Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention: King Kong (1968)

Richard Metzger is Boing Boing's current guest blogger.

Utterly astonishing clip of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at the BBC studios in 1968 performing a nine-minute workout of "King Kong."

I realize that the music of Frank Zappa tends to be what is called "an acquired taste" but in my never so humble opinion, this is one pretty darn tasty performance! I'm someone who considers him a genius, but I have reservations about the "smutty humor" aspect of his work. My own preference in Zappa's material tends to this era and the original Mothers of Invention. The collective "character" of the original Mothers can only really be compared to Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, if you ask me, where every musician was contributing an absolutely unique voice to the proceedings. It wasn't just the music, which was wonderful, but the personalities of the players themselves that made it so special. The Mothers came from diverse backgrounds, a bunch of SoCal n'er-do-wells who were tending bar, driving trucks and pumping gas by day, and by night, willing participants in Frank Zappa's quest to meld a bunch of wild men R-n-B freaks into a disciplined avant garde orchestra capable of playing Stravinsky-inspired free jazz on electronic instruments one minute, a sea shanty the next and then following that up with a little 50s doo wop sung in a helium falsetto. This performance of "King Kong " (taken from a BBC series called "Colour Me Pop" one of the first pop shows to be broadcast in color) and a second performance from French TV that same year show just how magnificently honed this group was. They stop and start on a dime. Watch for Zappa's idiosyncratic conductor's hand signals. Watch the duelling drummers. AND TURN IT UP LOUD!!

Another clip of the original Mothers from French TV

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  1. Thanks, Antinous! I thought I closed the italics tag (at least I tried). Looks fine on my Mac, but not on the PC.

    MADFIST, the video is working fine again.

    Richard

  2. Zappa was amazing. A potent music, satire mix.
    “Call any vegetable and the chances are good, the vegetable will respond to you.”

  3. Nope. It’s down. Thank you copyright. Keep Zappa fans from seeing a video. God bless America. Okay, where do I go to legally purchase this video? What? Nowhere? That’s just dandy.

  4. Open the italics tag back up and maybe the video will come back.

    RIP FZ!

    Richard, you are quickly becoming my favorite guest blogger!

  5. THANKS FOR THIS! I always loved “King Kong.” I share your opinion about the more (and less) favored parts of Zappa’s catalog. It’s hard to pick a favorite album, but I think “One Size Fits All” is way up there. It’s a positive example of having one toe in several of Zappa’s musical pools.

  6. It’s a bit lame in Jazz/improvised music terms. I find, the tone material is not that innovative, the composition structure as such probably is – I basically recall the complexity of his 70s/80s stuff (w. George Duke et al), which set my Zappa standard, and the worst movie of all time: Uncle Meat.

  7. @#15 “A bit lame in Jazz/improvised music terms.”

    You clearly understand very little about Zappa’s music. Not that innovative? This was 1968!

  8. This video is clearly a fake. Everyone knows the Melvins invented the whole double-drumming thing in the 80’s.

  9. Awesome.

    For all the snobs who aren’t impressed with his lame jazz go check out Hot Rats.

    FZ is the shit.

  10. This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by The Zappa Family Trust.Gee.Thanks Gail.Thanks a fucking bunch.

  11. It’s funny to look at this.

    My daughter is friends with Ian Underwood’s (keyboard) daughter. I’ve met him; he looks like everyone’s uncle now.

  12. As a big fan of FZ’s guitar playing, I’d like to state for the record that I can’t fathom why they decided to focus on the damn tambourine player during the guitar solo.

    Good stuff though.

  13. Holy Moly! Thanks for that. His influence definitely has reached current acts such as the Mars Volta.

  14. This reinforces my belief that rock reached perfection in the 60’s… (perhaps ’68 before everyone burnt out)

    How about some Who also from ’68 to prove my point?

    Suck on that Saturday Night Live wankers.

  15. What’s there to live for?
    Who needs the peace corps?

    Think I’ll just DROP OUT
    I’ll go to Frisco
    Buy a wig & sleep
    On Owsley’s floor

    Walked past the wig store
    Danced at the Fillmore
    I’m completely stoned
    I’m hippy & I’m trippy
    I’m a gypsy on my own
    I’ll stay a week & get the crabs &
    Take a bus back home
    I’m really just a phony
    But forgive me
    ‘Cause I’m stoned

    Every town must have a place
    Where phony hippies meet
    Psychedelic dungeons
    Popping up every street
    GO TO SAN FRANCISCO

    How I love ya, How I love ya
    How I love ya, How I love ya Frisco!
    How I love ya, How I love ya
    How I love ya, How I love ya
    Oh, my hair is getting good in the back! Every town must have a place
    Where phony hippies meet
    Psychedelic dungeons
    Popping up on every street
    GO TO SAN FRANCISCO…

    Hotcha!

