Frank Zappa - The Lost Episodes (1996)

The Blackouts   0:22
Lost in a Whirlpool   2:46
Ronnie Sings?   1:05
Kenny's Booger Story   0:33
Ronnie's Booger Story   1:16
Mount St. Mary's Concert Excerpt   2:28
Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance   3:51
Tiger Roach   2:20
Run Home Slow Theme   1:25
Fountain of Love   2:08
Run Home Cues, #2   0:28
Any Way the Wind Blows   2:14
Run Home Cues, #3   0:11
Charva   1:59
The Dick Kunc Story   0:46
Wedding Dress Song   1:14
Handsome Cabin Boy   1:21
Cops & Buns   2:36
The Big Squeeze   0:43
I'm a Band Leader   1:14
Alley Cat   2:47
The Grand Wazoo   2:12
Wonderful Wino   2:47
Kung Fu   1:06
RDNZL   3:49
Basement Music #1   3:46
Inca Roads   3:42
Lil' Clanton Shuffle   4:47
I Don't Wanna Get Drafted   3:24
Sharleena 11:54

This collection of lost bits and pieces was put together by Zappa himself before he died, although it wasn't released until 1996. The first half of the album includes a lot of "documentary" recordings. There's a brief interview with Frank's first band, the Blackouts. Childhood friends Ronnie and Kenny explain the events that inspired the song Let's Make the Water Turn Black. Early collaborations with Captain Beefheart turn up on the oddball songs Lost in a Whirlpool (about being flushed down a toilet) and Tiger Roach (with lyrics inspired by a comic book cover). Recording engineer Dick Kunc explains how he got involved with Frank's music. An early Mother's rehearsal is interrupted by police, who are responding to complaints about the noise. Beefheart returns for the tongue-in-cheek I'm a Band Leader, and the synclavier freak-out The Grand Wazoo.

Musical highlights of the first half of the disc include an early jazz version of Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance. There's also an excerpt from Zappa's first orchestral concert (which came long before he reached fame with the Mothers) at Mount St. Mary's college. Excerpts are included from FZ's soundtrack to the movie Run Home Slow. Fountain of Love and Any Way the Wind Blows are early versions, with Fountain featuring one of the first recordings ever of a fuzz bass. Charva is a humorous 50s-rock song in the vein of Ruben and the Jets, with memorable lyrics like "Charva, I love you more and more. I swear it ain't because your father owns a liquor store". The Wedding Dress Song and Handsome Cabin Boy prove once again that there wasn't a style of music that Zappa couldn't handle - these are instrumental sea shanties (good ones, too). The Big Squeeze is a bizarre little tape-manipulation piece that was used to represent the sound of a living cough for a cough-drop commercial. Alley Cat is a blues number with Beefheart vocals, and this version of Wonderful Wino features the twisted vocals of Ricky Lancelotti (best known for singing the also twisted 50/50).

It's not until track 24 that the music starts to get really interesting though. Fortunately, the last seven tracks make up over half an hour's worth of music, and what fantastic music it is. Don't let the fact that these are outtakes and "leftover" tracks fool you - this music ranks among the best stuff Zappa ever did. Kung Fu, RDNZL and Inca Roads all feature the Roxy Mothers at their best. The first track is a jazzy little introduction to prepare the listener for what is to come. This RDNZL is one of the best versions I've heard, with some smokin' violin playing from Jean-Luc Ponty at the beginning, and a wonderful jazzy keyboard and rhythm section break in the middle. Inca Roads is equally fantastic - a jazzier version that boils the song down to just its essence, clocking in at under four minutes.

Basement Music #1 is an early synthesizer and drum machine track, created at home by Zappa during a period in which his lawsuit with Warner Brothers prevented him from going into professional recording studios. This track is surprisingly good (it makes me wonder if there is any more Basement Music lurking in the vaults) and both foreshadows the synclavier music to come, and makes a perfect segue between the Roxy band songs before and after. I Don't Wanna Get Drafted is the original mix of that song, which was changed slightly for the single version, and then re-recorded entirely for the You Are What You Is album.

Lil' Clanton Shuffle and Sharleena are both outtakes from the sessions for the album Hot Rats. Both are great, blues-based tracks with beautiful violin playing from Don "Sugarcane" Harris. When this album was released, this version of Sharleena quickly took over as most fans' favorite - it's a particularly passionate performance, with excellent solos from Harris and Zappa. I can't imagine why this track wasn't used on Hot Rats, but as it is it makes the perfect closer for The Lost Episodes. It just makes me wonder if there's anything more from the Rats sessions hidden away somewhere.

In summary, the first half of this album is probably for collectors only, but the second half should appeal to anyone who is into Zappa's music. In fact, the latter songs are so strong, it's worth buying the disc even if you skip over the first part every time.

Album Cover

Image of the Lost Episodes album cover