Frank Zappa's musical language

Frank Zappa's musical language

A study of the music of Frank Zappa

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After "Lumpy Gravy", Zappa further consolidated his intentions to combine pop music with modern music and jazz on "Uncle Meat". This double album is imbued with an abundance of ideas, to which Zappa could keep returning. "Pound for a brown" (see the Zappa's teens sections) and "King Kong" became concert favorites. "Uncle Meat" and "Dog breath" returned in a version for small orchestra that can be found on the 1993 CD "The Yellow shark". There are a some live-recorded sections on the album and a few comic pieces of conversation. "Uncle Meat" was recorded between October 1967 and February 1968, but released a year later in April 1969. The delay was due to Zappa's intent to have it accompanied by a movie of the same name. Several scenes were filmed, but there weren't enough funds to finish it and eventually some band members wouldn't take part in it no more if they didn't get paid for it. Ultimately Zappa gave it up, only to return to the footage in the eighties.


1.1 Uncle Meat (main title) - Uncle Meat variations

The "Uncle Meat main title theme" can be divided in three sections.

1) The first section is a melody that uses the notes of D with C sharp as the melodic centre.

Uncle Meat theme, opening (midi file).

Uncle Meat theme, 1st section and opening of the 2nd section (notes).

The melody derives its modern music character from the fact that it follows no traditional chords and its structure is determined by intervals and repeating figures, like fourths in the first bar, seconds in the second bar and a repeated figure with a fifth in the third and fourth bar. We'll see some more of interval determined structures in the paragraph about unconventional chord progressions. The melody moves several times towards the centre note C sharp.
The opening of "Uncle Meat" is one of a series of examples in this study where Zappa creates harmonic fields by freely mixing as good as all notes of a scale. There's a D pedal note, determining the scale to be D, with the Dsus4 chord played over it in staff 2. The melody in staff 1 follows the VI 11th chord in a broken form. Staff 3 plays through the scale in sort of a counterpoint way. You can hear all notes of D except for C#: that one turns up as the central note of bar 2.

2) The second section follows the E flat scale, filling in the notes that were left out by the D scale of the first part (bars 7-10 of the above note example). Contrary to the first section, in this part normal 5th and 7th chords can be recognised. The chords in the following example are a 5th chord on C and a 5th chord on B flat.

3) The third section of the main title theme is multi-scale oriented. During seventeen bars several scales alternate each other after each bar with a descending and later on ascending line in the bass as counterpoint. No note has any key function, but when the bass notes in the next example are taken as keynotes, the keys could be called C, B flat, A Minor (Aeolian) and A flat Lydian. We can also see here examples of that the fourths movement, with which the piece has begun, returns in different appearances. When you look at the complete score in the Songbook, you'll notice several other instances of such fourths movements. You'll also see sequence building in this third section.

Uncle Meat theme, bars from the third block (notes).

Though the "Uncle Meat main title theme" is a short piece, it contains a lot of different technical means, using opposition as well as variation as structure building methods. The return of the theme during the "Uncle Meat variations" is welcome. Here it has a specific intro and outro added to the main theme. The variations are formed by playing the theme a couple of times in different settings. The instrumentation varies, the pitches lie at different positions and the melody is played in several parallels.

Uncle Meat variations, section (midi file).

Uncle Meat variations, section (notes).

The section above starts with seven bars from the third section where the bass and descant are mirrored compared to the "Uncle Meat main title theme". The theme is now played in a lower register and the chords are played via the descant part. After these bars part one of the theme returns, now sung by high vocals. Especially the soprano voice by Nelcy Walker is touching. Notable is the percussion part here. After ticking the beat in straightforward 3/4, the percussion starts playing in 2/4 when the main theme enters again, causing some polyrhythm. All beats are executed on a tom with C as pitch (the key here then being C Mixolydian for part one of the theme). The accentuated notes from bar 8 onwards indicate the downbeat, played by the cymbal as well.

1.2-3 The voice of cheese - Nine types of industrial pollution

BBC For "Uncle meat" Zappa included a three smaller tracks with monologues. Two feature Pamela Zarubica once more as the Suzie Creamcheese character. "Nine types of industrial pollution" is the first time when Zappa took a solo by himself as a seperate composition. It's a sped up track, as the ZFT release "Uncle light" shows. "Uncle light" belongs to the project/object series by the ZFT with additional recordings surrounding an album. This time it's the original vinyl mix, the tracks in an earlier following order and a couple of different edits. "Nine types of industrial pollution" lasts 9:53 minutes on this release, thus much longer than the 5:56 minutes on "Uncle meat". It's something Zappa frequently did. This solo is in Bb Dorian, with Bb as bass pedal note.

Image to the right: The Mothers playing "King Kong" during their 1968 BBC Television special.

1.4 Zolar Czakl

On the album liner notes Zappa is talking about recording layer over layer and electronically mutating the sound of acoustic instruments.

Zolar Czakl, opening (midi file).

Zolar Czakl, opening (transcription).

