SHEIK YERBOUTI - HAMMERSMITH ODEON: DISCO REFERENCES AND SOLO BUILDING
When the "Zappa in New York" concerts were given, disco music had become very popular on the dance floor and this wasn't just a hype, but to last up till today under different style names and new variants. Disco is characterised by steady beats or rhythmic figures, played throughout the whole song. Because of its steadiness the beat is often played by a drum machine or computer. Some people thought that disco was a way of making dumb pop-music, but it also depends upon what you build upon the steady figures.
One of the funniest things Zappa ever did is playing the rhythmically erratic melody from "The black page #1" from
the In New York section again, partially half speed and with modifications, against such a steady disco figure. Here it
appears in the form of "the disco vamp" played by the bass and it is commented upon in the preamble to the piece
(a vamp stands for a continuingly repeated accompanying motif). There's also a relationship between "The black page #2"
and the guitar solos using vamps (see the sections on "Shut up 'n play yer guitar" and "Guitar"). This disco
version, "The black page #2", opens with the following bars as a variation on bar 1 from "The black page #1" from
the In New York section:
The black page #2, opening bars (midi file)
The black page #2, opening bars (transcription)
With no access to studio facilities during 1978, Zappa kept on touring and recorded the live tracks for "Sheik Yerbouti".
In 1979 he had his means rearranged with CBS and Phonogram as a distribution companies for Zappa Records and his own recording facility. "Sheik Yerbouti" was finished by adding studio overdubs to the live tracks. "Sheik Yerbouti" has become Zappa's bestselling album, including accessible songs as the hit single "Bobby brown", as well as some technically impressive material. On the album Zappa presented himself self-confident as ever, ridiculing our occasional problems in songs like "Broken hearts are for assholes".
The encounter with disco in "The black page #2" continued with other references on "Sheik Yerbouti".
The theme from "Dancin' fool" has a 4/4 metre with the bass playing C-sharp on beat. It's interrupted
by a bar with three times 2/4. Here the beat goes on as a light accent on the B of the bass and low B of the melody and a heavy accent on the
high B of the melody. It's reflected in the lyrics as follows (light beats indicated with italics, heavy beats
with capitals): "I hear that BEAT, I jump out of my SEAT, but I can't com-PETE".
This section is in C# Dorian with Zappa singing the main theme over C# pedal. The second vocal part in staff 3 and the vibes
sing/play a variation upon it along with Zappa. In the 3x2/4 bar the bass changes to B pedal and you've got just the
E chord in two positions for the accompaniment.
Dancin' fool, theme (midi file)
Dancin' fool, theme (transcription)
Another reference is the accompaniment at the beginning of the instrumental section of "Wild Love", given beneath.
It reflects the love for repeated rhythmic figures in disco. First the rhythm guitar plays such a figure during
bars 1-8. As the melody begins the bass guitar joins in with another figure during bars 5-11. Notable is the free
use of eighth and sixteenth notes in all the parts, rather than following a strict 4/4 division (the same happens
in Echidna's Arf from the Meters section). It's an example of speech-influenced rhythms, as already noted in the In New York
section. The first four bars of the transcription are in B. When the main theme returns instrumentally
in this song, the bass lick sets the key to A Lydian. Bars 5-8 and bars 9-11 are variations upon each other.
Wild love, opening of the instrumental section (midi file)
Wild love, opening of the instrumental section (transcription)
Something you'll accidentally notice during transcribing, unless you're heaving a
perfect absolute hearing, is that it is a sped up track: the frequencies are out
of tune with keyboard frequencies. Other examples of pieces with steady rhythmic
figures are the title track from "You are what you is", "He's so gay" from "Thing-Fish"
and, embedded in an orchestral environment, the disco section (so called in the album liner notes)
from "Pedro's dowry" on The London Symphony
The "Frank Zappa Guitar book" from 1982 contains one solo that hasn't been released on album, called "Mo' mama" (the opening is presented below). It's named this
way because it follows the same basic architecture as the grand "Yo' mama" solo from "Sheik Yerbouti". The structure of "Yo' mama"
in total goes as:
- 0:00 Instrumental opening in A minor with first just the I chord being held. Next the vibes play along I 11th and
the keyboards make a V-VI-V progression.
- 0:21 Theme I, continuing in A minor ("Maybe you should...").
- 0:49 Theme II in E Mixolydian ("You ain't really...").
- 1:02 Theme III in C Lydian ("Cause if you...").
- 1:09 Theme I.
- 1:22 Theme I with vocal overdubs, starting with the transcription below. The vocals are now made up of four to five
parts. One or two parts for the lead melody plus three parts with the same notes repeating (A, D and B).
- 1:36 The band jumps overnight into an instrumental interlude in E Mixolydian, thus following the key change from
theme I to theme II. A second relationship with the sung part is established retrospectively in bar 9, the point where
Zappa is briefly in C Lydian with theme III being played instrumentally in staff 3.
