Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Ruben and the Jets: Cheap Thrills
OK, guys, I'm playing with you today, but you probably knew that. I felt the opportunity for a double "and band" too tempting to pass, hence the apparent contradiction between the title and the subsequent link. For those who don't know, "Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets" was the 4th LP by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, or, strictly speaking, the Mothers of Invention, but, hey, it's my column, and it's what we all called 'em. This record, a pastiche of and paean to Zappas love of doo-wop, deliberately played the Mothers entirely in role, as a mythical band, Ruben and the Jets, with Zappa being their leader, Ruben Sano. Arriving on top of his earlier and decidedly uncommercial product, perhaps as the original singles made no mention of Zappa or the Mothers name, the songs received considerably more airplay and exposure, ironically, than when it became re-released with the "real" name of the band. Indeed, jocks felt they had unearthed some old original songs from the 50s. This is an old trick, not forgotten by many a band and canny producer to this day.
My exposure to this, over the other side of the atlantic, and barely into double figures of age in 1968, its year of release, was somewhat arduous. Indeed, it was, I am shamed to admit, only as I researched this piece that I ever got round to listening to any of the tracks.(Please don't tell anyone I know.) Because Zappa was always to me a far better idea than a reality. I'll explain. During my early teens many, many afternoons were spent in one particular record shop, which had a very liberal approach to letting local schoolboys while away their days, headphones on, going thru' the racks. As well as filling my ears with what I wanted to listen to, generally standard UK rock, I could fill my eyes with all the weird and wonderful names and album covers of innumerable west coast bands, as they were then called. So, as Deep Purple choogled in my ear, I was leafing through Stoneground, It's a Beautiful Day, Captain Beefheart, Moby Grape etc etc. And Frank Zappa, with and without the Mothers of Invention, clearly the ugliest group of reprobates ever. Which was high praise. My guess now is that the owner of the shop was a fan, but, given their duration of stay in the racks, I sometimes wonder how many ever got sold. Believe me, there is somewhat of a difference between L.A. and Eastbourne, Sussex. I did eventually buy "Hot Rats", loving it to this day, but other and earlier Zappa was, shall we say, rather too difficult an appreciation to aquire, so I had to remain with just liking the image and dropping the name.
So, fast forward forty plus years and what do I think? Hmmm, Ok, I suppose. I guess you had to be there....... But I defend my right to upholding this self-deception for much of my life. I dare say I am not alone, especially when I note Beefheart is also in the list mentioned above.
When and if, having been blown away by my enthusiasm, you get to listen to the link, you will discover this a bit different from the one currently available for purchase, the originals having fallen victim to a later re-mix, by Zappa, with some change of musicians, causing uproar within hardcore afficianados. The youtube link is a vinyl rip from the original version.
Should you be looking for any other product by the "Ruben" band, you will probably find another LP, confusingly also by Ruben and the Jets. Just to be awkward, this is a conceptual tribute band, formed to emulate and take forward the success of the brand. Their producer, awkward as ever? Frank Zappa!