This is what's done quite extensively in "Zolar Czakl". It's even a shorter piece than "Uncle Meat", but thus dense that it could take you hours to know what exactly is going on in it. It's atonal music with varying meters, counterpoint and harmony.

1.5 Dog breath - The dog breath variations

Zappa has often addressed to his work as one big project, where the individual albums are related to each other by a conceptual continuity. There is a basic truth in this for three main reasons. First his attitude towards his music never changed. He could integrate all style elements in his output, whatever sounded nice to him for whatever reason. He did this so "Absolutely free" in 1967 and still did this on "Civilization phaze III" in 1993. Secondly he never took a distance from earlier work later on in his career. There's a high degree of consistency in his musical output and the repertoire he played live. Thirdly he frequently returned to themes he had used before, mostly in the form of live variants. This he referred to with his expression "the crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe" on "Apostrophe (')". In this third sense "Uncle Meat" can be considered a central album, possibly the album with most crumbs landing on other albums. The next section is about the five appearances of "Dog breath/The dog breath variations", that give a good idea of how he could vary a theme at different points in his career. The capitals refer to the various themes that show up in the different pieces. the presence of B ("Dog breath") or D ("Dog breath variations") is the common element.

1) Dog breath, 1969

In its first appearance on album as track 5 on the "Uncle Meat" CD, the main "Dog breath" theme gets incorporated in a song with three sections. The introduction, some pop music in 4/4, is followed by the main theme, also in regular 4/4. The pitches of the voices are in strange high registers, probably achieved by speeding a track up to double frequency. The theme is segued by a peculiar part with modern music. It starts with fast high clavichord notes and a piano chord, played at a low volume over a steady drum beat. Over these figures various wind instruments play short phrases, responding to each with pauses between them. The transcription below presents the last bars of the main theme and the opening of the modern section. Bars 1-4 have something of both G Lydian and A Mixolydian. As in the opening of "Dog breath" the bass makes a G-A alternation, so that's G Lydian. But with the A in a lower register and longer held, the A gets to sound more as the key note. The modern music section is atonal.

A: Pop introduction.
B: Dog breath main theme.
C: Modern atonal section.

Dog breath (1969), section (midi file).

Dog breath (1969), section (transcription).

2) Dog breath variations, 1969

"Dog breath" returns on "Uncle Meat" in track 9 with variations. The opening starts with the theme as presented below in a rhythmical variation. Instead of a continuing 4/4 set up, the meters are here changing frequently. During the first half the accompaniment is predominantly dealing with harmonies, whereas in the second half a counterpoint movement is taking over the upper hand. The melody is made up of a series phrases, with each phrase reacting to the previous one by taking over some of its characteristics. In classical music they call this type of variations character variations as opposed to variations that keep varying a whole theme. The example below just shows the two opening variations upon the whole theme and the beginning of a new phrase. This version starts with the Em7 chord and with the E as root note for the opening bars, its basis has become E Dorian.

D: Dog breath variations #1.

Dog breath variations (1969), opening (midi file).

Dog breath variations (1969), opening (transcription).

3) Dog breath, 1971

The 1971 version on "Just another band from L.A." begins with a repeated rock riff, before the original theme returns. This riff can already be recognized as one of the motifs in the accompaniment in both "Uncle Meat" versions (the bass line at the beginning of the above "Dog breath" version; on "Dog breath variations" it's played halfway by the acoustic guitar). Here Zappa is using the individual voices of Flo and Eddie to make some divergence between them for the "fuzzy dice ..." line, as shown in the transcription Wolfgang Ludwig made of this particular execution (see "Dog breath (1971)" from the Just another band from L.A. section). The closing with the "hear my plea" section is here far more extended, including a guitar solo as part of the outro.

E: Rock introduction.
B: Dog breath main theme.
F: Outro with guitar solo.

4) Dog breath variations, 1974

The two 1974 versions, available on "YCDTOSA II" and "The dub room special", were recorded shortly after each other and only differ in instrumentation. For transcribing I used the "Dub room special" track. The 1971 opening riff is used again, but now followed by the "Dog breath variations". This version distinguishes itself from the one on "Uncle Meat" by that the accompaniment isn't adding harmonies, but immediately starts off with a counterpoint line. It remains two part counterpoint all through. Regarding style the bass has something of an improvised "walking" bass in jazz compositions. It's prescribed here because it goes exactly the same on both 1974 executions, and also because it partly overlaps with the 1969 "Dog breath variations" bass line.

E: Rock introduction.
D: Dog breath variations #2.

Dog breath variations (1974), opening (midi file).

Dog breath variations (1974), opening (transcription).

An unreleased version of the "Dog breath variations" is part of the "Dog/Meat" combination Zappa orchestrated in the seventies for the Wazoo and Orchestral favorites ensembles. Presented above is the opening of the oboe part, auctioned on internet, spring 2010. By the meter division you can see that this arrangement suggests to some extent that it's different from the other examples shown here. At some points you can say it's a notational choice. At bars 3-4 however you get 4/4 followed by 9/8 with a bow for the lead melody. This implies that some of the other parts must be doing something in 9/8 here, which is not the case on "Uncle Meat". Otherwise this division would have no purpose. The oboe part is the only element of the score I've encountered, so I can't say how this version would sound.

