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The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life is a 1991 double Live Album by Frank Zappa which, much like Broadway the Hard Way (1991) and the later Make a Jazz Noise Here (1991) is a compilation of recordings from Zappa's 1988 tour. As the title implies to him it was the most professional band he ever had. Many tracks are older songs by Zappa and covers, all in very intriguing and different arrangements.

"Boléro" had to be removed from European copies as there were complaints from Maurice Ravel's extant copyright holders. Later reissues have reinstated the performance.

Disc One

  1. "Heavy Duty Judy" (6:04)
  2. "Ring of Fire" (2:00)
  3. "Cosmik Debris" (4:32)
  4. "Find Her Finer" (2:42)
  5. "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" (2:40)
  6. "I Left My Heart in San Francisco?" (0:36)
  7. "Zomby Woof" (5:41)
  8. "Boléro" (5:19)
  9. "Zoot Allures" (7:07)
  10. "Mr. Green Genes" (3:40)
  11. "Florentine Pogen" (7:11)
  12. "Andy" (5:51)
  13. "Inca Roads" (8:19)
  14. "Sofa No. 1" (2:49)
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Disc Two

  1. "Purple Haze" (2:27)
  2. "Sunshine of Your Love" (2:30)
  3. "Let's Move to Cleveland" (5:51)
  4. "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" (0:46)
  5. "Godfather Part II" Theme" (0:30)
  6. "A Few Moments with Brother A. West" (4:00)
  7. "The Torture Never Stops, Pt. 1" (5:19)
  8. "Theme from Bonanza" (0:28)
  9. "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" (4:54)
  10. "The Torture Never Stops, Pt. 2 " (10:47)
  11. "More Trouble Every Day" (5:28)
  12. "Penguin in Bondage" (5:05)
  13. "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" (9:18)
  14. "Stairway to Heaven" (9:19)

Personnel

  • Frank Zappa: lead guitar, vocals, Synclavier
  • Mike Keneally: vocals, synth, rhythm guitar
  • Bobby Martin: vocals, keyboards
  • Ike Willis: vocals, rhythm guitar, synthesizer
  • Kurt McGettrick: baritone sax, bass sax, contrabass clarinet
  • Ed Mann: vibes, marimba, electronic percussion
  • Paul Carman: alto, soprano and baritone sax
  • Bruce Fowler: trombone
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  • Walt Fowler: trumpet, flugel horn, synthesizer
  • Scott Thunes: electric bass, mini-moog
  • Chad Wackerman: drums, electronic percussion
  • Albert Wing: tenor sax

