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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.
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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: