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Frank Zappa’s Over-Nite Sensation Turns 50: Restored, Remixed, Reinvented In Super Deluxe Edition Boxed Set Featuring Dolby Atmos Blu-ray Plus 4CDs of Unreleased Live / Studio Tracks

Mark Smotroff gets immersed into a 50th Anniversary boxed set celebrating a landmark Frank Zappa album…


The new 50th anniversary super deluxe edition of Frank Zappa’s now legendary and career-changing 1973 album titled Over-Nite Sensation will no doubt deliver much joy to fans of the artist and may well open the ears of new-music seekers alike.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with the new Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary collection and am very, very pleased, start to finish.

But before I dig down into more audiophile nitty-gritty, a bit of background on the trajectory and significance of this recording might be useful at this point, especially for those of you reading who are new to the Zappa universe…

From the official press release we learn:

“In celebration of 50 years of Frank Zappa’s legendary album, Over-Nite Sensation, a newly expanded 50th anniversary edition is now available via Zappa Records/UMe in a variety of formats, including a five-disc (4CD/1Blu-ray Audio) Super Deluxe Edition that showcases 88 tracks in total, featuring 57 previously unreleased tracks and mixes. Produced and compiled by Ahmet Zappa and Zappa Vaultmeister Joe Travers, this new, expanded collection titled Over-Nite Sensation: 50th Anniversary Edition, boasts the 2012 remaster of the original album by Bob Ludwig, along with additional unreleased masters, highlights, and mix outtakes from the original 1973 sessions mastered by John Polito. Also included are two completely unreleased live concert recordings from 1973 showcasing the same band that recorded the classic album — one show captured at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, and the other recorded at Cobo Hall in Detroit. The Blu-ray contains the core album newly remixed in Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround sound by Karma Auger and Erich Gobel at Studio1LA, the same team behind the acclaimed Dolby Atmos and surround mixes of 2022’s Waka/Wazoo release, plus it offers Zappa’s original 4-channel Quadraphonic mix (available again for the first time since 1973) as well as the hi-res stereo 2012 remaster at both 24-bit/192kHz and 24-bit/96kHz.”

The years immediately before Frank Zappa created Over-Nite Sensation began an arc of dramatic reinvention on many levels, partly driven by forces outside of his control. From the 1971 near-death experience when a crazed fan pushed him off the stage, his voice was lowered a third of an octave from the injuries. And given he’d been on the cusp of bankruptcy not too long before all this he probably had a certain amount of commercial incentive to stay afloat.  After several instrumentally-oriented albums made while recuperating from the fall — Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo (click here to read my review from last year) — he began assembling a new band, to play brand new songs while, arguably shaping a new sound for his music.

The core of the group on Over-Nite Sensation eventually morphed into what fans commonly referred to as the “Roxy – era” band. This refers to and includes the players who performed on the iconic-fantastic 1974 live album Roxy & Elsewhere, a group which first came together as permanent members of the new Mothers Of Invention on Over-Nite Sensation including Ralph Humphrey (Drums/Percussion), Ruth Underwood (Vibes/Xylophone/Percussion), George Duke (Keyboards) and the Fowler Brothers Tom and Bruce (Bass and Trombone, respectively). 

The sound of Over-Nite Sensation has always intrigued me as it features a particular in-your-face sonic texture (if you will) which in some ways felt more precise than on previous releases. The mix includes a lot of intentional and clearly defined Stereo panning and discrete separation (which in a way might tie in to the name of his his then brand new label, Discreet Records).

Looking ahead for a moment, it is interesting to stop and consider for a moment this flavor (if you will) of Zappa’s music. This type of sound only got better and better so by the time of 1974’s Apostrophe(‘), the aforementioned live Roxy & Elsewhere album, and eventually the 1975 masterpiece One Size Fits All, Zappa mastered the presentation of his new approach in a manner that was very appealing.

When you stop to think about all that is going on in this recording, achieving an ear-pleasing balance between must have been a ginormous challenge to reduce it all to two channels of music to be played through compressed vinyl grooves over average teenage HiFi stereo systems of the day. 

