Frank and Gail ZappaFed up with the lack of financial means his career had brought him so far, in 1973 Zappa took a new approach to his albums, that was much more in line with what the general public expected of a rock artist. Instead of the recent albums, most of them either instrumental or bizarre story telling pieces, Zappa adapted the normal compiling of an album: a set of songs with lyrics, limited in size, without lengthy soloing. Besides that he took more sight of the spotlights by starting to sing most of his songs himself as far as his voice allowed him to do so. Because he had a limited vocal range, the more versatile parts still had to be sung by others. This, with a lot of deviation allowed, remained the course for the coming years. Thus appeared in 1973 "Overnite sensation" (deliberately spelled wrongly) followed by "Apostrophe (')" in the next year, both selling well. Apart from being commercially successfull, Zappa personally also seemed to be fond of these albums. Most of their tracks exist in live variants as well and he kept including songs from these two albums in every tour since they premiered.

Frank and Gail Zappa in Denmark, 1974.
Photo by Jorgen Angel, used with permission.

This section includes a couple of examples of riffs from these albums ("I'm the slime", "Dirty love", "Don't eat the yellow snow" and "Nanook rubs it"). For his more accessible songs Zappa often turned to riffs. Other examples of riffs in this study are for instance:
- Brown shoes don't make it, opening riff (Absolutely free section)
- Tell me you love me (Chunga's revenge section)
- Willie the pimp (Fillmore East section)
- Eat that question (Waka/Jawaka section)
- Titties 'n beer (New York section)


1. Camarillo Brillo

In the One size fits all section I'm briefly describing "Camarillo Brillo" as an example of a two-themes pop-song. In the Ludwig study (see the refences) this song also referred to for its verse-refrain structure and for its use of common chord progressions. The verse for instance is using I-V-IV-II-VI in E. On page 216 Ludwig also included transcriptions of the two themes from this song.

In 2011 all of the "Overnite sensation" material got published via the Hal Leonard guitar songbook series. It's done very accurately by Paul Pappas.

2-3. I'm the slime - Dirty love

"I'm the slime" starts with two melodic riffs, then followed by Zappa doing a meltdown (speechwise singing) about our TV set (from Beavis and Butthead: Beavis wondering "What were people doing in the old days when there wasn't a TV"? Butthead calms him down: "You dumb ass, there's always been TVs, they only had less channels"). It's sequently in F#, E and D Dorian, using 12/8 and 4/4 as meters. "Dirty love" is a riff with two alternating chords, I-VII in D Mixolydian.

I'm the slime, opening (midi file)
Dirty love, opening (midi file)

I'm the slime, opening (transcription)
Dirty love, opening (transcription)

4. Fifty-fifty

On the two albums of this section "Fifty-fifty" is the only track where Zappa isn't singing himself. It would have asked too much of his voice. The pitch range is wide and during the song the lead singer, Ricky Lancelotti, is deliberately yelling. Zappa apparently liked him to do so and wrote the lyrics to go along with it ("I know my voice is kapoot"). Yelling is something Zappa himself never does on his albums, hardly ever even raising his voice. During the song you have a large instrumental middle block for three sequent solos. All three follow the same modulation pattern, with as its basis:
- 8 bars alternating C Mixolydian and Db Mixolydian.
- 8 bars alternating Ab Mixolydian and Cb Mixolydian. In all bars the bass is playing the tonic as pedal note and the accompanying chords are mostly larger chords (7th to 11th) with the tonic as root. Only in the final 16th bar the bass moves over to Eb.
- 8 bars again alternating C Mixolydian and Db Mixolydian.
- 8 bars again alternating Ab Mixolydian and Cb Mixolydian.
The three solo out-takes below are bars 5-10 plus the beginning of bar 11 from this scheme, that lasts 32 bars in total. Thus these corresponding blocks present the same section as played by the three solo players. The scales are followed by the soloists with a lot of freedom. The first organ solo example below begins with George Duke playing as fast as he can over a C Mixolydian accompaniment, using the chromatic scale. Notes over the Db bars can also get altered. Especially Zappa alters notes consistently during his solo. Over the C pedal bars he changes the E to Eb, thus mingling C Mixolydian with C Dorian. Over the Db pedal bars he always uses a C natural instead of a Cb and half of the time the Gb also gets altered to G natural. So here Db Mixolydian gets mixed with Db major and Db Lydian.

