This brash and hard driving track was initially issued on Captain Beefheart’s debut long player Safe As Milk (1967). With a jolt, the opening frenetic and pounding rhythm is intensified by Beefheart’s [AKA Don Van Vliet] reckless vocal yelping. Interacting with the loose and freewheeling garage sound, “Abba Zaba” also features some uncanny musicianship. The chiming, intricate guitar lines, as well as some of the disc’s most up front and biting bass work, is courtesy of a 20-year old Ry Cooder -- initially brought into the fold to aid in the realisation of Beefheart’s musical aspirations.
Although not directly blues influenced “Abba Zaba” contains peripheral elements of the wiry delta sound that informed much of the album -- most notably “Grown So Ugly”, “Flower Pot” and the brilliant and extended “Korn Ring Finger”. The track is lyrically somewhat Dadaist -- although according to producer/bassist Gary Marker, the song is actually about a candy bar of the same name that a pre-Beefheart Don Van Vliet favoured in his youth. Marker also notes that the album had a working title of “Abba Zaba” -- as the yellow and black checkerboard on the cover also replicated the outer packaging of the confection in question. Unfortunately, the manufacturers would not grant the band permission.
The song remained in Beefheart & The Magic Band’s live repertoire until Van Vliet retired in the early ‘80s. Among the recommended and most readily available live versions are from London 1974, Merseytrout: Live in Liverpool 1980 and the thoroughly exemplary I'm Going to Do What I Wanna Do: Live at My Father's Place 1978.