Frank Zappa's musical language
Frank Zappa's musical language
A study of the music of Frank Zappa

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A token of his extreme During most of 1974 Zappa continued to tour with the band, that had performed at Roxy. At first only few live recordings from 1974 were used for the albums. The "elsewhere" part form "Roxy and elsewhere" is from 1974 and "Inca roads" from "One size fits all" includes live-recorded tracks. This would change later on, also because of the popularity of "Roxy and elsewhere" among fans. So volume II of "YCDTOSA" is entirely devoted to the 1974 concert at Helsinki. Zappa also made a video of a live performance at KCET studios, combined with clay animations by Bruce Bickford (image to the right). The intention was to have it broadcast by tv stations, which succeeded in France and Switzerland. In the 1980s material form this video got included in "The dub room special" video, that he distributed himself. It's a combination of footage from a 1974 concert and the 1981 "You are what you is" MTV-concert, augmented with interviews and the clay animations by Bruce Bickford. Bootlegs from the tv broadcasts circulated as "A token of his extreme", the title given by Zappa himself. In 2013 the ZFT released the original video in its entirity.


Both on the "Helsinki" concert and the "Dub room special" a performance of "Approximate" is included. The "Helsinki" CD has the complete execution, but the "Dub room special" has as a special treat that parts of Zappa's handwritten scores are shown. "Approximate" is a piece with four ultrafast written themes and four improvised solos. These written melodies have irregular rhythms played over 4/4 and the idea of the composition is that these themes can be played thus fast, that the pitches of the notes with crotches don't have to be accurate, as long as the rhythm remains correct. As Zappa explains in the "Wazoo" booklet: "In this selection the choice of the pitches played by each musician is left up to him (or her). There are only a few bars in the whole piece where a pitch is specified (and those bars are installed for contrast). The rest of the sheet music is filled with note stems and braces connected to little "X" marks, indicating by their position in the staff the approximate register of the instrument in which they are to occur. The players are requested to adhere to the rhythmic schematic which organizes the time-space relationships between the bunches of "X's".

First the opening theme is played instrumentally, next sung and then danced. It's quite funny on the videotape. The "Helsinki" recording thereafter continues with an entire performance:

- 3:26 Theme 1.

Approximate, opening (midi file).

Approximate, opening (notes/transcription).

- 4:03 Guitar solo 1.
- 4:39 Theme 2.
- 4:44 Drum solo.
- 5:20 Theme 3.

Approximate, third theme (midi file).

Approximate, third theme (notes/transcription).

- 5:25 Keyboard solo.
- 6:01 Theme 4.
- 6:09 Guitar solo 2.
- 6:47 Theme 1.

I continue with this composition in the Zappa in New York section, where this title re-appears as "The purple lagoon/Approximate", thus in combination with another title. One can also compare this piece with "Little dots" from the Wazoo section. As I'm interpreting it, Zappa is doing something similar in the latter composition, but switching the parameters around.

Pygmy twylyte (1974)

Other than the pieces from the previous Roxy section, "Pygmy twylyte" is a song relatively easy to perform. It's mostly in 4/4 and its main theme is a single melodic line without rhythmical difficulties. The theme is in Bb Lydian for bars 1-12. The sax is at some points blowing some chromatic notes, along with indeterminate guitar noise. Next the guitar part from bars 13-14 modulates the song to a G minor type of scale, where it stays till bar 28 (except for the guitar solo bars). The D is altered to Db during these bars. So it's not exactly G minor, but a minor variant (the A/Ab and E/Eb aren't used, so the exact complete scale can't be identified here). For the guitar solo bars (19-22), the pedal note changes from G to C. Here Zappa is using both D and Db, again making it difficult to assign the notes to a scale (there is some keyboard harmony in bar 19 here, with a C and an E chord). After this solo you've got a one time only bar in 3/4. The 8 minutes 1974 Helsinki version is quite enriched compared to the 3 minutes 1973 Roxy version. It has additional themes and a fine guitar solo in it.

Pygmy twylyte (Helsinki), opening (midi file).
Pygmy twylyte (Helsinki), solo section (midi file).

Pygmy twylyte (Helsinki), opening (transcription).
Pygmy twylyte (Helsinki), solo section (transcription).

This solo takes up half of the time of the track. It begins with a chord progression in straightforward 4/4: Bm-G-Bb-C-A (bars 1-4). Thus one minor triad, followed by four parallel major triads. The solo is in B minor, so in the transcription the opening is also notated this way. The soloing in bar 5 begins with variations upon a very small cell, C#-D-C#, with Zappa taking much pauses between these variations:

- bar 5 beat 1: C#-D-C#.
- bar 5 beat 2: Pause with only a string lightly scratched.
- bar 5 beat 3: C#-D-C#-D, an octave higher. The rhythm of the cell and the notes are slightly varied upon each time.
- bar 5 beat 4: Pause and a C# just before beat.
- bar 6 beat 1: D-C#-D.
- bar 6 beat 2: Pause.
- bar 6 beats 3-4: Half-pausing, half a little figure with F#-E.
- bar 7 beat 1: Pause and C#-D before beat.
- bar 7 beat 2: C#-D-C#.
- bar 7 beat 3: Pause.
- bar 7 beat 4: Pause and B-C# before beat.
- bar 8 beat 1: B-C#-B, thus the figure from bar 5 now on B.
- bar 8 beats 3-4: Pause with only a little scratching of a string during beat 2.
- bars 9-10: The cell is left and a new theme enters the scene with a repeated F#, rhythmically dominated by 16th notes. This returning F# was already briefly touched upon in bar 6.
- bars 10-12: Variation upon this new theme.
- bar 13: Another variation, where the repeating F# is replaced by a repeating E. The rhythm becomes more varied.