    First I’ll buy some beads
    And then perhaps a leather band
    To go around my head
    Some feathers and bells
    And a book of Indian lure
    I will ask the Chamber Of Commerce
    How to get to Height Street
    And smoke an awful lot of dope

    I will wander around barefoot
    I will have a psychedelic gleam in my eye at all times
    I will love everyone
    I will love the police as they kick the shit out of me on the street
    I will sleep…
    I will, I will go to a house
    That’s, that’s what I will do
    I will go to a house
    Where there’s a rock roll band
    ‘Cause the groups all live together
    And I will join a rock & roll band
    I will be their road manager
    And I will stay there with them
    And I will get the crabs
    But I won’t care

  16. There will come a time when everybody
    Who is lonely will be free…
    TO SING DANCE LOVE

    There will come a time when every evil
    That we know will be an evil…
    THAT WE CAN RISE ABOVE

    Who cares if hair is long or short
    or sprayed or partly grayed…
    WE KNOW THAT HAIR AIN’T WHERE IT’S AT

    (there will come a time when you won’t
    even be ashamed if you are fat!)

    WAH WAH-WAH WAH

    There will come a time when everybody
    Who is lonely will be free…
    TO SING DANCE LOVE (dance and love)

    There will come a time when every evil
    that we know will be an evil…
    THAT WE CAN RISE ABOVE (rise above)

    Who cares if you’re so poor you can’t afford
    To buy a pair of Mod A Go-Go stretch-elastic pants…
    THERE WILL COME A TIME WHEN YOU CAN EVEN
    TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OFF WHEN YOU DANCE

  17. and……….
    Hey Punk, where you goin’ with that
    flower in your hand?
    Hey Punk, where you goin’ with that
    flower in your hand?

    Well, I’m goin’ up to Frisco to join a
    psychedelic band.
    I’m goin’ up to Frisco to join a
    psychedelic band.

    Hey Punk, where you goin’ with that
    button on your shirt?
    Hey Punk, where you goin’ with that
    button on your shirt?

    I’m goin’ to the love-in to sit & play
    my bongos in the dirt.
    Yes, I’m goin’ to the love-in to sit & play
    my bongos in the dirt.

    Hey Punk, where you goin’ with that
    hair on your head?
    Hey Punk, where you goin’ with that
    hair on your head?

    I’m goin’ to the dance to get some action,
    then I’m goin’ home to bed.
    I’m goin’ to the dance to get some action,
    then I’m goin’ home to bed.

    Hey Punk, where you goin’ with those
    beads around your neck?
    Hey Punk, where you goin’ with those
    beads around your neck?

    I’m goin’ to the shrink so he can help me
    be a nervous wreck…

    (Just at this moment, the 2700
    microgram dose of STP ingested by
    FLOWER PUNK shortly before the
    song began TAKES EFFECT: before
    your very ears his head blows up…
    leaving a bizarre audial residue all over
    your teen-age record player!)
    Hey Punk! Hey Punk! Hey Punk!
    Punky! Punk! Hey Punk! Punky!
    Come and go…come and go…
    Polly, do I ever have a lot of soul?
    I think I love you!
    Questi dominga?
    Have you seen that nose eating?
    I wanna know for sure!
    Leave my nose alone please!
    What ‘re you trying to do?
    Listen! …

    This is one of the most
    exciting things that’s ever
    happened to me
    You know, every time I think
    about how lucky I am to be in
    the rock & roll industry
    It’s SO exciting
    You know, when I first got into
    the rock & roll business
    I could barely even play the
    changes to this song on my, on
    my guitar
    But now I’m very professional
    I can play the guitar
    I can strum it rhythmically
    I can sing along with my guitar
    as I strum

    I can strum, sing, dance,
    I can make merry fun all over
    the stage
    And you know, it’s so wonderful
    to…
    It’s wonderful to feel that I’m
    doing something for the kids
    Because I know that the kids
    and their music are where it’s
    at

    The youth of America today is
    so wonderful
    And I’m proud to be a part of
    this gigantic mass deception

    I hope she sees me thrilling,
    yes…
    I hope she sees me dancing and
    thrilling

    I will say: “Hello Dolly!”

