Deluxe Reissue of all thing 200 Motels – and a few memories of 1971 – Zappa style! Released 19th November.
1971 was a classic, highly memorable and, ultimately, highly notorious year in the career of Frank Zappa. Events he encountered, which I’ll touch on later, included a ban from London’s Royal Albert Hall, an American tour that spawned the issue of the excellent Mothers – Fillmore East – June 1971 live album, a live appearance with John & Yoko, a fire during a show at The Casino, Montreux, Switzerland and a horrendous incident at London’s Rainbow Theatre when Zappa was pushed from the stage and badly injured. 1971 was also the year in which Zappa’s surreal documentary movie, 200 Motels, was filmed and released and the year in which the soundtrack album for the movie was released.
As with most things Zappa-related, 200 Motels has a complex background story. Take, for a start, the soundtrack album, released simultaneously with the movie in October 1971. As Zappa, somewhat typically explained in the album’s liner notes: “This music is not in the same order as in the movie. Some of this music is in the movie. Some of this music is not in the movie. Some of the music that’s in the movie is not in the album. Some of the music that was written for the movie is not in the movie or the album. All of this music was written for the movie, over a period of 4 years. Most of it (60%) was written in motels while touring.”
Now, in celebration of 200 Motels’ Golden Jubilee (the movie’s AND the soundtrack album’s), Frank’s son Ahmet Zappa and Joe Travers – the keeper of the extensive Zappa vault – have put together a comprehensive and extensive Super Deluxe six-disc boxset of just about everything with a connection, however tenuous, to 200 Motels. The package includes a newly remastered version of the Original Soundtrack album, a mind-blowing volume of unreleased and rare material from the vault, including original demos, out-takes, interviews and movie adverts, plus a selection of newly discovered dialog reels that reveal an early audio edit of the movie, and a whole load of never-heard audio documentary material relating to the 200 Motels project. The six-disc set comes with a 64-page hardback book that includes new liner notes from Pamela Des Barres, Ruth Underwood and Joe Travers, a reproduction of Patrick Pending’s essay that accompanied the soundtrack album’s 1997 reissue, masses of photographs – many of which have never previously been published – and a few interesting curios, such as a 200 Motels keychain and a Do-Not -Disturb door hanger. It’s a package to make the many Zappa completists salivate in anticipation!
For those completists, the full content of the discs is as follows:
Disc 1: Part One of the remastered Original Soundtrack album;
Disc 2: Part Two of the remastered Original Soundtrack album, plus a selection of demos and out-takes and alternative takes of material from the previous year’s Chunga’s Revenge album;
Disc 3: 200 Motels “Dialog Protection Reels” – Part One;
Disc 4: 200 Motels “Dialog Protection Reels” – Part Two and bonus tracks;
Disc 5: 200 Motels – alternate takes and out-takes;
Disc 6: 200 Motels – alternate takes and out-takes and bonus tracks.
In addition, the remastered 200 Motels soundtrack is also issued as a 2LP vinyl album set, pressed on either 180-gram black vinyl or as a limited edition 180-gram red vinyl pressing.
The 200 Motels movie was put together between February and May 1971, to an unbelievably miniscule budget of just $630,000. The movie’s cast cast featured the 100-strong London Philharmonic Orchestra and The Mothers (who, at that time consisted of Zappa (guitar & bass), Mark Volman (vocals and “special material”), Howard Kaylan (vocals and “special material”), Ian Underwood (keyboards and woodwind), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (keyboards and trombone), Martin Lickert (bass), Jimmy Carl Black (vocals) and Ruth Underwood (orchestra drum set). Other participants included Ringo Starr as Larry the Dwarf (dressed as Frank Zappa), Keith Moon as The Hot Nun, Pamela Des Barres as The Interviewer and Janel Nevill-Ferguson and Lucy Offerall as a pair of groupies. It was Zappa’s express intention that movie viewers would be confused and disorientated by the plot which, in turn, gave a surreal portrayal of The Mothers’ touring life. The film was one of the first to be shot entirely onto videotape and the new medium provided the opportunity to make use of, what were then, spectacular visual effects – an opportunity that Zappa ensured was exploited to the maximum, such that nearly every scene includes some form of effect, ranging from multiple exposures, to speed changes, to colour variation. Movie scenes include sequences in a psychedelic night club and a Redneck Bar and a lengthy animated featuring a Customs Officer, a cardboard dog and scenes of debauchery inspired by Led Zeppelin’s well-documented R&R antics. It’s certainly an interesting slice of visual entertainment!
