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Frank Zappa's Sheik Yerbouti Released on This Day in 1979

(warning: this one won't be for all... but you know your curiosity will get the better of you and you will read on... but you've been warned!!)

By: Jay Broderick - Born on the winter solstice in Baltimore, Maryland in 1940 Frank Zappa (his actual name is in fact Frank Vincent Zappa) was an American musician, the likes of which I am unsure we have never seen since. With a penchant of pushing the envelope with his cultural and political satire, Zappa was a monster in the studio. He released over 60 albums ahead of his death in 1993 with both his founding band Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa & The Mothers, and as a solo artist.

The musical prowess of Zappa was mixed with rock, jazz, and electric blues. With no formal training, Zappa experimented endlessly, using different sound effects within his recordings, and collaborated with many different artists through his career including Adrian Belew of King Crimson.

On March 3, 1979, Frank Zappa released his first recording on the Zappa Records Label. It was an album with tracks that were recorded live at multiple locations throughout Europe where he gained most of his success. The double vinyl release entitled Sheik Yerbouti ended up being the artist's largest selling record with more than 2 million copies sold. With its title's double entendre (and a play on the disco hit by KC and the Sunshine Band), the album is full of innuendo and straight up, in your face well, sexually explicit content. While I profess to not having heard all of Zappa's catalogue, this subject matter is not unusual.

Having garnered Grammy Award nominations for the single "Dancin' Fool", and right out bans for the single "Bobby Brown", Sheik Yerbouti played on both ends of the spectrum. Many despised the artist's subject matter, while others consider him a genius! There's clearly got to be something to it. Let's take a deeper look.

The leadoff track is the sexually charged "I Have Been in You" which is a parody aimed at Peter Frampton's song "I'm in You". The track comes in like a 50s classic with its doo-woppy "Nah Nah Nahs". The swooning, sultry voice of Zappa comes through the speakers, and we immediately know what's coming with the opening line. There's no masking the R(X?)-Rated content with this one (or any of Zappa's lyrics for that matter). It's a slower number with standout backing vocals, and it sets the stage beautifully for the next 70+ minutes.

"Flakes" is the second song on the album, and is hilarious take on useless people. While he comically states that "California's got the most of them", it's really about anybody, anywhere. A minute twenty in, we get an impersonation of Bob Dylan (by the aforementioned Adrian Belew) which is actually pretty darned good... and yes, it's funny shit. At 6:41, it's the second longest song on the album, and Zappa's sarcasm is shining brightly.

The 3rd track on this album is actually the first song I had ever heard from Frank Zappa. I remember a friend telling me about it in grade 9, so of course our adolescent selves had to go on a quest to find the content. On "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes", a punk rock riff greets us loudly, followed by a fast rock drum beat. An angry singer yells out "You, are, an asshole". It's definitely the most lyrically abrasive song on the album, but at the end of the day, we all have one! Yes, even you ladies!! It's certainly a standout track on the album, and again, its funny as hell.

With 18 recordings on this album, there is plenty of opportunity for us to hear the guitar mastery of the musician. "Rat Tomago" is our first opportunity. While his lyrics may make you cringe, the finger work on this one must make you at least appreciate his talents on the electric guitar. With its glorious distortion and blues roots, Frank Zappa showcases more than 5 minutes of what it means to be an appreciator of guitar and music. We get a few more guitar pieces a little later on on this album. Tracks like "The Sheik Yerbouti Tango", which is the guitar solo from Frank Zappa & The Mothers song "The Little House I used to Live In", and the bass guitar track "Rubber Shirt" (is that not the best song name ever??) highlight the musicianship of Zappa and his cronies. These guys were not just hacks that wanted to cause a stir. The musicianship is stellar!

"Bobby Brown" is a track that really pushes the envelope. The lyrical content of this song resulted in it getting banned from American airplay due to its strong sexual references. That didn't prevent it from being a massive hit overseas however. Hate the words of this one or not, the song has a real groove and rhythm.

The synthed up, disco space jam "City of Tiny Lights" is another favourite of mine on Sheik Yerbouti. It's a bit of a psychedelic trip that's got a lot lighter lyrics than most of the album. Apparently a reference of the city of Los Angeles from a distance, it's a break in the adult content of most of the vocal tracks on this album. The track continues to showcase Zappa's abilities as a musician.

Although "Tiny Lights" certainly has a disco vibe to it, "Dancin' Fool" is the track that actually made its way into the disco circuit. Although clearly a dig at the disco scene from the 1970s, "Dancin' Fool" actually garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Male Vocal. Zappa also performed this song live on Saturday Night Live, only to be banished from the show forever after its conclusion. Frank Zappa at his finest.

"Jewish Princess" is another track that is completely over the top, but that raised some eyebrows (in a negative way) due to the subject matter of the lyrics. The problem here is the lack of foresight from many who don't exactly understand the artist. Unfortunately, the content is taken verbatim. The offensiveness is understandable on a certain level, but in this case, it's a clearly comedic look at Jewish Stereotypes, of which Zappa refused to apologize for.

The final track on Sheik Yerbouti is titled "Yo' Mama", and it's my absolute favourite on this album. For me, Zappa saved the best for last. The song sums up the 17 tracks prior. The slow intro again has the groove that many other tracks on this album have. Lyrically, its got its questionable annotations, about dudes that don't want to become men and take on the world. The song comes in at 12:36 making it the longest song on the album. At the 2:00 mark, Zappa showcases more of his mastery of his electric guitar with additional sound effects and space noise. It's an 8 and half minute mind blower that you don't want to end. Frank then comes back in with the vocals, providing some ell needed advise. At the end of the day, maybe you should stay with your mama!

Despite the uproar over many of the songs on this album at the time, I'm 100% certain this simply would not fly in today's landscape. Having said that though, there is a reason why it became his most popular. At the end of the day, right or wrong, this type of content has always sold. But it doesn't stop at the head turning subject matter. Musically, Frank Zappa was like no other. I'm not certain he will ever be regarded as the best guitarist of all time, but to deny his talent is foolish. If you are a "music" lover, this is his masterpiece.

Mr. Zappa is clearly an acquired taste. For me, I have never taken comedy to heart. I can remember sitting in my friend's basement listening to Joes Garage and roaring our asses off. We can all use some lighter fare. In a world seemingly gone mad, we have access to negative "news" at the drop of a dime. We can all use a laugh.

Let us know your comments on this album in the section below. One thing's for sure, if you hate this, there is likely nothing that will change your mind. On the other hand, if you love it, give it another spin. If you didn't catch it, music is a mental health elixir that cannot be matched! For me, I'm going to drop the needle!

I knew you'd be surprised!!

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Mar 03, 2023

Sheik Yebouti was my favourite Frank Zappa album. Albums like this, and other ones, around the time of its release, paved the way for getting controversial lyrics and material past the FCC. Frank Zappa is a pioneer in the art of this practice. God Bless !!

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