5) Dog breath variations, 1993

For the Ensemble Modern Zappa wrote a score that begins quite mysteriously with two odd numbered meters alternating each other (9/8 plus 11/8). These two bars are next used as a vamp for the slow introduction of the main theme. The hereupon following variation returns to the normal tempo of the original versions. The opening gets commented upon in an article by Barend Tromp in the Dutch magazine "Mens en melodie" (People and melodies), June 2000, where it is presented as an example of mixing elements from (modern) classical music (the odd rhythm), pop and jazz (the pulse of 8th notes).

G: Modern intro.
D: Dog breath variations #3.

Dog breath variations (1993), opening (midi file).

Dog breath variations (1993), opening (notes).

This 1993 version begins with a vamp like figure of two bars in 9/8 plus 11/8. Its meters division is thus completely new compared to the previous versions. The basic time unit of a quarter note becomes a dotted quarter note. Apart from that the tempo is also slower, thus the whole becomes extra slow compared to previous versions. But when the melody has arrived at the 3/4 bar, 16th notes are used, causing an acceleration to the tempo of the earlier version. The notes of the vamp mainly form the chord E-B-F#-G, with occasionally an A or C# added to it. During the bars in which the vamp is used, Zappa has harmonized the lead melody as a series 5th chords. The combination with the notes of the vamp make the harmony of the whole very free, mixing all notes of the E Dorian scale at will.

1.6-9 The legend of the golden arches - Loui Loui - Sleeping in a jar

"Pound for a brown/Legend of the golden arches" goes back to Zappa's youth. Originally he wrote this piece as a movement of a string quartet. "Sleeping in a jar" is the second movement of this quartet. Both are included in the Zappa's teens section of this study.
"Loui Loui" is a live recording from the Royal Albert hall, featuring sax improvisations and Don Preston briefly playing the pipe organ in the hall with the progression from "Loui Loui". It's a reference to Richard Berry's hitsingle, something Zappa used as a gimmick throughout his career. See also "Plastic people" from the Absolutely free section.
Track 8 is the "Dog breath variations", that has been dealt with above in combination with track 5.

1.10-12 Our bizarre relationship - Electric Aunt Jemima

"Our bizarre relationship" is Suzie Creamcheese once more. With "Electric aunt Jemima" the album moves over from modern music to more pop-like music. The lyrics however are modern poetry, reproduced in the booklet. The same goes for all the songs from "Uncle meat", that have lyrics (most tracks are instrumentals). They refer to actual events, but the emotions they provoke are personal and their meaning is deliberately kept in the dark. Here it has Aunt Jemima, the cereal products brand, as a starting point.
Track 10 features the "Uncle meat variations", being described above in combination with track 1. The later "Exercise #4" from the Yellow shark section of this study appears as an intro for these variations on "Uncle Meat".

1.13-14 Prelude to King Kong - God bless America

"Prelude to King Kong" is a loose improvisation by the brass players along the "King Kong" theme. It's played over a steady figure by the rhythm section with F# Dorian as key. "King Kong" is amply being dealt with elsewhere in this study. See below at tracks 2.4-9 for, among others, the main theme. "God bless America" features the Mothers singing this national anthem live at the Whiskey a go-go.

1.15-16 Pound for a brown - Ian Underwood whips it out

"Pound for a brown" is a second alternative recording of "Legend of the golden arches", with the tracks being sped up to high registers. "Ian Underwood whips it out" begins with Ian Underwood introducing himself, re-telling how he became a member of the band. Zappa asked him to "whip out" his saxophone playing and a live example from Denmark is included here:
- 0:00 Introduction with Ian talking.
- 0:36 Sax solo begins with only the drums.
- 1:50 Other instruments are slowly coming up.
- 2:05 The bass part turns into a vamping figure and sets the key to Eb Dorian. The main accompanying harmonies are formed by the Ab and Ebm chords.
- 3:05 The bass turns into a free jazz type playing. The harmonies can be dissonant and the atmosphere is moving towards atonal.
- 3:51 Second vamping figure by the bass, re-installing the Eb Dorian tonality.
- 4:10 Atonal coda. The drums have stopped.
- 5:05 End.

1.17-18. Mr. Green Genes - We can shoot you

"Mr. Green Genes" is the vocal version of a song that would re-appear in a more elaborate version on the "Hot rats" album from 1970. The song knows three themes, following the pattern as briefly described in the Hot rats section from this study. Here these themes get sung twice with in between an instrumental rendition of these themes. On "Hot rats" this piece gets called "Son of Mr. Green Genes". The harmonic pattern of the themes is also used for accompanying the extensive soloing during this version.

