Sheik it One Time for FrankI was listening this morning to something I haven’t heard in a long time: Frank Zappa’s 1979 classic, Sheik Yerbouti.
Nearly every song on this album, from “Bobby Brown Goes Down” to “Dancin’ Fool,” are among his best and most biting social commentaries. Even the instrumental tracks are superb, showcasing Zappa’s immense and often underrated skill as a guitarist. As I listened to the album, and in particular, the instrumentals, I kept thinking about a review I read many years ago. The author, (and I wish I remember who it was and where I read it) commenting on Zappa’s skill as a musician, wrote how impressive it was that Zappa could go from symphonic pieces to a note-perfect cover of “Whipping Post.”
Zappa recorded the basic tracks for Sheik Yerbouti live during three shows at the Palladium in New York (Oct. 28-31, 1977) and a run of shows at the Hammersmith Odeon in London during January and February 1978. As the liner notes say, most of the songs contained “lots” of overdubs.
Sheik Yerbouti represented a major turning point in Zappa's career. The first album to be released on his own eponymous label after his departure from Warner Bros. Records, it emphasized the comedic aspect of his lyrics more than ever before, beginning a period of increased record sales and mainstream media attention. The album itself charted as high as #21, and “Dancin’ Fool” was nominated for a Grammy.
The album also attracted a fair amount of controversy: “I Have Been in You” pokes fun at Peter Frampton’s 1977 hit “I’m in You” while maintaining a sexually driven structure; “Flakes” includes a parody of Bob Dylan; and “Jewish Princess” attracted attention from the Anti-Defamation League, to which Zappa denied an apology, arguing, “I didn’t make up the idea of a Jewish Princess. They exist, so I wrote a song about them.”