Life at 33 1/3: The weirdest album of them all

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Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica (Straight)

This is simply hardcore.  The weirdest piece of music I ever bought as a teenager.  What made me go for it?  The sleeve obviously, you don’t forget an image like that, and then there was the Zappa connection, released at it was on Zappa’s Straight Records.


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My curiosity drove me into these four vinyl sides in search of something, anything that would remind me of Mothers Of Invention.  It wasn’t there, but I found eccentric antics, a strange cacophony of sounds and glimpses of a jumble of styles.  And then there were the lyrics, broken chants sung by a voice made of gravel and rust.

Every time you feel lost inside this alien maze of sounds, the band grabs hold of a simple garage rock riff, readjusting your focus by handing you a candy bar and a little something you can tap your feet to.  Blues, jazz, rhythm & blues, experimental contemporary music – it’s a surreal chaos, but with a sufficient amount of recognizable styles thrown in as strategically placed markers so that you won’t feel completely lost.  There is no album like this on the planet.

The 28 songs, most of them very short, bombard you with impressions, many of them absurdly funny.  You feel pretty exhausted afterwards, and it sure takes some spins before you get familiar with the thing.  But beware, the music eats pieces of your brain, and then it owns you forever.




Released:  June 16, 1969

Produced by:  Frank Zappa

(All tracks written, composed and arranged by Don Van Vliet)

Side One

1. “Frownland”  1:41

2. “The Dust Blows Forward ‘n the Dust Blows Back”  1:53

3. “Dachau Blues”  2:21

4. “Ella Guru”  2:26

5. “Hair Pie: Bake 1”  4:58

6. “Moonlight on Vermont”  3:59

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Side Two

1. “Pachuco Cadaver”  4:40

2. “Bills Corpse”  1:48

3. “Sweet Sweet Bulbs”  2:21

4. “Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish”  2:25

5. “China Pig”  4:02

6. “My Human Gets Me Blues”  2:46

7. “Dali’s Car”  1:26

Side Three

1. “Hair Pie: Bake 2”  2:23

2. “Pena”  2:33

3. “Well”  2:07

4. “When Big Joan Sets Up”  5:18

5. “Fallin’ Ditch”  2:08

6. “Sugar ‘n Spikes”  2:30

7. “Ant Man Bee”  3:57

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Side Four

1. “Orange Claw Hammer”  3:34

2. “Wild Life”  3:09

3. “She’s Too Much for My Mirror”  1:40

4. “Hobo Chang Ba”  2:02

5. “The Blimp (mousetrapreplica)”  2:04

6. “Steal Softly thru Snow”  2:18

7. “Old Fart at Play”  1:51

8. “Veteran’s Day Poppy”  4:31

Personnel:

Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) – lead and backing vocals, spoken word, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, musette, simran horn, hunting horn, jingle bells, producer (uncredited), engineer (uncredited)



The Magic Band:

Drumbo (John French) – drums, percussion, engineer (uncredited on the original release)

Antennae Jimmy Semens (Jeff Cotton) – guitar, “steel appendage guitar” (slide guitar using a metal slide), lead vocals on “Pena” and “The Blimp”, “flesh horn” (vocal with hand cupped over mouth) on “Ella Guru”, speaking voice on “Old Fart at Play”

Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad) – guitar, “glass finger guitar” (slide guitar using a glass slide), flute on “Hobo Chang Ba”

Rockette Morton (Mark Boston) – bass guitar, narration on “Dachau Blues” and “Fallin’ Ditch”

The Mascara Snake (Victor Hayden) – bass clarinet, backing vocals on “Ella Guru”, speaking voice on “Pena”




Additional Personnel:

Doug Moon – acoustic guitar on “China Pig”

Gary “Magic” Marker – bass guitar on “Moonlight on Vermont” and “Veteran’s Day Poppy” (uncredited)

Roy Estrada – bass guitar on “The Blimp” (uncredited)

Arthur Tripp III – drums and percussion on “The Blimp” (uncredited)

Don Preston – piano on “The Blimp” (uncredited)

Ian Underwood and Bunk Gardner – alto and tenor saxophones on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)

Buzz Gardner – trumpet on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)

Frank Zappa – speaking voice on “Pena” and “The Blimp” (uncredited); engineer (uncredited); producer

Richard “Dick” Kunc – speaking voice on “She’s Too Much for My Mirror” (uncredited); engineer

Cal Schenkel – album design

Ed Caraeff and Cal Schenkel – photography