The structure of "Fifty-fifty" goes as:
- 0:00 Instrumentral intro in D Dorian.
- 0:15 Theme A, at first continuing in D Dorian.
The first half of theme A is a phrase of two bars over a bass pattern, playing around D-F-D-G. This phrase gets varied upon four times. The transcriptions below begins with the last three variations. The second half begins at the end of bar 6, where the varying upon the previous phrase is left and the music briefly moves over to Eb Dorian. Halfway bar 8 and during bar 9 the chords Em7 and C#m7-5 are used, not particularly staying in a specific key. The last C#m7-5 gets extended by an additional F by the bass played beneath it.

Fifty-fifty, theme A (midi file)

Fifty-fifty, theme A (transcription)

- 0:40 Theme B. See the example at the end, where this theme returns instrumentally as the coda for this song. In the repetitions of this theme below, the harmonies come out better. Here it's more melody and bass only.
- 0:56 Theme A again. The bass pattern returns in the same manner, but the melody gets harmonized differently.
- 1:22 Theme B again, now with chords.
- 1:38 Organ solo by George Duke. This solo and the next two follow the pattern as described above.
- 2:36 Violin solo by Jean-Luc Ponty.
- 3:35 Guitar solo by Zappa.

Fifty-fifty, organ solo section (midi file)
Fifty-fifty, violin solo section (midi file)
Fifty-fifty, guitar solo section (midi file)

Fifty-fifty, organ solo section (transcription)
Fifty-fifty, violin solo section (transcription)
Fifty-fifty, guitar solo section (transcription)

- 4:40 Theme A.
- 5:06 Theme B.
- 5:24 Theme A instrumentally.
- 5:49 Theme B instrumentally. Bars 1-4 are in C Phrygian. For bars 1-3 Zappa is using extended chords, I 11th for instance on beat 2 of bar 1. From bar 4 onwards the chords are all standard triads. For the closing bars the music moves over to E Lydian. Bar 6 continues for a couple of seconds with improvised notes till the song ends.

Fifty-fifty, theme B (midi file)

Fifty-fifty, theme B (transcription)

- 6:09 End

5. Zomby woof

"Zomby woof" gets represented three times in Zappa's catalogue. The 1988 live version gets dealt with amply in the Best band you never heard in your life section.

6. Dinah-Moe Humm

"Dinah-Moe Humm" has become more famous for its lyrics than for its music. The original side two of the vinyl album corresponds with tracks 5-7 on the CD. It's all surreal fiction, humoristic, and it can be seen as a form of literature. Zappa kept performing "Dinah-Moe Humm" live as well, but the studio version works out better for its finesses, lying in the background vocals and comments by the Ikettes. Zappa has sometimes been accused of being women-unfriendly. In case of "Dinah-Moe Humm" this gets compensated by its wit, but the subject of songs like "Dirty love" and "Bamboozled by love" can be called ugly or insensitive. Zappa standard defense would be that he had a right to write about anything happening in society and that his songs could be unfriendly towards males as well.

7. Montana

One can also encounter riffs in far more complex environments as the bass movement in bar 7 of "Montana", the closing song for "Overnite sensation" with amusing absurd lyrics about growing dental floss. The set-up of this song goes as:

0:00 Instrumental intro in A Mixolydian of 4 bars.
0:10 Two bars of drum soloing.

Montana, opening (midi file)

Montana, sections (transcription)

0:15 Verse:
- phrase 1: 4 bars in B Mixolydian with the chord progression basically being two times VII-I. These chords are mostly not played as triads, but get extended with additional notes and passing-through notes. At the beginning these chords a played softly in the background, but they come out more accentuated in the third Montana example below.
- phrase 2: 4 bars in A Mixolydian with the chord progression I-V-I-V or VII-II.
- phrase 1: 2 bars, transposed up a minor second, thus in C Mixolydian.
- phrase 3: chord progression, being Em-A-Dm-G.
0:48 Smaller interlude.
1:00 Verse restarts.
1:33 Chorus of four bars, played twice (B Mixolydian).
1:55 Guitar solo in F# Dorian.
3:23 Larger interlude.

