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.
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)
- Cocaine Decisions
- Tink Walks Amok
- The Radio is Broken
- We’re Not Alone
- The Dangerous Kitchen
- The Man From Utopia Meets Mary Lou
- Stick Together
- The Jazz Discharge Party Hats
- Luigi and the Wise Guys
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!
Next post: Weird Al Yankovick
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