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Why Do You Need Alex Winter’s Frank Zappa Documentary Soundtrack On Vinyl?

Mark Smotroff tries to help fans justify a big box purchase…

I struggled a bit getting started on this third part in my review series on the vinyl edition of Alex Winter’s new Frank Zappa documentary soundtrack. You see, by this point in time I’ve already explored most of the key points about what makes this collection great in two prior reviews which I encourage you to read if you missed them (click here for the CD and here for the stream).  

With the odd music distribution patterns during these strange times we presently live in, many albums roll out in staggered release schedules. The vinyl often trails far behind due to manufacturing and shipping delays. So I felt somewhat obligated to follow through for those of you following this thread-like, multi-part series.

The investment of money in a five disc deluxe box set like the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is significant but not outrageous all things considered.  Still, you have to be something of a fairly serious Zappa fan to really want this collection on vinyl. For the hardcore fan it is a no brainer because here you’ll have the best sounding versions of a lot of the rare tracks that are only available on this set at present. 

From an audiophile perspective, all the good things we have come to expect from these archival releases by Universal Music and The Frank Zappa Estate have fallen right in line: the pressings are excellent, well centered, dead quiet and pressed on thick dark 180-gram vinyl. The mastering is top notch and for the most part the sound is remarkably consistent even when making the jump from early live recordings to full on studio production swagger.  It all works very well on vinyl. 

Some of my favorites still include the stunning solo version of “Black Page #1” performed by Ruth Underwood on the piano which sounds amazing on LP.  And as I pointed out in my earlier reviews, its not exactly the same version that is in the film so that makes having this on vinyl extra special in many ways.

It is also wonderful to hear the legendary jam (the name of which unfortunately I can’t write out here) from the Fillmore East with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1971 in the original Zappa edit. Previously this was only available on the 1992 compact disc Playground Psychotics. This is a significantly different version than you will hear on the parallel release (first issued in 1972) by Lennon and Ono called Sometime In New York City which edits out the vocal-call-and-response between Flo & Eddie and Yoko Ono.  I prefer the Zappa version of the track here as it feels suddenly somehow more complete and no doubt truer to what happened on stage that night. 

If you’re a relatively new Zappa fan, the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack boxed set may well be a good first deep toe in the waters if you don’t really know where to start beyond, say, Freak Out, Hot Rats and Joe’s Garage.  

In that regard, the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack gives you a pretty great retrospective of often overlooked album tracks as well as a number of rarities you won’t find elsewhere on vinyl.   And of course there is the poignant companion soundtrack music here which stands on its own right (discussed at some length in the prior CD review)

The physical packaging itself is also quite wonderful featuring the great behind-the-scenes photos of Zappa and a full size full color booklet which is much more satisfying than the CD package. There is also a neat message from Frank awaiting you printed around the inner lip of the box lid. Kudos to the team working on the design of this set for creating such a classy package to compliment and round out what is all around a very classy film project. 

If you missed the film, you can of course buy it on Blu-ray Disc and it is now streaming on Hulu if you have a subscription to that (click here) in addition to many other services (click here). This wonderful documentary goes a long way to put Zappa’s life and work into proper big picture perspective for the ages.  An important film, it is great starting point for those new to Zappa’s music. And yet, at the same time, it is a heart-tugging, tear-inducing memoir for longtime fans to cherish.  

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