    Is the song over?
    Boy, this is really exciting,
    making a rock & roll record
    I can’t even wait until our
    record comes out and teen-agers
    start to buy it

    We’ll all be rich and famous!

    And when my royalty check comes
    I think I’m going to buy a
    Mustang
    No, I think I’ll…I think I’ll
    get a Corvette
    No, I think I’ll get a Harley
    Davidson
    No, I don’t think I’ll buy any
    of those cars
    I think what I will do is I
    will buy both
    No, I don’t do that either
    I think, ah, I’ll go into real
    estate
    I think I’d like to…
    I think I’d like to buy a house
    in … Boulevard
    No, that wouldn’t do any good
    Gee, I wonder if they can see
    me up here, twirling that
    tambourine and dancing…

    Maybe after the show
    One of the girls who sees me up
    here, singing and thrilling my
    tambourine and dancing, will
    like me
    And she will come over to me
    And I will walk
    I will walk up to her and I
    will smile at her
    And I will impress her and I
    will say: “Hello, baby,
    What’s a girl like you doing in
    a place like this?
    I’m from a rock & roll band,
    I think we should…”
    Is the song over?
    ad finitum until the kids wake up!!

  18. Just another “Thanks for that vid; I’d forgotten how much I liked some of Zappa’s work.”

  19. Richard, I’ve never read a better summation of Zappa, and I’ve read a bunch. It’s always seemed amazing to me that someone as smart as Zappa could never understand why this first MOI band was the best. For all the technical skills of his subsequent groups, he never re-captured this magic. Never.

    Thanks for posting this.

  20. I just thought I’d mention that embedded youtube videos, at times, will say that they are no longer available.It seems to occur a lot with music videos and such. It’s a little odd, as I’ve never seen it happen with highly viewed stuff like ‘Dave at the dentist’. Anyway, if you can’t see the video, just go to the youtube site and look it up.

  21. Ditto on One Size Fits All and also Apostrophe.

    2nd worst movie ever “200 Motels” with Flo and Eddie from the Turtles and Ringo. Or maybe I just thought that after the 200th time it opened for other midnight movies.

    Zappa testified about music lyrics at a Congressional hearing (against restraint) opposite Tipper Gore (for some limits). They later became buds and Tipper played drums on a Dweezil song: http://www.progarchives.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=24573&FID=19.

    See Zappa (in a suit!) on an ancient Crossfire defending lyrics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ISil7IHzxc

    This surprising video is long before John Stewart mercy killed Crossfire and, while Zappa is interesting, you’ll also get to see the old Crossfire that became the seed for today’s bullshit Conservative shoutdown shows.

    Best quote (about the name for Zappa’s fourth kid) ” If it’s a boy we’ll call him Burt Reynolds and if it’s a girl she’ll be called Clint Eastwood.” (she ended up “Diva” because of her earsplitting cry)

    The note about Zappa being like Duke Ellington is dead on, not only because he was a band leader/composer, but that, like Ellington, he moved a tremendous number of musicians through his band that went on to perform in significant bands like Terry Bozio, Jean Luc Ponty (King Kong, the only album Zappa wrote for anyone else), Lowell George (Zappa said he has little feet).

    He also was fascinated with intricate musical composition and studied (http://mixedmeters.com/2006/06/varese-zappa-slonimsky.html) and even befriended many obscure classical composers.

    Here Nicolas Slonimsky (perhaps unintentionally hilarious) describes how Zappa cold called him and then convinced him to perform onstage with the band the following day : http://www.livingroom.org/archive/old/0235.html

    Vaclav Havel invited Zappa to the Czech Republic where he was immensely popular and apparently a seminal figure in their revolution. Havel made him “”Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism,” to which Secretary of State, James Baker declared “You can do business with the United States or you can do business with Frank Zappa.” http://www.radio.cz/en/article/79169
    This experience later became the inspiration for Weird Al’s “Genius in France”: http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&hs=sM9&ei=FTrKSdDOOKrjnQf8zoSTAw&resnum=1&q=Yankovic%20genius%20in%20france&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wv#q=Yankovic+%22genius+in+france%22&hl=en&emb=0

    Zappa went all over the place musically and every fan has his favorite period. For people not into Zappa I guarantee you will find something you’ll like. I’d start in the middle with the accessible Overnight Sensation and Apostrophe.

    Obviously I’m a fan of this most misunderstood and neglected musician/composer.

