The prolific Frank Zappa did enough musically to accumulate the kind of cult following that sees continued interest decades after his death – It’s only been half a year since the release of the Zappa feature-length documentary. While I haven’t seen it yet, I do consider myself a fan, albeit more selective than the kind of superfans who can rank 25+ Zappa releases.
Rather than the breakout Mothers of Invention records of the 60s (like Freak Out! or We’re Only in It for the Money), I am partial to Zappa’s 70s output. One Size Fits All is a particular favorite, and this is largely because of two words: George Duke.
George Duke was a pioneer in jazz-fusion, disco, pop, and whatever the hell kind of music Zappa made (occasionally a mix of all three). While his solo albums are incredible in their own right, Duke repeatedly excelled as a session musician and sideman. He played keys on such classic records as disparate as Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine and Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. Duke collaborated with Zappa throughout the 70s, and One Size Fits All represents a peak in their musical union.
For better or for worse, this is one of those albums that starts off with its best song. Duke’s lead vocals and Farfisa get “Inca Roads” off to a rollicking start, and then two minutes in the song transmutes itself into a Zappa guitar jam as groovy as the work of Jerry Garcia. The late Duke once told an interviewer that he didn’t even want to sing, but he did so at Zappa’s request. That’s a good band member! He further described the recording process: “Well, One Size Fits All and Apostrophe, those albums were basically me and Frank in the studio for hours! I mean, it was just us, and the engineer carrying the amp. We would be there at Paramount Recording Studios, or wherever, just recording like from 1 or 2 in the afternoon, until 5 or 6 in the morning.”
“Po-Jama People” is another showcase for Zappa’s guitar work. I don’t know what he’s talking about in the vocal verses, but that guy sure could rip. Zappa had this ability to make these stupid fucking lyrics that are really fun to sing along to: “She lives in Movaje in a winnebagoooo!” The ridiculous “Florentine Pogen” is as much about a cookie as it is a person.
Johnny “Guitar” Watson (Mr. “Superman Lover”) adds another dimension to a couple of tracks in the back half here. He assists on the rocking “San Ber’dino” and croons on “Andy”, which along with “Inca Roads” is the other mini-masterpiece of the album. Once again, Duke does his thing and Zappa shreds. Those Duke vocals just get me every time (see also – “Sofa No. 2”).
For my money, One Size Fits All is about as good and concise a Zappa album as you’ll get. If you can handle the trademark silliness and cartoonish marimba rolls, you’ll be jammin’ like it’s 1975.
Listen to One Size Fits All here.