Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band

Abba Zaba

Composed by Don Van Vliet

Song Review by

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.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Safe as Milk 1967 Buddah 3:35
Safe as Milk/Mirror Man 1988 Sony Music Distribution 2:44
The Best Beefheart 1989 BMG/RCA Camden / Camden 2:42
Zig Zag Wanderer 1998 Wooded Hill (UK)
The Dust Blows Forward (An Anthology) 1999 Rhino
I'm Going to Do What I Wanna Do: Live at My Father's Place 1978 2000 Rhino 3:44
London 1974 2001 Virgin / EMI Music Distribution 3:13
The Buddah Years 2006 Sony BMG 2:45
Amsterdam '80 2006 Major League Records 3:45
Pure... Psychedelic Rock 2011
Various Artists
Sony Music 2:41
Live 1966-1967 2014 Keyhole Records
Le Nouvel Hippodrome, Paris, November 1977 2014 Gonzo Distribution Ltd. / Gonzo Multimedia / United States of Distribution 3:25
Abba Zaba Sundazed
blue highlight denotes editor's pick