The interlude starts with mingling chords from E Mixolydian. The bass and the upper descant staff do the E chord, over
which the others play D-F#m-E-Asus2 etc. It sounds overwhelming, partly because we know what becomes of it: a monumental
solo in E Mixolydian.
Yo' mama, 1:22-2:52 (midi file)
Yo' mama, 1:22-2:52 (transcription)
- 1:57 Solo in E Mixolydian with just the E for the bass as a held note, buzzing in the background. The keyboards
do a harmony fill in, sometimes vague and hard to distinguish, at other points better recognizable.
- 4:02 The drummer joins in. The bass becomes a normal improvised bass, still E pedal.
- 5:25 The bass plays a little slow melody: B-C#-D-A-B-C#-D-E.
- 5:42 E pedal again, improvised.
- 6:03 Held E again.
- 6:41 Section moving towards the chord alternation part. The bass begins with a downwards melodic line: B-A-F#-C#-D.
The second transcription below begins at 6:47 over a B pedal note with the band settling for a plain 4/4 meter.
Yo' mama, 6:47-7:09 (midi file)
Yo' mama, 6:47-7:09 (transcription)
- 6:54 The solo evolves into a V 7th and I 5th/7th (B and E) chord alternation of E Mixolydian.
- 10:05 Pre-arranged ending of the solo.
- 10:23 The guitar plays theme III, neatly moving back to the sung part.
- 10:30 Theme I.
- 10:57 Theme II.
- 11:10 Theme III.
- 11:16 Theme I sung without lyrics.
- 11:40 Closing progression in D Mixolydian. The bass plays E-F#-D a couple of times with the keyboards playing the
progression D-Em-C over it. Combined and seen from the tonic it thus ends with I 11th.
- 12:04 After Zappa has given the band members their credits, they seem to resolve the I 11th chord by
letting the bass move from D to C. Yet a second keyboard plays a D chord over it, so it still remains mixed.
- 12:35 End
Opening from Mo' mama (midi file)
Opening from Mo' mama (notes)
The "Mo' mama" is an example of a solo that sets off with a lick followed by immediate improvisation, whereas
solos as "The deathless horsie" or "Watermelon in eastern hay" have a larger preset theme. Not everything that's
in the transcription is properly reproduced in the midi file; the two quartertones are for instance approached
by a minor second chord for lack of better (my midi editor can't represent quartertones).
The "Mo' mama" example is the opening of the solo including all of 1) (a lot shorter here than in "Yo' mama") and
the beginning of 2). The 22 seconds of the "Yo' mama" solo that I've tried to transcribe myself include the transition from 2) to 3). It commences
with a sequence moving towards the chord alternation part.
In the file beneath I've indicated a bit of the ongoing process of improvisation in "Mo' mama". You can go on indefinitely
indicating characteristics this way.
Opening from Mo' mama (notes with encirclements)
- A: Opening lick.
- B: Variation upon the opening lick (rhythmically and melodically).
- C: Addition of a quartertone, guitar effects and altered notes to make it extra spicy.
- D and E: New motifs are introduced that get varied upon.
Within its concept "Sheik Yerbouti" demonstrates an exquisite sense of humor. It's making fun of everything
even when it can get at your own expense. The latter topic rises when you lay "Is that guy kidding or what?" from
"YCDTOSA VI" next to "I have been you". A lot of people won't know that it started out as a reaction upon Peter Frampton's
single "I'm in you".
When you take sentences as "I'm going in you again" or "ram it up your poopshoot" apart however it's merely a rude
way of expressing yourself. The popularity of "Sheik Yerbouti" is due to the use of chord progressions,
that are easy to grasp, and catching riffs in the majority of the tracks. The song on the album with most hit potential, "Bobby brown", could have been a bigger hit if it would have had
more common lyrics. "Flakes" includes a funny Bob Dylan imitation. The latter saw no harm in it, as had
Punky Meadows before him found that "Punky's whips" was amusing. The set-up of "Flakes" goes as:
0:00 - 0:14: Opening riff, played 4 times.
0:14 - 0:25: Theme 1 ("They don't do no good").
0:26 - 0:35: Theme 2 ("California got the most of them").
0:35 - 0:44: Theme 3 ("Swear to god they got the most"), played 2 times.
0:45 - 0:51: Opening riff, played 4 times.
0:52 - 1:03: Theme 1 ("they can't fix your brakes").
1:03 - 1:12: Theme 2 ("they're lying and lazy"), now with low vocal harmonies.
1:13 - 1:21: Theme 3 as above.