Just the drums alone represent a mountain of music when you consider the fairly relentless drive of Humphrey’s Kick Drum and percolating Tom Toms plus the periodic orchestral percussion instruments such as Tympani — which you hear larger than life on the opening to “Montana,” for example — and Ruth Underwood’s roller-coaster vibraphone work. Over-Nite Sensation is thus a pretty amazing recording when you stop to consider all that is going on here all wrapped up in the context of what are effectively pop songs!

The remastered high resolution Stereo version of the original album on the Blu-ray Disc included in the new Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary set sounds much clearer than versions I’ve heard before on vinyl or earlier CDs I’ve owned. The new mastering helps to bring a lot of that complex sound into finer definition with more naturally decaying cymbals, richer resonance of the tom toms and a better sense of amplifier tones coming through, especially as Zappa solos, wrangling wild feedback and such.

To my ear, the recording sounds much less compressed than what we have heard on the original vinyl versions. For comparison / refresher listening before diving into reviewing this set, I listened to my original 1973-era first pressing white label promotional edition of the album on vinyl as well as the Quadraphonic LP and CD versions. 

On the Blu-ray disc in the new Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary collection you get to hear the entire album in fidelity ranging from 48 kHz on up to 192 kHz, all in 24-bit resolution. All sound pretty great and each version is a bit different! I have found each of these new Blu-ray Disc listening experiences enticing and gratifying on different levels. 

As far as how you might want to approach the different surround sound mixes in a manner that will increase your appreciation for the music, I have found that starting with the original Quadraphonic mix which Frank Zappa created in 1973 is probably the best route to take. That mix is getting its first official release here since its first issue (on vinyl, reel-to-reel and 8-track cartridge) and the first time on high resolution modern digital media. By starting with the Quad mix first, you’ll establish a good benchmark — or, framework, really — for understanding how Zappa envisioned his music presented in multiple channels.

As I began to switch around to the other versions of the album that are on this Blu-ray Disc — including Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound and Dolby Atmos mix (7.1 channels and beyond) — I got the sense that the engineers who worked on these new mixes honored Zappa’s original Quadraphonic vision while adding in more definition and creative expansion on the concept. This is a good thing. 

As far as my personal preferences broke down between these three surround experiences, it played out almost like a “good-better-best” scenario:  Zappa’s original Quad mix is perfectly fine and quite wonderful in its own right; the 5.1 surround mix certainly offers plenty of immersive punch revealing lots of exciting new listening details; and, the Dolby Atmos mix takes everything to that “next level,” adding height and a bit more three-dimensional depth to the overall sound sculpture. Each progressive step beyond the two-channel Stereo mix seems to further bring this music in to larger than life focus within the confines of your listening room.  

When listening to the original Quad mix, certain sonic moments on those songs will pan wildly between speakers, yet it is not gimmicky. Those swirling effects are increasingly more distinct on the 5.1 mix and then become even more exciting on the Dolby Atmos version.

Some of my favorite surround sound moments in the new Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary collection happen to involve tracks featuring the intense manic vocals of Ricky Lancellotti: “Fifty-Fifty” and “Zomby Woof.” Both of these tunes are pretty aggressive wild productions to begin with so it naturally offered the re-mix engineers a natural launchpad for creativity.

The Quad and Dolby Atmos mixes of “Zomby Woof” are a lot of fun in particular. The 5.1 only suffered a little bit in that the rear-emanating vocals — at the breakdown just after the guitar solo — might have been a bit louder in the mix (but I also acknowledge that there might be discrepancies in how my home theater system is processing the sound at that point so it might sound perfectly fine on your set up).

Generally the surround experience in the new Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Disc is wonderful. 

Other details I couldn’t help but notice and appreciate were the expanded dynamics of the orchestral percussion such as the aforementioned Tympani drums on “Montana.” They were there on the original Stereo mix but were nowhere near as present as they are now.  

All this detail is a lot of fun actually!

I could go on, but I think you get the idea that this Blu-ray Disc is a winner. One last detail before I move on to the CDs: the screen saver feature on this disc is trip in its own right. The producers have gently animated portions of Dave McMacken’s surrealist Over-Nite Sensation cover art painting. So while you are listening to the audio, monsters hidden in the frame come to life, lizards wink and the slime-oozing TV seems to come to life in all its black and white glory. There is plenty to watch for as you are listening. 

