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‘One Size Fits All’: A Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention Classic

This album had everything a Frank Zappa fan could want when it arrived in 1975.

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Frank Zappa One Size Fits All album cover
Cover: Courtesy of Universal Music

One Size Fits All is a fitting title. This album with The Mothers Of Invention had everything a Frank Zappa fan could want when it arrived in 1975. Guitar heroics, progressive epics, mind-boggling musical dexterity, absurd humor, wild blues-rock workouts, and complex compositions. But, perhaps more importantly, the album is among the best entry points for anyone interested in checking out Zappa’s vast and daunting back catalogue.

Recording sessions for One Size Fits All took place between August 1974 and April 1975 primarily at the Record Plant and Paramount Studios in Los Angeles and Caribou Studios in Colorado. The core band for the recording was Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax, vocals), George Duke (keys, vocals), Tom Fowler (bass), Chester Thompson (drums), Ruth Underwood (percussion), and Zappa (guitar, vocals). There were also some notable guest appearances, “San Berd’ino” featured harmonica from Captain Beefheart (credited as Bloodshot Rollin’ Red) and vocals from Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, while James ‘Birdlegs’ Youman played bass on “Can’t Afford No Shoes.”

Listen to Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention’s One Size Fits All now.

Following an intense few years of touring, this Mothers line-up were on fire. Underwood, Fowler, and Duke had played together since February 1973 and Murphy Brock and Thompson joined in October that year. “The 1974 band was really loose – we could [play] anything we goddamn wanted,” claimed Fowler in a 2000 interview. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2021, Thompson recalled the sessions, “Caribou Ranch was magical. We were like 9,000 feet above sea level in Colorado. I had to use oxygen tanks after every take. I was totally gasping for air. The studio had tanks in the studio since they dealt with it all the time.”

Interviewed by Modern Recording in 1978, Zappa discussed the challenges of recording at the studio, “I like Caribou, except for the fact it is 8,000 feet up. If it was at sea level it would be a fantastic studio for my purposes, but so many funny things have happened to people and musical instruments when the air is so thin. The distance between the air molecules affects the sound of the instruments and the acoustics, and also creates other problems for monitoring.”

The band returned to a more acceptable altitude with sessions at the Record Plant, Los Angeles, in January 1975, mainly spent on overdubs. It was a prolific time for Zappa, as well as One Size Fits All, songs from the sessions would end up gracing Bongo Fury, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt, Them Or Us, and Läther.

One Size Fits All’s opening track “Inca Roads” is a startling recording and one of Zappa and the Mothers’ greatest tracks. It’s a multi-part jazz-fusion epic of compositional and musical ingenuity, with George Duke’s feather-light vocals the icing on top. Incredibly, Duke later claimed that Zappa had to convince him to take the vocal. In a 2011 Wax Poetics interview, Duke was typically modest: “Frank was the kind of guy – he would look at somebody and observe, and whatever he figured their strongest talents were, or something that was zany or a little out of the norm that he wanted them to do, he would call them on it and make them do it; it happened all the time.”

Frank Zappa - Inca Roads (Visualizer)

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The rampaging rocker “Can’t Afford No Shoes,” the funked-up “Po-Jama People” and the rootsy “San Ber’dino” were more direct, radio-friendly even, demonstrations of Zappa and the band’s capabilities, but even then there was always a twist. “Can’t Afford No Shoes” made a serious point about recessions and how ordinary people are affected by government policy, a theme he’d often explore. “Po-Jama People” hints at tensions in the band by suggesting that this iteration of the Mothers weren’t as interested in on-the-road hijinks as their leader might’ve liked, as he told Stereo magazine in 1976, “I once had a group with technically superb musicians only, but it was the most boring tour I ever had… The only thing they wanted to do was to play chess.” It also showcases a thrilling guitar solo from Zappa that could soundtrack a white-knuckle ride on a bucking bronco. “San Ber’dino,” meanwhile, drew upon the ten days Zappa had spent in a San Bernardino jail in the early 60s on an obscenity charge – he’d battle the censors throughout his career.

Frank Zappa - Po-Jama People (Visualizer)

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The delicate jazz-prog symphonies “Sofa No 1” and “Sofa No 2” (the second adds vocals) were further evidence of Zappa’s eclecticism and a showcase for Ruth Underwood’s intricate vibraphone playing. Meanwhile, “Florentine Pogen” was the Napoleon Murphy Brock show, with the horn player clearly enjoying himself with a theatrical lead vocal (he later suggested his drama background was a factor in Zappa giving him the Mothers gig).

Florentine Pogen

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One Size Fits All features some of  The Mothers Of Invention’s final recordings. It was a fitting way to bow out – an often-dazzling showcase of their virtuosity and abundance of ideas. Nobody else has sounded like this before or since. Looking for a way in to Zappa? Try One Size Fits All.

Listen to Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention’s One Size Fits All now.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Gary Steel

    June 21, 2023 at 9:37 pm

    I believe that Zappa’s reference to a boring version of The Mothers (socially, not musically) was about the ’72 Wazoo band, not the ’74/’75 version that plays on One Size Fits All.

  2. Slappy

    June 24, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    I don’t tell you my problems. Jeez.

  3. Johnny QUINN

    October 31, 2023 at 4:15 am

    Knucklehead I knew FZ and these people in the Wazoo band were all session Jazz guys.the 73 guys were boring not rockers..things picked up with Napoleon and Duke funky sexy Black men…do the math!

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