Uncle Meat is a milestone, the landmark where The Mothers of Invention reached the highest point, but also the time when the project termination phase began. This double LP set was recorded between October 1967 and February 1968, it was released on April 1969, the following summer Zappa would have disbanded the MOI.
After such recording sessions the MOI become almost only a live band. Of course Zappa used a lot of 68/69 live material to mold two further “posthumous” MOI album, namely Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh (and much later, YCDTOSA Vol.5 disc 2 and Ahead of Their Time), however the studio MOI era closed with Uncle Meat, as often with FZ, an unfinished project, since it should have been a movie also (somehow completed almost 20 years later in 1987).
The “audio vérité” tracks included in the album testify of the economic difficulties of the band that eventually brought his leader to close the project the next year (probably economics was not the only issue, but it was a crucial one). Nevertheless until February 1968 Zappa conceived the MOI as a studio band also.
In the original liner notes FZ emphasizes on technology and studio procedures he was particularly fond of: Uncle Meat is a peak also as a sonic 60’s object, being a balanced mix of electric and acoustic music, often manipulated in speed and through other electronic filters.
[An extract of the original liner notes as it has been included into the Meat Light booklet, a complete set of images of this new edition of Uncle Meat is available through kompaktkiste.de]
Uncle Meat was in fact one of the projects entirely produced at Apostolic Studios (together with Ruben & The Jets), a sonic engine that gave Zappa new opportunities:
By late 1967, Apostolic Studios had installed a prototype Scully 12-track recorder, and the overdubbing opportunities it afforded, together with a variable-speed oscillator used to modify the machine’s 30 ips tape speed, allowed for the creation of a completely new sound palette.
Chris Michie, “We Are The Mothers . . . And This Is What We Sound Like!“, Mix, January 1, 2003
For a detailed account of those Apostolic times, please refer also to: The story of the recording studio that became Frank Zappa’s New York downtown playground!
Previous Michie quote and Apostolic link via Uncle Meat notes at IINK, a must to go in deep into the album, which was a seminal one.
If you look at the track lists of previous MOI albums to pick songs and compositions that would have traveled time and space, you’ll find for sure some (e.g. Trouble Every Day, Brown Shoes Don’t Make It or The Idiot Bastard Son’s), but if you skim the Uncle Meat list you’ll be amazed to find music that participated to essential future FZ projects, such as Hot Rats (Mr. Green Genes) or Yellow Shark (Dog/Meat, Exercise #4, Pound for a Brown). You will also find King Kong, the perfect embodiment of the matter that kept the Project/Object alive for 25 years. Moreover Uncle Meat features Nine Types of Industrial Pollution, one of the first examples of a completely xenochronized piece, and Project X, a composition that would have fit Jazz From Hell too (at least from 1:35 on).
Forward to 2016, ZFT released Meat Light, the fifth Project/Object in the series of 40ieth Anniversary Audio Documentaries, the second in 2016, after The Crux Of The Biscuit.
It’s a 3 cd set, and its main features are:
- the original album restored for the first time on cd to the sonic palette of the ’60s (Original 1969 Vinyl Mix, cd 1)
- an early album sequence (Original Sequence, cd 2 and part of cd 3)
- 20 sessions outtakes (From the Vault, part of cd 3)
Here are the main credits from the Meat Light zappa.com page (track list is below the post):
Recording Engineers: Dick Kunc, Jerry Hansen
Studios: Apostolic Studios, NYC; Sunset Sound, Los Angeles
Original package designed by Cal Schenkel, NT&B
THE MOTHERS at the time of this recording were:
FRANK ZAPPA: guitar, low grade vocals, percussion
RAY COLLINS: swell vocals
JIMMY CARL BLACK: drums, droll humor, poverty
ROY ESTRADA: electric bass, cheeseburgers, Pachuco falsetto
DON (Dom De Wild) PRESTON: electric piano, tarot cards, brown rice
BILLY (The Oozer) MUNDI: drums on some pieces before he quit to join RHINOCEROS
BUNK (Sweatpants) GARDNER: piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, bassoon (all of these electric and/or nonelectric depending)
IAN UNDERWOOD: electric organ, piano, harpsichord, celeste, flute, clarinet, alto sax, baritone sax, special assistance, copyist, industrial relations & teen appeal
ARTIE (With the Green Mustache) TRIPP: drums, timpani, vibes, marimba, xylophone, wood blocks, bells, small chimes, cheerful outlook & specific enquires
EUCLID JAMES (Motorhead/Motorishi) SHERWOOD: pop star, frenetic tenor sax stylings, tambourine, choreography, obstinance & equipment setter-upper when he’s not hustling local groupies
Special Thanks to:
RUTH KOMANOFF who plays marimba and vibes with Artie on many of the tracks,
NELCY WALKER the soprano voice with Ray & Roy on Dog Breath & The Uncle Meat Variations.