Mr. Green Genes

The Ludwig study is dealing with these pieces on pages 75 and 166. The above is from page 166, where you can see the first theme with a second bass line beneath it. It's a mild form of counterpoint, with both parts being harmonically complementary. On "Hot rats", with its intensive use of overdubbing, the harmonies are far more complex than on the "Uncle meat" version. It has been transcribed by Andy Aledort in the Hot rats guitar book, where you can find these harmonies on pages 30-31. The bass line from above is played similarly on "Hot rats", but not transcribed. As a guitar book, the bass part isn't included. During the repetitions of the first theme another figure gets added, that Andy refers to as fill. It makes the total harmony dense, with Zappa mingling all notes from a scale. "We can shoot you" is another example of a modern instrumental piece, atonal and partially improvised.

1.19-20. If we'd all been living in California - The air

Specifically during the sixties and the onset of the seventies, Zappa might record and film his group on the road or at work, often without informing them. This could sometimes go at their expense and with "If we'd all been living in California" Jimmy Carl Black is the victim. He gets credited for "poverty" as well in the CD booklet. In 1965 Zappa had promised the band members to become rich and famous if they followed him. Throughout his life, Jimmy kept complaining that only the second got fulfilled. "The air" is the second relatively normal popsong from the album. It's in E.

1.21 Project X

The first half of "Project X" is a refined example of mixing diatonic and atonal material. It begins gently in Bb with an acoustic guitar playing the Bbsus4 and Eb chords, mixed with the Bb chord beneath it in bars 2-3 (I miswrote myself in the 3rd printed version: B minor should be Bb). Over these chords the clarinet begins a sentimental melody using notes of the same scale and applying some larger interval jumps. Next are the vibes and brass instruments unleashed with rapid partly atonal partly diatonic movements. After they have spewed their energy the guitar chords return just as quietly as they begun.

Project X, opening (midi file).

Project X, opening (transcription).

At 1:47 the second half of this title starts with music not directly related to the first half. It's atonal, a mix of instruments with their regular sound and with mutated sounds, sometimes accompanied by pulsing chords.

1.22 Cruising for burgers

The outlines of this track go as:
- 0:00 Little intro (pick-up bar).
- 0:01 Theme 1, phrase 1, "I must be free ...".
- 0:15 Theme 1, phrase 2, "Frees me".
- 0:22 Theme 2, "Gotta do a few things ..."
- 0:32 Theme 3, phrase 1, "The difference between us ...".
- 0:46 Theme 3, phrase 2, "My phony freedom cart ...".
- 0:56 This whole sequence gets repeated instrumentally, ending with phrase 2 of theme 3 being varied upon as the coda.
- 2:17 End.

Cruising for burgers, 0:00-0:24 (midi file).
Cruising for burgers, 0:57-1:28 (midi file).

Cruising for burgers, 0:00-0:24 (transcription).
Cruising for burgers, 0:57-1:28 (transcription).

"Cruising for burgers" is a good example of how Zappa could vary subdivisions within a meter. The two examples above contain all of theme 1 with a series of rhythmic variations within a bar, which absolutely lasts 3/4 in total. The first is from the opening, the second from the instrumental reprise. The subdivisions being used are:
- Ex. 1, bars 1 and 3: 12/16 as four times three 16th notes.
- Ex. 2, bars 1 and 3: 6/8 as six times two 16th notes.
- Ex. 1, bars 2 and 5 - Ex. 2, 2 and 5: 24/32 with eight times a fast uneven grouping as ONE-TWO-three for the snare drum/bass drum. It's interesting to hear that the cymbal/hi-hat is ticking in 6/8, so this is a form of polyrhythms. It's visualized by an extra line in bar 3 of both examples.
- Ex. 1, bars 6-7 - Ex. 2, bars 6-7: 3/4.
Different notations are possible, but the idea is clear and most directly audible by the drum part, that I've partly included. The melody is largely made up of sustained notes, so it's the changing rhythm, that attracts most attention. The harmonies are formed by semi-improvised lines by a couple of instruments. Bar 1 in 2/4 serves as a pick-up bar, with one beat split up into two and the next into three as triplets. Bars 1-7 include diatonic material, mixed with chromatic notes. They aren't neatly following keys, but only implying D and F Mixolydian for bars 2-5. Bars 6-7 don't contain sufficient notes to say anything about a scale. Theme 2, on the other hand, is stable in B Dorian, though you have to wait till bar eleven of the second example to hear a G-sharp. During the instrumental version of the second theme, you can again see that Zappa is applying different subdivisions. This time it's in 4/8 (or 4/4 depending on the notation). The bass line is played straightforwardly in 4/8, while the Bm-chord is consistently pulsing off-beat.
In 1976 "Cruising for burgers" would return on the "Zappa in New York" album in an entirely instrumental version. It includes many alternative passages and a solo in D Mixolydian.

2.1-3 Uncle Meat film excerpts - Tengo na minchia tanta

"Uncle Meat", the movie, was completed in a couple of phases. When it got finally completed in 1988 as a video, it included concert recordings from 1968 and material shot on various locations from around 1971 and 1982. For instance Zappa's house or a local grocery store. The CD booklet tells you about a plot, accompanied by cartoon-like drawings of a series of scenes. Because of the absence of a serious budget, eventually nothing got filmed in this manner. "Tengo na minchia tanta" is a rock song from the early eighties takes, featuring Massimo Bassoli. The music from the 1968 concert would appear on a seperate CD, called "Ahead of their time". See below for a description and some examples. For the Uncle Meat CD, Zappa included some fourty minutes with dialogues. So far the ZFT hasn't come up with a re-issue as DVD, but copies of the video can be obtained.

