Glossary entry for
Zappa, Frank

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 that album.)

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 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 Ike Willis.

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 Caledonean Impressions and The 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).

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