The cell from bar 5 and the theme from bars 9-10 are thus opposites because of their length, but both get rhythmically and melodically varied upon. It's the standard way Zappa of how improvises during much of his soloing, combining it with a total harmonic freedom: coming up with themetic material and varying upon it at will. See also the "Mo' mama" example from the Sheik Yerbouti section. The interesting part here is the presence of many pauses during bars 5-8, a less common way of beginning a solo. It makes the keyboard accompaniment by George Duke come out quite effectively. The bass follows a progression of two bars: one bar with a B followed by one bar with G-E moving back to the tonic. The G takes up a dotted quarter note, the E the remainder of the second bar.

Pygmy twylyte (A token of his extreme), solo section (midi file).

Pygmy twylyte (A token of his extreme), solo section (transcription).

A token of his extreme The "Pygmy twylyte" version you can hear on the "A token of his extreme" DVD was recorded in August 1974, a month earlier than the Helsinki concert from September 22nd. The differences in the non-improvised bars and staves are thus minor, but of course the solo is another one (to the right: FZ playing this solo, source: A token of his extreme DVD). When you're doing a tour with dozens of venues it becomes likely that the solos get common elements. Till 2017 no series of entire solos were available, but you can see here that the C#-D-C# cell from above is also present in the shape of some sort of an irregular tremolo when the "A token of his extreme" solo starts. It takes up the first three beats of the opening theme (bars 5-6). This theme gets varied upon in bars 7-8. The next element to get varied upon over a longer period is a group of three notes, E-F#-A. Setting of in bar 10, beat 4, you can see a string of notes with little rhytmic figures using these notes till bar 13 in the example. Other than the Helsinki solo, Zappa hardly pauses during the last example. The keyboard playing is now present as standard background harmony. The bass pattern is much more loose. Still it's B-G sometimes followed by E, but it hasn't the rhytmic pattern as on the Helsinki version.

See the previous Roxy and elsewhere section for and example from the "Pygmy twylyte (Halloween 73)" performance at the Auditorium theatre, Chicago, as released on the 2019 ZFT issue "Halloween 73". These shows contained a version including a guitar solo as well, with its opening being included in the example.

The idiot bastard son

"The idiot bastard son" is present in Zappa's catalogue in four different shapes. The original recording stems from 1968 for the "We're only in it for the money" album. In 1984 Zappa recorded the bass and drum part anew and remixed the other parts. This later version is now available on "Lumpy Money". A piano arrangement by Ian Underwood got published in the "Frank Zappa Songbook vol. I" from 1973. This version is closer to the way the band performed this song live, as you can hear it on YCDTOSA vol. II. When the band starts this song on this album, they return to some riffs from "Pygmy twylyte". In between comes the opening lick from "The idiot bastard son". In the following example bars 1-2 and 6-7 stem from "Pygmy twylyte". In between you have phrase 1 from theme 1 from "The idiot bastard son". It's played via triplets in bars 3-5. Bars 6-8 demonstrate various forms of syncopes. Bars 8-9 move over to theme 1 from "The idiot bastard son" with the last chord being held for a while. Napoleon Murphy Brocks starts with the first note from the lead melody, also held longer. So it doesn't function as a pick-up note, which might explain the little inequality at the beginning of theme 1 (staff 2 compared to the others in bar 1, 1974 theme 1 example from below). Theme 1 begins slower than the intro. Because phrase 1 is played via triplets at first, it returns almost twice as slow at the beginning of the main part of this song. The intro starts in B minor moving over to D Dorian for bars 2-5. At this specific point the music is purely Dorian and can only be interpreted as Dorian.

It's also the way Ruth Underwood plays the sequence of sus2-chords from bars 3-5 on the Classic albums DVD (image above), calling it the "definitive Zappa sound". By the way she's holding the sticks, it can be seen that this figure gets voiced as follows:

When you play it like this for the general public, all by itself, you're making it sound as D Dorian or minor. This figure with sus2-chords re-appears during theme 1. In that context it can be interpreted differenty (see below). For bars 6-9 the music modulates to D. The last two beats of bar 9 evade from this key. It ends with what you might call a Bbdim chord plus A.

The idiot bastard son (1974), intro (midi file).

The idiot bastard son (1974), intro (transcription).

While the meter of the main part of "The idiot bastard son" is constantly 3/4 and its rhythm pretty standard on beat, the use of scales in this song is highly flexible. It's one of the many songs that are identified as multi-scale in the table from my Burnt weeny sandwich section. The structure of this song is in all four versions the same, except for the intro from above (1974 version only) and the interruption/outro with spoken text (1968/84 recording only). The pitches in the three versions below are transpositions. The original begins on E. For the 1984 version Zappa sped up this track, to the point of transposing it a minor second up, so that it begins on F. The 1974 version is lower, beginning on D. The differences between the 1968 and 1984 transcriptions are not only caused by the newly recorded bass, but also by remixing. The accompaniment is made up of 4 to 6 tracks. By mixing some parts in or out you get the picture from the transcriptions, which represent the audible parts in reduced form. There are, of course, no newly recorded accompanying tracks. The timing below, and the pitches, follow the 1974 version. The numbering of the bars applies to every version.