2.4-9 King Kong (1969)

The "Uncle Meat" album ends with 16-minute jazz peace called "King Kong". It has a short composed opening theme and then allows the members of the band to improvise (the subdivision of the title into a series of tracks refers to who are playing/soloing in a particular section). Such improvised sections were an important part of Zappa's live performances, which we can hear on the bootlegs from this period and the later official live recordings. "King Kong" was included in most of the tours and we can listen to other improvisations on "Ahead of their time", "What you can't do on stage anymore, vol. 3" and "Make a jazz noise here". The next comment on "King Kong" stems from Wolfgang Ludwig's study, pages 134-5, published in 1992. The "King Kong" theme consists of sets of sequences and variations on motifs in E flat Dorian (the bass is giving a pedal point on E flat). The melody uses this scale either in a pentatonic order or in the normal following order. The following example is the opening sequence of the melody.

King Kong, score version, opening bars (midi file).

King Kong, score version, opening bars (notes).

The literal quote goes as: "The melodic sequence [in bars 1-4] is based upon a repetition of motifs, that shows itself first as a section from a downwardly played pentatonic scale (bars 1-2 without an F), next as a part of the Eb Dorian scale (see the C in bars 3-4). The Eb tonality manifests itself by an ongoing bass riff of two bars [Ponty plays the music of Zappa version; on Uncle Meat it's plain Eb pedal]. Also in bars 6-12 the pentatonic colouring of the melody becomes clear; because only in the first and second grade fifth-related notes are used, Ab, Db, Eb (1st grade) and Gb, Bb (2nd grade). The F and C notes first return again in the next bars. Also the members of the sequence (bars 1-4) are following the ladder of a downward pentatonic scale (first notes: Bb, Ab, Gb, Eb)."

The example above has the King Kong opening as it is indicated in the "Uncle Meat" CD booklet, namely with Eb pedal and the Absus4 chord. Something that can be confusing, is that the album version goes different. When you're raised with classical music, you're teached that the score is sacred. What the score says is what the composer wants, not to be deviated from. In the case of Zappa this is different. Because of the list below, I've become convinced that his scores are neither blueprints nor ideal versions of how he wanted many of his compositions to sound. They form a set of versions by themselves, equal in value to the different versions on albums. Zappa could write out sheet music as he does in the "Uncle Meat" booklet, namely the lead melody with pedal notes and the chords indicated by their symbols. But he could also write out every detail, not only in the case of orchestra- and chamber music, but also for his rock band. So it can be estranging to see such detailed sheet music to notice that the first recording of it goes different. Or even that parts aren't included.
In the case of "King Kong", the "Uncle Meat" booklet score can be seen as a blueprint. But even so, the indicated Absus4 chord is not actually used on the "Uncle Meat" album sections that follow below. The first example contains the opening bars, that basically use Absus2, or a plain fifth, instead of Absus4 (in bar 2 the total sounding chord gets extended to an Ab 13th chord). The melody is played over this Absus2 chord in the bass, with the pulsing Eb note in it standing central. So the opening has something of both Ab Mixolydian and Eb Dorian. The theme itself is notated in a fast 3/8 meter by Zappa. For the accompaniment you can see that these 3/8 motifs are grouped into larger meters. During the opening 4 times 3/8 becomes 12/8. Most instruments play it as if it was similar to 4/4, thus to be subdivided into 8 instead of 12, but the drummer is ticking 12/8. In the case of Zappa what the drummer does is decisive for the meter (something you can note be comparing album versions with the score). When the theme gets repeated it has become 6/8, followed by 12/16. The pedal note is here plain Eb, where it stays during all of the soloing. Zappa notated the final C of the melody as to be held over a number of bars, so obviously he wanted the accompaniment to fill this in. In the second example below you have a held Ebsus4 chord and a progression in staff 3: IV-III-IV-III-IV-III. The bass line descends from Eb to Bb. Some players repeat the C note, while staff 1 represents an improvised closing melody. The third example is a little outtake from the solo sections. It has Bunk Gardner playing sax, electronically transformed, while Zappa plays a chord progression. The transformation makes the sound of the sax unrecognizable, and it gets replayed in the form of parallel octaves. The chord progression by the guitar is, if I'm not missing some notes, I 7th - II 7th - I 11th - II 7th - I 11th in Eb Dorian. The theme returns once more in a twisted form during the outro. The pedal note has shifted from Eb to Db, played by two gongs. It gets played as if half of it is in Db major, the other half being atonal. It's deliberately done in this manner. The notes can still be recognized as stemming from the all-diatonic "King Kong" main melody, though full of dissonants and altered notes (fourth example). The mutation of the sound of standard instruments comes out most strongly in staff 1, with one instrument getting abnormally high.

