After an adolescence of knowing about Zappa from the back pages of rock encyclopaedias and the odd reference encountered as a hardcore Beatles fan (John & Yoko jammed with him in the early ’70s, their collaboration forming the majority of record two of the Sometime In New York City album - later released as a section of Zappa's own Playground Psychotics; George Harrison referenced him in the lyrics of the song 'Blood From A Clone', on Somewhere in England; the album artwork to We're Only In It For The Money parodied Sgt Pepper) I started buying and enjoying his music.
I've previously blogged about how much of a mission being into Zappa was, in the late-’80s, when so little of his work was easily available in Australia at the time.
By the time of his death in 1993, almost all of his oeuvre had been reissued on CD and I more-or-less came to own it all - all the while acquiring whatever I could on the original vinyl as well.
An interesting item is the double album Uncle Meat. Its subtitle claims that it contains “MOST OF THE MUSIC FROM THE MOTHER’S MOVIE OF THE SAME NAME WHICH WE HAVEN'T GOT ENOUGH MONEY TO FINISH YET”. I realise now the apostrophe is in the wrong place. Never mind. Dig the artwork: a collage of photography, glass, teeth and who-knows-what.
It was the first album on the 'Bizarre' label - set up by Zappa and manager Herb Cohen, and distributed by Warner Brothers/Reprise. I've read that the name of the label, 'Bizarre', was inspired by the anthology of weird writing that Barry Humphries had compiled, entitled Bizarre. A journalist claims to have spotted it, during an interview, on Zappa’s shelf. (I think it was in a piece in Craig McGregor's 1973 anthology, Up Against The Wall, America.)
The name of the album, however, was inspired by the uncle of Zappa's childhood friend Don Van Vliet. According to Zappa's autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book, Uncle Alan had a habit of exposing himself to Don's girlfriend Laurie. He's go to the bathroom and urinate with the door open, turning around to announce that "it's like a great big beef heart". That was Uncle Meat. The event was also the inspiration for Van Vliet's stage name, Captain Beefheart.
Uncle Meat is a distinctively quirky, mostly instrumental double album. On CD, it's quirkier still: a double disc set containing most of the album on disc 1. Disc 2 includes excerpts of soundtrack dialogue from what would have been the Uncle Meat movie - as well as a ridiculous new song called 'Tegno Na Minchia Tanta' (essentially, Italian for 'I have a big dick' - or, more literally, 'I am holding a dick this big'). Those tracks really break with the feel of the late-’60s album - and have come to be referred to as 'penalty tracks'. A frequent question for fans on the forum of the Zappa homepage regarding the recent re-issue of the entire catalogue, is whether Uncle Meat would be re-issued with the penalty tracks. It has been.
Uncle Meat the movie - in its final release - was part documentary and part cheesy monster movie; like so much of Zappa's filmed work, it didn't know what genre it wanted to be and so attempted to be many things at once. Most obviously - having been completed many years after shooting had commenced - it was part documentary, part cheesy monster movie. Elements seemed to serve as a prequel to sequences that turned up in 200 Motels. And - trust me - make just as little sense, really. Perhaps even less.
A friend recalls me trying hard to make him and another buddy watch it - a good 20-odd years ago. "I remember it being very psychedelic," he says, and attributes to the other mate the phrase "Wow, that was doing my head in," but they appreciated my love of FZ - "like crack cocaine to you, I recall" - even if they didn't share it. I'm not sure if he's recalling the time I made them watch Uncle Meat the movie, the time I made them watch 200 Motels, or the time I made them watch The Amazing Mr Bickford. It doesn't matter. Our respective responses were the same each time, and I'm glad they indulged me. I probably only ever watched each one once - and yet if this were released on DVD or Bluray, I'd buy it the second it was available.
For now, someone has uploaded it, so I'm using Youtube to watch it, and that's pretty cool.