0:00-0:18: Intro.
0:18-1:03: Theme 1. Theme 1 is made up of three phrases, of which the third is a variation upon the first.
- bars 1-3: phrase 1.
- bars 4-8: phrase 2.
- bars 9-25: repetitions.
- bars 26-30: phrase 3.
How the scales of theme 1 can be identified depends upon how you look upon it, which version you take and which specific bars you're looking at. It can lead to contrary results, though not in direct conflict with each other:
a) One could look for sections where the pedal note is relatively stable and group the notes used. Then the scale could be identified as D minor or Dorian for bars 1-3 (1974 version only) and B or C Dorian for bars 7-8 in the 1968/84 versions. So this standard approach explains relatively little. Other instances of phrases 1 and 3 point at parallel playing only and the Dorian pedal in bars 7-8 in 1974 is weak. Moreover the final bar moves over to another pedal note.
b) Phrases 1 and 3 can be seen as a form of parallel playing. These parallels are perfect for phrase 1 from 1974 and the representation in the Songbook. Other instances are more variants upon this. Parallel playing soon gets incompatible with following one scale, like the F-F# conflict during phrase 3. In my opinion parallel playing can best be identified as the first chord indicating a scale. Next the following chords should be seen as transpositions of that scale. Phrase 1 begins with just D2 (1974) and nobody playing over it, giving too little clues for a scale. But in phrase 3 it becomes D add 2, thus implying a major type of scale. For another example of parallel chords, see the "Bwana Dik" example, bars 9-13.
c) Because the pedal note keeps moving for most of the song, one might also take each instance of a pedal note as equal. In this case this approach proves to be the most fruitfull, because all versions can be explained in this way in the same manner by transposing the scheme. The scales below are chosen to explain all versions. When you also identify the scales in a way that they alter the least notes from one bar to another (whether actually used or not), you get the picture below. The scales for phrases 1 and 3 can be taken as the same.
- Bar 1: D Mixolydian.
- Bar 2: F Lydian.
- Bar 3: D Mixolydian.
- Bar 4: E minor.
- Bar 5: C Lydian.
- Bar 6: D Mixolydian.
- Bars 7-8: A Dorian - chromatic.
- Bars 9-26: repetitions.
- Bar 27: D Mixolydian (1974 only).
- Bars 28-29: F Lydian (1974 only).
Other than the 1974 version, the 1968 and 1984 versions use different pedal notes for phrases 1 and 3. These last two end with using Dorian and major instead of Mixolydian and Lydian, caused by the bass playing a fourth lower or a fifth higher. The bars that go as bars 7-8 in 1974 always have an individual extra with a couple of chromatic notes, almost directly following upon the brief A pedal (the A lasting only one beat). Two such instances are included in the 1974 example below.

The idiot bastard son (1974), theme 1 (midi file).
The idiot bastard son (1968), theme 1 (midi file).
The idiot bastard son (1984), theme 1 (midi file).

The idiot bastard son (1974), theme 1 (transcription).
The idiot bastard son (1968), theme 1 (transcription).
The idiot bastard son (1984), theme 1 (transcription).

1:03-1:27: Theme 2. This theme is also made up of three phrases:
- bars 30-35: phrase 1, following G Mixolydian in bars 30-33 and C in bars 34-35.
- bars 36-38: phrase 2. The music now continues chromatically as shown in the next example. Most of it is identical to the Songbook. Thus also here with the A13(b9) chord in bars 36-37 and the counterpoint figure by the bass during bar 44.
- bars 39-41: the lead melody is a transposition of phrase 2.
- bars 42-45: phrase 3. During bars 44-45 the music has become diatonic again, moving from D to D Mixolydian.

The idiot bastard son (1974), section from theme 2 (midi file).

The idiot bastard son (1974), section from theme 2 (score).

1:27-1:59 (bars 46-67): Variations upon theme 1, phrases 1-2.
1:59-2:14 (bars 68-77): Add-in. Bar 68 begins in E minor, next the music continues in C Lydian.
2:14-2:19 (bars 78-80): Theme 1 continues with phrase 3.
2:19-2:39 (bars 81-94): Theme 2 returns.


