Reason # 1754 – The Ballad of John and Frank

On June 5th, 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono joined Frank Zappa and the Mothers of invention on stage for their first and last collaboration. The result was 40 odd minutes of either brilliant musicianship and improvisation, or a small eternity in hell.

J & O appeared that night during the encore as special guests, much to the delight of the unsuspecting crowd. It started out innocently enough with a rocking version of Well (baby please don’t go). This found Lennon in front of the tightest band he’d ever played with, at his side Yoko was in fine form… doing her thing.

After a lengthy improv it became apparent that John was understandably out of his element. After a few attempts to nudge him back to reality, Zappa narrowly avoided a trainwreck and steered the band into some original material before a blues based form was introduced. The brilliant Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, aka Flo and Eddie, took over on vocals and introduced a new lyrical theme for the silver tongued song smith to expand upon, Scumbag. John happily grabbed onto this new word and sang to save his life, while Flo and Eddie draped a potato sack over Yoko.

The good news was Zappa and the Mothers had booked a recording truck for the weekend as they were in the process of making the legendary Fillmore East ’71 album. After the show there was an arrangement made so both parties would have access to the tapes, and they could each release their own mixes of the performance.

And then they all lived happily ever after.

Until suddenly…

John and Yoko released Some Time in New York City. For the record sleeve they used the album cover from Fillmore East ’71, scribbled all over it, and scrawled in what they thought the songs were. They took writing and publishing credits, stealing the music for profit (if anybody had bought the album, but that’s beside the point).

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For the final insult… here’s the story of the from Frank himself:

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Its all part of a long line of undocumented theft and disrespect towards the inimitable Zappa who saw through them from the beginning. He released the worlds first concept album and double album in ’66 with his major label debut Freak Out!.

McCartney owned a copy, and called Zappa to ask permission to use the idea. Expecting to get a drugged out hippie on the phone drooling over his famous moptop, he was instead met with a fiercely intelligent composer and business man who expected to be compensated for his own ideas. Instead of all that fuss, the beatles just stole the idea and claimed it as their own.
This statement is incorrect, see comments, das

Zappa retaliated with the famous We’re Only In It For The Money, an album vilifying hippie pretensions, sporting on the cover a parody of Sgt Peppers.

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There’s been countless other violations of trust and utter lack of respect from the FF towards Zappa. We won’t get into everything, but here’s an ironic example:

Zappa recorded a medley of beatles songs, the lyrics were changed to make fun of disgraced TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. The FF had lost control of publishing rights at this time when suddenly, out of nowhere, Michael Jackson jumped out and blocked the songs release! Why? Who knows. Either the idea of adults having sex was too much for him, or the FF mafia had already seized control of his brain.

Here’s a copy of the unreleased, and likely never to be released medley for your listening pleasure. This is Zappa, so be forewarned if you’re the sensitive type:

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If you happen to be the curious type, here is unedited concert:

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30 thoughts on “Reason # 1754 – The Ballad of John and Frank

  1. ZappaFan

    I’m ambivalent about Lennon and the Beatles but have been a FZ fan for 37 years. I found this site by doing a google search on “Frank Zappa + John Lennon” I want to thank you for having the 1988 tour Beatles medley. On the same tour of course, he took some musical digs at Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Led Zeppelin.

    I’m especially glad that you had the sound link to FZ’s truth of John & Yoko’s piracy of “King Kong” from the ’71 Filmore East jam. The complete REAL Zappa-Lennon jam is on the 1992 Zappa CD “Playground Psychotics”.

  2. Jim

    The double album “Blonde on Blonde” by Dylan precedes “Freak Out” in recording and release.

  3. Eric

    The reason of the Beatles Melody Michael Jackson blocked the released is because there was a legal battle about the rights of the McCartney/Lennon songs that resulted Michael Jackson owning them from the early ’80s til his death (in which he returned ownership back to McCartney, I believe).

    Also, the Sgt. Pepper parody was moved into the booklit (when it first came out) and replaced by a photo of the band in drag as the result of a legal battle between the Bealtes’ American record company and Zappa.

  4. Stelth

    john & yoko:the ultimate scumbags. One doesn’t have to do much research to see how motivated by money they both were. How is it people think this man was such a saint? Lennon DESERVED her. What a hideous, screeching harpy.

  5. Moishe Pippick

    What permission exactly did Macca ask FZ to grant? Permission to make a rock concept album? They should have asked the Ventures. “The Colorful Ventures” is from 1961 !

  6. JohnnyBoy

    Thanks for getting the REAL truth out there about Frank Zappa/John & Yoko.

    Not surprisingly, the three Beatles songs FZ satirized were all (if JL’s Playboy interview is to be believed) Lennon compositions.

  7. Bryan

    there’s more
    quote from zappa:

    ZAPPA: Well, let me tell you of a few interesting coincidences that I’ve noticed, that lead me to suspect that we’re making more of an impact on the industry than the people in the industry would like to admit. I was mailed a picture of Paul McCartney many months ago, from a girl in Europe, with my mustache and my tie, with my earphones, conducting an orchestra. And this is about the time I was preparing an album for Capitol where I was conducting an orchestra.

    ZAPPA: I mean, that’s the way I … it looked like me in the studio and I really shit in my pants when I saw it. I’ve never met them. It was a bizarre coincidence. And like him conducting the orchestra on their recent album [Sgt. Pepper]. I don’t know how much that amounts to, because the orchestra is used as an effect.