Muffins occupy an interesting place on the food spectrum. Or perhaps two — since on the one hand, they’re that bready substitute you toast for brekky, to have hot with butter and the spread of your choice or with sausage and egg. But then they’re also a kind of cake – sometimes with fruit, so you can kid yourself that you’re having something healthy with your coffee or tea.
Although it takes its name from an innocent nursery rhyme (“do you know the muffin man/Who lives on Drury Lane?”) Frank Zappa brings a different muffin conundrum to the fore:
Girl, you thought it was a man But it was a muffin. The cries you heard in the night Was on account of him stuffin’.
The tack piano that accompanies the mad narrative, reminiscent of the original soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). But combined with Zappa’s declamatory narrative, it is a b-grade horror movie – about the Muffin Man in question, ensconced in his Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, working on “that prince of foods: the muffin”.
Every chef’s been in a similar situation. And not just chefs: every creative identifies with the archetypal ‘Frankenstein’ scenario of the mad scientist bringing their creation to life. Even Zappa himself – who’d use horror movie nomenclature for his work: follow-up songs and albums may be titled ‘Son of… and ‘Return of the Son of…’ (as in the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar series). He also named his home studio the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen.
It’s significant that the song graces Bongo Fury, the live album commemorating the mid-’70s tour undertaken with Captain Beefheart. The good Captain – entangled in contractual purgatory at the time – was a childhood friend of Zappa’s and they shared a love of music and cinema. Indeed, early on they sought to collaborate on a b-grade movie their own: Captain Beefheart vs the Grunt People. Beefheart’s dad used to drive a bread van, which the teenage pair would break into in order to steal pineapple buns. Muffins of their time, no doubt.
So – d'ya reckon anyone in the MasterChef utility research kitchen will have a stab at ‘that prince of foods, the muffin’? Who cares. It’s more exciting when the monstrous culinary equivalent of Frankenstein rises from the slab.
The Mind Games album dates from the beginning of Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’, its origins lying in Yoko Ono’s album Feeling the Space. Lennon dug the musicians her assistant May Pang had assembled. Turns out Lennon dug May Pang: by the time he’d written a bunch of songs and was ready to record, he’d split from Yoko, who’d somehow given her blessing on his taking May as his mistress. How did this affect John? Take a look at the album cover: Yoko still looms large over lonely Lennon.
So rather than wholesale butcheries with massive cool rooms featuring acres of fresh flesh on display, it would seem ‘Meat City’ is about Lennon’s visit to the world of singledom: pick-up bars, swingers parties and the massive hotbeds featuring acres of fresh flesh on display.
True to that period of unfocused rage, there are still elements of random political activism left over from previous album Sometime In New York City: that weird interlude that sounds like a synthesised chipmonk speaking alien is in fact Lennon’s own voice, sped up and run backwards, suggesting all pigs ought to be loved very much (my paraphrasing). The version on the flip side of the Mind Games single is a slightly different mix, where the synthesised chipmonk turns out to be saying “check the album” backwards.
Whomever said, 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach' wasn't lying. All men are hungry men. But none more so than late-’60s David Bowie: hungry for success, and, to look at him – ‘Biafra-thin rabbit-in-the-headlights’ as one cultural commentator described him – literally hungry.
The hunger to make it as a recording artist meant the former David Robert Jones toyed with various styles and genres including cockney music hall, mod beats and whatever category this vision of a future dystopia fits into. The song opens with a Kenneth Williams impression (so it’s not meant to be taken so seriously, clearly), delivering the bleak news of over-population. Then Bowie takes on the role of a young, charismatic, crackpot leader offering more-or-less the same Modest Proposal as Jonathan Swift as a means to overcome the multitude of starving poor.
The early ‘hungry’ – or ‘lean’ period – of Bowie’s work includes a stack of songs that have been repackaged in various compilations over the decades. While the artist has all but disowned his oeuvre from that time, the collection was finally given its rightful release as a deluxe double CD collection, much to fans’ pleasure. Bowie himself cherry picked his favourites and re-recorded them for an album called Toy earlier this century – that still remains officially unavailable.
