Album of the Day: Frank Zappa, "Cruisin with Ruben & the Jets"

Album of the Day: Frank Zappa, “Cruisin with Ruben & the Jets”

Frank Zappa
Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets (Cd Zappa ZAP 4)

On the day dedicated to pranks, it is definitely appropriate to listen to this hilarious 1968 album in which Frank Zappa and
Mothers of Invention disguise themselves as a rock'n'roll group in perfect 1950s style by inventing, under the pseudonym of Ruben and the Jets, a series of “unctuous love songs” (as Zappa himself defined them) characterized from an “idiotic simplicity”.
We find ourselves transported to the dawn of rock; the songs, full of choruses and triplets, definitely smell of doo-wop and r&b, harking back to the style of Johnny «Guitar» Watson, Jackie Wilson, the first Ray Charles and groups like the Five Satins, the Flamingoes and the Orioles.

Zappa declared that he had carried out a conceptual operation not dissimilar to that of Stravinsky's neoclassicism, faithfully taking up formal archetypes of the past but inserting foreign elements within them that subverted the principles in a subtle and unequivocal way; it is no coincidence that along the progression of these ditties built entirely on clichés and clichés of the genre (with the further aid of sugary lyrics defined by the author himself as «subcretins») quotations from the “Sacre du printemps”, harmonic movements appear like alien objects and paradoxical modulations (non-existent in the original style), apparently orthodox vocal harmonies but in reality much more complex and layered, bizarre guitar solos
which in the 1950s would have been unthinkable.

The fun consists in recognizing these hilarious “traces” left by Zappa along the way through sudden deviations
styles that provide a new listening perspective.
To add further irony to his image as a musical forger, Zappa completely modified the album in 1984 by re-recording all the bass and drum parts with new musicians (but without writing their names on the cover) and making them sound like those of 1968; a better technical quality was achieved but at the same time many fans rose up in scandal, shouting about the massacre, demonstrating that they did not understand the humor of the operation at all and provoking comments of ferocious sarcasm from Zappa.

“Fountain of Love”, “Stuff up the Cracks”, “Cheap Thrills” are delicious bonbons to be enjoyed in one go that leave behind the scent of a now vanished America, with an almost unreal face.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.