Home Read Albums Of The Week: Frank Zappa | Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary Edition

Albums Of The Week: Frank Zappa | Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary Edition

The master's 1973 landmark returns with the usual assortment of so-so outtakes & killer live cuts — including several numbers from Apostrophe(’) & One Size Fits All.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “In 1973, Frank Zappa and The Mothers were once again on the move. Coming off a pair of lauded high watermarks — July 1972’s jazz-fusiony solo masterstroke Waka/Jawaka and November’s big-band progression The Grand Wazoo — Zappa wanted to convene another revised Mothers collective, rethink some long-throw compositional tracts, and begin exploring the differences inherent in the form and function of his songwriting. In turn, Zappa also decided to bring his own singing voice more to the lead vocal fore than ever before, as well as refine the scope of his guitar playing.

And thus, September 1973’s Over-Nite Sensation was born. A stone cold classic, Over-Nite Sensation has long been viewed by both the cognoscenti and layman as a gateway album into the Zappaverse at large, serving as a mighty grand place to enter into the breach along with his followup March 1974 solo release Apostrophe(’). It was also the first album by Zappa to be released in Quadraphonic surround sound, an ever-evolving sonic medium Zappa would continue to explore throughout his career on the cutting edge.

Not only did Over-Nite Sensation signal a change in musical direction for The Mothers at large, but Zappa handled the bulk of the lead vocal duties and staked his claim as the album’s only guitarist. It was a new band with a new sound that resonated widely, eventually going gold in 1976. Over the ensuing years, almost every song on Over-Nite Sensation became indelible live staples and longstanding fan favorites, with I’m The Slime, Fifty-Fifty, Zomby Woof and Camarillo Brillo immediately making their respective presences known in the setlist. In the here and now, 50 years on, Over-Nite Sensation remains both one of the top-tier highlights of the vast Zappa catalog as well as one of his most consistent bestsellers.

In celebration of 50 years of Over-Nite Sensation, this anniversary edition  showcases 88 tracks in total, featuring 57 previously unreleased tracks and mixes. Produced and compiled by Ahmet Zappa and Vaultmeister Joe Travers, this collection contains the 2012 remaster of the original album by Bob Ludwig, along with unreleased masters, highlights, and mix outtakes from the original 1973 sessions mastered by John Polito. Also included are two completely unreleased live recordings from 1973 — one from the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles,  the other Cobo Hall in Detroit — showcasing the same band that recorded the classic album. The Blu-ray contains the core album newly remixed in Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround sound, plus Zappa’s original four-channel Quadraphonic mix (available for the first time since 1973) as well as the hi-res stereo 2012 remaster. The lavish box is rounded out with a 48-page booklet and unseen photos from the album cover shoot by Sam Emerson, along with liner notes and new essays.

The new group of Mothers on Over-Nite Sensation was comprised of virtuoso musicians rooted in jazz (keyboardist George Duke, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, drummer Ralph Humphrey and trumpeter Sal Marquez) and serious music (wind instrumentalist Ian Underwood and percussionist Ruth Underwood) alike, all polished off with the Fowler brothers duly in tow (Bruce Fowler on trombone, and Tom Fowler on bass). As a result, the instrumentation of this lineup was akin to having a mini orchestra in a rock format — and Zappa utilized them brilliantly, crafting arrangements for existing material like Cosmik Debris and Montana in addition to writing a large number of new compositions to maximize their strengths.

The recording sessions at Bolic Sound and Whitney Studios were sweetened by the addition of some now-iconic guest vocalists. The truly crazy, over-the-top vocal stylings of Ricky Lancelotti catapulted songs like Fifty-Fifty and Zomby Woof into the stratosphere. For his part, Kin Vassy (of Kenny Rogers and The First Edition) added numerous, tasty tidbits all throughout. But perhaps the most legendary guest turns of them all would be those by Tina Turner and The Ikettes. With Zappa tracking at Ike Turner’s Bolic Sound studio in Inglewood, Calif., it only seemed logical that Tina and Frank’s paths would eventually cross. Although famously uncredited, Tina and The Ikettes’ background vocals were draped throughout the record and are undeniably unique — and spot-on perfect. If you dropped the needle on Over-Nite Sensation for the first time in 1973, it was immediately apparent something new, different, and exciting was happening in Zappa’s ever-expanding musical universe. The material was funky, funny, challenging, and mighty — and, yes, more accessible than his output of the prior few years.

Over-Nite Sensation went through several sequencing options over the course of early June, at one point incorporating instrumental songs like Inca Roads (which ultimately soared in revised and vocalized form on June 1975’s One Size Fits All) and RDNZL (a version of which eventually surfaced on September 1978’s Studio Tan). Wonderful Wino, finally released 23 years later on The Lost Episodes CD in 1996, was also a contender. Over-Nite Sensation was completed at Paramount Studios in Hollywood with engineer Kerry McNabb before the band departed for Hawaii and Australia, and the album masters were turned in to the label in July. Disc 1 of the set includes these three compositions as Bonus Session Masters, with Wonderful Wino presented as a Complete Edit in its 1973 vintage mix mixed by Zappa and McNabb, an unreleased 1973 vintage mix of RDNZL that contains Zappa’s guitar solo which was missing from the version on The Lost Episodes, and a newly mixed Inca Roads, which was mixed in 2023 from the 16-track master after Marquez’s vocals and trumpet tracks were rediscovered.

Zappa and The Mothers hit the road in full force in 1973 by touring auditoriums, theaters and college venues, looking to tap into a new audience as well as cater to the hardcores. These concerts would primarily consist of new compositions blended with some rearranged older tunes — an approach typical for Zappa, who always prioritized the new. You can hear some of those immediate results via the 27 previously unreleased live tracks included from the L.A. and Detroit shows. On March 23 at the Hollywood Palladium, fans got early tastes of the “sort-of” guru blues of Cosmik Debris and the sleazy, slow-rolling funky grease of Curse Of The Zomboids (I’m The Slime). Nary a few months later on May 12 at Cobo Hall, the odds-busting, horn-driven instrumental sneer of Fifty-Fifty and the Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow, Nanook Rubs It and St. Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast troika medley were all served up with patented Zappa narrative aplomb.

Over-Nite Sensation indeed opened new commercial doors for Zappa, but the maestro himself would not be sucked down into the corporate conformity ooze as he continued following his own muse all throughout the 1970s, and beyond. This 50th anniversary edition of Over-Nite Sensation puts an expanded stamp on all the visceral, tall-in-the-saddle tales recounting the finer points of dental floss farming, mindless video drones, and poncho-wearing lotharios — all of it acting as a pretext for what was to come, not to mention cementing the odds that Zappa still had lots more to say.”


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