Frank Zappa's musical language
Frank Zappa's musical language
A study of the music of Frank Zappa

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JUST ANOTHER BAND FROM L.A. - CARNEGIE HALL - FINER MOMENTS: SEQUENCES AND TEMPO CHANGES

JUST ANOTHER BAND FROM L.A.

1. Billy the mountain - Number 7

Just another band from L.A After the forced ending of the 1971 tour, Zappa first released an album with material from the last fall leg of this tour as "Just another band from L.A". All of side a was taken up by "Billy the mountain", lasting almost 25 minutes. Live versions could even be longer, as the "Carnegie hall" issue by the ZFT shows. To the right an outtake from the album cover with a hamburger by Sherm Thomson, and band members in a car drawn over it by Cal Schenkel. Of Zappa himself you can see his broken leg sticking out.
This section is about sequences with, among others, some examples from 1971. A sequence can mean any following order of notes or, more specifically in the classical sense, a melody with one or more motifs that get repeated starting on a different pitch. Zappa's biggest sequence in the classical sense is the keyboard interlude from "Easy meat" from "Tinsel town rebellion", called classical by Zappa himself in the liner notes. That one is diatonic. Some examples of atonal sequences are included in this section. "Billy the mountain" from "Playground Psychotics/Just another band from L.A." is one of the lyrically oriented live pieces. It's a normal tonal piece, except for one occasion where it shifts into some atonal bars. After a clarinet introduction, Flo and Eddie sing the opening theme, beginning in D flat Lydian (the bass pedal note is D flat at the opening). The transcribed section at the part "(Postcar)-dy mountain ..." till "... Rosamon" has become atonal. As in the "Penis dimension" sequence from below, for the higher descant voice the intervals are chromatically repeated from "-dy" to "love-". The interval movement is 1-3 (as the number of minor seconds between the notes), being C#-C-A, B-Bb-G and A-Ab-F. It's transcribed from "Playground psychotics" with Howard Kaylan singing the higher voice along with the clarinet and Mark Volman singing sometimes the same notes and sometimes the lower notes.

Billy the Mountain, Playground Psychotics, 0:14 till 0:45 (midi file).
Number 7, opening (midi file).

Billy the Mountain, Playground Psychotics, 0:14 till 0:45 (transcription).
Number 7, opening (notes).

Mark Volman Zappa wrote several pieces of chamber music that only got general titles as "Exercise #4", "Numbers 6 and 7" and "Opus 5", the latter being part of the "Mount St. Mary" program from 1963. They could get incorporated in songs with regular titles, while others are possibly still resting in Zappa's archive. "Numbers 6 and 7" are (or were) on the Barfko Swill list with available scores at www.zappa.com. Both were premiered after Zappa's death. "Number 6" can be found on a CD by "Prophetic attitude". A piano reduction of the opening of "Number 7" is present in an article in the Dutch magazine "Mens en melodie" by Barend Tromp (June 2000). It's played on the "Music by Frank Zappa" CD by the "Omnibus Wind Ensemble" (1995). All tracks on this CD are arrangements that sometimes follow the notes of the original quite literally, at other instances it's done with an amount of liberty. Because of that I can't tell for sure what the composition as a whole was intended to be by Zappa himself. The lead melody in staff 1 is a sequence, following the diatonic scale descendingly. For that reason it's included in this section (it's unknown when Zappa wrote this piece). It's made up of cells of two and three notes, thus avoiding the movement to become too much linear and creating odd meters. Of the other three voices the bass sounds as a counterpoint line and the two middle voices create harmonies with the main melody. They are not in the diatonic scale of staff 1, so the composition as a whole becomes atonal. It's the combination of the bass line and these harmonies that make this piece an interesting miniature. The original instrumentation is for wind quintet, thus one of the four parts gets doubled. The rhythm is using the eighth note as a time unit all through and the piece is played slowly. For Zappa standards that's rather static and uncharacteristic of his music. The set-up is also such that it could be played on a church organ by one person, with some notes transposed an octave. Above to the left an outtake of a photo by LFI with the Mothers standing in front of the Albert Hall (1971). They played in this hall in 1968 (with "Loui Loui" appearing on "Uncle meat"), but got banned in 1971.

