A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1974
Review by: Dan Sullivan
The 1974 iteration of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention was probably the greatest in the history of the group, and the album Live At The Roxy & Elsewhere catches them at the peak of their powers. Zappa had been recording studio albums with this group of musicians throughout the early 70’s, but Roxy/Elsewhere is a far more satisfying listen than those previous efforts. The problem with most Zappa albums is that they either tend to become a showcase for Frank’s long-winded guitar solos, or they devolve into irritating comedy skits. Here, Frank wisely focuses on displaying the incredible technical prowess of his backing band, and the result is a collection of mind-blowing jams, imbued with an infectious energy that could only have been captured in a live setting. And while there are plenty of guitar solos and plenty of comedy, the solos are all spectacular, and the comedy almost never irritates.
To understand the brilliance on display here, look no further than the album’s centerpiece, the instrumental showcase, “Echidna’s Arf/Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?”. The band shifts from melody to melody, constantly changing tempo, dynamics, and time signatures, yet the song never falls apart. Just imagine the hell that Zappa must have put his musicians through to perfect this arrangement. After several instrumental solos at the end of “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?” (including a killer drum solo by Chester Thompson), Zappa brings the house down with one of his best fiery wah-wah solos. These songs in tandem are my favorites in the very prolific Zappa discography.
The other songs are mostly excellent as well. We get an updated version of the classic “Trouble Every Day” that trounces the original, an updated version of “Oh No/Orange County Lumber Truck” that also improves on the original, and the beautiful and nostalgic “Village of the Sun” with great vocals by Napoleon Murphy Brock (he also sings on a few other tunes and his soulful voice is one of the best things about the album). Just skip “Dummy Up”, an inane skit in which Frank tries to get his bandmates to smoke a diploma, and you have the best Zappa money can buy. Definitely my favorite album of ‘74.