Following on from the high-camp Bowie song about infantricide, ‘We Are Hungry Men’, comes the darker, down-beat bad acid trip of Funkadelic.
Are they proclaiming, on a metaphoric level, that America has failed its youth? The dark mutterings don’t quite lend themselves to transparent interpretation.
Instead, sit back and enjoy – as best you can – the grunted insinuations and squealed backing vocals as they slowly build to a grinding, faded frenzy. It helps if you imagine it the soundtrack of Matt Preston discovering the fish is still raw, the omlette contains eggshell and the rice hasn’t been fluffed; time to send the dish back, and the chef away in tears.
And if it gets too much, relax: a far more upbeat food-related funk will follow, courtesy of Mick Jagger’s ‘Too Many Cooks’.
If it’s a Rolling Stones song about anything other than getting some nookie, you can bet that it is in fact a metaphor for getting some nookie. This is also the case with almost all of Mick Jagger’s solo oeuvre. ‘Too Many Gooks (Spoil the Soup)’ appears to be a more explicit reading of ‘Cook Cook Blues’. 'Cook Cook Blues' is an ’80s Stones blues jam that took a long time to prepare - finally served as a single flip side in 1989 (and features on BastardChefVolume 1) that uses food as its metaphor. But the funky ‘Too Many Cooks’ was not written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and its recording predates ‘Cook Cook Blues’ by about a decade – even though it took even longer - almost another decade! - to see the light of day. It has a far more interesting pedigree.
The song was produced by John Lennon during his ‘lost weekend’ – some 18 months of separation from Yoko Ono that involved revelry, debauchery and recording with various buddies. The sessions for ‘Too Many Cooks’ must have been quite debauched indeed, since Mick Jagger claims to have had no recollection of them, unaware the song existed until an acetate of it turned up many years later (and, knowing Mick, then taken back into the studio for tweaking, polishing and finishing properly before subsequent release).
If the food-as-sex metaphor is annoying, play this song on and on; what with the strange eroticism on display when you watch Nigella Lawson taste everything she’s preparing, and Matt Preston tasting absolutely anything, the appetite may sicken and so die…
Stepping out first with an unlikely collection of old-time crooner’s standards, Sentimental Journey (“recorded for me mum!”) and then the country album Beaucoups of Blues, by his third album Ringo the erstwhile Beatles drummer had hit upon a system that’s pretty much served him well ever since: treat each album as a party and invite all your mates to rock up with a song (or, in Ringo’s case, ‘easy listening' up with a song).
Hence John Lennon’s contribution for Ringo’s 1976 album, Ringo's Rotogravure: a party song about getting through life, with Lennon himself guesting on piano.
Initially, the ‘cooking in the kitchen of love’ metaphor sounds as though it might reside in the same region as the Stones’ ‘Cook Cook Blues’ or Mick Jagger’s ‘Too Many Cooks’ (and more specifically, whichever Kiss song demands “let me put my log in your fireplace”). But by the second metaphor, "truckin’ down the highway of life” and subsequent philosophical exposition “It’s got to be high, it’s got to be low/’Cause in between we just don’t go” it turns out that there's no hidden message or any depth to these words whatsoever. Lennon saved that stuff - in songs like ‘Imagine’, ‘Instant Karma’ and ‘Power to the People’ - for himself.
Don’t hold it against him. It's been noted that Lennon – and Lennon & McCartney for that matter – were, more often than not, 'dozy lyricists' when tossing off a ditty for Ringo. And besides, by this stage the working class hero was about to go into musical hibernation; he’d spent his ‘lost weekend’ being high and was about to settle into being low for the next half-decade, the sessions for this song proving his last until he started recording Double Fantasy.
And remember: Lennon’s time away from the music industry as househusband and dedicated father would be marked by such domestic activities as baking bread, about which he’d speak at length when he finally came out of retirement. Cooking in the kitchen of love, indeed.
