Zappa's Rarest Records - Zappa In New York

The Rarest Frank Zappa Records

Just months after the Viking I Lander touched down on Mars and tiny Nadia Comaneci racked up seven perfect scores at the Montreal Olympics, something else momentous happened: Legendary experimentalist and contrarian Frank Zappa performed for a “cozy group of 27,500 deranged fanatics” between two shows in New York.

After a lot of back and forth over censorship and editing, those pair of shows in late 1976 eventually became Zappa In New York. Whether you’re talking about the original, withdrawn track list or the one officially sanctioned by the label, the two-disc set is considered one of the best live albums by an artist with plenty of live recordings to choose from.

Zappa In New York 40th Anniversary

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Zappa Family Trust painstakingly assembled five-CD and three-LP editions of Zappa In New York, which include extensive liner notes by Ruth Underwood, Ray White, Joe Travers, and Jen Jewel Brown, plus a stash of material from the vault. The 40th anniversary edition also restores the album’s original mix — which hasn’t been available since its first pressing — lovingly remastered by heavyweight Bob Ludwig.

Described by Underwood as “theatrical, outrageous and raucously funny, but also filled with startling and gorgeous music, dating from Frank’s 1960s output to literally the moment the curtain went up,” this set is a must-have for Zappa collectors. In keeping with that theme, we decided to take a look at a few hard-to-find items that serious collectors need on their shelves alongside the Zappa In New York box.

With countless records over the decades — including both official and unofficial bootlegs — this list is hardly comprehensive. But it will give you something to lust after while listening to Punky’s Whips.

If you’re a Zappa and Mothers Of Invention fan, you probably own a copy of the sardonic masterpiece We’re Only In It For The Money. That said, you probably don’t own a first pressing with the originally-intended cover. The Mothers wanted a Sgt. Pepper’s pastiche front and center, since the album was a critique of what Zappa saw as the Beatles’ obsession with commercial success. After label objections were raised, the album artwork was inverted, placing the parody on the inner sleeve. Australia was the lone country to officially slap it on the original pressing. They don’t pop up that often, with only five copies of the stereo version selling on Discogs for as much as $200. The mono version is still waiting for a sale in our marketplace.

If you simply want to own Tell Me You Love Me and Would You go All The Way For The U.S.A. on vinyl, you can find a white-label promo for a relatively reasonable price (around $25). Getting your hands on the stock blue label version from Bizarre Records is a much tougher task. No one is certain how many copies are out in the wild, but some folks speculate that less than 100 exist. The culprit could be a misprinted track title, which forced the single to be withdrawn. The misprint also occurred on a recently-discovered brown Reprise label edition. The last blue label to sell via the Discogs Marketplace fetched $750, but the only copy currently for sale will set you back $2,500.

This unofficial release is hefty, both figuratively and literally. Only 1,000 copies of the 12-LP retrospective box set were pressed in 1981, but only about a third of them were actually released — thanks to a raid and raft of legal issues. But really, 300-plus copies is nothing compared to the silver cover edition. Only 25 were made! With the “normal” version approaching $1,000 these days, the silver edition will run you three to four times that. In other words, you can buy a cheap car or a silver edition of 20 Years Of Frank Zappa. Easy choice, right?

When it comes to just about any record, the test pressing will be the rarest edition. That’s common sense. However, you don’t often get the chance to own one. You do on this occasion, though. After Zappa and Warner Bros. got into a tussle of sorts, he released several fragmented pieces to escape his current record deal. Sleep Dirt was one of those LPs, containing bits and pieces of a scrapped rock opera. It’s far from essential as an album, but come on — having a test pressing would be pretty darn cool.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em! Live Zappa/Mothers bootlegs were as prevalent on the market as anyone this side of the Grateful Dead. Fans bought, sold, and traded them for decades. Finally in 1991, Zappa and Rhino compiled a 10-LP box to compete with the underground market. While also available on CD and cassette, the vinyl edition (limited to just 600) became the go-to for collectors. Be prepared to shell out anywhere from $200 to $400.

This tape has been described as “mega rare” in the past. A generation before they became cool again, Saudi Arabian label IMD focused exclusively on short cassette runs of bootlegged Western music. Unsurprisingly, this release didn’t include the oft-censored Punky’s Whips, to avoid much governmental scrutiny. We’ve never seen a copy come up for sale on Discogs, so you may need to plan a trip to Riyadh if you really need one. Otherwise, there’s still the 40th anniversary box set

This article was produced in partnership with UMe.


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2 Comments
  • May 23,2019 at 06:28

    So ironic! And then speculate on its value to push the envelope even further.

  • May 23,2019 at 04:00

    Funny how you’ll put unofficial releases on a list like this one, and then not allow sales of those releases on Discogs…

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