King Kong, album version, opening bars (midi file).
King Kong, album version, end of the first statement of the theme (midi file).
King Kong, solo fragment (midi file).
King Kong, outro, opening bars (midi file).

King Kong, album version, opening bars (transcription/notes).
King Kong, album version, end of the first statement of the theme (transcription/notes).
King Kong, solo fragment (transcription).
King Kong, outro, opening bars (transcription).

Other versions of "King Kong", included in this study:
- The "Lumpy gravy" version from 1968 with the melody in 3/8 being played over 4/4.
- King Kong as played during "Uncle rhebus" gets dealt with at the bottom of this section.
- The "Hammersmith Odeon" version from 1978 with the end of the melody and the opening of the guitar solo.
- The "YCDTOSA vol. III" version with a monumental collage of sections from the 1971 and 1982 tours.
- A fragment from the 1988 execution is included in the Make a jazz noise here section, as also "Diplodocus" can be seen as an outtake from a "King Kong" execution. These sections aren't directly connected to the "King Kong" theme anymore, only the key can be the same.

Both "Uncle Meat" and "King Kong" are examples with Zappa composing lenghty melodies where the harmonization of it is of secondary importance. These melodies do get harmonized in scores and on albums, but it can be different each time. This is an aspect that makes a number of Zappa pieces sound different from most classical music and popular music. Normally melody and chords form a unity in Western music. If you would take a Chopin or Debussy piece, distract the lead melody from it and harmonize it differently anew, it wouldn't sound as Chopin or Debussy any more. But Zappa's music is very flexible as it comes to this. He could put pedal notes and chords beneath his melodies almost at will. Next is a list of the examples in this study of how the score and an album version can differ (next to the numerous differences between album versions among themselves):
- "Arabesque/Toad of the short forest". The harmonies of specifically theme 2 are on paper different from the CD.
- "Brown shoes don't make it". The score in the Songbook from 1973 is closer to the 1981 version on "Tinsel town rebellion" than to the one on "Absolutely free".
- "Uncle Meat". The score from both the Songbook and the album liner notes don't include the counterpoint figure from above. It's more than harmonic fill-in. If you play it with and without it, the difference is decisive for making the opening of the "Uncle Meat" album version sound as it is.
- "Kung Fu". The piano part is not included on "The lost episodes"
- "Nun suit". Album and score go different in many aspects.
- "The girl's dream". The album version and the score differ substantially.
- "Little green scratchy sweaters & courduroy ponce". The rhythm of bar 4 goes different on album.
- "200 Motels - the suites" is at various points a revised version of the original score. See the 200 Motels section for the details.
- "Big swifty". The piano part is not included on "Waka Jawaka".
- "For Calvin". The album and the score start with different harmonizations.
- "Think it over". The keyboard part is not included on "Joe's domage".
- "Variant I". The guitar part is not included on "Wazoo".
- "Farther O'blivion". The piano part is not included on "Imaginary diseases".
- "Rollo interior". The indicated 2-chords are not played on "Apostrophe (')".
- "Little dots". The trumpet part from the CD inner sleeve is not played like that on this CD.
- "Dupree's paradise" (1974). The piano part is not included on "YCDTOSA Vol. II".
- "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich". As indicated in the Orchestral fovorites section below the example, the album and score version differ in many details.
- "RDNZL". The chords from the opening got reduced on album. The structure of this song changed drastically over time.
- "The black page drum solo". The percussion part by Ruth Underwood got overdubbed and isn't part of the score.
- "The black page". The indicated 2-chords are mostly not played on CD versions.
- "Mo 'n Herb's vacation". A few parts got skipped.
- "Sad Jane". Some differences get mentioned in the LSO section.
- "The perfect stranger". As indicated in the LSO section, there are possibly two versions of the score.
- "Naval aviation in art". Some details on album are different (see the notes below the score).
- "Get whitey". The "Yellow shark" album version is somewhat reduced.


Epilogue - Agency man

On the album sleeve Zappa informed us about the "Uncle Meat" movie, that we probably would never get to see, stashed away in his basement. The unfinished movie kept lingering around in his mind however. When videos presented themselves as a new sellable medium in the eighties, an opportunity to return to the project was offered. In 1982 some additional taping was done and in 1988 it finally became publicly available. Zappa wasn't satisfied with only the video and wanted to incorporate the movie in the CD as well. "Uncle Meat" thus became a double CD including 40 minutes of dialogues and a new song, "Tengo na minchia tanta", recorded during the 1982 session.

Below: Still from "Uncle Meat" with Roy Estrada as the Mexican pope and Ian underwood at the piano.

The concert parts, included in the movie, were among others the little play from the gig at the Royal Albert Hall from 1968. About 70 minutes of this concert, including the play, were released in 1993 as "Ahead of their time".

Epilogue, section (midi file).
Agency man, section (midi file).

Epilogue, opening (transcription).
Agency man, section (transcription).