The two above songs are only two examples of numerous version differences. They form an important factor in Zappa's music, reason why still relevant releases from the tape vault are appearing. Short descriptions of all versions differences can be found at the website. Other examples that are coming by with note examples in my study are:
- "Why don't you do me right": Paul Buff section.
- "Status back baby": Projects section.
- "How could I be such a fool": Ruben and the Jets section.
- "No, no, no" and "Stuff up the cracks": Ruben and the Jets section.
- "Uncle Meat", "Dog breath" and "Exercise #4": Uncle Meat section.
- "King Kong": Lumpy gravy, Uncle meat, Hammersmith Odeon and YCDTOSA sections.
- "Rudy wants to buy yez a drink" and "Transylvania boogie": Chunga's revenge section.
- "Chunga's revenge"/"Chunga's basement": Chunga's revenge and the Bootleg and archive recordings sections.
- "Who are the brain police?": Bootleg and archive recordings section.
- "Do you like my new car"/"The groupie routine": Fillmore East 1971, section.
- "Nun suit": 200 Motels section.
- "The girl's dream": 200 Motels section.
- "200 Motels - the suites"/"200 Motels" 1971 scores: 200 Motels section.
- "Big swifty": Waka/Jawaka section.
- "One shot deal"/"Frog song": Waka/Jawaka section.
- "Farther O'Blivion": Imaginary diseases section.
- "Join the march and eat my starch": Studio tan section.
- "The be-bop tango": Roxy and elsewhere section.
- "Cucamonga"/"Farther O'Blivion": Bongo fury section.
- "Duke of prunes", "Music for low budget orchestra" and "RDNZL": Orchestral favorites section.
- "Bogus pump": Orchestral favorites and the L.S.O. sections.
- "City of tiny lights": Philly '76 section.
- "Manx needs women": Zappa in New York section.
- "The black page #1/#2": In New York, Sheik Yerbouti, YCDTOSA and Make a jazz noise here sections.
- "On the bus" and "Occam's razor": One shot deal section.
- "Stinkfoot": Halloween section.
- "Tush-tush-tush"/"A token of my extreme": Joe's garage section.
- "Peaches en regalia"/"Peaches III": Hot rats and Tinsel town rebellion sections.
- "The perfect stranger" and "Naval aviation in art?": Perfect stranger section.
- "No not now"/"Won ton on": Thing-Fish section.
- "Honey, don't you want a man like me?": YCDTOSA section.
- "The torture never stops": Zoot allures, The man from Utopia and The best band sections.
Version differences that get referred to:
- "Black napkins"/"Pink napkins": FZ plays FZ and Shut up 'n play yer guitar sections.
- "Watermelon in Easter hay": Joe's garage section.
- "Easy meat": Tinsel town rebellion section.
- "The deathless horsie": Shut up 'n play yer guitar section.
- "Zomby woof": Best band section.
- "King Kong" (1988)/"Diplodocus": Make a jazz noise here and Trance-fusion sections.

Room service

Napoleon Murphy Brock "Room service" belongs to a series of folklore songs, in which there was plenty of room for textual improvisation. To the right Napoleon Murphy Brock holding his oversized phone (source: A token of his extreme DVD). Zappa mostly included one or two of such songs in every tour. The differences in the prescribed parts can be small, but the improvisation kept developping itself into different directions each night. So you can hear what happens to "Room service" in a month by comparing the "A token of his extreme" and "YCDTOSA II" versions.

Room service, opening (midi file, tempo changes not included).

Room service, opening (transcription).

The example from above deals with the opening, the composed section. It's a sequence of riffs of one bar, each repeated a number of times:
- bars 1-4: a I-III-IV progression in B Dorian. The meter is 5/4.
- bars 5-8: a single melody played by the band in parallels. The meter is 4/4, but via a tempo change the set-up of this song is such that the 5/4 and 4/4 bars last just as long. During beats 1 and 3 a septuplet is being used. So the rhythm of this song at this point gets pretty complex. Beats 3-4 follow the same rhythm as beats 1-2, while the melody is much different. Staff 1 is Napoleon cheering over it.
- bars 9-12: variation upon the riff from bars 1-4. In this case there's an additional upwards line during beat 5. Staff 3 represents the marimba part by Ruth. She's playing a chromatic string about as fast as possible. You can't play a figure like that as a glissando or some sort of an arpeggio on a marimba, you actually have to hit each woodblock seperately.
- bars 13-14: progression of two chords, B and Bm7. The first one might imply a switch to a major tonality, the second one immediately returns to B Dorian.
- bars 15-16: improvisation over B pedal. This continues for quite a while before another riff enters the picture and the dialogue starts. Zappa starts playing a couple of melodic notes on his guitar, but then continues as a rhythm guitar. On "A token of his extreme" he immediately starts playing this way. It's only these improvised elements that make the difference between the two versions for the bars in the examples presented here.
On album the song goes on as:
- bars 17-31: the improvisation from bars 15-16 is maintained for another 15 bars.
- bars 32-33: drum solo.

Room service, section (midi file).

Room service, section (transcription).

- bars 34-41: another riff. Smaller time units are getting the upper hand here, so I've split a 4/4 bar into two 4/4 bars. The indicated time change is solely caused by this change in notation. One might also decide to already take this step at bar 15. The pedal note has switched to E and the melody/harmony is combining E minor and E Mixolydian. In bar 34, beats 1-2, you have C/G natural (E minor). In bar 35, at the start of beat 2, you find C/G sharp (E Mixolydian). G natural and G sharp keep alternating.
- bars 42 till the end: vamp for the dialogue. It begins with another progression in B Dorian, I-VII-IV-III. The vamp soons gets flatter and flatter, till only the drum remains as accompaniment. Other than in the "Dummy up" routine from "Roxy and elsewhere", Zappa here lets the text largely prevail over the music. Towards the end however the music returns with yet another riff in B Dorian. This time with the progression: I-I-I-III-IV. It's also used as the coda for this song.

