Sometimes one piece of music is enough to subsequently appreciate the complete oeuvre of an artist. Take “The Yellow Shark”, for example. It was the last album released by Frank Zappa before his untimely death in 1993. It features transcriptions of various pieces for synclavier and original compositions performed by the Ensemble Modern. The album is a mixture of fan well-known favourites, like “Uncle Meat” and “G-Spot Tornado” and some pieces which are a bit “challenging to the ear”; “Times Beach II”, “Pentagon Afternoon” and “Ruth Is Sleeping” to name a few.
I first got the album when I was 12 or 13 years old and rented a lot of CDs at my local library, which was very small and had a dreadful audio collection.1 Strangely though, they had one CD by Zappa: “The Yellow Shark”, which isn’t his most famous release, but was the most recent at that time. The only reason I took the CD home was because of the enigmatic old man on the cover of the album, and maybe because of the fact his name sounded somewhat like that of a wizard. So in short I choose the album because the guy on the cover looked cool.2 I remember liking the first few tracks and skipping the rest of the album until “G-Spot Tornado”.
I didn’t listen much to the album until I discovered Zappa’s whole oeuvre a few years back. For me, one track on the “The Yellow Shark” symbolises Zappa’s musical practice in quite a neat way. It’s called “Get Whitey” and it’s simply beautiful. Like “Outrage at Valdez” the fragile harmonies barely seem to hold together and come in and out of focus. After a while those typical Zappa chords appear, you can hear them in “Outrage at Valdez” as well, as the meander through the subtle melancholy. They’re quite noticeable when you pay attention around the 3.50 minute mark of “Get Whitey”, when most of the ensemble (piano, brass, percussion) joins in to play an array of chords together.
“Get Whitey” is the reason why I still play the complete “Yellow Shark”. Reaching track 18 always makes me want to turn the volume up.3