Roy Estrada For the occasion members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra were hired to play several modern chamber music pieces. Various material from these tracks would later re-appear in the scores for "200 Motels" (the album) or "200 Motels - the suites", though in much different forms. The first half minute from "Epilogue" is presented above. It has a tempo change for the second theme, at the part where the meters keep changing. In bars 1-6 4/4 and 6/4 are used as meters, while the scales keep changing. In bars 7-10 all meters are different and odd-numbered. The scale here however is constantly Ab. "Agency man", about how to promote a president to the voters, precedes it. It's a piece you might call a pastiche, opening with Don Preston improvising a cadenza on a concert piano over the central theme. He keeps playing piano when the first theme starts, using several style elements from classical piano concerts like arpeggio's, tremolos and ornaments. This first theme in C is in a straightforward waltz rhythm, the second is a simple march, giving the instructions for the president's campaign speechwise singing.

The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage

Next is a section from "The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage". I could use page 1 of the piano/celeste part of the original score in Zappa's handwriting, that I recently came across on the net as to be auctioned. Below it's complemented for the chamber ensemble, playing it on this occasion.

The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage, section (midi file).

The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage, section (score/transcription).

0:00  Zappa speaks through his megaphone: "The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage". The players on stage boo the Mexican pope.
0:03  Bars 1-6. These bars correspond with the opening of "Dance of the just plain folks" from the later "200 Motels" scores (see the Fillmore East, 1970 section of this study). Apparently Zappa changed the meter notation for bars 1-2. In the piano part it's 3/8. In "Dance of the just plain folks" this got divided as 4/8 plus 2/8 (actually 4/4 plus 2/4, with another time unit), after which also this version continues in 3/8.
0:12  Bars 7-10, being a repetition of bars 1-4.
0:19  Bars 11-21. Variations upon the material from bars 1-10.
0:36  Bars 22-23. At this point the midi file and the complemented score from the example from above start. This whole section is specific for "The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage" and got skipped for "200 Motels". The differences are that many that Zappa chose to have the tracks on "Ahead of their time" carry their own titles. It indeed functions very well as a play, independently of its later context in "200 Motels", especially when you're watching the "Uncle meat" movie as well. These two bars are a different arrangement of bars 3-4. The piano has been replaced by a celeste, playing the same note. The harmony part is filled in quite differently. Especially on ticks 5-6 of bar 2 it's getting pretty dissonant (I'm not positive about each note in the transcription, but the dissonance is clear).
0:38  Bars 24-25. Rhythmic variations around these two dissonant chords. The brass section is playing harmony notes.
0:42  Bar 26. Now the piano returns with a string of ten eighth notes, divided over two parts. So far the piano and celeste were playing their two parts in parallel octaves, but now the intervals between the parts start varying:
- The notes of the first four ticks are all played as augmented fifths.
- The fifth tick is played as a fifth.
- The sixth tick is played as a major third.
- The seventh tick is played as a tritone.
- The eighth tick is played as a major third.
- The nineth tick is played as a fifth.
- The eighth tick is played as a major third.
Both piano parts are moving up and down in the same directions in an irregular way. So this is about shifting harmonies.
0:45  Bars 27-28. A broad held chord, fading out. The drums/percussion part is articulatedly playing in 5/8.
0:50  Bars 29-36. This is a larger section with 5/8 and 4/8 bars alternating. The players are counting the beats aloud. Possibly Zappa had some choreography in mind for these bars when he wrote them, but this is not happening during the "Uncle meat" movie. Bars 29-32 form a sequence: the short melody/motif of bar 29 gets varied upon three times. During bars 33-35 brass instruments are playing their own melody lines. In bar 36 the little melody of bar bar 29 gets varied upon one more time.
1:06  Bar 37. The meter changes to 7/8 and the brass players are taking over with thirds and fourths in the discant and various harmony notes.
1:10  Bar 38-39. The meter changes again. These two bars are a resting point with playing around the progression E - Esus4 with D as a pedal note beneath it. It's one of many examples showing that Zappa loved the sound of extended chords. While the example so far has been atonal, you are here having a brief diatonic intermission in D (major or Mixolydian).
1:16  At this point the example from above stops, so only the outlines of the remainder are briefly sketched. The ensemble continues with modern atonal music.
1:21  Now sections from "200 Motels" can be recognized again. As already said in a much different form.
2:02  Saxophone improvisation by Motorhead Sherwood.
2:21  The ensemble interferes.
2:52  Zappa speaks through his megaphone: "Undaunted the band plays on".
2:54  End.

Other tracks from Ahead of their time

- "Holiday in Berlin": see the Movie scores section for the "Burnt weeny sandwich" studio version.
- King Kong (live): see above and below for the themes of this song.
- "Help, I'm a rock": see the Freak out! section for the 1966 studio version.
- "Transylvania boogie": see the Chunga's revenge section (including this specific live version).
- Pound for a brown - Sleeping in a jar: here these two pieces are played after each other as "The string quartet". They are also played on "Uncle Meat" (above), where the link to Zappa's teens is included for examples.
- The studio version of "Let's make the water turn black" first appeared on "We're only in it for the money". Another live version is included in the Best band you never heard in your life section.
- The orange country lumber truck: see the Weasels ripped my flesh section for a small outtake from the guitar solo.
- "Oh no": see the Lumpy gravy section for the 1967 studio version.


