Why Zoo Time? Naturally, that was the first question we asked Andy, and he said:
Well, besides being a favourite TV programme from my childhood - presented by Desmond Morris, and featuring Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev as it's theme tune - it has to do with the man who wrote most of the music on this album, the late, great Frank Zappa.
I was very much taken with a description of his work which I heard many years ago, comparing it to 'the sound of a zoo burning down'. So much so, that I was inspired to create a work of art of that name, on which the CD artwork is based.
In fact, for the most part it doesn't sound like that at all, and there are many memorable tunes which are by turns interesting, beautiful and challenging. I thought it was about time I recorded some of these songs that have so inspired me over the years. Hence . . . Zoo Time.
1. DUKE OF PRUNES (Zappa) [11.21]
This was one of the first Zappa tunes - possibly the first - I ever heard on the radio, presumably in the early days of Radio 1, but I've no idea what show it was. It had an introduction by Zappa - or quoting Zappa - explaining the instrumentation, which was said to include 'electric piano played with mallets'. That was the version from Absolutely Free (recorded in 1966). This arrangement takes elements from that, and a later recording from Orchestral Favourites (recorded in 1975). It has an electric piano, but no mallets.
Zappa's music has, alas, been rarely heard on Radio 1 since then. On one memorable occasion, however (January 27th, 1980) he presented a two-hour show of tracks he had chosen himself. The last of approximately 30 records, and the only one of his own, was Watermelon in Easter Hay. I started a recording of this song, but subsequently read a comment from Gail Zappa on www.zappa.com that 'he did, does, and will not want anyone to play Watermelon in Easter Hay, Zoot Allures or Black Napkins - other than Dweezil,' so the track remained, remains, and will remain unfinished.
2. OH NO/ORANGE COUNTY LUMBER TRUCK (Zappa) [15.25]
A number of versions of these two songs - which usually appear together - were released throughout Zappa's recording career. I was influenced by the 'slow' versions from Roxy and Elsewhere (1974), the 'fast' versions from Weasels Ripped My Flesh (recorded in 1967) and Ahead of Their Time (recorded in 1968), and the 'very fast' version from Make A Jazz Noise Here (recorded in 1988). It may have been the Lumpy Gravy version (also recorded in 1967) that gave me the idea of using the vibes in the middle section. The jolly little tune quoted right at the end is, of course, Peter and the Wolf.
Sergei Prokofiev, by the way, had the bad luck to die in exactly the same place (Moscow) on exactly the same day (March 5th, 1953) as Josef Stalin, and his passing thus went totally unmarked by the Russian media. Interestingly, they both died of the same cause: a cerebral haemorrhage. Prokofiev's was perhaps caused by a fall some years previously, from which he never fully recovered; rumours have persisted that the dictator Stalin was poisoned.
Stalin shared his birthday with Frank Zappa, who was born on December 21st, 1940. Those of you familiar with the famous calendar of the Maya will know that it begins on August 11th, 3114 BC and ends on December 21st, 2012. Some say the world will end on that day, some that it presages the beginning of a new age of enlightenment. Others will merely note that it would have been Frank Zappa's 72nd birthday, had he not died, long before his time, on December 4th, 1993.
3. HOW CAN YOU SAY? . . . (Murkin) [9.02]
Only two of my songs have been deliberately conceived as tributes to Frank Zappa: the first two tracks on my first album, From Aardvark to Zebra (released in 2002). These were From A to Z, exhaustively reprised on the fourth album, Flotsam & Jetsam (released in 2004); and this one, presented here in an enhanced and expanded form.
At the time of his death, Zappa was 52 - same age as I am now. He had up to that point released more than 60 albums of original material; I've only managed 10. To be so prolific and at the same time to produce so many great compositions is quite something.
4. THE DEATHLESS HORSIE (Zappa) [9.56]
Mostly inspired by the first released version on Shut Up 'n Play Your Guitar Some More (recorded in 1979), I decided to expand the beginning and end to include variations for electric piano and tuned percussion. I was a bit dubious about it, but after I finished, I discovered Zappa's own short tuned percussion sequence (about 40 seconds' worth) at the beginning of Drooling Midrange Accountants On Easter Hay on QuAUDIOPHILIAc (recorded c.1978). It doesn't sound the same, but I concluded that it was a good idea after all.
The song was usually used in live concerts as a vehicle for one of Zappa's trademark guitar solos. Not many composers are gifted soloists, and conversely, not many soloists are gifted composers. Zappa was both.
5. CHUNGA'S REVENGE (Zappa) [13.26]
Surprisingly few versions of this classic riff have received an official release on Zappa albums. This version perhaps owes more to the slightly more laid-back feel of QuAUDIOPHILIAc's Chunga Basement (recorded in 1970, probably a matter of days before the more familiar version on Chunga's Revenge itself).
Return to andymurkin dotcom Home Page