Dummy up

"Dummy up" and "Room service" are two examples of a number of story-telling routines Zappa and the band did during his career. Mostly these have a vamp for a minimal musical accompaniment. Here it's a little bass theme of two bars, forming the chords I 7th and II 7th in B minor. The two root notes of these chords alternate B and E, or I-IV. Rhythmically this bass theme is half on-beat, half syncopic.

Dummy up, opening bars (midi file).

Dummy up, opening bars (transcription).

The two phrases of the theme both stop about halfway the bar. Ruth on bells and George on synthesizer provide a harmonic fill-in. The central chord for the synthesizer is Bm7, that can appear along both bass phrases. The story in this case is about somebody walking downtown (Napoleon), encountering a dope pusher (Jeff Simmons). Both get co-credited for their contribution to this song.


Compared to other rock bands Zappa's concerts and his stage behaviour were rather static. It was all about the music, so there was little dancing and there were little visual effects. Zappa compensated for this by adressing himself to the audiance frequently and sometimes include audience participation events. So you have pieces like:
- "YCDTOSA IV": "Tiny sick tears". One earlier example form the sixties.
- "Fillmore East": "The mudd shark". Zappa is retelling a story that he got to hear from the Vanilla Fudge during their stay at the Edgewater Inn. Towards the end Flo and Eddie start singing along the vamp and Ian Underwood joins in with arpeggio movements on his keyboard.
- "Fillmore East"/"YCDTOSA I": "Do you like my new car?"/"The groupie routine". See the Fillmore East section.
- "Roxy and elsewhere": Preambles. The orginal album listed Zappa's four introductions to his songs as individual introductory tracks for each of the four sides of this double album. This is plain spoken text without the band playing.
- "In New York"/"Baby snakes": intro to "Punky's whips", respectivily by Don Pardo and Zappa himself.
- "YCDTOSA VI"/"Baby snakes" DVD: "The poodle lecture". This is an instance where you can actually see Zappa doing such a routine on DVD. He carried around a large toy poodle.
- "YCDTOSA VI"/"Hammersmith Odeon": "Is that guy kidding or what?"/"I have been in you" intro. See the Sheik Yerbouti section.
- "Buffalo": "The "real world" thematic extrapolations". A very long outro for "Dancing fool".
- "Tinsel town rebellion": "Panty rap". See the Tinsel town rebellion section.
- "Tinsel town rebellion": "Dance contest". Idem. One example of Zappa inviting members from the audiance to come dance on stage, as first recorded during the "Be-bop tango" from "Roxy and elsewhere". On the "Baby snakes" DVD you can see such an event taking place.

Dupree's paradise (1974)

"Dupree's paradise" is one of the four songs in this study, that Zappa performed during the 1973-4 tours, but only got released years later. The other examples are "Approximate", "T' Mershi Duween" and "Dickie's such an asshole". "Dupree's paradise" first appeared on record in 1984, re-using the central theme, but with a large newly composed block between this opening theme and its reprise. See the Perfect stranger section for examples from the "Dupree's paradise (1984)" execution. The 1974 version from "YCDTOSA vol. II" fits in well in this section because of the two routines included in this song and, again, the version differences. The set-up of the 1974 rendition goes as:

0:00-1:31: Block I, Fingercymbal routine.

George Duke The song opens with Zappa explaining how George Duke is going to hurt himself while playing a fingercymbal, presented as some sort of quasi-SM. It's thus thouroughly stupid, that you keep laughing about it, no matter how often you listen to it. This applies to most of the routines, preambles etc. on Zappa's records. The humor in it is sufficient enough to be able to keep listening to these texts, even though you know exactly what Zappa is going to say. To the right George and his fingercymbal at KCET studios.

Dupree's paradise, fingercymbal-keyboard transition (midi file).

Dupree's paradise, fingercymbal-keyboard transition (transcription).

1:31-6:08: Block II, Keyboards and lyrics extravaganza by George Duke.

The first example above is a transcription of the last seconds of the fingercymbal act, followed by the opening chord progession of the keyboard solo. The first two bars contain a series of triads moving through various scales. Next this section is getting wild with George improvising on his synthesizer along with telling a little story. Zappa introduces it with "The Modest Moussorsky's songbook presents". Similar performances like this block got released as individual tracks. You can find "The booger man" and "Smell my beard" on "YCDTOSA vol. IV", and "Earl of Duke" on "A token of his extreme".

6:09-7:26: Block III, Hotel towels routine.

The song continues with the band getting caught at the customs control for stealing hotel towels. Again it's very funny. The topic already got a prelude in the preceding song, "Approximate", with Napoleon saying "we tried to pay for them". The next example contains the end of this episode, followed by the main theme from the written "Dupree's paradise" score.

Dupree's paradise, hotel towels-main theme, phrase 1 (midi file).

Dupree's paradise, hotel towels-main theme, phrase 1 (transcription/score).

7:26-8:24: Block IV, Main theme.

The main theme from "Dupree's paradise" is a composed part of two sheets with 63 bars (repetitions included). Recently I found two original examples in Zappa's handwriting being auctioned. They are both keybooard parts. The first has "Ian" in its header, thus written for Ian Underwood for the 1973 tour (Ian would leave the band during the fall of 1973). The other has no reference to an instrument or person, but, seen the positioning of the notes, can only be another keyboard part. Below I'm referring to these parts as keyboard #1 and #2 respectively. It's not certain if these two sheets were meant to be played jointly, but it's very well possible to do so. If you do, you're getting the following:

Dupree's paradise, keyboard parts (midi file).