The Uncle Meat Project/Object Audio Documentary
Compiled & Produced by Gail Zappa & Joe Travers
Disc One – Chris Bellman, Bernie Grundman Mastering 2013
Disc Two & Three – John Polito, Audio Mechanics 2013
Cover and Interior Paintings: Theo Holdt
Photography: Michael Ochs Archive; Additional Photos Courtesy of: The Vault
Package Design: Michael Mesker
Production Manager: Melanie Starks
Special Thanks: Ahmet & Diva, Holland Greco, Kurt Morgan
All material for this release was taken entirely from 1/4” mono & stereo analog tapes except Disc Three, Track 24, taken from the original 12 track analog master (Mixed by Joe Travers, UMRK 2013). All transfers by Joe Travers at UMRK 2012-2013, 96K 24B .WAV (except Disc One- transferred 2005). The original analog tape edit master for Uncle Meat unfortunately suffers in sections from oxide loss due to tape age and bad storage conditions. A new hi-res digital patchwork edit master was created in 2013 with all damaged sections restored from safety tapes found in the vault for best sonics!
Uncle Meat now sounds near to the original vinyl for the first time on cd. All the digital reverb of the UMRK 1987 version is not there anymore (as it is in all the other cd releases, including the 2012 UMe), and this version does not include the “bonus tracks” featured in the other cd editions (two excerpts from the Uncle Meat movie, and Tengo ‘na Minchia Tanta, a song recorded in the 80’s with Massimo Bassoli). From a sonic point of view, there is the same difference between the Hot Rats 2012 UMe edition and all the other cd versions released before: no digital reverb, maybe a little less brilliant but with a way better response at low frequencies. For instance the bassoon prolonged low note at the beginning of Uncle Meat: Main Title Theme sounds different here! Also, the 2016 soundscape is that of a small hall, which is more appropriate for the sort of chamber music featured in the album.
The early album sequence has a lot in common with cd 1 (many tracks are exactly alike), but includes also two unreleased underground, freak-out instrumentals (Whiskey Wah, The Whip) and a few reworked items (eg. King Kong as a single 10:46 episode at the end of an imaginary LP 1). In spite of the repetitions, this sequence (divided in four parts – four LP sides? – in the liner notes) has a lot to speak as far as FZ “compulsive editing”, to adhere to a Don Preston remark:
I always liked to say that he was a compulsive editor. I saw him three months after an album was released, put that same album together in different ways, and re-editing the album when it’s not even going to come out. He used to love to sit there and edit anything.
Don Preston, quoted by Billy James, Necessity Is . . . , 2001, p. 79
(quoted in the IINK Uncle Meat notes page)
The Uncle Meat listening experience is slightly different with this sequence, particularly interesting is the position of the shortened King Kong, here is in part 2 (side 2?), which is the only full instrumental one. The King loses his status (his full side majesty), but here he is in the flow of the discourse, right in the center. As reported by Vaultmeister Joe Travers at ZappaCast, Episode 30 (October 31, 2016, the Meat Light chat starts approximately at 1:16), this sequence could represent the transition between No Commercial Potential (an earlier project, supposedly 6 sides log) and Uncle Meat.
The Vault section of disc 3 deserves a detailed account such as that given by zappateer Galeans (dig it here!). It features about 50 minutes of music (+4 minutes of spoken words and a beer scream!), a trip into alternate mixes, extended versions, further variations and used and unused building blocks.