  22. Great camera work for a live broadcast. Did everyone catch the “Consult a Psychiatrist” subliminal?

  23. Zappa is one of those artist I’ve been meaning to check out my whole adult life, but never quite got around to it. There are already some great recommendations here, but, as I quite liked what I heard on the video, do you have any other good tips for a Zappa neophite, some suggested listening paths?

  24. @41 Gato – I’d recommend Hot Rats*. It’s one of the more accessible Zappa albums, is musically complex, brilliant and engaging, has none of the school-boy humour of some of the later works and has Captain Beefheart on one track! What more could you want?

    http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=10:fpfexqq5ldse

    * Caveat – that Hot Rats was the first Zappa album that I was introduced to, so I have a particular fondness for it.

  25. Acquired taste or not, this was one of his catchiest, and also perhaps the most covered by other artists.

    For the Zappa neophite: for jazz-rock, try Hot Rats or Grand Wazoo, or even Guitar, for catchy pop songs, sound collage and cultural critique, try We’re Only In It For The Money (my personal favorite). A single album that might be a good start would be the Mothers Live at Fillmore East 1970 album (the one that everyone always thinks is a bootleg from the simplistic cover art).

  26. /swoon
    <3 teh Zappa
    shame it's only a clip, I'd really like to see where Uncle Meat was going to go when they were zooming in on him

    ...help I'm a rock, help I'm a rock, help I'm a rock!, help I'm a rock!, help I'm a rock, wow man it's a drag being a rock, I wish I was anything but a rock, heck I'd even like to be a policeman...
    HELP I'M A COP! HELP I'M A COP! HELP I'M A COP!!
    dude, it's a drag being a cop, I think I'd rather be the mayor...

    I feel sorry for those who cannot comprehend why Mr Zappa is a genius.

  27. Can you imagine the BBC (or, indeed, ANY T.V. station doing that now? Off-Topic, I miss John Peel.

  28. @#16 “You clearly understand very little about Zappa’s music. Not that innovative? This was 1968!”

    Oh yes, 1968 – and the “understand”-argument. Maybe it’s innovative for the Rock&Pop Scene, but that aside, it’s uniquely Zappaesque and genius in its own right – just the tone material – the stuff they re playing/improvising over – is not. Mingus, Monk, Tristano, Dolphy, Coleman and many others have explored that before “1968”. Tristano recorded extended free sessions in the end of the 1940s. However, as a composer, Zappa is more interesting than what Jazz purism can come up with – says a Jazz musician. Zappa himself once said that Jazz is not dead, but that it tastes a little funny. – Nothing to argue about.

  29. @ 35: “On the tambourine… Mitch Hedberg!”

    I THOUGHT THE SAME THING. I actually did a bit of mental figuring to convince myself it couldn’t be him.

    Anyways, +1 on the comments saying “yay zappa!”

  30. Onigorom: You can’t even get the quote right:

    “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.”

    This is on the Roxy and Elsewhere album for you to check for yourself, during the last track, Be-Bop Tango. I’d suggest that you have not quite been exposed to enough of Zappa’s jazz canon to make the claim that his jazz stuff was not innovative. I’m a huge fan of all you’ve listed, however, to put it in context, Miles’ Bitches Brew was just beginning to turn the jazz world on its ear in ’68 for fusing rock and jazz elements together for the first time. Zappa had already been doing this, but not as an accepted inner circle jazz musician. He was so far outside of the mold that no one quite knew what do do with him, often lumping him in with “Novelty” music. Listen to Ian Underwood Whips It Out on the Uncle Meat album (’68) and get back to us, dude.

    For the Zappa neophyte, I’d recommend Zoot Allures and 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th) the Hot Rats album as good leaping off points. I agree that the One Size Fits All album is the best one to capture elements of the early Mothers and later Zappa material quite nicely (and aptly named to this end.)

    Another accomplishment of Frank’s that gets overlooked is that in 1965, he released his first album Freak Out, and it just so happened to be the first ever double album anybody had ever released. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

    Also, if you get a chance to see his son Dweezil touring, playing his father’s material under the name Zappa Plays Zappa, don’t miss it. It’s the next best thing to seeing Frank live (and yes, I did catch Frank in ’84.) Quite a loving tribute to this material that deserves to continue to be heard by live audiences. When Dweezil came to Austin (with Ray White in the band, no less) he played for 4 solid hours!

  31. Is this just another attempt by Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention to get played o the radio?

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