All that said… there is much more to discuss so I’m going to move ahead to some of the CDs. Notably, the two concert recordings included in the collection are quite revelatory.

The Hollywood Palladium show from March of 1973 is particularly notable as it represents the only concert where singer Ricky Lancellotti actually performed with Zappa on stage. This is very very cool. Still, the most exciting part is simply hearing this whole band coming together in such a fine form early on, right before your very ears in this live without-a-net concert experience.  

Across one-and-a-half CDs we get to hear early versions of “Cosmic Debris” from Apostrophe(‘) and an amazing 25 minute version of “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing” which would later show up in more concise form on the live Roxy and Elsewhere collection. You’ll get to hear a wonderful early version of “I’m The Slime” which was at that time being called “The Curse Of The Zomboids.” And, there’s an absolutely fantastic version of “Big Swifty” (from Waka/Jawaka) which (for me, at least) acts as sort of musical glue connecting Zappa’s prior Wazoo era — which did include some of these musicians such as George Duke and Sal Marquez — to the emerging Roxy-bandyears.

The band also does a fantastic version of the then unreleased composition “Dupree’s Paradise” (which would later appear in orchestral form on 1984’s Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger as well as on numerous compilations over the years)

All in all, you can really hear why music critic Leonard feather latched on to the reality that Zappa’s band at this time had some very hot jazz chops present (excerpts from the review are included in the liner notes to this reissue).

The concert from Cobo Hall in Detroit Michigan on May 12, 1973, several months later is equally fun and yet a completely different experience — this is not surprising as this is Frank Zappa we’re talking about, after all!  

Some of my favorite moments on this concert include the extended tribute to Uncle Meat, which includes “Dog Breath” and “The Dog Breath Variations” as well as the title track. These recordings are fascinating as they honor much of the original vibe of the 1968 studio recordings yet are clearly played with fresh perspective by these new musicians.   

There is a wonderful early version of “Inca Roads” here and a fascinating early walk-through of the whole “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” medley, which appeared the following year on Apostrophe(‘). The second track on this concert, “Exercise #4,” is one of my favorites in the entire set as it showcases the orchestra-in-miniature aspect of this particular group playing a beautiful instrumental variation and theme styled neo-classical reworking of melodies from “Dog Breath” (from the Uncle Meat album), before kicking in to a rocking, rollicking and swinging jazz fusion arrangement of the music. 


As Zappa had not yet found his next lead singer to be at this time, the version of “Fifty-Fifty” here is purely an instrumental and it shows off the underlying funky jazz fusion aspects of the song (vs. the studio version which rocks madly).  

The sleazy-cheesy lounge singer introduction of “Inca Roads” on this concert — sung by trumpeter Sal Marquez — is a wonderful twist which leads into a beautiful and intricate nearly 12 minute version of the song. It includes a lovely solo by Marquez, which is great to hear. As a former trumpet player myself, I’ve always loved his tone and improvisations, especially as heard on Zappa’s 1972 album Waka/Jawaka. So hearing him again and stretching out is a real treat!  

Of course a deep dive like the new Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary boxed set wouldn’t be complete without some unreleased studio material and this one is no slouch. It includes a lovely 1973 mix of the then unreleased “RDNZL” and “For The Young Sophisticate” (both of which eventually saw the light of day as part of the Läther recordings). 

I really enjoyed the “Bolic Take-Home Mix” of “Inca Roads” that was included as well as a early version of a song that ended up on One Size Fits All called “X-Forts” [eventually retitled “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)”].  We also get to hear a new version of “Wonderful Wino” which originally appeared on Jeff Simmons’ Zappa-produced solo album Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up.  The “Fifty-Fifty – Pipe Organ Intro Improvisations” are also fascinating to hear.

If you’ll pardon the avoidable pun, there is a lot of truly sensational music throughout the new Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary boxed set!

Finally, I have to acknowledge a bit of personal joy related to this release: I was invited to write the official historical overview essay included in the new Over-Nite Sensation 50th Anniversary boxed set! As a lifetime Zappa fan, this has been more than a dream come true; it has been an honor to be given the opportunity to work with Vaultmeister Joe Travers and his team on this project. I hope you enjoy the essay when you get to read it. 

