'Greasy Love Songs': Zappa Family Trust digs into vaults to release 'Ruben & the Jets' rarities
To get a sense of what a strange non sequitur Frank Zappa's "Cruising with Ruben & the Jets" probably was when it was released in 1968, take a look at what was on the charts that year.
Competing with Zappa's ode to the doo-wop of his Southern California youth were hot sounds by Cream, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. The Beatles were moving toward harder electric guitar tones, the Stones were professing sympathy for the devil -- and Zappa was crooning sad ballads to his lost youth (though he was only 27 at the time).
Zappa releasing a doo-wop album a little over a decade after doo-wop's peak would be akin to, say, Jack White doing a tribute to New Jack Swing as the White Stripes were exploding. It was an odd strategy, one that is documented on the new Zappa collection, "Greasy Love Songs," which digs in the massive Zappa vault to retrieve different mixes and masters from the late Angeleno's prodigious output.
Among the album's offerings is the entire, previously unreleased "original 1968 vinyl stereo mix" of "Ruben," a number of mono mixes, a 1968 interview with now-defunct Pasadena counterculture radio station KPPC, and a lecture that Zappa did at the New School in New York City in 1969.
Another bonus is a liner-note recollection by Cheech Marin in which he describes trying out as a vocalist for what Zappa described as "a kind of satirical oldies group" in 1968 -- before Cheech hit pay dirt with Tommy Chong. Writes Marin:
"There was already an audition going on in the living room, but it was for guitar players. Don Van Vliet, otherwise known as Captain Beefheart, was running through guitar players for his band. Frank nodded to me and indicated that I should chill. He was sooo cool. He was Frank Zappa ..."
After waiting a little bit for the guitarists to finish up, Marin finally got his chance:
"I started to sing. One of the consistent things I can do as a singer is stay on key. This seemed to please Mr. Zappa because he nodded in time. I remembered a great majority of the words, and ... Frank smiled and said, 'Do you know any songs with a falsetto part?' "
Though Marin hit the falsetto notes, he didn't get the gig.
"Greasy Love Songs" is out now on Zappa Records. Here's an MP3 of the single version of "Jelly Roll Gum Drop," from the disc.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Frank Zappa. Credit: Zappa Family Trust
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