Frank Zappa

Baby Snakes

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This short but delectably sweet release is for most intents and purposes the soundtrack to the Frank Zappa concert film of the same name. Both were captured on location at New York City's Palladium (formerly the Academy of Music) in 1977, during the artist's brief yearly residency in the Big Apple in and around Halloween. By the time of these concerts, Zappa was embroiled in all manner of unpleasantness with Warner Bros. Records -- a fact not lost to listeners as he comments upon their tumultuous relationship during some off the cuff dialogue with Terry Bozzio (percussion/vocals), as heard on "Titties and Beer." That behind-the-scenes drama certainly didn't best the perpetually resilient Zappa as he, Bozzio, Adrian Belew (guitar/vocals), Ed Mann (percussion), Patrick O'Hearn (bass), Tommy Mars (keyboards/vocals), Peter Wolf (keyboards), and vintage Mothers of Invention member Roy Estrada (not so sexually aroused gas mask/vocals) are joined by some of "New York's finest crazy persons" for half an hour-plus of musical madness as only Zappa could deliver. The "Intro Rap" features a brief dressing-room dialogue between Zappa and one of his longtime enthusiasts who just happens to be Warren Cuccurullo. If the name sounds familiar, it might be because he would serve a tenure in Zappa's late-'70s lineup as a guitarist before becoming a co-founding member of Missing Persons alongside other Zappa alumni Bozzio and O'Hearn, prior to settling into the re-formed Duran Duran in the mid-'80s and 1990s. Although the title track, "Baby Snakes," is essentially the same studio version that graced 1979's Sheik Yerbouti, the rest of the material is live. "Black Page, No. 2" is a jaunty instrumental that Zappa had composed specifically with Bozzio in mind. It then developed into a full-blown ensemble piece, and in the context of both the film and aural companion was used to accompany an enforced recreational audience-participatory dance contest. "Jones Crusher" is a hard-drivin' rocker with lead vocals from Belew, marking one of his finest moments in the Zappa band to have ever made it onto a legit release. "Disco Boy" and the somewhat obligatory "Dinah-Moe Humm" are typically excellent renderings of these performance staples and obvious crowd-pleasers. The platter concludes with the tongue-in-cheek epic homoerotic ode "Punky's Whips," with Bozzio once again demonstrating why he was such a faultless multifaceted foil for Zappa.

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