The delightfully subversive Chunga’s Revenge is the third and final album that Frank Zappa released in 1970 – a fertile year that had already seen him issue Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh. Zappa gave it nominal solo status, but the album actually introduced a new variant on The Mothers: Jeff Simmons (bass), George Duke (keyboards and trombone), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), and the multi-talented Ian Underwood welcomed the exquisite vocals of former Turtles Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (billed, for contractual reasons, as Flo & Eddie) to the fold.
The sessions for Chunga’s Revenge took place between early July 1969 and summer 1970, with Zappa at the controls across four different studios, including the legendary Trident in London. A contemporary live performance of an avant-garde piece “The Nancy And Mary Music” also fit the bill, receiving an epic, total freak-out run-through by a supercharged Mothers at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis.
Stylistically ambitious as ever, Chunga’s Revenge includes burlesque comedy, jazz fusion, and some mighty blues-rock with the lyrical bent focussed on the life-on-the-road (and in-the-bedroom) escapades of a hard-working musician.
Chunga is many a Zappa fan’s favorite; they gravitate to the slinky guitar on “Transylvania Boogie,” get down to the chucklesome blues of “Road Ladies” and savor “Twenty Small Cigars” (reworked from the 1969 Hot Rats sessions). “Tell Me You Love Me,” which opened Side Two of the original vinyl, is classic Frank hard-rock muscle.
Flo & Eddie excel throughout, but nowhere more so than on the kinky pop romp of “Would You Go All The Way?,” which is followed by the six-plus minutes of jazz jamboree that is the album’s title track, on which Underwood provides an electric alto saxophone funk-up driven by wah-wah pedal. Kaylan and Volman return to the fray on “Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink,” a song whose hot, tropical treatment belies the underlying theme of Zappa’s displeasure with the Musicians’ Union. The album’s closing track, “Sharleena,” is also tailor-made for Flo & Eddie’s vocals, with the accent on doo-wop, R&B, and a killer melody that made the song a late-night radio favorite back in the day.
Released on October 23, 1970, Chunga’s Revenge fulfills the Zappa aesthetic and, while some may not have gotten all the jokes, it’s lasted the test of time. Better still is the fact that it is now available on vinyl for the first time in 30-plus years. The audiophile-grade pressing comes out via Zappa Records/UMe, specially mastered by Bernie Grundman and with Cal Schenkel’s unique artwork – a precursor to the punk and new wave graphic style – faithfully reproduced.
As a postscript, the last word goes to Zappa: “All the vocals in this album are a preview of the story from 200 Motels.” More on that lovely later.