200 Motels was big news at the time of its preparation and release and a trawl back through old issues of Melody Maker will reveal a number of front-page stories featuring the movie, its cast and its filming. But, as has already been inferred, there were quite a lot of other things happening on planet Zappa in 1971…
Frank suffered his first big disappointment on 8th February as a sell-out audience was turned away from the Royal Albert Hall when a concert of Zappa and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing the music from 200 Motels was cancelled – the hall’s management having announced that they considered many of the lyrics “objectionable.” A protracted lawsuit alleging breach of contract by the RAH ensued which, eventually in 1975, ruled against Zappa. Apparently, at the hearing, the track Penis Dimension (featured on Disc 1 of this Golden Jubilee reissue) was played to demonstrate the harmlessness of the lyrics – much to the consternation of the judge. In an interview in 1973, Zappa summarised his opinion of the RAH’s management: “….because the woman who runs it is insane. She’s an old lady, very prudish and very sick. She gave us a list of twelve words we couldn’t say onstage. One of them was brassiere, so you know where she’s at.” Indeed.
The Mothers’ 1971 US tour kicked off in May and took in shows in San Francisco, Claremont, Chicago, Delaware, Columbus, Detroit, New York City, Boston, Los Angeles and Portland. The 6th June show at The Fillmore East, New York City was recorded and released, just two months later, as the Mothers – Fillmore East – June 1971 live album. Featuring the lengthy Mark Volman/Howard Kaylan comedy/pornographic monologue, Do You Like My New Car?, The Mud Shark – the lurid tale of Vanilla Fudge’s escapades with groupies, a stirring version of the Volman/Kaylan (as The Turtles) smash hit, Happy Together and excellent takes on Willie the Pimp and Peaches En Regalia from the Hot Rats album, it’s one of the all-time great live albums.
Part of the Fillmore East show not captured on the Fillmore East album, but included as a bonus disc with John Lennon’s Some Time in New York City set was an encore appearance by John and Yoko when the combined Mothers/Lennons jammed their way through a number of pieces that were later given titles like Scumbag, Jamrag and AAAWK.
Incidentally, the show on 7 August at UCLA, Los Angeles, was also recorded and released in March 1972 as Just Another Band From LA.
And it was still only August of that momentous year, 1971. In November, following the release of the 200 Motels movie and soundtrack album, Frank and The Mothers embarked on a European tour. Moving through Scandinavia, Holland, Germany and Austria, the entourage rolled up in Montreux for a show at The Casino, on the shore of Lake Geneva. The show was a sell-out – indeed many aspiring attendees were locked out, and the hall’s management decided to chain the exit doors closed to prevent unpaid entry. Unfortunately, as the band performed King Kong, a track from the Uncle Meat album, a fire started and windows had to be smashed to enable the audience to escape. the fire was devastating – parts of the building exploded, the hall was gutted and virtually all of The Mothers’ equipment was lost in the conflagration – thankfully, no-one was killed. And there were still ten more tour dates scheduled, including four sold-out shows at London’s Rainbow Theatre…
(The events of the evening were later immortalised in Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water – a song you may have heard…)
With admirable stoicism, Zappa and The Mothers hired a new set of equipment and set off for London and it was here that Zappa’s 1971, his tour and almost his life came to an abrupt end. Two shows a night were scheduled at The Rainbow and the first house on 10 December was reaching its climax. It was encore time and, as a tribute to The Beatles, Frank and the band returned to the stage to play I Want To Hold Your Hand. As they started, a member of the audience climbed onto the stage and pushed Zappa off, and into the orchestra pit – a drop of some ten feet. The fall knocked Frank unconscious and he broke a leg. The assailant, Trevor Charles Howell, was restrained and later arrested, charged with assault with intent to harm, and sentenced to a year in jail. Howell was, apparently, resentful of Zappa because his girlfriend fancied Frank. The rest of the tour was, of course, cancelled and Frank spent the next ten months in a wheelchair. The longer term damage stayed with him for the rest of his life.
So that was Frank Zappa’s 1971, and now we’ve got a valuable and comprehensive souvenir of those days. The 200 Motels Golden Anniversary Boxset is a deluxe package that fully justifies that oft-misused moniker. Sure, it won’t be up everyone’s street – a fact that I’m sure that Ahmet, Joe and producer Bernie Grundman were all well aware of as they lavished their love and dedication on the product. But, for the dedicated Zappaphile, this boxset is, surely, an indispensable item.
Get in the 200 Motels mood… Watch the trailer to the movie Here: