Camarillo Brillo

In 1973, Frank Zappa released a new record album, called ‘Over-nite Sensation’. I bought this some time later, and as it was the early 1970’s, in vinyl of course, with the benefit of an amazing fold-out cover, done in a surreal art style. I had been a fan of Zappa for a while, attracted by his mixture of lyrics that were almost like pop poetry, married to a fantastic musical style, incorporating rock guitar, jazz, and massive orchestral crescendos. To me, he seemed to personify the best of rebellious America. His lyrics were amusing, often hilarious. They contained references to bodily functions, sexual deviancy, drug use, and hippy lifestyle. Many were also critical of the music industry, and the comfortable middle classes of American society.

Despite all this, his musical talent was undeniable, and the productions still sound relevant today, forty years after release. Although he played most of the instruments himself, Zappa surrounded himself with some of the best musicians and backing singers around at the time, as well as the original members of his band, The Mothers of Invention. No two songs sounded the same, or were constructed in the same way. His use of brass is simply wonderful, and the jangling guitar sound, familiar to his fans, is the only constant, in a career that saw him release more than sixty albums. He sadly died in 1993, so we will hear no more from him.

When I got home with my copy of that album, I played it immediately, and soon realised that every song was a gem, and that the album would become a classic recording. The track listing alone draws you in. You see the titles, and cannot wait to hear the song that contains them. Here is that listing.

Camarillo Brillo

I’m the slime

Dirty Love

Fifty-Fifty

Zomby Woof

Dinah-Moe Humm

Montana

On backing vocals, were no less than Tina Turner and the Ikettes, with the brilliant Jean-Luc Ponty on violin. As you can see, Camarillo Brillo is the first track, and the one that has stayed in my mind the longest, though I am able to recall them all, with ease. It is only four minutes long, and feels like a single, not an overblown track, of the style that was so popular then. In fact, the whole album is only thirty-five minutes long, and leaves you wanting more. The lyrics of the song are a complete joy, and worth adding to this post, to give a feel of the Zappa style; so here they are.

She had that
Camarillo brillo
Flamin out along her head,
I mean her mendocino bean-o
By where some bugs had made it red

She ruled the toads
Of the short forest
And every newt in idaho
And every cricket who had chorused
By the bush in buffalo

She said she was
A magic mama
And she could throw a mean tarot
And carried on without a comma
That she was someone I should know

She had a snake for a pet
And an amulet
And she was breeding a dwarf
But she wasn’t done yet
She had gray-green skin
A doll with a pin
I told her she was awright
But I couldnt come in
(I couldnt come in right then…)

And so she wandered
Trough the door-way
Just like a shadow from the tomb
She said her stereo was four-way
An I’d just love it in her room

Well, I was born
To have adventure
So I just followed up the steps
Right past her fuming incense stencher
To where she hung her castanets

She stripped away
Her ranchid poncho
An laid out naked by the door
We did it till we were un-concho
An it was useless any more

She had a snake for a pet
And an amulet
And she was breeding a dwarf
But she wasn’t done yet
She had gray-green skin
A doll with a pin
I told her she was awright
But I couldnt come in
(actually, I was very busy then)

And so she wandered
Trough the door-way
Just like a shadow from the tomb
She said her stereo was four-way
An I’d just love it in her room

Well, I was born
To have adventure
So I just followed up the steps
Right past her fuming incense stencher
To where she hung her castanets

She said she was
A magic mama
And she could throw a mean tarot
And carried on without a comma
That she was someone I should know

(is that a real poncho…i mean
Is that a mexican poncho
Or is that a sears poncho?
Hmmm…no foolin …)

As you can see, he makes no apology for using words to just blatantly rhyme, yet it still works perfectly. The ‘asides’ to the listener, and the unheard replies to questions asked, are all minor touches of brilliance, and make this song what it is. There is not a week that goes by, when I do not notice myself hearing touches of this song in my head, bits of the lyric, or the guitar riff. There are other, equally great songs on this album, and I really hope that you might want to listen to it.

In the meantime, here is a link to a version of this song. This is not a live performance, rather a scratchy vinyl version, heard as I heard it, forty years ago.

15 thoughts on “Camarillo Brillo

  1. My Lawyers (Messrs Suw Grabbit & Runn) will be in contact as you are clearly responsible for me having this track trapped in my head for the last week – She had a asnake for a et and an amulet do do do do ….

    Like

  2. “Right past her fuming incense stencher” and “We did it till we were un-concho” are my two favorite lines. Although the rhyme scheme is a bit loose, the words are very inventive and entertaining. I think today’s lyricists have lost sight of good writing, which, in my opinion, should adhere (either completely or sufficiently) to structure and rhyme. I enjoyed the recording and already want to listen to it again! Frank Zappa is one of those names I’ve always heard bandied around, but, to be honest, I’ve never checked him out. Now I’m intrigued! So thanks for the intro, mate!

    Like

    1. I think you would enjoy exploring more of this album. You might look out for Over-nite Sensation, and Apostrophe. In the UK, they are available on a joint CD, at a reasonable price, so I am sure that this will also be the case over there. Most of the lyrics, and some of the rhyming concoctions, are really priceless. As a taster, here is a cheeky song that might appeal;

      Regards as always, Pete.

      Like

  3. You have reminded me that OH and I must go through our vinyl collection which is still in boxes since our move up here (some inherited from my ex) and catalogue it as there is a chap here who buys them. I know there is a Zappa in there, but not which one, or what other gems may be lurking. I will have a listen to this tomorrow, bit late now 😉
    J xx

    Like

All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.