Zappa / Beefheart / Mothers - Bongo Fury (1975)

Debra Kadabra   3:54
Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy   5:59
Sam With the Showing Scalp Flat Top   2:51
Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead     3:03
200 Years Old   4:32
Cucamonga   2:24
Advance Romance 11:17
Man With the Woman Head   1:28
Muffin Man   5:32
Total Time: 41:00

This is the last disc that would be credited to the Mothers, but it is actually more of a collaboration between Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.

Zappa and Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) had been friends since childhood, and had recorded songs together before they each headed off for their solo careers. Zappa was the producer for what many consider to be Beefheart's finest album, Trout Mask Replica, and Beefheart loaned his voice to the track Willie the Pimp on Hot Rats. So it seemed only a matter of time before the two did a full album together, and it finally came about as a (mostly) live disc recorded in May, 1975 at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas.

To be honest, I'm not the world's biggest Beefheart fan. I've picked up Trout Mask and Ice Cream For Crow over the past couple years - they're growing on me, but I doubt I'll ever be a Beefheart fanatic. So it's not too surprising that this album is one of the least-played discs in my Zappa collection. The heavy use of brown on the album cover perfectly sums up the feeling I get from this album - muddy, murky, dark and purposefully ugly. Of course sometimes I'm in the mood for just that - for example I listened to this CD while driving home from work today, and found myself really getting into it - particularly the Beefheart pieces. Maybe the album just hadn't fully grown on me yet, or I wasn't ready for it until now. Who knows.

Only the tracks Sam With the Showing Scalp Flat Top and Man With the Woman Head were written by Beefheart, but Debra Kadabra and 200 Years Old also have his dadaesque, surreal feel to them. I actually kind of like Sam - the lyrics are compellingly strange, and they give the album its title. I also like the way the band sneaks yet another Louie, Louie riff into the Zappa catalog towards the end.

Poofter's Froth... and 200 Years Old are both songs about the United States' bicentennial, which was only months away when this album was recorded. The first song is about how people were going to try to profit from the milestone by selling the average Joe a bunch of commemorative junk he didn't need (sounds real familiar, here on the brink of the year 2000). 200 Years Old is a strange track that starts out with Frank describing the breakfast he had in a hotel in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and then goes into a rant about how ugly America is as she approaches her 200th birthday.

Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy and Advance Romance are OK songs, but there are so many versions of them in the Zappa catalog it's hard to get excited over them. Cucamonga is a surprisingly pretty little song (for this album), with backing vocals that, inexplicably, repeat the "Nanook, no no" line from the Yellow Snow suite. Muffin Man is one of the better songs on the album, and provided Zappa with a crushing guitar riff to solo over, something he often used to end concerts with. The studio overdubbed dialog at the beginning of the track foreshadows the ending of the Joe's Garage concept album.

All in all, this album is just a bit too unrelentingly ugly for my tastes. But if you're a big Beefheart fan, or just a fan of dark, surreal albums, then you'll probably like it. [Note: Just for the record, I got an email from someone who enjoys Captain Beefheart's work, and he says that most Beefheart fans don't like Bongo Fury very much, and even quoted reviews that pan the album. I guess you have to be a fan of both FZ and CB to fully enjoy this one.]

Album Cover

Image of the Bongo Fury album cover