After John Lennon handed the hitherto ‘unreleasable’ Get Back tapes over to legendary ‘Wall of Sound’ producer Phil Spector – who refashioned them into Let It Be – both Lennon and George Harrison were keen to have him produce their post-Beatles solo albums.
Sessions for a proposed solo album for Spector’s wife – and former Ronette – Ronnie Spector followed on from George Harrison’s triple album All Things Must Pass. Unfortunately, the album was shelved after only a handful of songs were recorded, the total official result being the 1971 single ‘Try Some Buy Some’.
While that song had been demoed by Harrison for All Things Must Pass and was given the Wall of Sound treatment, the flip side, ‘Tandoori Chicken’ sounds, lyrically, musically and instrumentally, pretty much as thrown together as the dinner arrangement that gave rise to it: Harrison sent Beatles roadie Mal Evans out for some takeaway during the recording sessions. Suddenly it’s a blues based b-side. It’s nice that Harrison’s Indian influences aren’t limited merely to instrumentation.
Find it: on the flip side of the ‘Try Some Buy Some’ 7-inch single; sadly not available on CD right now…
8: Saturday Night Fish Fry - The Coasters
The Coasters’ ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’ is another hard-to-get food hit. The original version by the song’s author, Louis Jordan, and his jump blues backing band the Typany Five, is considered by some to be the very first rock’n’roll record. It’s the story of a party that gets out of hand and ends with an arrest.
A ‘fish fry’ is a kind of poor folks fundraiser – the person throwing it will cook and anyone willing to pay for the feed (and, no doubt, sly grog) is welcome. (The song takes place “down in New Orleans”, which, enjoying an excellent fishery until the BP oil spill pretty much killed the Gulf of Mexico, had access to excellent cheap seafood.) If you can help provide the food and drink, or serve it, or present some live entertainment, you get in free. In this song, the protagonist is the singer of the song, telling of a Saturday night fish fry that was so good, it had to be shut down by the cops. Although the protagonist never wants to hear about fish again, listening to it makes you hanker for a piping hot fish burger.
Jordan’s original version was over 5 minutes long, so it had to take up two sides of a 78rpm record. The Coasters’s version lived on the flip side of the single ‘She’s a Yum Yum’, dating from 1966 so part of the material recorded when they were signed to Atco – making it harder to get your hands on.
9: The Rhubarb Tart Song - John Cleese/At Last The 1948 Show
Some people have never been subjected to the [dis]pleasure of rhubarb, but apparently it’s good for you, which is why it doesn’t taste particularly nice. And it’s used to make dessert-type foods, despite being a bitter vegetable that’s allegedly good for you. This alone makes it the perfect subject of a silly song, and who better to deliver it than John Cleese? The song gives the rhubarb tart a great deal of pomp and majesty, not just by listing great historical personages as fans of the food, but by accompanying the doggeral with one of John Phillip Sousa’s finest marches.
The song dates from 1968 sketch show At Last the 1948 Show, in which Cleese partook with fellow Python-to-be, Graham Chapman, and future The Goodie Tim Brooke-Tayler as well as Marty Feldman, with whom they’d all written for David Frost’s various satirical shows. (Frost in fact produced At Last The 1948 Show and was later slighted that he couldn’t be part of Monty Pythong’s Flying Circus.)
At Last the 1948 Show contains many elements that would go on to be seen as prime Python characteristics. Inded, The Four Yorkshiremen Sketch, so beloved of Python fans, originated in At Last the 1948 Show and the fact that it is still identified as a Python sketch continues to irritate Tim Brooke-Taylor, who co-wrote it.
As opposed to parodying a popular song with a new set of lyrics, ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’ specifically takes a pre-existing instrumental and marries it to foolish words. This is a motif to which John Cleese would return. The song ‘Oliver Cromwell’, for example, appearing on the 1989 album Monty Python Sings, began as Frederic Chopin’s ‘Polonaise No. 6 Opus S3 in A flat’. The borrowing of a Sousa march also becomes a motif: the Pythons borrowed Sousa’s ‘The Liberty Bell’ to serve, this time wordlessly, as the theme to their television show.
