Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels: 50th Anniversary Edition (Zappa/UMe/MGM, 6 CDs, 7:19:22).

Continuing my 50th anniversary celebration theme, today’s column begins with the 50th anniversary edition of Zappa’s “200 Motels” movie soundtrack, an essential piece of rock history, here remastered by Bernie Grundman. It includes unreleased and rare material from the Zappa music vault.

Although the music is very dense most of the time, the separation here gives the instruments and voices enough space so one can hear what is going on very clearly. At the time, the Mothers of Invention included Ian Underwood on keyboards and woodwinds, George Duke on keyboards and trombone, Aynsley Dunbar and Jimmy Carl Black on drums, and Ruth Underwood on an orchestra drum set. Zappa played guitar and bass, as there was a change between bassists Jeff Simmons and Martin Licker partway through the recording and filming. The vocals were by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, also the lead vocalists in The Turtles and known as Flo and Eddie as a duo. Also featured were members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The soundtrack for the groundbreaking cult film originally was a double-vinyl album. The film was the first full-length feature film to be shot entirely on videotape and it was the first time Zappa used a large orchestra, both as a whole and as a chamber orchestra. The influences of modern classical composers, including Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varèse and Béla Bartók, can be heard in the instrumental sections. The movements increase in discord and tension.

While there is some pure Zappa silliness, more pop-styled songs are present as well, with the best being “Mystery Roach,” “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” “What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning” and “Magic Fingers.” “Magic Fingers” is about the vibrating machine in a motel bed. There is amusing country in “Lonesome Cowboy Burt.”

For the film’s story, Zappa’s lyrics take on all aspects of a touring band, with songs about groupies, horrible cuisine, bad manners, good towels, and tuna sandwiches. This edition adds most of the film’s dialogue as well, with some sexually explicit comic turns, as the experimentation is unbridled in true Zappa style.

The remastered soundtrack is laid out on the first disc and a third of disc two. The rest of the second disc includes demos of rock music and session outtakes, with studio chatter heard on two of the demo outtakes. There are unreleased alternative takes of “Road Ladies” and “Tell Me You Love Me.” Discs three and four consist of “dialog protection reels,” presenting the film’s dialogue in 41 selections. This is a slightly different early version of the film’s story as some of the actual film tapes used for an earlier soundtrack reissue never were returned and Zappa’s own archive recordings were used to fill in the gaps. In fact, the 64-page hardcover book contains a disclaimer that the music presented here is not in the same order as in the film, that there is music from the film and music not in the film, and some of the music in the film is not included. Some of the music here written for the film is neither in the film nor in the album, making this a unique treat for fans of Zappa and the film.

Disc four also includes 22 bits of “bonus swill.” These include movie ads, commercials, an interview with Ringo Starr (he played Larry the Dwarf, the Zappa stand-in the film) and talk during the commercial sessions. This material is sometimes weird, usually off the cuff and always entertaining. The film also stars Theodore Bikel as master of ceremonies Rance Muhammitz, Volman and Kaylan, with the rest of The Mothers of Invention making appearances. The Who’s Keith Moon plays an energetic, chaotic Hot Nun and drummer Black is Lonesome Cowboy Burt.

The fifth disc presents alternate versions and unreleased outtakes, some from the Trident Studios sessions of February 1971, including music that did not make the film nor the final soundtrack album. Disc six has 14 more outtakes and nine more “bonus swill,” including a couple of script rehearsals.

The book has new liner notes from Pamela Des Barres (she played The Interviewer), Ruth Underwood and Joe Travers. There is a lot of never-before-seen artwork, stills and images, both from the film and its production. One also gets a “200 Motels” keychain, a do not disturb motel door hanger and a replica of the original movie poster.

Written by Zappa, who co-directed with Tony Palmer (the visuals), the film covers the anxieties and boredom of life on the road that led to rock stars throwing TVs out of hotel windows or, in Moon’s case, driving a car into a swimming pool. Zappa composed the music, wrote the libretto, designed the stage, and edited the film, which was shot in 10 days. This was Zappa’s Mothers of Invention at their most experimental; Zappa, then 30, would soon turn to prog-rock and jazz-fusion. Grade: box set A

Various: Peephole in My Brain: The British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1971 (Grapefruit, 3 CDs). Most of the music in this collection was released 50 years ago and it is not surprising how prevalent The Beatles’ influence still was. Here, the influence is felt in the ambitious, late-period Beatles-styled “Down Smokey Lane” by Fickle Pickle; the vocals on “Woman” by Shape of the Rain; the “Revolver” period-influenced “Oh Carol, I’m So Sad” by Rockin’ Horse; the Badfinger-ish “Maisie Jones” by Nimbo; and less musically by Wil Malone’s cover of Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy.”

I’d be surprised if any of those names were familiar, although Malone went on to be an arranger, working with The Verve and Depeche Mode in the 1990s.

There are a few familiar names here, though. David Bowie, Mick Ronson, and Rick Wakeman are among the musicians on Dana Gillespie’s promo album version of Bowie’s “Andy Warhol,” a song Bowie later recorded himself. Kevin Ayers performs “Stranger in Blue Suede Shows” in Velvet Underground style, while a late recording by The Move is “Tonight,” a slice of pop. Procol Harum’s “Memorial Drive” was co-written by Robin Tower during his brief stint with the band. Emerson, Lake and Palmer do a rock and roll spoof with “Are You Ready Eddy?,” an impromptu jam that ended up on their second album. There also is a previously unreleased early raw mix of Status Quo’s “Mean Girls” and Atomic Rooster offers “Devil’s Answer.” Among the 71 tracks, one also finds The Kinks’ “God’s Children” and Kingdom Come’s dramatic “Eternal Messenger.” Kingdom Come was the band formed by Arthur Brown, who had a smash hit with “Fire” in 1968.

Peeks of future glory can be found here too. Pre-Elton John guitarist Davey Johnstone plays on Magna Carta’s “Time For the Leaving” and pre-T. Rex drummer Bill Fifield (soon to be known as Bill Legend) plays on Legend’s “I Feel Like Sleeping.” Pre-Stealers Wheel Gerry Rafferty performs “To Each and Everyone,” while ex-Zombies Colin Blunstone presents his breathy vocal on “Caroline Goodbye.” Also, pre-Split Enz Nigel Griggs is heard on Octopus’ “Summer.” Grade: B

Cat Stevens: Harold and Maude Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: 50th Anniversary Edition (A&M/Cat-O-Log/UMe CD). The 1971 Hal Ashby classic cult film featured seven songs taken from Stevens’ “Bona Bone Jakon” and “Tea For the Tillerman” albums, plus “Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” both written specifically for the film. The songs from the two albums are “On the Road to Find Out,” “I Wish, I Wish,” “Miles From Nowhere,” “Tea for the Tillerman,” “I Think I See the Light,” “Trouble” and “Where Do the Children Play?”

For the first time, six bits of classic dialogue from the film are included on the soundtrack, as well as musical pieces by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Johann Strauss II. The enhanced booklet includes lyrics and printed dialogue, as well as liner notes and stills from the film.
The film is about the unlikely friendship-turned-love story of suicidal teenager Harold Chasen (played by Bud Cort) and 79-year-old free spirit Maude (played by Ruth Gordon). It is filled with dark humor and existential drama, while showing the synergy that exists between seemingly opposing views and how, when united, they can flourish to their mutual advantage. Grade: A

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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