Very roughly "Billy the mountain" can be subdivided into five blocks, with the times from "Just another band from L.A." being:
- 0:00 Block I: opening as described/transcribed above.
- 0:43 Block II: Billy the mountain vamp (0:43-0:46) and central theme in Ab (3:05-3:42), followed by and alternated with a number of side themes and narrative episodes.
- 11:16 Block III: Studebacher Hoch part.
- Not included is Block IV, solos by band members plus some reprises from block III. These can be heard on the "Playground psychotics" version and the "Carnegie Hall" edition by the ZFT. On both occasions they're accompanied by a I-II alternation in C Lydian.
- 21:20 Block V: Finale.
- 24:46 End.

Studebacher Hoch

Sample from Zappa's script for "Billy the mountain" with Studebaker Hog being spelled as "Studebacher Hoch".

Billy the Mountain, 20:02-20:29 (midi file).

Billy the Mountain, 20:02-20:29 (transcription).

The narrative parts tend to dominate the piece, making it a mixture of literature and music. There are some sections, where the music stands central for a longer period. The example above stems from the section from 19:39 through 21:20 with a number of themes. The transcribed bars comprehend:
- bar 1: instrumental bar in 4/4 and G Mixolydian.
- bars 2-5: four times a bar in D with the lyrics following the same rhythm. In this case Flo and Eddie are mostly singing the same notes (the dissonant F#-G combination being a notable exception). See above and below for how they can differentiate.
- bars 6-9: two times a phrase of two bars in D Mixolydian. The harmonies are a mixture of I and VII, as triads and sus-chords.
- bar 10: a pattern breaking bar in 13/8. Here the rhythm follows the syllables of the lyrics with exact eighth notes. This is between musical and speech-wise singing. Musically the lyrics are written in a manner to be able to be adapted to the rhythm of a song. Zappa could also compose speech-wise, where the music adapts itself to the rhythm of spoken language. This is a third approach he applied only a few times. The text determines the 13/8 meter, but the syllables of the words are pronounced as eighth notes in a rather mechanical manner. It starts as if still continuing in D Mixolydian, but ends chromatically.
- bar 11: return to the phrase from bars 6-9.

SEQUENCES

Sequences in the classical sense can turn up in a number of shapes. Below I'm listing a series of examples from this study, sudivided into four categories. Some instances contain only one return of a motif ("Central scrutinizer"), others can include a series ("Five-five-FIVE"). Because of the shape of a diatonic scale, repetitions of a motif on a different pitch can easily lead to the need of a minor change if you want to stay within the same scale. A minor second can become a major second or the other way round. Literal transpositions of the intervals can lead to a more chromatic or multi-scale oriented situation.
1) Returning motifs within one scale with minor variations.
- "Son of Suzy Creamcheese" (9/8 bar with three major triads).
- "Jelly roll gum drop", theme two.
- "Prelude to King Kong", bars 10-16.
- "King Kong", bars 1-4.
- "Road tapes #3", track I.12 example, bars 1-3.
- "Magic fingers", theme one, phrase two.
- "The idiot bastard son", theme one, bars 4-12.
- "San Ber'dino" example, bars 12-19.
2) Returning motifs through varying scales with minor variations.
- Theme one from "How could I be such a fool".
- "Brown shoes don't make it", second example, bars 4-10.
- Theme C from "What's the ugliest part of your body?"
- "The grand wazoo" example, bars 29-36.
3) Returning motifs where the intervals are repeated literally (transpositions).
- "Aybe sea", bars 9-12.
- "Peaches en regalia", theme three.
- "Lemme take you to the beach", theme one, bars 1-8.
- "RDNZL", first example.
- "Zoot allures", central theme, bars 22-32.
- "Central scrutinizer" example, bars 5-7.
- "Five-five-FIVE" example.
- "N-lite" example, bar 8.
4) Returning motifs in an atonal environment.
- "The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage", bars 29-32.
- "Penis dimension" (see below).
- "Billy the mountain" (see above).
- "Dupree's paradise" (1974), main theme, bars 1-4.
- "Drowning witch", fifth example.
W. Ludwig lists his examples of sequences on pages 234-235 of his study. You can also find series of variations upon the movement of a motif in Zappa's music. Not sequences in the strict classical sense, but in the more general meaning of a series of similar items. To mention three examples from the Them or us section of this study:
- "Marque-Son's chicken" example, bars 7-18.
- "Sinister footwear I", second example.
- "Sinister footwear II", first example.