Find it: ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’ lives on the original album tie-in of sketches and songs from the television program, At Last the 1948 Show.
10: Sugar Suger - The Archies
Pure bubblegum pop at its best, ‘Sugar Sugar’ is said to have been offered to the Monkees, who turned it down as being too cheesy just as they were maturing to a point of playing their own instruments on far more mature albums. Although there are rumours of Monkee Davy Jones having sung lead on an instrumental backing recorded by session musicians (as most of the earlier Monkees songs were constructed) and Mike Nesmith punching a hole through a wall in anger at being expected to record the song, nowadays both stories are considered myths. Indeed, it’s more likely the Monkees resisted recording an entirely different song entitled ‘Sugar Man’, but over the years their dummy spit at ‘Sugar Sugar’ has proven the more entertaining anecdote.
Irrespective, Don Kirshner, the producer behind the launch of manufactured band The Monkees was also behind the manufactured band The Archies, which he prefered more since, being cartoon characters, they were far more easy to control than The Monkees. The Archies were never gonna complain that they should be writing their own songs, and playing their own instruments on the recordings. Although the session musos behind The Archies might have wanted to ark up, especially after ‘Sugar Sugar’ proved a massive hit.
Although Ron Dante’s lead vocals melt in the mouth more like fairy floss, they live up to the sweetness promised by the song title. And as any chef worth his weight in… well, weight, really, will tell you: there is no substitute, in the end, for cooking with sugar. When the recipe calls for it, use it; none of that chemical substitute, thank you!
You most likely won’t remember him as Gareth Blackstock in the BBC show Chef! irrespective of how fitting it would be for our purposes here. And just as likely you don’t remember Lenworth George Henry – or ‘Lenny’, as he’s better known – for his daliance with the music hall standard ‘Boiled Beef And Carrots’.
Fact is, Lenny would also prefer you don’t remember it. But it shouldn’t be so surprising that he had a go with a novelty hit, given his rise to showbiz success began on a telly talent show (New Faces) and included regular appearances on kids show TISWAS. The synthesiser arrangement dates this recording but also adds to its charm.
It’s fitting that Lenny would make the cut of BastardChef given his former Missus, Dawn French, is currently appearing in ads for MasterChef sponsor Coles. Part of me is asking, does she really need the money so badly? Maybe. She couldn’t afford to get her hair cut evenly on both sides. Could it be terms of the divorce? Does Dawn need to pay Lenny off? What’s a Lenworth after all? Maybe he is back to living on boiled beef and carrots…
Find it: alongside far more novelty songs by British comedy and light entertainment types than you’ll ever consume in one sitting, entitled You Are Awful But We Like You.
12: Bread and Butter - The Newbeats
If food can be a tool of seduction, it can also be the cause of a break-up, as evidenced in the Newbeats’ hit single of 1964, ‘Bread and Butter’. It sounds like another bubblegum hit with its precise and economic instrumentation, but it predates that movement by a few years. Indeed, in 1964, all pop was bubblegum pop; there was no sophistication to it just yet, so rock’n’roll hadn’t given way to rock. And besides, unlike ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ and ‘Chewy Chewy’, there’s a lot more going on in ‘Bread and Butter’.
The protagonist is a simple man, given to simple needs, which his “baby” provides perfectly: “bread and butter… toast and jam”. But one day he comes home to the ultimate betrayal: his baby “with some other man”. Not caught in flagrante delicto, as such. Or rather, yes, caught in the very act: if bread and butter and toast and jam are the proof of true love, then “chicken and dumplings” with the other guy is gross infidelity.
Lead vocalist Larry Henley (who would go on to serve as a co-writer of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’) has a voice so thick you’d have to leave it out a while before you could spread it on a piece of bread; brothers Dean and Mark Mathis – if aliens attempted to replicate the Everly Brothers, this’d be them – provide the perfect bed for it.