Montana, 3:23-3:56 (midi file)

Montana, 3:23-3:56 (transcription)

Tina TurnerAt the time Zappa was recording this album, Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes were recording in the same studio. Zappa was looking for back-up vocalists and was surprised that Tina and the Ikettes were willing to do the job. It is often said that Zappa brings out the best in musicians and that's what's happening here. Tina and the Ikettes felt challenged by the vocal part in the middle of the song, partly transcribed above.
Zappa: "It was so difficult, that one part in the middle of the song "Montana", that the three girls rehearsed it for a couple of days. Just that one section. You know the part that goes "I'm pluckin' the ol' dennil floss..."? Right in the middle there. And one of the harmony singers got it first. She came out and sang her part and the other girls had to follow her track. Tina was so pleased that she was able to sing this that she went into the next studio were Ike was working and dragged him into the studio to hear the result of her labour. He listened to the tape and he goes, "What is this shit?" and walked out" (quote taken over from Barry Miles' biography). Ike refused the name of the Ikettes being used for credits. On this occasion they were Tina Turner, Linda Sims and Debbie Wilson (see the "Overnite Sensation/Apostrophe (')" DVD at 20:12 minutes for the bill). Zappa is in much of Montana again singing a meltdown, opposed to the highly flexible lyrics by Tina and the Ikettes. The transcription shows on paper how difficult indeed their part is. It has constantly changing rhythms, strings of fast notes and unorthodox harmonic progressions, using all intervals. It's played in the form of a two-part counterpoint by the discant and the bass. It's diatonic material, but with the bass moving all the time and a couple of notes switching between natural and sharp, it's impossible to assign bars to keys. There are hardly chords in this part.

Montana, 3:56-4:25 (midi file)

Montana, 3:56-4:25 (transcription)

4:07 Verse again.
4:41 Smaller interlude.
4:52 Verse restarts.
5:26 Chorus variant as outro.
6:34 End.

Left: Tina Turner with Oprah Winfrey at the height of her career.
Photo downloaded, source unknown.


1. Don't eat that yellow snow

The riff from "Don't eat that yellow snow" from "Apostrophe (')" is using the chord progression I-I-I-II 7th (occ. VII 9th) in D Mixolydian (bass included in these chords).

Don't eat that yellow snow, riff (midi file)

Don't eat that yellow snow, riff (transcription)

2. Nanook rubs it

In most of "Nanook rubs it" a bass riff of two bars is used as a vamp. Only at the beginning there are some pattern breaking bars in 4/8, for the remainder the bass keeps vamping. It's a relaxed song in a slow 6/8 metre with Zappa sometimes speechwise singing and sometimes normally singing about the clash between a fur trapper and an eskimo. As the song progresses short guitar solo comments and an interlude ("no, no, I can't see") pass by. The vamp is used at length in the 1979 live version on "You can't do that on stage anymore, vol. I", where it is accompanying the pouncing and poetry reciting event.

Nanook rubs it, opening (midi file)

Nanook rubs it, opening (transcription)

The basis of this transcription is by Andy Aledort, published in 2002, Hal Leonard series. His scores are arrangements for guitars. For my midi file I made some adaptations on it:
- Inclusion of the bass part. Andy normally doesn't transcribe the bass part, but indicates it here as a D#m7 and B9 chord alternation. Apparently this is a convention in the Hal Leonard series.
- Pitches of some parts I think are different (a fur..., strictly..., peek...).
- The 4/4 bars are an obvious writing error for 4/8 bars.
- In the spoken parts I think Zappa speaks more flatly and the rhythm is more irregular. Maybe you'd need to resort to quarter tones as well.
- Andy notates the key as normal D sharp Minor. This appears to be another convention in the Hal Leonard series (songs are notated in major or minor, also when the actual scale is modal). Since the E is always played natural I've notated no E sharp in the presets (the key is then modal, D sharp Phrygian).

3-4. St. Alfonso's pancake breakfast - Father O'blivion - Rollo interior

Rollo interior To the right a section of a screenshot of Ruth Underwood showing her copy of the "Rollo interior" lead sheet, handwritten by Zappa (source: "Overnite sensation/Apostrophe(')" DVD). She expresses how Zappa pushed the right buttons by writing pieces like this, exactly what she wished to play. Next she evolves about the 2-chords he prescribed for the harmony, contrary to the more usual triads (in this study mostly called 9th and 5th chords respectively). "Rollo interior" got used as the second instrumental half of "St. Alfonso's pancake breakfast" on "Apostrophe(')", leaving the harmony chords out or mixed to the background where I cannot hear them no more. The same happened to "The black page". Apparently Ruth liked the presence of these chords in Zappa's music a lot. In the "Roxy by proxy" CD liner notes she continues as "[...], the very chords that had always attracted me to FZ's music and that gave it such a distinctive sound". Zappa does indeed use sus2-chords - and sus4-chords - more than avarage. To mention some instances of sus2-chords from my study:
- "Peaches on regalia", bar 7.
- "Little umbrellas", 1st example, staff 2.
- "Little house I used to live in", melody during bars 27-30 (F#-G#-C#).
- "Rollo", bars 15-16, staff 1.
- The example Ruth plays on the "Overnite sensation/Apostrophe(')" DVD is from the "Idiot bastard son" (see the YCDTOSA II section), a clear example of Zappa using 2-chords.
- "Punky's whips", chord from the 33/32 bar.
- "No more Mr. nice girl, outchorus.
- "Alien orifice", 1st example, accompanying chords.
- "One man - one vote".
- "Outrage at Valdez", opening bar (F-G-C).
Ruth started working with Zappa as a percussionist on "Uncle meat". In 1972 she joined the Mothers as a steady member, taking her marimba with her on the road. Zappa already had used vibes and similar percussion instruments for playing lead melodies, and with Ruth in the band for five years, the relatively uncommon marimba grew out as a trademark of Zappa's instrumentation during that period.