Uncle Rhebus

In 1969 the band had been playing "King Kong" and "Uncle Meat" for over a year and for the The Ark concert of July 1969 Zappa decided the band should play it in a really weird manner. "Uncle Meat" was released in April 1969, so the audience may have understood what was going on. The band namely played these tunes simultaneously without attempts to adjust the themes to each other. So you get the effect Charles Ives always gets quoted for: the effect of listening to two bands approaching each other and playing different tunes. The track the ZFT released as "Uncle Rhebus" on their 2012 "Finer moments" CD partly overlaps with the "Uncle Meat/King Kong medley" from the "The ark" bootleg from the "Beat the boots" series. Both contain this medley and the set-up goes as:

The Ark: Uncle Meat/King Kong

- 0:00  Introduction by Zappa: "King Kong? Well I tell you what... I think what we are gonna do is play Uncle Meat and then, uh, sort of sneak into King Kong from that. It would be your teenage medley of two".
- 0:25  Uncle Meat main title.
- 3:31  Uncle Meat outro, specific for this CD.
- 3:48  Drum solo.
- 6:06  King Kong main theme.
- 7:15  Solo over the Eb pedal from King Kong.
- 8:21  Theme #2 from King Kong => 0:00 on Finer Moments.

Finer Moments: Uncle Rhebus

- 0:00  Theme #2 from King Kong. For the 1968-9 tours the Mothers of Invention played a second theme on their King Kong performances. It can also be heard on Ahead of their time. This second theme is not related to the main theme from King Kong. It's both rhythmically and harmonically pretty complex. It starts in C Dorian for bars 1-4, continuing in C minor for bars 5-6. At the end of bar 6 it looks like Zappa might want to evade to Eb. Bars 1-4 are in regular 12/16. The theme first gets played unisono, next with the players following their own lines. Thus in bars 3-4 it becomes a chord progression. For bars 5-8 the meters and rhythm get more complicated. These bars contain strings of 16th and 32nd notes. I've included the drum beats in bars 7-8, so that the notation becomes better comprehensible. In bars 7-8 you get dissonant harmonies as C-Db-Eb-G in bar 7 and Db-Eb-F-G in bar 8. In these bars the scale has become Db Lydian.

Uncle Rhebus, section of theme #2 from King Kong (midi file).

Uncle Rhebus, section of theme #2 from King Kong (transcription).

- 1:16  Solo in Eb Dorian over bass vamp #1 (this vamp gets represented in the examples below).
- 4:02  King Kong/Uncle Meat medley. While the bass vamp #1 continues, Uncle Meat enters the picture. It comes in as if it were still in D as above on the Uncle Meat CD. But without the D bass pedal you can't actually call it D anymore. The Eb Dorian vamp belongs to the key King Kong is in. Uncle Meat changes scales a couple of time. Zappa could have transposed the opening of Uncle Meat to Db, so that it would be in line with Eb Dorian for its use of notes, but that would only work for the opening bars. While the Uncle Meat part follows the melodic notes of the original with an amount of freedom, the rhythm is here much irregular. An improvised jazz manner of playing this theme. By ignoring much of the rhythm of the bass vamp and using a different key, Uncle Meat sounds as a stranger here. Because of the distance of around two octaves between bass and discant, the dissonants don't sound that sharp for as long the King Kong lead melody hasn't entered the picture.
The second example below is with the second block from Uncle Meat. Here Uncle Meat and King Kong switch roles. The bass vamp, using only Eb-Bb-Ab, is now in line with the Eb major scale of this Uncle Meat section. So when the King Kong melody returns in bar 3, the effect here is that King Kong sounds as the stranger. Uncle Meat and King Kong now have a common tonic, so here you can say that Zappa mingles Eb major and Eb Dorian. Be aware of the notation in the two examples below. Uncle Meat and King Kong use their own different keys.

Uncle Rhebus, section #1 from the Uncle Meat/King Kong medley (midi file).
Uncle Rhebus, section #2 from the Uncle Meat/King Kong medley (midi file).

Uncle Rhebus, section #1 from the Uncle Meat/King Kong medley (transcription).
Uncle Rhebus, section #2 from the Uncle Meat/King Kong medley (transcription).

- 5:36  Outro of the medley.
- 6:39  Interlude with bass vamp #2 with a I-III-IV progression in Eb Dorian played over it.
- 7:09  Slower progression with I-IV-III-I. The soloing in Eb Dorian restarts.
- 7:34  The accompaniment turns into a I-IV alternation in Eb Dorian.
- 11:17 Riff like the one included in Didya get any onya (the first one from the Weasels section in this study). Playing this riff after a signal from Zappa was one of the routines the Mothers did. It could turn up at any moment.
- 12:01 A solo by Zappa, released as "Baked-bean boogie" on YCDTOSA vol. V (see the Weasels ripped my flesh section).
- 15:29 Music to be included in the later 200 Motels scores. This section also got released as an individual track on YCDTOSA vol. V, this one with the title "Piano/drum duet".
- 17:45 End.

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