Dupree's paradise, keyboard parts (score).

The construction of the main theme is as follows:

- Bar 1: an atonal string of 16th notes, mostly going up and down. By the method of counting the amount of minor second steps in an interval, these intervals in numbers are: 1-7-7-1-7-4-11-3-1-7-1-7-7-7-1 for keyboard #1 and exactly the same for keyboard #2, but beginning a fourth higher. The fifth and next the minor second appear most often in the series. On album bars 1-4, by Ruth Underwood on marimba and George Duke on keyboards, are a variation upon the prescribed bars. It's something Zappa allowed. In the liner notes he states that the band could play this music blindfoldedly after a year of touring and it's not really difficult. No way George and Ruth are missing notes in cases like this. Thus once again you have an album version that, to a certain degree, goes different from the written score. The accelerando on album is also not prescribed in the score.
- Bars 2-4: the string returns three times, each time starting lower: D#4 for bar 1 gets followed by G3 for bar 2, B3 for bar 3 and D2 for bar 4 (keyboard #1). Keyboard #2 is a major third higher during bar 2, a fourth againg during bar 3, and a fifth during bar 4. Quite obviously bars 1-4 form a sequence.
- Bars 5-6: A and E pedal for the two keyboards respectively. On album it's a bass E pedal with the Em-chord (no 3rd).
- Bars 7-8: Keyboard #2: vamp for the upcoming phrase 1 of the main theme. It's played via a 2/4 plus 6/8 meter. The chord is an easy example of what I call using a scale as a harmonic field. In this case all seven notes from the E Lydian scale get played at once: E-D#-G#-F# by the sustained notes and the remaining B-A#-C# combination by the repeated chord. Keyboard #1 only plays the sustained notes. On album this keyboard #2 vamp isn't played at all. Here the seven notes appear as a broad chord by the guitar and keyboards, played over E-pedal by the bass with a B ticking in the background. On album the meter notation is only recognizable via the drumbeats and the pulsing B.
- Bars 9-14: bars 7-8 repeat three times.
- Bar 15: a pattern breaking bar in 4/4. After the opening sequence the composition gets tonal, but this bar interrups this. Zappa liked to do things like that; see also the One size fits all section with an example from "Inca roads". The series of 16th notes is in this case deliberately irregular. The interval numbers are 18-9-10-11-9-13-3-13-18-9-10-18-21-11-3, thus without a pattern. On album this bar gets filled in in an improvised way. It doesn't even look similar, except for that it's atonal as well. "To ARP" in the keyboard #1 part stands for a switch to a synthesizer type, ARP being a synthesizer brand from the seventies.

Phrases 1-3:
- Bars 16-19: phrase 1 form the central theme. The central theme gets indicated as "A" in the keyboard scores. Keyboard #1 plays the melody, keyboard #2 the vamp. Phrase 1 gets subdivid into two sub-phrases of two bars, the second sub-phrase being a variation upon the first. On album the accent of the pedal note switches from E to B, thus an argument to call the composition B major at this point. 1973 performances of this song - as released on the 2014 ZFT CDs "Road tapes, venue #2" and "Roxy by proxy", as well as the "Piquantique" bootleg - also have the accent on B pedal. Even stronger so, because there this also happens in bars 7-8. The corresponding 1984/88 tracks on "The perfect stranger" and "Make a jazz noise here" feature E pedal. So Zappa used the E and B as alternative pedal notes for "Dupree's paradise". They are both present in the "YCDTOSA vol. II" version, but sometimes a low held E dominates and sometimes the repeating B, with the E only being touched upon.
- Bars 20-31: phrase 1 gets repeated three times.
- Bars 32-39: phrase 2, also made up of two sub-phrases. The sub-phrases get both repeated once and only differ by the chord from the 5/8 bar. Other than the keyboard #2 part indicates, the second sub-phrase also gets repeated on album. The 2/4 bars contain a little string of 4 eighth notes: Ab-G-C-Bb. The 5/8 bars contain wide chords of six and five notes : D-G-B-D-C-E and Eb-G-Bb-C-F. Zappa's fondness of rhythmic variety in this case gets mostly achieved by the changing meters of the main theme: 4/4, 2/4, 6/8, 4/4, 2/4, 6/8, 2/4, 5/8 and 3/4.
- Bars 40-47: repetition of phrase 2.

Dupree's paradise, main theme, phrases 2-3 (midi file).

Dupree's paradise, main theme, phrases 2-3 (score/transcription).

- Bars 48-61: phrase 3. A through-composed block, again using a different meter: 3/4. Here it's multi-scale. The keyboard #2 chords don't appear on album at all. If they would have been included you're getting the next midi file instead of the last one. For phrase 2 it hardly makes a difference, because the keyboard part plays the same notes as on album, but for phrase 3 the climate changes. The prescribed chords are combinations of six or seven notes, not necessarily the same as the other parts use. Thus together with the notes on album, it's denser and there's much more dissonance going on.

Dupree's paradise, main theme, phrases 2-3 with keyboard chords (midi file).

- Bars 62-63: end of the main theme, indicated as two bars for an improvised cadenza. On album the song moves over to a couple of solos, taking up the larger part of the duration of this song.