Next are the closing bars of "St. Alfonso's pancake breakfast", segued by the opening of "Father O'blivion". Both are complex songs on an album that mostly is accessible, that is to say for Zappa standards. They contain constantly changing themes, meters, rhythms, keys and tempi. The example discussed here is based upon Andy Aledort's 2002 "Apostrophe(')" songbook, who got commissioned to transcribe all of this album (thus including the solos).

St. Alfonso/Father O'blivion, transition (midi file)

St. Alfonso/Father O'blivion, transition (transcription)

St. Alfonso part of the transcription:
- Bars 1-6: the ending of the so-called "Rollo interior" section (see also "Rollo" from the previous section). A highly irregular melody. It does use diatonic material from various scales, but without key notes. The bass keeps moving freely with a counterpoint line and virtually nowhere traditional chords are formed. The rhythm however is constant: an ongoing stream of 16th notes.
- Bars 7-9: closing bars from "St. Alfonso", forming a transition to "Father O'blivion".
Father O'blivion part:
- Bars 1-8: instrumental opening in E Mixolydian with a guitar lick. It gets joined with a second lick in bars 5-8.
- Bars 9-14: main theme. The first guitar lick stops, the second lick now gets accompanied by the bass.
- Bars 15-18: second theme in varying meters.

5-6. Cosmic debris - Excentrifugal Forz

"Cosmic debris" gets described by Ludwig on page 218 of his study. It includes a standard blues guitar solo. "Excentrifugal Forz" begins with a riff in A Mixolydian. Next you've got Zappa speach-wise singing the lyrics in an irregular manner, interrupted by a little guitar solo.

The scores of all songs from "Apostrophe (')" are available as the Apostrophe (') guitar book from the Hal Leonard series. The transcriptions are done by Andy Aledort, who earlier transcribed "Hot rats" as well.

7. Apostrophe (')

The title track from "Apostrophe (')" is one of two instances on this album of Zappa collaborating with others regarding songwriting. Next to Zappa himself, it gets credited to Jack Bruce and Jim Gordon. Without inside information it's impossible to know who exactly contributed what. Since Jim Gordon plays the drums, I felt obliged to include the drum part in the note examples in this case. "Apostrophe (')" got recorded as a quartet with also Tony Duran on rhythm guitar. Jack Bruce plays the fuzz-like bass. The Apostrophe (') guitar book comes in handy for following the structures of the included songs, because they are subdivided into blocks with capitals. I'm following these blocks in the overview below.

A (0:00-0:17). Opening theme. The central theme of "Apostrophe (')" is a guitar-bass riff presented in bar 1 of the next note example. It is using notes from the Em7 chord, only at the end getting at an A outside this chord. It gets played without accompanying chords but with some synthesizer sounds added to it as shown in staffs 2-3, probably overdubbed. The riff is played four times and it gets followed twice by a chord progression: G-A-Em. Because the riff begins on E and the chord progression ends on it, the key can be identified as E Dorian. Rhythmically the riff is half on-beat and half syncopic. The A and Em chord of the progression appear in syncopic positions as well.

Apostrophe ('), section #1 (midi file)

Apostrophe ('), section #1 (transcription)

B (0:17-1:19). Alternation between D Mixolydian and C major, each played for two consecutive bars every time they appear. Here the bass is leading, playing the melody, while the guitar plays a number of chords on D or C. The two scales, that are being used, differ by one note, namely the F# from D Mixolydian and the F natural from C major. In the note example you can see the F# in the chords from bars 3-4. The F natural turns up in the bass line from bars 5-6. The following note example begins around the middle of this block with the alternation being at C major, though the bass line in bars 1-2 is chromatic.