    KOFSKY: Have you listened to that album carefully?

    ZAPPA: Yes.

    KOFSKY: Do you think there is any similarity between Lovely Rita, Meter Maid and certain parts of Help I’m a Rock?

    ZAPPA: The way they’re doing “huffa-puffa, huffa-puffa” in the background? Yes, I do, as a matter of fact. There’s also a coincidence in the use of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as a reprise and the way we do America Drinks and Goes Home on Absolutely Free.

    KOFSKY: Was your album released at the time that they were preparing Sgt. Pepper?

    ZAPPA: Do you know when Absolutely Free was recorded? It was recorded before Thanksgiving last November. Before we came to New York.

  8. E. Steele

    The first “Concept Album” was released by another Frank. Sinatra, that it. “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.”

  9. Lou West

    It’s great to have a blog about FZ and all those great songs he parodied (and We’re Only In It For The Money), Frank Zappa actually liked those songs. Don’t forget we’re talking about the best songs in contemporary rock music, not the crappy junk that was also popular. That’s what annoyed him. Zappa rock and roll and had to respect the fantastic recording techniques and classiness of The Beatles and of course he loved the blues and Eric Clapton. He probably couldn’t stand Yoko’s overrated and out of context (with Lennon’s music) art, but if he wanted to jam with John Lennon, he had to let her come too. So, don’t get carried away with the incorrect notion that FZ didn’t like those songs, ’cause if he didn’t like ’em he would have come right out and said it!

  10. Lou West

    I’d like to take back part of what I said and that’s the part about the Beatles “classiness”. I guess that’s what FZ liked poking fun at. That is to say that he was disgusted with “over the top” adulation for some “rock superstars”.

  11. Colin Beardshall

    Just like to point out that Flo & Eddie are Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, not Mark Bolan as stated in the article, though Flo and Eddie did back up vocals on many of Marc Bolan and T Rex’s biggest hits.

  12. Justin

    Your facts and observations about the Fillmore Encore are pretty spot on but your credibility collapses from there. McCartney was indeed a fan of Freak Out but he never called FZ asking permission for…well you’re not exactly clear on that, are you? What is this “The Idea” you speak of? The idea of doing a concept album? Well that would be silly because that’s not the kind of thing people can claim as intellectual property. Nor is “The Idea” of doing a double album. What DID happen is that FZ called McCartney asking if he minded if he did a parody of the Sgt. Pepper cover. McCartney essentially blew him off politely by saying it was a thing for the lawyers to hash out, which was a douchy thing to do considering he was a fan of Frank’s and that the parody cover would do nothing but Good Things for tbe “folklore” of Sgt. Pepper. So PM definitely flaked out but your spin on the rest of the history is also riddled with conjecture and assumptions. No Beatle (or FF Mafia as you put it) had anything to do with the suppression of the Texas Motel Suite. That was all on MJ and his people. And it was Jimmy Swaggart, not Jerry Falwell, get your facts straight.

  13. Das Post author

    Justin, thank you for pointing out the errors in this article. Your point regarding McCartney asking for permission to record a concept album is completely correct. I’ve added a note in the post referencing this comment. You also caught my disgraced evangelist error, I often confuse television evangelists from the 80’s. It’s a serious flaw which I hope to correct one day.
    Your last point regarding the suppression of the Texas Motel Suite is open to debate, though we here at SMB are leaning towards the influence of the dreaded FF mafia.
    -Das

  14. david mahady

    I think if you think the Beatles were or pretended to be perfect John Lenon would doubled over with laughter.I dont think Lenon would have purposely and maliciously stole intellectual property from Zappa Yoko yes.Lets put it this way if Zappa used the word Jam session even once which he probably did then even if Lenon included one new note he did have the right to claim some composition credit and since Zappa had already agree to corelease Lennon jammed on with the changes he wanted to make(that being said he should have cocredited Zappa as well as probably go halves or at least 30 percent on realized profits.You have to somewhat pity the artist who had to deal with the real crazy geedy assholes the record copanies and agents refrence Tommy James book (The music the mob and me).Lenon greatly wanted to debunk the myth of the Beatles moral chastity but as far as a musical talent(I saw Zappa at U ofM Miami and enjoyed it alot but to me he’s the Michael Jordan of music .To the unlearned and stupid public Jordan seemed like a great player with great basketball skills(he had them) but having great basketball skills doesnt make you a basketball player. I dont even consider him a basketball player a product of the nba and its referees yes and a few good shots but not a basketball player similarly Lenon was inspired by cosmic connection to God that moved him to trance like states of divine conciousness although a technically sounding and adept player of his instrument what was Frank Zappa inspired by (blow jobs?).In John Lenons words paraphased.qoute with liberties”thers alot of reasons I dont want to be around musicians they’re all so lousy anyway” compared to him they certainly were

  15. Michael Nicholson

    I like how on Howard Stern, Zappa begs Stern not to talk about how musicians in the know give him the record for having the most sex with underage groupies in the history of music and he goes something like- um, can you not talk about this any more my wife might be listening… That was classic. And he went from super bragging about his music to like white in the face more than when Lennon heard Magial Misery Tour at a radio station for the first time. Very hilarity!

    Classic

  16. Ben McDonnell

    I am sure Don Preston is in this performance. He came over with Bunk Gardner a year ago and did a few shows, and i saw one at a small club in West London, Don is still a truly original, keyboard artist. I was close to the stage and had a short chat with him before he left, a really nice guy.

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