1. Frank Zappa – The Crux Of the Biscuit and Frank Zappa for President
Being a Frank Zappa completist is a damn near impossible task, and now that the archives are digitized, it’s getting even harder. There have been several new released this year, and two more this week. Fans of Apostrophe will enjoy The Crux of the Biscuit, which is listed in the liner notes as “project/object #4 in the series of 4tieth Anniversary FZ Audio Documentaries.” The notes are extensive, and describe this as “a snapshot of the Apostrophe album project as it was developing in mid-1973: a first draft of the first side of the album, featuring a very different sequence and different mixes.” It shows how the songs were put together, with outtakes and basic tracks, taking an especially close look at “Energy Frontier” (which eventually became “Apostrophe”) and “Nanook Rubs It.” There’s also a bit of interview footage in which Zappa explains how “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow/St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” was inspired by an awful TV commercial for Imperial margarine. Besides the historical value, this is just good music to revisit and hear in a new contact. And man, is it ever bracing to hear “Uncle Remus” again, with the Ikettes and piano up front, and Zappa singing, “I can’t wait ‘til my fro is full-grown/I’ll just throw away my doo-rag at home/I’ll take a drive to Beverly Hills just before dawn/And knock the little jockeys off the rich people’s lawn.”
Frank Zappa for President isn’t quite as involved. It includes some unreleased stuff Zappa composed on the Synclavier, a workstation/instrument he found quite useful in his later years, a live version of “When the Lie’s So Big” from 1988, a remix of “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It,” and a soulful live take of “America the Beautiful” with Ike Willis singing. Unlike some rock stars who would run a gag campaign for president and maybe make a t-shirt, Zappa might have eventually run if it weren’t for the cancer that took him in 1993. On “If I Were President,” he outlines how he would have run for office — raising just enough money to get on the ballot in each state and then not campaigning, relying on the media coming to him to ask what he thought about certain issues. You can read more about his political dealings in his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book. There is certainly a political void he could fill in this election year, and this album is designed, in part, to remind us of that.
1. Joe List – Are You Mad At Me?
I had the privilege to see List in his early years in Boston, on his way to becoming the smart, pithy joke writer he is today. He’s been on the rise the past couple of years, and I caught up with him for the Boston Globe when he recorded his “Half Hour” special for Comedy Central last year. This is a strong set from List. He has a lot of anxiety, and a lot of people apparently want to tell him how to relieve that. One suggestion that didn’t work? Yoga. “If you’re not familiar with yoga,” he says, “it’s usually me, two gay men, and twenty-five of the hottest women that I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I can’t be publicly horny, homophobic, and relaxed all at the same time.” Below is a clip of his riff on meditation from the special. You can hear the full track from the album on the latest DoT Podcast, after my conversation with Tom Snyder.