Frank Zappa - Sheik Yerbouti (1979)

I Have Been in You   3:33
Flakes   6:41
Broken Hearts Are For Assholes   3:42
I'm So Cute   3:09
Jones Crusher   2:49
What Ever Happened to All the Fun in the World     0:33
Rat Tomago   5:15
Wait a Minute   0:33
Bobby Brown Goes Down   2:49
Rubber Shirt   2:45
The Sheik Yerbouti Tango   3:56
Baby Snakes   1:50
Tryin' to Grow a Chin   3:31
City of Tiny Lites   5:32
Dancin' Fool   3:43
Jewish Princess   3:16
Wild Love   4:09
Yo' Mama 12:36
Total Time: 70 min, 23 sec

This double album (released on a single CD) was mostly recorded live, but with the audience noise removed and lots of studio overdubs added on top. The result is an album that sounds completely studio but has that live energy. This album breaks the string of Lšther recordings, although a little bit of this one ended up on that boxed set too. Another interesting tidbit about Sheik is that it features a young Adrian Belew, who was in Zappa's band briefly before going on to join King Crimson.

This disc is a fan favorite, but it's another one that I don't get the urge to listen to very often. It was one of the first 10 or so Zappa discs that I bought, so maybe I'm just burned out on it, but the "poppish" music and "poopy" lyrics just don't amuse me as much as they once did. Still, if you're into that kind of stuff there's a lot of good tracks on this disc.

The album opens with a parody of Peter Frampton's I'm in You called I Have Been In You. Amazing how a simple change of tense can make something sound so much dirtier. Flakes is a "protest" song (complete with Dylan vocals and harmonica) about how Zappa couldn't find competent plumbers or mechanics in California. Eventually it turns into another one of Frank's union bashing songs. Broken Hearts... is an anti-love song that ends with Zappa telling a woman "don't fool yourself, it's going right up yer poop-chute". Another song you don't want to play around the easily offended.

The album also has some tracks that are sort of FZ's answer to punk music - I'm So Cute, Baby Snakes, and Trying to Grow a Chin all have punk's attitude and energy, but replace the anger with humor. Jones Crusher is another rocker about a woman who...well...crushes joneses.

What Ever Happened... and Wait a Minute are recordings of bandmembers talking, and are really just used to transition from one track to another. Rat Tomago and The Sheik Yerbouti Tango are guitar solo pieces, with many fans giving special praise to the former track. That song has never really struck me as being outstanding, but then again Frank's "guitar hero" side has never been the one that interested me the most.

Bobby Brown Goes Down, a song about a man who turns gay after an unpleasant encounter with a lesbian, is surprisingly Zappa's most popular song in Europe. Maybe it sounds better to non-English speaking listeners. Rubber Shirt is an interesting piece - the drums and bass were recorded separately and without each other's knowledge, and then Frank tried putting them together and liked the results. Surprisingly, it sounds pretty good.

City of Tiny Lights is a catchy tune with a good groove and strange lyrics - I like this version, but the one on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol 5 is even better and features an extended instrumental break. Dancin' Fool was another disco parody which ended up becoming a moderately successful single (and even appeared on some Dr. Demento compilations). Jewish Princess is a track that got Frank into trouble with the Anti-Defamation league. He claimed that the song just paints a portrait of a type of person who does exist in reality, but the song goes a little beyond that and really is a bit insulting.

The lyrics to Wild Love are about dating in the 50s. Basically, heavy petting and guys going home unsatisfied. Yo' Mama is a long and mostly instrumental track. The few lyrics describe a pathetic guy who can't survive in the world on his own, so Frank suggests that he go back to his mother. This song has a big, epic feel to it. The instrumental part in the middle is monumental.

So, overall, this is a fairly amusing album with some good music on it (and some of Zappa's harder rocking tunes), but it can get tiresome after several listens. Oddly though, listening to it now that I haven't heard it in a long while, I'm starting to remember why I liked it so much in the first place. Worth picking up if you've got a broad sense of humor and aren't easily offended - just don't overplay it.

Album Cover

Image of the Sheik Yerbout album cover