Frank Zappa - Studio Tan (1978)

The Adventures of Greggery Peccary 20:32
Revised Music for Guitar and Low-Budget Orchestra     7:36
Lemme Take You to the Beach   2:44
RDNZL   8:13
Total Time: 39 min, 9 sec

The second of the Lšther albums (see the explanation at the beginning of the In New York review). The album opens with the epic Adventures of Greggery Peccary - at 20+ minutes, I believe this is FZ's longest studio piece, and rivals Billy the Mountain for longest song with lyrics.

The title character, Greggery, is a peccary (described as a type of wild swine) who works in an advertising agency. He tries to come up with a new trend to sell to the American people, and ends up inventing the calendar. Many people are unhappy with this, because it means that they now have to start aging, and can no longer remain young and hip. They chase Greggery, who runs from them and hides in a cave. This cave turns out to be the mouth of Billy the Mountain, tying together Zappa's two epic pieces. The story is silly, but it provides Frank with an opportunity for more social criticism, making fun of advertisers, time-wasting trends, people who do drugs and try to remain young and hip, and new-age philosophers. Kind of makes me wonder if Frank was starting to feel a little old when he looked out over that sea of teenage faces at his concerts.

Musically, Greggery ties together a bunch of loose ends. Melodies that had been showing up in concerts but not on albums finally got strung together, and a lot of new material was also added. Within this song, I can hear bits and pieces of Approximate and New Brown Clouds (a piece that was played by the Wazoo bands in concert), and of course Billy the Mountain. The lyrics mention Big Swifty, and I always assumed that that section musically quoted from the song of the same name, but according to recent posts on the FZ newsgroup, it doesn't. There's probably several others that I'm missing. This is a track that Zappa was building up to for years (sort of like Inca Roads), and it is a true masterpiece. Although I do have to admit that it took several listens (and some familiarity with the rest of Zappa's work) before this song really "clicked" for me.

Revised Music for Guitar and Low-Budget Orchestra is a condensed version of the track that appeared on the Jean-Luc Ponty / Zappa album King Kong, but with guitar replacing the violin. I enjoy this track, but it's not a particular favorite of mine. Then again, a lot of Zappa's orchestral work goes right over my head.

In case anyone thought he was putting on airs by including an orchestral track, Frank immediately deflates that by following up with the incredibly stupid but amazingly catchy little ditty, Lemme Take You to the Beach. With a bongo solo by the drummer from Grand Funk Railroad, you know it's gotta be good. ;-) Seriously though, a lot of Zappa fans seem to hate this song, but I really like it and always end up trying to sing along with its high-pitched vocals.

The final track is RDNZL, which is a great instrumental piece that progressive rock fans should love. This version blows me away, but when The Lost Episodes came out, that version of the song (with violin) was even better. Live versions tend to be impressive as well. It's just a great song, even if no one knows that the title is supposed to mean (its' a source of endless conjecture on the FZ newsgroup).

In summary, this is a great album. Just about the only reason not to get it would be if you already have the CD release of Lšther, which contains this entire album with only minor variations.

Album Cover

Image of the Studio Tan album cover