2. Call any vegetable

After just pulsing the Em chord (no 3rd) during bars 1-2, "Call any vegetable" continues with a fast string of 16th and 8th notes from bar 3 onwards, that always strikes me as Zappa, not because he's using them that often, but because I seldom hear them with other artists. The movement from beat 1 to 2 is syncopic, the remainder is on beat. This song first appeared on "Absolutely free". The version of the opening theme, that's transcribed here, is from "Just another band from L.A.". This one has a phrase in normal rock time, beginning in bar 18, not being present on "Absolutely free", like there are many version differences between these two CDs. Bars 1-17 from the transcription are in E minor or E Dorian (there's no C or C# in this part to confirm which one it is). From bar 18 onwards in the transcription the song is in F# Dorian.

Call any vegetable (1971), opening (midi file)

Call any vegetable (1971), opening (transcription)

"She painted up her face" is one of the themes Flo and Eddie are singing on "200 Motels". It's the opposite of the fast string from the "Call any vegetable", going slowly with notes lasting over bars. See the next "200 Motels" section for its opening.

3-4. Eddie are you kidding? - Magdalena

Howard Kaylan Between two new renditions of earlier Zappa songs, "Eddie are you kidding?" and "Magdalena" are two songs of the "comedy act" type with Flo and Eddie standing central. They claim to have contributed to these songs, apparently acknowledged by the ZFT by co-crediting Howard Kaylan for "Magdalena" on their "Carnegie Hall" release. To the right Zappa and Kaylan in the studio (outtake of a photo by Henry Diltz/Corbis as reproduced in the Barry Miles biography). "Eddie are you kidding?" is innocent humor, making fun of double-knit clothing. "Magdelena" is a pretty different form of humor, somewhere between entertaining and shocking an audience.

Magdalena, opening (midi file).

Magdalena, opening (transcription).

"Magdalena" is one of the many Zappa songs that include tempo changes (see the meters table in the Roxy section for an overview of examples of songs with tempo changes). In this case these changes are essential. If you would leave them out it would spoil the song. In the transcribed section bar 19 offers a variation upon bar 11 via a tempo change. The rhythm is also different, but if you would skip the tempo change, the variation effect would mostly be gone. In the second half of the song a "walk, walk, walk" vamp starts. The vamp gets accelerated till the end of the piece, emphasizing the sick horniness as expressed in the lyrics. At the end a siren enters the scene, before everything calms down for the introductory rock bars for "Dog breath". The transcribed section contains the three themes of the first half of the song.
Bars 1-10: Theme I. The opening bars of "Magdalena" are in the vaudeville parody style with a fourth movement in the bass, often used in various forms of folk music and country and western music. It goes similar to the opening of "Lonesome cowboy Burt" on "200 Motels". See also the Broadway the hard way section for this topic. Flo and Eddie are singing a string of notes, about as fast as possible if you still want to be able to distinguish the words of the lyrics. The song begins in standard 4/4. The key is D Mixolydian, modulating to A Mixolydian from bar 9 onwards.
Bars 11-22: Theme II. This theme of four bars is sung three times. First two times in 6/4 with a regular repetition. The third instance offers a variation via a tempo change, as mentioned, for the first two bars of the theme. Then the other two bars are sung in 12/8 in the original tempo.
Bars 23-29: Theme III. Again in 6/4, now in a slower tempo.

5. Dog breath

The different appearances of "Dog breath" and the "Dog breath variations" are getting amply dealt with in the Uncle Meat section. The Ludwig study (see the references) contains an example, specifically transcribed from "Just another band from L.A.". I've included some bars below. My own transcriptions concern four other renditions of these titles.

Dog breath, 1971, 0:44-0:55 (midi file).

Dog breath, 1971, 0:44-0:55 (transcription).

