Glossary entry for
There was once an abortive collaboration between Frank Zappa and Van, as recounted in
the following contribution by Dave LePine:
Frank Zappa had been under dubious contract with Warner Brothers at one time,
and he had an album nearly ready for release. He was actually 'between'
contracts, and another record company had made test-pressings of this
material. Warner Brothers sued the new record company, and out of
frustration, Zappa played the entire album on the air of an FM radio station.
I think this was in the late 70's, but I don't exactly recall.
In any case, the first time I heard the recording, I knew it was Van singing
the first song on the "album" - "Dead Girls Of London".
I know Van was on
Warner Brothers at the time - maybe this was part of his contractual
obligation. It's a strange thought to have Van on a Zappa album, but he
does have a sense of humor....
The album was intended to be titled Leatherette, and may have been released
by his own record company much more recently. Much of the
material showed up on Sheik Yerbouti, but without Van.
(Arthur Siegel notes that "Dead Girls Of London" was re-recorded and released on
an album produced by Zappa for L.Shankar, "Touch Me There", in 1979. Van isn't on
Apparently the song has appeared on at least one Van (vinyl) boot: Caledonian Impressions
(Studio outtakes) and at least one Zappa boot: Another Cheap Aroma. One list member
describes it as "definitely the toughest song I've heard
[Van] do. It's to my judgement much more rock & roll than anything else. It
has a loud/significant female vocal backing group and a screaming solo
guitar unheared of elsewhere (in Van's production)"
Biffy the Elephant Shrew clarifies the above somewhat:
The legendary album Zappa played on the radio, and which was indeed recently
released by Rykodisc, was actually called Läther, and did not
contain "Dead Girls Of London" or any other Van Morrison involvement (see my
web site devoted to this album at http://members.aol.com/biffyshrew/lather.html.
Leatherette is a bootleg containing the material from
Läther that was not released on the DiscReet albums (see that web
site), plus "Dead Girls Of London" and some interviews; that's where the
confusion is coming from.
The 1979 Touch Me There Zappa album is the album "Dead Girls Of
London" was recorded for in the first place. It was originally recorded with
Van, but Warner Brothers, then in the middle of an acrimonious lawsuit with
Zappa, refused permission to release this version. Zappa then replaced Van's
vocal with his own for the released version. (Same backing track, though.)
In Ben Watson's Frank Zappa biography The Negative Dialectics of
Poodle Play, it is said that Van called up Frank while he was recording
violinist L. Shankar's Touch Me There album (1979) and asked him if he
wanted to use his voice. Zappa recorded him on this song (written by Zappa
and Shankar), which, according to Zappa, was never released because "Mo
Ostin of Warner Brothers personally scuppered the deal." In the end, the
song appeared on Shankar's album, but with the vocals done by Zappa and
At the time, Zappa had been under dubious contract with Warner
Brothers and he had an album nearly ready for release, the working title
being Leatherette. In actuality, Zappa was 'between' contracts, and
another record company had already made test pressings of the material.
Warner Brothers sued the other record company. Out of frustration, Zappa
played the entire album on the air on an FM radio station in Los Angeles
in 1979 (this is the source of the Zappa bootleg Leatherette). Much of
the material showed up later on Zappa's Sheik Yerbouti album, but
without Van's version of this song. It has been bootlegged on
Philosopher's Alternate Stones.
As for the lyrics, according to one Zappa biography, he was living in
London and was having no luck getting the girls who frequented the
nightclubs Tramps and Annabelle's. This song is the result of that
experience (or lack thereof).
More information available at:
Part of the van-the-man.info unofficial website