Great Rock Albums of 1983: Frank Zappa- The Man From Utopia

220px-The_Man_From_Utopia

If there was any more evidence to further my belief that 1983 was the year for humour in music, then it would have to be the album “The Man From Utopia” by Frank Zappa. For over a decade and a half before the release of this album, Frank had been successfully carrying out a two pronged assault of making some fantastic music while at the same time, making us laugh our asses off with his humourous lyrics. In the late 1970s, listening to Zappa was practically a requirement at my high school. 1983 would be the year that one of his songs would actually get airplay on commercial radio. Before that, his only access to radio play was via the Dr Demento Show. Yes, I know that “Valley Girl” broke into the top forty charts in 1982 but that song will always be associated with his daughter Moon.

Doctor Demento

Doctor Demento

That all changed when one day, while listening to the one decent rock station in Jacksonville, North Carolina, I heard the track “Cocaine Decisions.” Okay, the song never broke the top forty singles chart, but who really cares about that? I just thought it was great to hear Frank on the radio. True, “Cocaine Decisions” is an anti drug song. However, it is not aimed at the common man. Instead it pokes fun at all the high class executives who used to snort. There was a saying back in the 80s that went, “Cocaine was God’s way of telling you that you make too much money.” Frank’s song parodies that.

The rest of the album consists of everything that Frank Zappa has been doing to entertain us for all those years. There are a load of great parody songs on the album. At first, I thought “The Radio is Broken” was going to be about a broken radio. Instead, Frank is being a kind of prophet here. It would only be less than two years later when, in my view, commercial radio started to suck. This song is about that.

Then there’s “The Dangerous Kitchen.” This one takes the piss out of the rising health and safety culture and look where it is now these days. The track “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats” rips on musicians trying to get laid after every gig. However, my favourite track on “The Man From Utopia” is “The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou.” While the song is done with the usual Zappa sense of humour, there is a serious side to it. It’s about a down trodden housewife who gets away but then gets revenge by fleecing men. It is on this track that Ray White’s underrated vocals come out. Oh yes, “Sex” is a pretty funny track too.

If I were to nit pick anything about the album, it would be the absence of Frank Zappa’s guitar playing ability. He doesn’t go into any great solos and it could be said that there is a lack of guitar great Steve Vai’s skills. Honestly, I’m not really bothered. There are three instrumentals, “Tink Walks Amok,” “We’re Not Alone” and “Moggio,” on the album and they all boast the great musicianship from the people Frank gets to play on his albums. I think that “The Man From Utopia” might be his best album since “Joe’s Garage Act 1.”

Track Listing (CD)

  1. Cocaine Decisions
  2. Sex
  3. Tink Walks Amok
  4. The Radio is Broken
  5. We’re Not Alone
  6. The Dangerous Kitchen
  7. The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou
  8. Stick Together
  9. The Jazz Discharge Party Hats
  10. Luigi and the Wise Guys
  11. Moggio
Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa- vocals, guitar, drum machine

Steve Vai- guitars

Ray White- guitar, vocals

Roy Estrada- vocals

Bob Harris- boy soprano

Ike Willis- vocals

Bobby Martin- keyboards, saxophone, vocals

Tommy Mars- keyboards

Arthur Barrow- bass, rhythm guitar, keyboards

Ed Mann- percussion

Scott Thunes- bass

Chris Wackerman- drums

Vinnie Colaiuta- drums

Craig Twister Stewart- harmonica

Dick Fegy- mandolin

Marty Krystall- saxophone

Frank Zappa was still going strong in 1983 as “The Man From Utopia” shows. After all, if 1983 was a year for humour in music to step forward, it wouldn’t have been able to do so without Frank.

I have also made a rather disappointing discovery. As a teen forty years ago, I thought that by now, 2015, wars would no longer exist but there would be ROLLERBALL!

Rollerball

Rollerball

Next post: Weird Al Yankovick

To buy Rock And Roll Children, go to http://www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/RockAndRollChildren.html

Also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Froogle and on sale at Foyles Book Shop in London

 

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12 Responses to “Great Rock Albums of 1983: Frank Zappa- The Man From Utopia”

  1. Ace choice.

    Like

  2. YES! Tommy Mars…Bob Harris…what a lineup.

    Great Sunday reads!

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    • Thanks, those two with Steve Vai, amazing! Zappa was not only able to get the best musicians, he could also get the best out of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ABsolutely. I understand he was a bit of a taskmaster and a perfectionist when it came to his players. But look what he achieved!

        Regarding the remixes, I have no idea why that was done. Some of the albums have three different mixes (original LP, Rykodisc, current CD issues)

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      • Yes, it does seem a bit odd there are so many remixes with Zappa albums. Could it be his children? With being a taskmaster, you’re right, you can’t fault the success he achieved.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely! And the artistic heights, too.

        I don’t know who made the decisions regarding the remixes. I didn’t even know about it. Then I posted a Zappa review a couple years ago and a helpful reader posted a link to a whole directory of all the changes over all the different Zappa reissues. It was stupifying. But somebody had the patience to listen and catalog the changes!

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      • Wow, all the power to anyone who had that much patience.

        Like

  3. Great piece and really interesting to hear how the album went down in the States when it came out in ’83. It was probably my third Zappa purchase. I first became obsessed with ‘Sheik Yerbouti’, then got hold of ‘Ship Arriving Too Late’ and then this. I think this is probably the most insane album of Frank’s career! However, I don’t know what they did to the remix when it was re-released recently, they stuck loads of horrible digital reverb on Wackerman’s snare drum… I wish I still had my original cassette copy…

    Like

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