These bars deal with the divergence between the vocal parts Flo and Eddie are singing. The higher line sings the full text. The second lower line sings slower, in a different rhythm, with only the first words of the two sentences involved. It uses different pitches as well, offering harmony notes for the first line.
The accompaniment is a D-Em alternation. By itself one would say this (second) theme is in D, but in a wider context it can also be seen as step V of G Lydian or IV of A Mixolydian. See the Uncle Meat section for more about this topic. In this version the accent lies on G Lydian. It has a coda of its own in F# Dorian, including a guitar solo over a chromatically descending bass movement (F#-F natural-E-D#). This coda starts at 1:29.

Penis dimension

Penis dimension The total composition "Penis dimension" lasts over 10 minutes including the following sections:
a) Opening by the orchestra and choir. A piano reduction can be found in the Frank Zappa songbook vol. I, pages 39-43. Next is the opening from this piece, taken over from the Songbook. Bars 10-14 form a sequence with the intervals of the sung melody being repeated in a chromatic set up. Thus comparable to the first "Billy the mountain" example from above. For that reason "Penis dimension" is included in this section about sequences. To the left a screenshot from the tortch procession scene from "200 Motels". For this movie Zappa used several forms of collage techniques. In this case you can see Mark Volman's face projected over a member from the orchestra with the score in front of him or her. Mark is reciting the "public announcement" from "Penis dimension".

Penis dimension, opening (midi file).

Penis dimension, opening (notes).

b) Spoken text over a vamp. The vamp is presented at the bottom of page 42 of the songbook, while the text is presented on page 43 as a "Public service announcement to be read over Penis dimension vamp ending".
c) Section with material from "Bwana Dik" , as first released on the "Fillmore East" album from 1971.
d) Dialogues about the sound of the word "penis", alternated with smaller musical episodes.
e) Coda/End.
"Penis dimension" premiered on the "200 Motels" album from 1971, including blocks a) and b). Next Zappa re-arranged this piece for his 1972 jazz band, with a performance being included in the "Wazoo" release by the ZFT. For this occasion a little solo could be played over the vamp. The "The suites" version of "Penis dimension" includes sections a)-d). "The suites" suggests being a full orchestra version, so I felt much surprised encountering a coda of this piece on internet in 2018 at Heritage Auctions. A handwritten "Penis dimension" score of 34 pages with 196 bars was to be auctioned. Zappa's handwriting can be readily recognized, so there's no doubt about its genuineness.

Penis dimension, end (midi file).

Penis dimension, end (score).

Zappa orginally intended this piece to end with what he liked to call a frenzy, a deliberate chaotic ambience, but all directed. In this case a frenzy by the full orchestra and choir. It involves large clustered chords and erratic melodic lines, sometimes parallel, but mostly as counterpoint lines. All is atonal. Horizontally the rhythmical relationships are difficult: 4/4 with an 11- and 10-tuplet, followed by 11/16 and normal 4/4. Vertically most parts follow the same rhythm, but also here divergence exists, like the triplets and quintuplets in bar 190. The example above includes bars 189-196, the sample pages from the end that were shown at the site of the auctioneer. So I can't tell what the total coda would be like. Maybe even more got skipped or changed that we don't know of yet.
The reason why this coda got skipped from all actual executions may be clear. It's not really fit for a human performance. As you can see in various other sections from the original "200 Motels" score (next section), Zappa composed "200 Motels" supposing an ideal situation with unlimited rehearsal time. Theoretically all can be performed, but for practical reasons various parts got either adapted on the spot or skipped altogether. Also a midi editor can't handle the above well, it's only an approximation. I can't tell what the tempo should be. The piece begins with the metronome tempo of a fourth note being 84, but when you magnify the sample of page 6 from the score (reproduced in the "200 Motels" booklet), you can see a tempo change to first 116 (faster) and next 58 (half speed).

Piccolo score

At the same time Heritage Auctions was auctioning the piccolo part of a piece I can't identify. Two sample pages with bars 90 through 159 were shown, with the score sections referred to as G through M. Again it's clearly Zappa's handwriting. During many bars this piccolo part is either pausing or sustaining one or two notes, so it must be only one of the parts of the composition (probably the reason why I don't recognize where it stems from).

Piccolo part, bars 111-130 (midi file).

Piccolo part, bars 111-130 (score).