Tango, 1/4 Tone Unit, Sakuji’s March, No. 4 are short unreleased nuggets that sounds like sketches of something that never happened, archetypal Zappa, not to be missed.
Blood Unit has an interesting background:
There is some music in [The World’s Greatest Sinner] which actually resides in the Uncle Meat album. I remember the cue is something with a lot of sixteenth notes in it, sextuplets that had something to do with, uh, it’s been so long since I saw the movie, it was for a plane taking off, and that part was used, and also, the trail of blood sequence in World’s Greatest Sinner, where the guy stabs the host and there’s supposed to be a trail of blood on the lawn. That was called “Blood Unit”, in the scoring list, and that whole unit was done with electric instruments for Uncle Meat, but I can’t remember what I called it. I know it’s in the album. I can’t remember what I called it.
FZ on Society Pages (USA), April, 1990
(Quoted in the IINK Uncle Meat notes page)
Blood Unit of course found his way (in a different mix) in Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague (incidentally, the opening number of The Original Sequence).
Both Electric Aunt Jemima and Mr. Green Genes mix outtakes include new guitar parts, those at the beginning of the latter are really short but delightful.
Prelude To King Kong is extended by an unreleased FZ solo, about 2:00 long, a super add-on!
Exercise 4 Variant is self-explanatory: a sequence of variations of the Exercise 4 / Uncle Meat themes with various orchestrations, a great 4 minutes sort of trailer!
My Guitar (Proto I—Excerpt) is another underground, freak-out episode (as noted by Galeans “Frank’s solo sounds a bit treated: a sped up overdub?”), the more you have, the more you want!
For Uncle Meat (Live at Columbia University 1969), again I would like to quote eminent zappateer Galeans notes, truly appropriate:
Someone has suggested that FZ plays drums on this and I think he is definitely right: there are two drums and someone is playing marimba, likely Art Tripp, “FZ/JCB Drum Duet” on YCDTOSA5 comes from an “Uncle Meat” performance and, as shown on the Roxy video, Zappa did play percussion on this song in 1973/4.
The Vault section includes the normal speed guitar track of Nine Types Of Industrial Pollution, a lot of fun and, as already noted at zappateers.com, Stucco Homes comes into mind.
Finally, Echo Pie needs a mention because it is FZ proposing the band to tour without him keeping the MOI moniker, he says there’s a lot of studio work to be done, in general another account of the difficulties suffered by the band.
For a complete report of all the differences between the original album and the music included in cd 2 and 3, do not miss the Meat Light notes page at IINK, it is also the evidence of that compulsive editing!
Meat Light is of course a hard-core item, it is neatly constructed like this. If you are one of those cool people, go grab it. However if you are a newcomer you will probably refer to the main UMe catalog, as released in 2012, but if you do you will get the “digital reverb affected” edition. It would have been the opposite, like it happens with We’re Only in it for the Money: the main catalog single cd edition is the one that sounds like the original vinyl, while the “digital reverb affected” + new bass and drums is available through The Lumpy Money Project/Object.
There is a similar issue with Cruising With Ruben & The Jets: the “regular edition” is “digital reverb affected” and has 80’s bass and drums, while Greasy Love Songs includes the one that should be considered the reference. Luckily enough, they are both single cd editions. Hey newcomer, it won’t be easy, ask for help!
A further note about the cover and the graphics project in general. The gorgeous painting by Theo Holdt on the front cover fits perfectly the theme. A matter of teeth, but also that abstract cow makes it. The other paintings (cds and inner cover art) are also interesting and they would have been probably of interest of FZ too. However the use of such a large amount of graphics external to the original project could be questionable.
In such a case you don’t have to judge the album by its cover, Meat Light gives Uncle Meat the treatment it deserved since a long time, at last!
For a closing remark, I would like to quote Ian Underwood from his concise liner notes (that includes some FZ relevant quotes too):
- Listen carefully and in a focused manner.
- Read Frank’s own words which are readily available in books or the internet. Here are a few.
~ Ian Underwood, August 2016
You can count me in!
In the following, more photos from the Getty Images Michael Oches Archives from the recording sessions at Apostolic Studios (New York, February 15, 1968).