Frank Zappa: Over-Nite Sensation

Rock tempos and mind-melting guitar solos rub shoulders with down-and-dirty lyrics on a 50-year-old album now remastered on 180g vinyl, says Steve Sutherland

There are a number of reasons why musicians take umbrage with their work being hosted on streaming platforms. Some bridle against the scant renumeration forthcoming. Others have taken a moral stance, unwilling to be considered bedfellows with artists or podcasters who they deem to be politically undesirable. And then there are those who consider the very nature of streaming itself to be artistically damaging.

Killer Or Filler?
A good example of the latter occurred just over a decade ago when Pink Floyd took the EMI Group to the High Court to stop the company selling the band's tracks individually, 'unbundled' from their original album setting without permission. The Court found in the Floyd's favour, ruling that the integrity of albums such as The Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall was worth preserving, and that the running orders of the tracks were purposely selected to create an artistic whole to be enjoyed in a certain order.


Frank Zappa pictured with The Mothers Of Invention in 1971

Fair enough. But what about the other side of the coin? Before digital allowed us to sample before we committed to buy, we shelled out for LPs which we too often discovered to be 80% filler and only 20% killer. In fact, off hand I can only think of a few albums that are top notch from start to finish. Love's Forever Changes, Neil Young & Crazy Horse's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, The Human League's Dare, Lana Del Rey's Norman F**king Rockwell, and... well, that's pretty much it.

Then there were the dreaded few that, when it came right down to it, could only actually boast one properly decent track. Which brings us, neatly and only a mite inaccurately, to Over-Nite Sensation, Frank Zappa's twelfth LP to be released under the moniker of his Mothers (Of Invention). It came out in 1973 on his new DiscReet label and the critics were not kind. Most rued the lack of what they considered 'serious stuff' and Rolling Stone even went so far as to call our maestro a 'spent force'. Unfortunately, for once, the hacks were nigh-on spot-on.


Label of original LP on the DiscReet label

The album passes muster musically but lyrically Over-Nite Sensation is absolute yuck. To cut Frank a little slack, you could say he had recently been through the mill. He'd just made a self-indulgent movie – 200 Motels – which got the pasting it so richly deserved and then took his band on tour through Europe where, on the 4th of December 1971, he lost a ton of equipment when someone in the audience at the Casino De Montreux fired a flare which set the venue on fire and burned it to the ground – an event immortalised by the Deep Purple' song, 'Smoke On The Water'.

Down But Not Out
Frank's mob took a week off to recover, then reconvened at the Rainbow Theatre in London where, during the encore, an audience member jealous of his girlfriend's infatuation with our hero pushed him off the stage. Frank hit the concrete-floored orchestra pit, suffering head trauma and injuries to his back, leg, and neck. Wheelchair-bound for many months, he laid off his band and licked his wounds.

After this run of bad luck, a lesser or more superstitious mortal would surely have surmised that the fates had it in for him. Yet the prolific musician soon returned to the fray, albeit somewhat changed, artistically speaking.


Priced £39.99, the 180g reissue of Frank Zappa's Over-Nite Sensation is available at

Turner Tantrum
On Over-Nite Sensation, the quasi-classical pieces that graced Hot Rats, and the sharp satire that skewered the hippie zeitgeist on We're Only In It For The Money, were gone. In their place came a more straightforward rock presentation and some puerile subject matter. But first the details...

The album was recorded at Bolic Sound in Inglewood, California, a brand-new studio complex built from the ground up in an old furniture store by Ike Turner. While it was undoubtedly state of the art with its pair of 16-track quadraphonic studio rooms, it was also, as they used to say, a den of inequity. Turner, who was on a weird-and-wired planet all of his own, had an orgy room, two-way mirrors and closed-circuit TV on the premises, and laid on bowls of cocaine for the premise's opening night. It was hardly the sort of establishment that you'd expect to find Frank – a strict anti-drugs authoritarian.


Zappa photographed in June 1970 while at the Bath Festival in the UK

One consequence of Frank using Bolic is that he employed Tina Turner and The Ikettes as his backing singers to truly novel effect, speeding them up, slowing them down, the works. Ike is said to have wandered in one day to hear The Ikettes' contribution. He stopped in his tracks, asked, 'What is this sh**?', and promptly turned on his heel. He later insisted Tina and co should not be credited on the LP.

Dirt Farmer
What is this sh**? Good question. The album starts with 'Camarillio Brillo', a coarse song about getting it on with a tarot-wielding new-ager. Next is 'I'm The Slime', a limp exposition on the debilitating mental effect of vegging out in front of the TV. 'Dirty Love' is just plain gross, but not as gross as 'Dinah-Moe Humm', wherein filthy Frank takes on a bet from a feminist that he can't satisfy her in bed. It's not nice and it's not clever, but in hindsight could be considered a template for some of Tyler The Creator or Eminem's crasser works.


Zappa performing in 1973

Anyway, here's the rub: whether Frank is draining the swamp and scraping the barrel to deliberately bait the critics or not, it's nasty. This is a crying shame because some of these tracks include some of the most incendiary guitar solos imaginable – real one-off, of the moment, on-fire inspirational stuff. The one in 'I'm The Slime' is so amazing you can scarcely believe anyone in their right mind would fade it out. It's not as exquisite, though, as the solo on the LP's one saving grace, 'Montana', which is proof positive that silliness and genius need not be mutually exclusive. A song about someone who plans to move to Montana and raise dental floss, it features a pygmy pony, a ridiculously uplifting cowboy yippee-aye-oh-kay-yay finale, and the guitar solo to end all guitar solos, audaciously ferocious beyond belief.

If only anything else on the album had come anywhere near close, you could probably have called it a classic.

Re-Release Verdict

Released to mark the 50th anniversary of Over-Nite Sensation, this double LP [Zappa Records ZR20044] features a new 45rpm remastering, by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman, based on the original ¼in analogue tape. The seven tracks are split over two 180g black vinyl platters, and a 24in poster of Dave McMacken's cover art is included. Also available is a 'Deluxe Edition' box set featuring four CDs and a Blu-ray Audio disc with quadraphonic and Dolby Atmos mixes. HFN