1:22 - 2:38: 8-bars "Bob Dylan" imitation theme, played 4 times. The transcription below starts with the last time
this sequence is
played. Adrian Belew (later on Ed Mann) is impersonating Bob Dylan in a perfect way. Not only can everybody immediately recognize Dylan's tone
of voice, the details are taken care of really good. There's the harmonica notes and there's an F natural instead
of F sharp, imitating Dylan's habit of sometimes singing flatly. The bass chord progression here in D goes as
I-II-II-I-IV-V. The others are following this progression with some liberty.
Bars 7-8 are specific for the 4th repetition and form a bridge to the next instrumental part.
Flakes, 2:19 till 3:05 (midi file)
Flakes, 2:19 till 3:05 (transcription)
2:38 - 2:56: Instrumental variations upon theme 3. The one bar chord progression here in E goes as I-IV-V. The
keyboard player is improvising over this progression, taking over the I chord and the rhythm of the progression
at the beginning of most of the bars, but otherwise moving freely. In all probability it's Tommy Mars. He plays
in this song on "Sheik Yerbouti" as well as on the "Torture never stops" DVD. On both occasions there were two keyboard
players in the band. On the DVD the camera focuses on Bobby Martin, where you see that he's busy with a harmony chord,
so Tommy Mars must be improvising the lead melody at least on this occasion.
2:56 - 3:41: Sung section ("I'm a moron") over a 2 bar motif played on percussion and bass. This riff in E goes
as I-V-IV-I. The transcription stops at the onset of this section.
3:41 - 4:32: Sung section continues ("Well my toilet went crazy") over a 2 bar guitar riff.
Flakes, 5:28 till 5:55 (midi file)
Flakes, 5:28 till 5:55 (transcription)
4:33 - 6:41: Outro theme repeated till the end, preceded by a chorus intro. The four bars progression
of the chorus in bars 1-8 is in E Mixolydian and
goes as I-II-II-I-VII-IV-I-VII. When you consider the whole chord of all notes sounding at the beginning of
bar 4 it becomes
a bigger chord, namely I 11th. Apart from the VII chord of the chorus you've got the bass E pedal note and the B of both
Zappa's extra passing through low notes and the second feedback guitar. For a moment there's also a G sharp in the first guitar part.
Zappa liked adding in such extra notes enlarging the harmony.
When he starts singing in bar 9 the progression gets reduced to a two bar theme with
two alternating chords: I and IV. The bass plays a steady on beat E pedal note all through.
In February and March 1978 Zappa played a couple of shows at The Hammersmith Odeon in London. This stage became his
main source for live recordings from 1978 through 1980. Most of the live tracks from "Sheik Yerbouti" stem from The Hammersmith Odeon.
Other than the N.Y. Palladium this hall still exists, today as the Hammersmith Apollo (photo to the right downloaded,
photographer unknown). With the 2010 3-CD "Hammersmith Odeon" release by the ZFT we get a chance to hear a lot of these
songs without the studio overdubs (abbreviated to H.O. below). The specific "Flakes" version from this collection evidently wasn't used for "Sheik Yerbouti".
Not only the details are different, the structure of the song is different as well. After the Bob Dylan section everything
continues instrumentally. First you've got a keyboard solo over the first vamp. The keyboard sounds
as an electric violin at this instance. I can't tell if it's Peter Wolf or Tommy Mars. Next Adrian Belew plays a solo with Zappa
playing the chord progression. Then Zappa himself takes over the soloing over the final chord progression.
Flakes (H.O.), 3:34 till 3:45 (midi file)
Flakes (H.O.), 3:34 till 3:45 (transcription)
Presented above is a section from the keyboard solo. The vamp goes slightly different with some more notes to it.
Comparing "Hammersmith Odeon" to "Sheik Yerbouti" gives you some insight in what the overdubs added. In the case of "Flakes"
it's the extra vocal parts and feedback guitars. Possibly also a doubling of the instrumental parts. Zappa used methods to improve the sound quality, of which
I have no knowledge. You can hear that the use of the stereo field on "Sheik Yerbouti" is better developed than on the
live multitrack tapes when you play them as they are, as is probably done on "Hammersmith Odeon".
Dong work for Yuda (H.O.), end (midi file)
Dong work for Yuda (H.O.), end (transcription)
"Dong work for Yuda" is blues in D. The transcription above is from the end, containing
various speech influenced bars. In bars 3-4, 7-8 and 11-12 the melody becomes chromatic,
though the lyrics still follow the 4/4 meter. In bar 15 it's the other way round:
the rhythm and the 23/16 meter are entirely dictated by the rhythm of the spoken words.
The melody remains in D at this point. Compared to the "Joe's garage" version of this song,
this rendition has more drive to it. It goes faster, has specific bass licks and a keyboard
playing the chords via eighth notes. John Smothers, who was Zappa's bodyguard for years,
delivered the lyrics. There's little about him to be found in the Zappa biographies. He
did make an appearance in the "Baby snakes" movie. He gave Zappa the textual material
for the homo sex in prisons part of "Joe's garage". "Keep it greasy" and "Outside now"
by themselves have nothing to do with it (apart from the word "plooking" in "Outside now"),
but were now placed in this context.
