On The Record: Frank Zappa’s ‘Over-nite Sensation’ Box Set, the Feelies’ Velvet Underground Tribute, & More New Releases

A 50th-Anniversary Edition of Frank Zappa’s Over-nite Sensation

Over-nite Sensation, which first appeared in 1973, ranks among Frank Zappa’s most significant and accessible releases up to that point. The record wasn’t quite what its title suggested, but it did give Zappa his first gold record and one of the biggest chart successes of his entire career. 

On the LP, he delivers sonically rewarding material that has been rather well described as a “heavy metal blend of Louis Jordan and Fats Waller.” Zappa handles all the excellent guitar work and most of the lead vocals and is accompanied by a band that includes only one holdover from the Mothers’ 1960s lineup (multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood) as well as such top-flight players as bassist Tom Fowler and guests like jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and keyboardist George Duke. Though uncredited, Tina Turner and the Ikettes feature prominently and impressively on five of the seven cuts. 

Unfortunately, Over-nite Sensation finds Zappa continuing to deliver the sort of inane lyrics – mostly about sex – that marred some of his earlier releases. Responding to criticism, he claimed that listeners had missed his satire of male stupidity, but most of the lines here seem less satirical than simply puerile. If you can manage to ignore them, though, you’ll find lots of good music on this album, Zappa’s 17th with and without the Mothers of Invention. 

There’s even more to like on a new 50th-anniversary edition of the LP, which joins a flood of other recent Zappa box sets, including Waka/Wazoo and 200 Motels, to name a few. The Over-nite Sensation package serves up a 2012 remaster of the original seven-track LP plus 47 bonus cuts on four CDs, nearly all of which are previously unreleased. 

Among them are alternate edits, outtakes, and memorable 1973 concerts from the Hollywood Palladium and Detroit’s Cobo Hall. In addition to material from Over-nite Sensation, those shows embrace compositions that first appeared on other studio sets, such as “Big Swifty,” from 1972’s Waka/Jawaka, and “Cosmik Debris,” from 1974’s Apostrophe (‘). Also included are a 48-page booklet with liner notes, essays, and photos, and a Blu-ray disc that features several mixes of the 1973 LP, among them Dolby Atmos, Quadrophonic, and 5.1 surround.

Perhaps, after half a century, this “over-nite sensation” will finally find a wider audience.

The Feelies Cover the Velvets

Recent decades have witnessed the release of far more albums related to the Velvet Underground than the band itself issued during its too-brief existence. First came a career-spanning box and vastly expanded editions of each of the Lou Reed–led group’s four studio albums; and in just the past couple of years, we’ve seen the soundtrack from Hal Willner’s film, The Velvet UndergroundI’ll Be Your Mirror, a multi-artist tribute; and Reed’s Words & Music, May 1965. Now there’s another must-hear collection, this one from the Feelies, a quintet that toured with Reed in 1989 and that – like Yo La Tengo, Galaxie 500, and countless other bands – was heavily influenced by his groundbreaking group.

Recorded live in New Jersey in 2018 in conjunction with the opening of a Velvet Underground exhibition in the East Village, the 18-song, 72-minute set is called Some Kinda Love: Performing the Music of the Velvet Underground. It draws on all four of the Velvets’ classic studio LPs and spotlights both its guitar-driven rockers and its sweet folky ballads. 

From the group’s stunning debut come “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” “Sunday Morning,” “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Run Run Run,” and “There She Goes Again.” From White Light/White Heat, the Feelies deliver the title cut and “I Heard Her Call My Name.” The Velvets’ eponymous third LP is the source for “What Goes On,” “After Hours,” and “That’s the Story of My Life,” while Loaded contributes “Sweet Jane,” “Rock & Roll,” “New Age,” “Head Held High,” “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’,” and “Who Loves the Sun.” The remaining two cuts, “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together” and “I Can’t Stand It,” first surfaced on the Velvets’ Live 1969 and Reed’s solo debut, respectively. Surprisingly, the set does not include “Some Kinda Love,” the 1969 track that gives this tribute album its title.

Granted, the Velvets’ original recordings are definitive, but this CD manages to be the next best thing to the impossible: a new live album from the original band. While retaining the spirit of the Velvets, the Feelies don’t hesitate to inject the music with a bit of their own personality – not to mention their high energy. The results are so good that you’re bound to wonder what they could have done with the many great Velvet Underground numbers that this set doesn’t include. How about a sequel, folks?

Also Noteworthy

The BlipsAgain. Positioned somewhere between power pop and punk, between the Flamin’ Groovies and the Ramones, the Blips use their 27-minute sophomore release to barrel their way through nine original up-tempo numbers. The Birmingham, Alabama–based quintet includes four lead singers, but vocals often take a back seat to driving rhythms and ringing guitars. Granted, some of the Blips’ songs sound a bit interchangeable, but they all sound good. There’s no denying the high spirits here, or the preponderance of addictive hooks.

The Grip WeedsUnder the Influence of ChristmasUnder the Influence of Christmas is not your father’s holiday album. First issued in 2011, this set from New Jersey’s Grip Weeds includes only two traditional seasonal favorites – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The group devotes the rest of the record to power-pop renditions of more contemporary material, such as Jethro Tull’s “A Christmas Song,” Greg Lake and Peter Sinfield’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” and Chrissie Hynde’s great “2000 Miles.” The late Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens sings on that Pretenders track, which also features Smithereens guitarist Jim Babjak. Other guests on the CD include Mark Lindsay, lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders, on “Santa Make Me Good,” and the Left Banke’s George Cameron on “For the Holidays,” both of which were penned by the Grip Weeds’ Kurt Weil and Kristin Pinelli. The release includes a code to download three bonus tracks.

Meinild/Anderskov/TomSpectral Entanglements. This is the debut release from three longtime figures on the European jazz scene who first performed together in Copenhagen: Sven Dam Meinild, who plays alto saxophone, flute, and clarinet; Jacob Anderskov, who contributes piano and prepared piano; and drummer Kasper Tom. Recorded last year, the set introduces five avant-garde compositions, each of which is credited to all three players, because everything was improvised by the trio. The music, which somewhat recalls that of Oregon, is ever-changing. Sometimes, you hear only one instrument and silence plays a role; other times, the three musicians work together to build layers of sound until the music reaches a crescendo. It’s a challenging set but an engrossing and rewarding one as well.

Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains five decades’ worth of music reviews, interviews, and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and EncountersLennon on Lennon: Conversations with John LennonLeonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.