Apostrophe ('), section #2 (midi file)

Apostrophe ('), section #2 (transcription)

C (1:19-1:24). Two transitional bars in B Dorian.
D (1:24-3:22). Bass and guitar duet in B minor or Dorian. These two scales differ by one note, G versus G#, and they both are being used. In the example below you have a G by the bass. In the guitar book you can see both G and G# turn up for the guitar part. Andy Aledort apparently marked this block as a guitar solo, rather than a duet. Indeed you could say this is the part with the guitar soloing being the most active contributor. The guitar solo itself starts with a riff played four times, not returning elsewhere in this piece.

Apostrophe ('), section #3 (midi file)

Apostrophe ('), section #3 (transcription)

E (3:22-3:44). Closing notes of the guitar solo and bass, a faint C# for the guitar and the tonic B for the bass. With it four bars of drum soloing start.
F (3:44-5:31). Variations upon the previous:
- The central theme returns four times.
- Mix of free variations upon the central theme by all parts and improvised melodic lines. The lead guitar is little by little moving towards the background till in the last five bars its only the rhythm guitar and the bass left. In these last bars a closing riff gets repeated, not directly related to the central theme.
G (5:31-5:50). The central theme returns once more, while this instrumental fades out to its end.

8. Uncle Remus

"Uncle Remus" is a collaboration between Zappa and George Duke. When I included this example during the update of Summer 2013, I had no information about who contributed what. In the "Crux of the biscuit" liner notes, George Duke gets quoted from an unreleased interview with Andy Hollinden from 1997, saying: " [...] So he was going to do a demo for me. We did three songs and "Uncle Remus" was one of them. Frank decided, after we recorded it - I didn't get a deal out of it, by the way - but, basically, he said, "I think I'd like to use this track on my album and I'm going to write some lyrics to it". And so I said, "Hey Frank, you paid for it. Go ahead". [...] I was very happy and honored by the fact that he'd even consider doing it, because I didn't think it'd be the kind of song he'd be interested in". So as a musical collaboration it's a lesser example than the above "Apostrophe (')" track or "No more Mr. nice guy" from the Joe's garage section from this study. These two songs contain no lyrics, so the cooperation can only have been musical. Still there's some musical contribution by Zappa in the sense that he plays solo guitar on it, as well as being the producer of the song. But the music is written by George Duke alone, and the lyrics by Zappa alone. The example below contains a part of the instrumental interlude with Zappa soloing on guitar along the chord progression of the central theme. George of course is playing the keyboard part. It's a progression drifting along a number of scales. Andy Aledort notates it as D minor, but that's only a relatively best fitting choice. The chord progression here is, mostly as indicated by Andy:
bar 1: Dm - Dm plus C by the bass.
bar 2: G - Bb - Am.
bar 3: Gm7 - Dm - C plus D by the bass.
bar 4: Gm7 - Bb - Eb - Bb.
bar 5: F - Bb - F - Fsus2 - Gm.
bar 6: Bbmaj7 plus C by the bass - C - Bbmaj7 plus G by the bass - C - Bbmaj7 - C - Bb.
bar 7: Dm7 - G7/G.
bar 8: Bbm - Eb - Bbm - D.
The scales passing by briefly are: D Dorian for bar 1, bar 2 is transitional, D minor for bar 3, G minor/Bb major for bar 4, F major or Mixolydian for bar 5, C Mixolydian for bar 6, D Dorian/G Mixolydian for bar 7. Bar 8 follows a Bb minor variant, the series of notes being Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G-A. With the last chord from bar 8 you're getting back at D Dorian. The rhythm of this song is standard playing in 4/4. The lyrics have Zappa accompanied by a female chorus all through (staff 1 in bars 1 and 8). The Ikettes without Tina now get mentioned by their first name (Debbie and Lynn; see also above). The album also mentions Susie Glover, so she might be in the chorus too. These lyrics refer to black people and riots they could get involved in in the sixties and seventies. As in many of his songs Zappa sings it in the I-form, while it's obviously not about himself, with its purpose remaining cloudy. Maybe it was just for portraying some aspects of what was going on in these days.

Uncle Remus, interlude (midi file)

Uncle Remus, interlude (transcription)

The two collaboration pieces from above however never appeared live on official albums. "Apostrophe (')" was used as a concert opener during the Bongo Fury tour, an interesting version that fans know by for instance the El Paso bootleg. Since the ZFT steadily releases live albums, we might get to hear more from this tour one day too.

9. Stinkfoot

In the Halloween section you can find the live version of "Stinkfoot" compared to the studio version from "Apostrophe (')". They go pretty differently.