By itself it's another good example of the use of sequences:
- Bars 113-114 are a transposition of bars 111-112, going a major second down.
- Bars 119-122 offer two times a series of augmenting intervals, starting on different pitch. As the number of minor seconds steps being 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-11-14(-1).
- Bar 129 contains a motif, that's being transposed downwards chromatically as F-G-Gb-Ab, E-F#-F-G and Eb-F-E-F#.
The two sample pages include varying meters. Subsequently they are 3/4, 12/16 subdivided as 7+5, 6/8, 3/4 and 6/8. The example from above is in 6/8 only, obviously atonal. Next are bars 153-159, by themselves being diatonic. For these bars Zappa chose to continue notating in 6/8, but none of these bars follow the standard subdivision of 6/8 (3+3).

Piccolo score

Bar 153 is subdivided as 2+2+2 (like 3/4), bar 154 as 4+2. Next you've got bars 155-6 and 157-8, where the notation is done in such a manner that Zappa makes it clear that he didn't want an accent on the downbeat of bars 156 and 158. The way the notes are grouped is decisive for where the accents lie. The reason for this notation is probably that other parts are doing something in standard 6/8 at this point.

CARNEGIE HALL - FINER MOMENTS

Carnegie Hall In October 2011 the ZFT released a large archive recording from the next year as "Carnegie Hall". It contains most of the two concerts the Mothers of Invention gave at this location, October 11th 1971, a one time only event (photo to the left by Charles Hu). "The subcutaneous peril" from "Finer moments", a ZFT release from 2012, is another track that stems form these two concerts. Every once in a while Zappa played an early and a late show during a single night. The two shows are entirely different. As usual you've got differences in the versions played, compared to the already released ones.

Who are the brain police? (1971)

The opening riff of "Who are the brain police?" for instance is much different from the one played a year earlier. See the previous Fillmore East 1970 section for "Who are the brain police?" from 1970. This time it's used during several of the sung bars as well (bars 5-6 and 16-17). The rhythm, with its many triplets, has the same basis, but the riff is now moving through it in a syncopic way using a melodic line throughout.

Brain police variation (Carnegie Hall, 1971), theme (midi file)

Brain police variation (Carnegie Hall, 1971), theme (transcription)

According to Gail Zappa's writing in the CD booklet the recordings from this 1971 tour are complete. Gail and Joe Travers continue with commenting upon the equipment used and the format of the tapes, the latter posing a problem to play them for years since Joe became "vaultmeister". Apparently Zappa didn't have the best equipment at hand for every concert - this one is in mono - which might explain why he himself focussed on only three venues for all of his own live recordings from 1971. It looks like the recording conditions were the best on these occasions.

It is known that Zappa had considered both the "Fillmore East" and "Just another band from L.A." albums to become double albums. "Fillmore East" would have included "Billy the Mountain" and the John and Yoko jam, but this failed because Zappa didn't feel like negotiating with Lennon's manager Allen Klein. This is clear because it got mentioned by Flo and Eddie in interviews. The fact that "Just another band from L.A." was at first constructed as a double album is also clear, but its content less. According to, among others, the www.progmaniac.de site, the album at first contained solos from for instance the Carnegie Hall concerts. "The subcutaneous peril", mentioned above, gets listed as an included track (outtakes only, because it lasts much shorter). I can't verify this, but seen the quality of Zappa's solos in it, it's possible. For the later "Playground psychotics" release from 1992 Zappa himself returned to material for what might have been sides 3 and 4 of "Fillmore East", but apparently not to the double album version of "Just another band from L.A.". The liner notes by Gail Zappa on "Finer moments" are, as usual, cryptical, vaguely suggesting that Zappa, in 1972, had been working on material from this CD to be included in a later release. The CD certainly has its finer moments. "Uncle Rhebus" got dealt with in the Uncle Meat section. The couple of guitar solos on this CD are fine. "Sleazette" is, like "Get a little" from "Weasels ripped my flesh", a solo in E Dorian and similar in its sound. "The old curiosity shoppe" has its speed changed (it's out of tune with keyboard frequences). It's the same type of solo as the 1970 "Holiday in Berlin" solo from above, to my knowledge the first time Zappa applied a I-II alternation in Lydian. Internet pages however attribute it to "Billy the mountain", which means that Zappa had transferred this type of playing to another song. He would return to this alternation a number of times during his career with several examples included in this study (see the Shut up 'n play yer guitar section for an overview). "Uncle Rhebus" contains the "Baked-bean boogie" solo, with a section taken from it to be found in the Weasels section from this study.

