are eternally returnable. They don't have to replace them – they can if they want. They'll be returnable at the price they paid forever."

Most titles previously issued in double-width jewel boxes will be released in slimline cases. Only those two-disc sets with libretto booklets will remain in double-width jewel boxes. The triple-CD "Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar" and single-CD "The Yellow Shark" will have special packages.

Every title will contain a minicatalog of Zappa titles. It includes a detachable Ryko mail-in card that also tells consumers about the Frank Zappa memorial fund at free-speech group the Freedom To Read Foundation.

Ryko will also create a sampler disc for in-store play, with Zappa's top 40 hit "Valley Girl," as well as favorites "Joe's Garage" and "Peaches En Regalia." The label also plans catalog promotions on album rock, classic, and alternative radio centered on Mother's Day weekend May 12-14, with sampler discs geared to broadcast.

In 1996, Ryko will appease fans worldwide with two releases produced by the inimitable Zappa himself: "Lost Episodes" and his coyly titled compilation "Have I Offended Anyone?"