Even though Frank Zappa has been gone for a long time now, his music and spirit is thankfully still alive and well in all the musicians and fans he touched.  And thankfully we are all are being given the opportunity to explore much of what he recorded that was stored in his massive archive. 

Looking forward, I can’t wait to hear what other wonderment Joe Travers unearths from the Zappa vault, especially leading into Apostrophe(‘) and the other albums from this absolutely fertile period of Frank’s career. But for now we have so much to relish in this fantastic new boxed set collection and remastered vinyl (which I’ll be reviewing soon at over at Analog Planet). 

[Mark Smotroff has been reviewing music at AudiophileReview for many years but can also be found at AnalogPlanet.com. In the past he has written for Sound & Vision, DISCoveries, EQ, Mix and many more.  An avid vinyl collector and music enthusiast who has also worked in marketing communications for decades you can learn  more about his background at LinkedIn.]

FRANK ZAPPA: OVER-NITE SENSATION 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITIONS

Tracklists

4CD + 1BLU-RAY AUDIO SUPER DELUXE EDITION

CD 1

Over-Nite Sensation – The Album

1. Camarillo Brillo

2. I’m The Slime

3. Dirty Love

4. Fifty-Fifty

5. Zomby Woof

6. Dinah-Moe Humm

7. Montana

Bonus Session Masters

8. Wonderful Wino (Complete Edit)*

9. Inca Roads (1973 Version, 2023 Mix)*

10. RDNZL (1973 Mix)*

11. For The Young Sophisticate (Dolby EQ Copy)

12. I’m The Slime (Single Version)

13. Montana (Single Edit With Intro)

Bonus Vault Sensations

14. Inca Roads (Bolic Take-Home Mix)*

15. RDNZL (Take 2)*

16. X-Forts (Echidna’s Arf (Of You))*

CD 2

Bonus Vault Sensations

Continued

1. Camarillo Brillo (Alternate Mix)*

2. Face Down (I’m The Slime – Demo)*

3. I’m The Slime (Basic Track Outtake)*

4. Dirty Love (Session Rehearsal)*

5. Dirty Love (With Quad Guitar)*

6. Fifty-Fifty – Pipe Organ Intro Improvisations*

7. Fifty-Fifty (Basic Tracks, Take 7)*

8. Dinah-Moe Humm (Session Rehearsal)*

9. Dinah-Moe Humm (Bolic Take-Home Mix)*

10. Montana (Bolic Take-Home Mix)*

Live In Hollywood, California, Hollywood Palladium – March 23, 1973

11. Montana*

12. Dupree’s Paradise (Intro)*

13. Dupree’s Paradise*

CD 3

Live In Hollywood, California, Hollywood Palladium – March 23, 1973

Continued

1. Cosmik Debris*

2. “The Dynamic Sal Marquez!”*

3. Big Swifty*

4. “…The Successor To Willie The Pimp”*

5. The Curse Of The Zomboids (I’m The Slime)*

6. Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?*

7. FZ & The Percussion Section*

8. Palladium Jam – Part 1*

9. Palladium Jam – Part 2*

CD 4

Live In Detroit, Michigan, Cobo Hall – May 12, 1973

1. Cobo Hall ’73 Band Intros And Sound Check*

2. Exercise #4*

3. Dog Breath*

4. The Dog Breath Variations*

5. Uncle Meat*

6. Fifty-Fifty*

7. Inca Roads*

8. FZ Introduces the Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow Medley*

9. Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow*

10. Nanook Rubs It*

11. St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast*

12. Father O’Blivion*

13. St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast (Reprise)*

14. Join The March*

15. Cosmik Debris*

16. Medley: King Kong/Chunga’s Revenge/Son Of Mr. Green Genes*

BLU-RAY AUDIO

Over-Nite Sensation – The Album

Dolby Atmos* / Dolby TrueHD 5.1* / Dolby TrueHD 1973 Quadraphonic / 24-bit/192kHz Stereo / 24-bit/96kHz Stereo

1. Camarillo Brillo

2. I’m The Slime

3. Dirty Love

4. Fifty-Fifty

5. Zomby Woof

6. Dinah-Moe Humm

7. Montana

* Previously unreleased

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