8:24-9:45: Block V, Flute solo.

The vamp for the flute solo by Napoleon Murphy Brock is in an odd meter, 10/16, subdivided as 4+3+3. Regarding the scales it's an alternation between four bars in B Dorian and four bars in A Dorian, sort of a transposition of the vamp, a second lower. Both the meter and this change of scales are unusual as it comes to solo sections.

Dupree's paradise, flute solo, opening (midi file).

Dupree's paradise, flute solo, opening (transcription).

9:45-11:23: Block VI, Bass-drum solo.

11:23-14:29: Block VII, Keyboard solo.

The vamp for the flute solo returns for the keyboard solo in a different shape. The bass figure goes different, but the meter is 10/16 as above, now subdivided by the drummer as 3+3+4. The alternation of the two Dorian scales also returns. George Duke starts the solo with a beautiful melancholic melody. In bar 5 he first turns to step VII of B Dorian, but soon switches to A Dorian.

Dupree's paradise, keyboard solo, opening (midi file).

Dupree's paradise, keyboard solo, opening (transcription).

14:30-19:18: Block VIII, Drum solo.

19:18-23:59: Block IX, Percussion-drums-synthesizer collage.

A collage of percussion, drums and synthesizer sounds, ending with the bass playing the Louie Louie progression. It's a progression Zappa first covered on "Uncle Meat", since then returning to it every now and then. There's no reprise of the theme, as there is one on the 1973 and 1984 executions.

In 2022 the ZFT released "Zappa/Erie" with two more performances of "Dupree's paradise" from 1974, one recorded at Edinboro, the other at Erie. Because of their length they are split into an intro and the main piece. These intros correspond with block II from above with George Duke contributing most of it. The main piece begins with the written parts, followed by extensive soloing, this time including Zappa himself on guitar. Zappa considered this to be one piece with the total length at Edinboro getting over 37 minutes, only surpassed by the "Billy the mountain" execution on "Carnegie Hall". At the backside of "Zappa/Erie" a review by of the Edinboro convert by Gary Schontaler is reproduced, calling this concert rousing but not without disappointments. An indignified reaction of two subscribers is included as well. Gary noted that "the Mothers seemed to overuse solos to the point where the audience snoring became a problem". There's no right and wrong here. For rock standards the amount of soloing during "Dupree's paradise" might be called excessive. Zappa's own solo lasts 11 minutes, which, even by his own standards, is long. For jazz standards it isn't and, when it needed compensation, the concert included a normal pop sequence of songs from "Freak out!" as well. Today, with fans buying release nr. 122, with many having much of releases 1-121, perspectives are getting pretty different. There are hardly any new titles on this release, so the additional value lies in alternative bars and soloing.

Dupree's paradise (Edinboro), guitar solo, 9:32-9:47 (midi file).
Dupree's paradise (Edinboro), guitar solo, 15:42-16:02 (midi file).

Dupree's paradise (Edinboro), guitar solo, 9:32-9:47 (transcription).
Dupree's paradise (Edinboro), guitar solo, 15:42-16:02 (transcription).

During the "Dupree's paradise" guitar solo at Edinboro, the bass player is switching a couple of times between B and E as pedal notes. The first excerpt from above is from a block in B Dorian. The meter is 10/16, as it also is above during the flute and keyboard solo from the Helsinki concert. The second example is from a block in E Mixolydian. At this point the meter had become 6/8 with 3+2+1+2+2+2 as subdivision.

Dupree's paradise (Erie), guitar solo, 10:26-10:42 (midi file).

Dupree's paradise (Erie), guitar solo, 10:26-10:42 (transcription).

This last example is from the Erie concert. On this occasion the guitar solo from "Dupree's paradise" lasts 8 minutes. Normally Zappa started every solo completely anew, except for the few ones that have a written theme. He didn't even have favorite licks, returning more often. This Erie solo, however, is exceptional. Zappa fans will directly recognize the first four bars from the fragment from above as the opening chords of the later "Zoot allures" solo from 1976. The bass isn't playing during these bars, so I've roughly indicated the drum part on this occasion to clarify the 4/4 meter. The example doesn't continue as "Zoot allures". Instead it gets chromatic.

Dupree's paradise (Erie), guitar solo, 11:22-12:06 (midi file).
Dupree's paradise (Erie), guitar solo, 12:49-13:29 (midi file).

Dupree's paradise (Erie), guitar solo, 11:22-12:06 (transcription).
Dupree's paradise (Erie), guitar solo, 12:49-13:29 (transcription).

