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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Frank Zappa - "Peaches En Regalia" Song Analysis

Reader Steve Laufer requested a song analysis from Frank Zappa, and since he didn't ask for anything specific, here's my favorite - "Peaches En Regalia" from Zappa's second solo album called Hot Rats. The album was released in 1969 and was not only one of the first recorded using a 16 track tape machine, but one of the first to utilize stereo drums as well.

As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and the performances.

The Song
How do you describe Frank Zappa's music? It's always been hard to categorize because Frank lived in so many musical worlds. In fact "Peaches En Regalia" has a lot more jazz and classical traits than it does rock, and here's why. The song form is anything but pop or rock-like in that the sections don't keep to the normal 4 or 8 bars. In fact, there's a lot of sections, most that never repeat in the song. Here's how the form looks:

Chorus, A section (8 bars), B section (10 bars), C section (8 bars), D section (9 bars), E section (13 bars), Chorus, A section over and over through fade

The fact that you hear the chorus (or what I'm choosing to call the chorus) twice and the A section repeats makes it seem like a familiar form, but it's far from it. Add to that the odd number of bars in some of the sections and you have a song that's quite unusual.

The Arrangement
Here's another place where there's more similarities for jazz and classical than anything else. First is the melody line doubling. You hear piano and double-speed guitar, flute and guitar, sax and baritone guitar, synth and guitar, and more combinations in one song than you might hear in an entire pop album. The instrumentation not only constantly varies, but also their arrangement roles as well, which keeps the song not only interesting, but continually interesting upon repeated listening.

Here are the arrangement elements:

  * The Foundation - The pulse of the song comes from the drums, mostly the snare.

  * The Pad - There's an organ  played mostly in the lower registers that glues everything together.

  * The Rhythm - The bass is very active and pushes the motion of the song.

  * The Lead - As described above, it's various combinations of doubled instruments, sometimes played in octaves.

  * The Fills - Again, various instruments from grand piano to saxes, especially in the outro of the song.

This type of arrangement is a trademark of Zappa's and well worth studying for any producer or arranger today.

The Sound
At the time this album was lauded for its high quality sound, which is mostly true except for a couple of things. The drums are very boxy and small sounding, almost like they were either listening too loud or really over-Eqing. They're also very low in the mix, with the kick being masked completely in sections.

The bass also seems like it was over-EQed on the bottom end, which was way common at the time when everyone was still learning what worked and what didn't. The horns, guitars, and piano all sound great though.

Surprisingly, everything is dry as a bone, with no reverb or effects added, which is contrary to most releases of the time period.

The Performance
Here's another place where the song is very jazz-like. The performances are a little on the loose side. The horns sound very much like a traditional jazz record, where they play the head of the song or read a chart without much rehearsal. It's not bad, but nothing like the performances of latter Zappa releases. I especially love Shuggie Otis's bass and Ian Underwood's piano playing in the song, but the real star of Frank's arrangement skill. Boy, is he missed.

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Ben Sommer said...

yes!!! So thrilled to find another music geek doing detailed tech analysis!

Here's my own little story about
peaches en regalia

ehowders said...

Can you do a review on Shuggie Otis' "Speacial?" I've been obsessed with him since I found out he played bass on Peaches...


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