The Best Tropes You Never Read in Your Life

  • Absentee Musician: Johnny Cash was scheduled to perform "Ring of Fire", but as Zappa explains "his wife got sick and thus he couldn't come tonight." Zappa's band performs "Ring of Fire" nevertheless without him:
    Zappa: "Johnny, you'll never know what you missed."
  • Alliterative Title: "The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life".
  • Boléro Effect: Naturally "Boléro".
  • Call-Back and Continuity Nod:
    • "Heavy Duty Judy" (Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar) "Cosmik Debris" (Apostrophe (')), "Zoot Allures", "Find Her Finer" and "The Torture Never Stops" (Zoot Allures), "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" (We're Only in It for the Money), "Zomby Woof" (Over-Nite Sensation), "Mr. Green Genes", "Florentine Pogen", "Andy", "Inca Roads", "Sofa" (One Size Fits All), "Let's Move To Cleveland" (Does Humor Belong in Music?), "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" (200 Motels), "More Trouble Every Day", "Penguin In Bondage" (Roxy & Elsewhere) and "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" (Weasels Ripped My Flesh) are all from previous Zappa albums.
    • During "Ring of Fire" Zappa makes an allusion to Senator Paul Hawkins and pyromania, which is a nod to the track "Porn Wars" from Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention (1985).
    • During "Find Her Finer" Zappa sings "wrap like a mudshark until you'll finally find her", which a reference to the mudshark from Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971).
    • Near the end of "Mr. Green Genes" the line "Isn't it romantic?" can be heard, a throwback to "Punky's Whips" from Zappa in New York (1977).
    • Ike Willis sings "Purple Haze" in his Kingfish impression from Thing-Fish (1984) and also talks about a "potato-headed surprise", referencing the character Potato-Headed Bobby from One Size Fits All and Bongo Fury.
    • "Lonesome Cowboy Burt", "More Trouble Every Day" and "Penguin In Bondage" satirize televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Zappa poked fun at him before during "What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?" from Broadway the Hard Way (1988) and during the intro of "Stink-Foot" on Make a Jazz Noise Here (1991). He also parodied The Beatles songs "Norwegian Wood", "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" by rewriting the lyrics to refer to Swaggart's sex scandal. Copyright problems have prevented the songs from being included on official Zappa albums, but they can be heard on several bootlegs.
  • Corpsing: Mike Keneally cracks up during "Ring of Fire" and Zappa too during "Cosmik Debris". During "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" nobody is able to hold a straight face during some of Zappa's ad-libs.
  • Corrupt Church: "Lonesome Cowboy Burt", "More Trouble Every Day" and "Penguin in Bondage" take potshots at corrupt and hypocritical televangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
  • Cover Album: Zappa plays highly unique covers of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire", Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco", Maurice Ravel's "Boléro", Jimi Hendrix' "Purple Haze", Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love", the traditional "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", the theme from The Godfather, the theme from Bonanza and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven".
  • Distinct Double Album: 28 songs, 14 each on each disc.
  • Epic Rocking: The 7:11 "Florentine Pogen", 8:19 "Inca Roads", 10:47 "The Torture Never Stops Part 2", the 9:19 "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue", and the 9:21 "Stairway to Heaven".
  • Face on the Cover: Zappa performing on stage.
  • Fading into the Next Song: All tracks fade into one another, because it's a live album.
  • Genre Roulette: Not surprisingly for a Zappa album, but he plays all his songs in different arrangements and styles. Even the covers aren't safe: "Ring of Fire" is done in a Reggae arrangement. "Boléro" gets a Jazz rendition. "Purple Haze" and "Sunshine of Your Love" are backed by a trumpet chorus and frequently interrupted by a Spanish sounding arrangement. "Stairway to Heaven" starts off in Reggae and ends in a trumpet and trombone performance.
  • Hurricane of Puns:
    • In "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" Mike Keneally sings "I'll buy a book of Indian lore", whereupon the band intentionally incorrectly imitates a group of Native Americans. In the original context of the song the lore is from India.
    • During "Purple Haze" Ike Willis names Isaac Hayes, Gabby Hayes, Willie Mays, Helen Hayes,...
  • Instrumentals: "Heavy Duty Judy", "Boléro", "Zoot Allures", "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue".
  • In the Style of...: "Stairway to Heaven" performed in a reggae style, with the guitar solo played by the horn section. It's Better Than It Sounds. "Ring of Fire" is also given a reggae arrangement, while other songs are given arrangements in other styles; see Genre Roulette above.
  • Live Album: All tracks are lifted from concerts.
  • Lampshading: "Ring of Fire"
    Mike Keneally: Love...
    Background chorus: It's hot...
    Mike Keneally: ...Is a burning thing.
    Frank Zappa: That's right, it's the same verse again!
    Mike Keneally: [cracks up briefly] And it leaves...a fiery ring...
    Frank Zappa: It's one way of learning English.
  • Long Title: The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life.
  • Mickey Mousing: Zappa does this during some of the performances. For instance, after the line "there is a songbird who sings" in "Stairway to Heaven" a bird whistle is heard.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • "Ring of Fire", "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" and "Sunshine of Your Love" have Mike Keneally impersonating Johnny Cash.
    • "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett is covered, a song Zappa described as "one of the ugliest songs ever written" in They're Doing the Interview of the Century, Part 1.
  • Non-Appearing Title: The album title doesn't appear in any of the lyrics.
  • Raging Stiffie: "Lonesome Cowboy Burt", about televangelist Jimmy Swaggart:
    And I pump up my sanctified erection
  • Ring of Fire: Zappa covers the song.
  • Secret Word: Zappa announces "Ring of Fire" as the "secret of word tonight" in "Heavy Duty Judy" and uses it as a Running Gag throughout the album.
  • Shout-Out:
    Heeeeeeere's Johnny!
    • The background singers quote from "Stayin' Alive" by The Bee Gees halfway "Inca Roads".
    • "Sunshine of Your Love" namedrops soul singer Isaac Hayes, actor Gabby Hayes note , baseballer Willie Mays and actress Helen Hayes, all as an Incredibly Lame Pun on "Purple Haze. Near the end "Jarabe Tapatio" ("The Mexican Hat Dance") is quoted.
    • Zappa covers the theme music of The Godfather and Bonanza.
    • During "The Torture Never Stops" the theme melody of The Addams Family is quoted.
    • "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" briefly quotes from Julius Fucik's "Entry the Gladiators". The "ha ha ha ha ha ha ha" vocals are a reference to Laurie Anderson's hit "O Superman". "Sharkey" is a character in several of Anderson's songs, thus explaining why Zappa says: "And then Sharkey says..." Mike Keneally:
    Those readers unfamiliar with Laurie Anderson's work might not realize that we're parodying her in the middle section of 'Lonesome'—-'Sharkey' is a character in several of her songs. I suggested including the relentless "ha ha ha ha ha ha" vocal part, ripped off from her song 'O Superman', and I came to regret it on some evenings when Frank decided to keep the section going on forever.
    • During "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" Johann Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz" is quoted.
    • Near the end of "Stairway to Heaven" the trumpets quote from "The Teddy Bears' Picnic".
  • Spoken Word in Music: Zappa's spoken interludes between songs, for starters, and "A Few Moments with Brother A. West" is a protest speech by televangelist Brother A. West against Zappa.
  • Time Marches On: "Lonesome Cowboy Burt", "More Trouble Every Day" and "Penguin in Bondage" are all rewritten to poke fun at corrupt televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who, in 1988, was caught in the presence of a prostitute and cried crocodile tears on live television while confessing "his sin to God". In 1989 he was caught red-handed with another prostitute.
    Wednesday I watched Jimmy Swaggart
    Watched him weepin' all over the place
    An' I watched him weepin' an' weepin' an' weepin'
    And that shit rollin' down his face
    (Oh . . . I sinned!)
    An' then I watched him weep some more
    An' he kept on weepin' again
    (Oh, forgive me, Assembly O' God!)
    And they smacked him on his little hand
    And he went out makin' more money

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