The subcutaneous peril

Here we continue with the two guitar solos from "The subcutaneous peril". Both have elements in them that are common for Zappa's solos, but also features that happen less often. The first section is the opening solo in D Dorian. The bass is giving a plain D pedal note, but the keyboards in staves 2-3 are playing a chord progression. It's done in a refined, rather delicate way, gently in the background. With a central chord per bar this progression is I-II-(III)-IV, next I-IV-III-IV-(III) and next I-III-I. This type of accompaniment is unusual in Zappa's output. Mostly it's a free improvisation instead of a progression like this when Zappa is playing a solo over a pedal note. For the solo itself you can see that Zappa is using the B as central note for bars 1-6. The solo begins with the descending motif D-C-B, to be varied upon at the beginning of bar 2. B is also the central note in bars 5-6, giving these opening bars a sense of a double tonality. As if Zappa is playing in B Locrian, while the bass indicates D Dorian. This is something that happens quite often in Zappa's solos. See the Shut up 'n play yer guitar section at the Heavy duty Judy paragraph for Zappa's comment upon this. In bar 7 the solo turns to an altered note, Db, to end on D natural in bar 8.

The subcutaneous peril, opening (midi file).
The subcutaneous peril, section (midi file).

The subcutaneous peril, opening (transcription).
The subcutaneous peril, section (transcription).

This first guitar solo gets followed by a synthesizer, a keyboard and a drum solo. The drum solo begins with playing a three-note upgoing motif on the toms: G-Ab-Eb (6:50-7:06 minutes). It also ends with it at 10:54 and Zappa picks up this motif as the starting point for his second guitar solo. At 10:56 he plays his three-note upgoing motif: A-B-F, in the same tempo. He couldn't use the same pitches as the toms because he would continue in D Dorian as at the beginning. The transcription starts at 11:32 where this motif has been extended to a little theme: A-B-D-D-B-F-D. Bars 2, 3, 5, 13 and 17 are variations upon this theme. Bars 9-10 are more direct variations upon the original three-note motif itself. Now you've got three upgoing notes doing D-E-Ab and D-E-Bb. The altered notes Ab and Bb come out sharply because they are in dissonance with the A by the bass (the bass is continuing here as indicated in bars 2-3). This second solo at the end of this instrumental piece can be seen as exceptional in the sense that Zappa keeps varying this A-B-F motif over a very long period. Varying motifs is standard in Zappa's solos. See the "Mo' mama" example from the Sheik Yerbouti section for some comment upon this. But here Zappa sticks to varying one motif for over a minute and a half. Only at 12:31 new motifs/themes get into the picture and Zappa continues soloing as we are used to. Still the impact of the motif remains persistent: it returns at 14:37-14:45, 15:36-15:45 and 15:55-16:04.

You never know who your friends are (Harmonica fun)

The "Harmonica fun" track from the "Mystery disc" appeared to be a smaller edit of a recording that the ZFT released as "You never know who your friends are" on "Finer moments". Both CDs don't give any information whatsoever about the recording date and who's playing on it. The inclusion in "Finer moments", however, specifies the period as between 1969 and 1971.

You never know who your friends are, 0:39-0:48 (midi file)

You never know who your friends are, 0:39-0:48 (transcription)

When listening to Zappa albums you get used to stylistic diversity, but still you can get at unexpected oddities. In this case folk music. "The lost episodes" contains two sea shanties, both credited as traditional. So not specifically written by Zappa, but he seemed to like them. The tune from "Jolly good fellow" was used as a starting point for an improvisation by the Ensemble Modern on "Everything is healing nicely". "You never know who your friends are" is twisted folk music with the Mothers playing just as much through each other as with each other. Several times phrases from traditional folk tunes can be recognized. Staves 1 and 2 from the example above are sung. The other four represent instruments, with staff four being the harmonica from "Harmonica fun". At this point the parts are using diatonic scales but different ones, so the whole becomes a weird pot-pourri, somewhere between chromatic and diatonic music. My guess is that it is a directed improvisation.

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