Also to be heard is the progression from "Any downers", as well as a variation upon my "Ship ahoy" example. Apparently Zappa had these figures on his mind during a longer period. The first example from above is playing around the chord progression F#m-D-F#m-E in F# minor every four bars. During "Any downers" the key is G minor, thus transposed upwards with a minor second, with the chords becoming Gm-Eb-Gm-F. At 12:09 Zappa starts soloing for a short period. This progression returns at 12:32. At this point the progression is played over a period of two bars. My example is taken from the end of this passage, where this progression is played with a lot of freedom. The chord on F#, for instance, is not only played as a minor triad, but can also turn up as F#sus4. Next, during bars 7-12, Zappa is following the notes from the F# minor scale in a descending manner. In bar 14 a figure appears that is reminiscent of "Ship ahoy". Zappa first recorded "Any downers" as a song in 1975, included in the ZFT release "Joe's camouflage" (see the corresponding section for an example). In his own catalogue it would take till 1981 to see it premiered on "You are what you is".
The relationship between his albums has been addressed to by Zappa himself as "conceptual continuity", most specifically in Circular vol. 3, nr. 29, a newsletter about the upcoming "200 Motels" film (images can be found at, stating: "Perhaps the most unique aspect of The Mothers' work is the conceptual continuity of the group's output macrostructure. There is, and always has been, a conscious control of thematic and structural elements flowing through each album, live performance, and interview". During "Stink-foot" on the "Apostrophe (')" CD you can find the following: "Once upon a time, somebody say to me - this is the dog talking now - what is your conceptual continuity? Well I told him right then, Fido said, it should be easy to see, the crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe". More down to earth is Zappa's comment in the booklet of "YCDTOSA Vol. I", writing that one of the reasons for including a song in the series can be: "Will it give "conceptual continuity" clues to the hard-core maniacs with a complete record collection?". In that sense Zappa's solo at Erie is full of conceptual continuity clues.

Smell my beard - The booger man

"Smell my beard" is another version of blocks I-II from the previous title. The general idea is the same, but because most of it is improvised, the actual execution is much different. It's taken from a concert in New Jersey, winter 1974, so recorded a few months later. The gig lists sources (see the left menu) make it possible to date it as November 8th. If also here this got followed by the main theme from "Dupree's paradise" I can't tell. Taken seperately, George Duke correctly gets co-credited and credited first, because he's improvising the larger part.

Smell my beard, 0:00-0:06 (midi file).

Smell my beard, 0:00-0:06 (transcription).

"Smell my beard" opens with two bars stemming from "The be-bop tango" after which George starts playing his fingercymbal with Zappa commenting. In the example above I've included:
- How these two bars are played on this specific occasion.
- The initial score (set up as lead melody plus piano).
- The Ensemble modern version.
As you can see, Zappa first notated a clustered chord, to be played in the shape of a septuplet and a triplet, both including pauses. As about always, the score got adapted to the circumstances. The only person who could play the cluster literally like that would be George Duke on keyboard, but he has to play his fingercymbal right after these two bars, so that would be impossible. The cluster got replaced by regular notes. The 1993 version is a combination of these two approaches: the clustered chord is in it, but also regular notes going from low for the septuplet to high for the triplet. The ZFT release "Zappa/Erie" contains two tracks from the May 1974 concert at the Notre Dame University, South bend. During the transition of "Montana" to "Get down", you can hear Zappa calling this figure "the hook", saying "Here comes the hook, yes, yes, that hooker". "Get down" starts with this hook, continuing as another improvisation piece with George Duke and Napoleon Murphy Brock being the main contributors.

The booger man, 1:19-1:31 (midi file).

The booger man, 1:19-1:31 (transcription).

"The booger man" is another joint improvisation from the New Jersey concert, this time attributed to George Duke, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Zappa. There are no clues in it what might be the contribution of Zappa. I've transcribed a couple of bars with him playing a little guitar solo. It's in C Dorian, following a 4/4 meter with an odd subdivision for the bass line. The recording isn't bright enough to get at a very accurate transcription, it's an approximation. Both "Smell my beard" and "The booger man" have been released on "YCDTOSA Vol. IV".

Building a girl

"Building a girl" is an experimental piece with Napoleon Murphy Brock and George Duke playing note strings and glissandos on flute and synthesizer. Much of it must have been improvised, at least the details. Apparently it has Zappa conducting for at some points everybody is equal, like at the beginning of "bar 3" from below, taken from the "YCDTOSA Vol. II" performance.

Building a girl

Above a sketch of the first two seconds of this piece, rhythmically only an approximation. The flute is electronically mutated, for it echoes a little. At most points the individual notes of the flute are audible, at this point hardly, is sounds as if the flute plays a glissando. This isn't material fit for transcribing, so I've limited myself to just this snippet. In 2022 the ZFT released "Zappa/Erie" with another version of this piece, recorded at the Erie concert of November 1974.

Other examples from YCDTOSA Vol. II and A Token of his extreme

"YCDTOSA Vol. II" and "A Token of his extreme" are live registrations without the intention of releasing much previously unreleased music. Many titles are coming by in this study in other versions from other CDs. The following four examples are the versions from these two specific issues, presented elsewhere in this study:
- The concert opener on "YCDTOSA Vol. II", "Tush-tush-tush", is included in the Joe's garage section.
- The "YCDTOSA Vol. II" version of "Inca roads" contains more of the guitar solo that was used for "One size fits all". A transcribed example is included in the corresponding One size fits all section.
- The Uncle meat section contains the opening of the 1974 version of "Dog breath", transcribed from the "Dub room special" DVD (the same track as on the "A token of his extreme" CD/DVD).
- The previous Roxy and elsewhere section contains three examples from different executions of "Village of the sun", among them the opening from the "YCDTOSA Vol. II" version.
Of the previously unreleased material on "YCDTOSA Vol. II", "T'Mershi Duween" is coming by in this study in a version from 1991. This one got released by the ZFT on their "Everything is healing nicely" CD.

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