I have been in you (H.O.), opening bars (midi file)
I have been in you (Sheik Yerbouti), opening (midi file)
I have been in you (H.O.), opening bars (transcription)
I have been in you (Sheik Yerbouti), opening (transcription)
The Hammersmith version of "I have been in you" opens as a romantic love song. The band is vamping
in a relaxed tempo along a I - II 7th - V 11th progression in A Mixolydian. Zappa had made the
"Is that guy kidding or what" intro
from two months earlier at the Palladium a returning event. This intro has now become longer. Zappa keeps changing
the angle to the subject he's talking about, making it impossible to determine at what point he is sincere.
The song has its romantic episodes but can also be utterly banal. It's all one big joke. At one point he
speaks about someone like himself
as "assholes like me with the big record company contracts".
Then you can consider what the status of his contract with Warner Bros. had become.
Literally it's about a punk star that the female fans adore so much that they put safety pins
on their face just to be like one, just as "Titties and beer" isn't literally about Zappa, but about a biker.
"Is that guy kidding or what" is more to the point. You can look up the album cover of Peter Frampton's
"I'm in you", with him with his bare chest, and ponder upon that.
the Hammersmith version of "I have been in you"
or "Broken hearts are for
assholes" aren't cynic about love songs, but destructive. It wouldn't stop him from
singing "Love of my life" again on "Tinsel town rebellion", writing "Doreen" for "You are what you is"
or covering "The closer you are"
on "Them or us". The "Sheik Yerbouti" version of "I have been in you" opens with a partially overdubbed chorus,
with the descant singing along I-VII-VI-II in A Mixolydian. The bass singer and the bass guitar are giving a counter
melody. When Zappa begins singing it becomes slow reggae with at first a I-II alternation. In bars 15-16 the chords
are IV and I with C natural. At various points Zappa sings slightly off beat, letting the speech lengths
of the syllables prevail.
Watermelon in easter hay (prequel), section (midi file)
Watermelon in easter hay (prequel), section (transcription)
The peaceful opening of "I have been in you" gets a sequel in "Watermelon in Easter hay (prequel)", where Zappa
shows himself as a romantic all through. The word prequel sounds quite correct, because it's a shorter version of this solo.
Here the vamp is played about three times as fast as on its first release by Zappa himself on "Joe's garage" (see
two sections ahead). The metronome tempos of a quarter note in the transcriptions are approximately:
- Odeon Hammersmith: 85.
- Joe's garage: 60.
Since I've notated the Hammersmith Odeon version via eighth notes and the one on Joe's garage via quarter notes
the comparison becomes 170:60 if I had chosen quarter notes for both. The other version released by the ZFT
on "FZ plays the music by FZ"
is roughly dated as January or February 1978, thus from the same two months as the Hammersmith Odeon concerts. That one is a slow version, so it looks as if Zappa tried out two tempos during the same period. The phrasing of the main
theme in all four versions of the solo, that today are available, is different. Dweezil states that "it's amazing how
the slightest change in phrasing effects your emotional response. When Frank played the "Joe's garage" version
suddenly there was no other way for that melody to be played". Indeed the "Joe's garage" version has the main theme
played in its most compelling form. As it comes to the soloing, that follows upon it, the Hammersmith Odeon version
can be called a little jewel, that can compete with the "Joe's garage" version. Instead of seeking rhythmic
variety as he usually does, Zappa here basically follows the rhythm of the vamp, letting the emotions of the harmonies
prevail. More on "Watermelon in Easter hay" follows in the Joe's garage section.
King Kong (H.O.), section (midi file)
King Kong (H.O.), section (transcription)
After Zappa had given "King Kong" its definitive form at the end of the "Uncle Meat" album, the main theme hardly changed no
more. The live version on "Hammersmith Odeon" starts identical to "Uncle Meat", except for that the bass plays along
the I and IV chords of
the Eb Dorian scale and that the keyboard makes a chord progression. First a standard chord progression of 5th chords,
next some enlarged chords. In the "Uncle Meat" booklet Zappa prescribes Eb pedal for the bass and just the Absus4 chord,
the chord that appears in bars 15-16 and bars 21-22 in the transcription. The discant in bars 15-22 is played via parallel thirds. The soloing that follows upon the
theme is played over two alternating bass notes, Eb and D, each being played for eight bars in a fast 6/8 meter. The change of scales, that in this case comes along with it, is exceptional
in Zappa's output. If he did change keys, then they would be closely related. Here however you have the unrelated
Eb Dorian and D Lydian scale. The guitar solos on disc III are strong ones. The two from above are followed by another successful
"Black napkins" version.