Frank Zappa – Cruising With Ruben & The Jets

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  • An excellent copy with both sides rating a solid Double Plus (A++) or better
  • Both sides here are killing it — big, full and solid with a big bottom end and tons of energy 
  • It’s a classic of twisted Doo-Wop that belongs in your collection. At least we think you should give it a chance anyway; hearing it sound this good might just make a believer out of you
  • The new CD – with its modernized sound and wrong-headed re-recorded rhythm tracks – is a bad joke next to the top early pressings

Is the thought bubble on the cover the real story behind the album?

Is this the Mothers of Invention recording under a different name in a last ditch attempt to get their cruddy music on the radio?

This was one of the best copies we heard in our most recent shootout, our first since 2013! At this rate you should expect the next top copies to show up on the site sometime in 2021, a thought that should give everyone (including us) pause to say the least.

Be that as it may, we have an amazing copy of greasy love songs & cretin simplicity to offer to audiophiles and music lovers alike from all corners of the world. We absolutely LOVE this album here at Better Records, or at least that portion of Better Records that remembers it from high school still loves it (which would narrow it down to a subset of just me I guess, but who’s counting?). Anyway, it’s a classic of twisted Doo-Wop that belongs in your collection. At least we think you should give it a chance anyway; hearing it sound this good might just make a believer out of you.

Tubey Magic Is Key

Many copies are just too thin and edgy to be as fun and enjoyable as we have every right to expect from this kind of purposely un-hip, un-cool, goofy retro-pop. We were gratified to find that the top finishers had a healthy dose of the Tubey Magical richness found on the best analog recordings from the latter half of the ’60s (1968 in this case). This is a very good recording indeed, judged, as is only fair, solely by the best of the pressings we’ve heard. In other words, the bad pressings sound like crap, but that’s no reflection on the quality of the master tape.

As with most Zappa records, an extended top end is devilishly hard to come by. That said, on of a primarily vocal album such as this the midrange is where the music lives or dies. The copies that were rich and full-bodied, with natural vocal reproduction, tended to score the highest grades in our shootout.

Copies that failed to convey the energy and exuberance of the singers and musicians — their love of this music that time had forgotten even by 1968 — as you may well imagine scored relatively poorly. This music is supposed to be fun, and really not a whole lot else, so the copies that aren’t fun scored sub-Hot Stamper grades. (Lifelessness is of course our main beef with Heavy Vinyl these days. When we play one of these new thick LPs the sound is often so blase that I feel that the longer it plays, the more the air is being sucked out of the room.)

The Remixed CD

The album was reissued on CD in 1985, and almost all of the rhythm tracks were re-recorded at that time. Since all of the reissues that followed have contained the new versions of the material, early pressings of this album, such as this one, are the only way to hear this album the way it was originally recorded.

I made the mistake of buying the new CD and was appalled — yes, that’s the right word for it — by both the modernized sound and the wrong-headed re-recording of the rhythm tracks. The only way to hear this music properly is on the early Blue Label Verve LP.

The Story of Ruben and the Jets

The Reviews and Background tab above has some wonderful background information on the making of this Classic from the preternaturally fertile mind of Frank Zappa. The tab next to it has an extended bio on the man himself as well. His autobiography is an entertaining read for those who are interested in the man and his music.

This is an album of greasy love songs & cretin simplicity. We made it because we really like this kind of music (just a bunch of old men with rock & roll clothes sitting around the studio, mumbling about the good old days). Ten years from now you’ll be sitting around with your friends someplace doing the same thing if there’s anything left to sit on.

From the Liner Notes 

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Cheap Thrills 
Love of My Life 
How Could I Be Such a Fool? 
Deseri 
I’m Not Satisfied 
Jelly Roll Gum Drop 
Anything

Side Two

Later That Night 
You Didn’t Try to Call Me
Fountain of Love 
No. No. No. 
Any Way the Wind Blows 
Stuff Up the Cracks

AMG Review

Frank Zappa loved ’50s doo wop music. He grew up with it, collected it, and it was the first kind of pop music he wrote (like “Memories of El Monte,” recorded by the Penguins in 1962). Cruising With Ruben & the Jets, the Mothers of Invention’s fourth LP, is a collection of such music, all Zappa originals (some co-written with MOI singer Ray Collins). To the unexperienced, songs like “Cheap Thrills,” “Deseri,” and “Jelly Roll Gum Drop” can sound like an average doo wop song. A closer look reveals unusual chord sequences, Stravinsky quotes, and hilariously moronic lyrics — all that wrapped in four-way harmony vocals and linear piano triplets.

Wikipedia on Ruben and the Jets

Cruising with Ruben & the Jets is the fourth studio album by the Mothers of Invention. Released on December 2, 1968 on Bizarre and Verve Records with distribution by MGM Records, it was subsequently remixed by Frank Zappa and reissued independently.

As with the band’s previous three albums, it is a concept album, influenced by 1950s doo wop and rock and roll. The album’s concept deals with a fictitious doo wop band called Ruben & the Jets, represented by the cover illustration by Cal Schenkel, which depicts the Mothers of Invention as anthropomorphic dogs. It was conceived as part of a project called No Commercial Potential, which produced three other albums: Lumpy Gravy, We’re Only in It for the Money and Uncle Meat.

Background

During a previous recording session engineer Richard Kunc and the Mothers of Invention discussed their high school days and doo wop songs. Ray Collins and some of the other members of the band started singing and performing the songs, and Zappa suggested, that they record an album of doo wop music. Collins later left the Mothers of Invention, and Zappa began working on a project entitled No Commercial Potential, which included sessions that produced Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, as well as We’re Only in It for the Money, a revised version of Lumpy Gravy, and Uncle Meat.

After The Mothers of Invention’s contract with MGM and Verve Records expired, Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen negotiated to form a semi-independent record label Bizarre Records, with Verve releasing three Bizarre releases with distribution by MGM: a new Mothers of Invention album, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, the compilation Mothermania, and an album by Sandy Hurvitz, Sandy’s Album is Here at Last.

Zappa stated regarding the releases Lumpy Gravy, We’re Only in It for the Money, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets and Uncle Meat, “It’s all one album. All the material in the albums is organically related and if I had all the master tapes and I could take a razor blade and cut them apart and put it together again in a different order it still would make one piece of music you can listen to. Then I could take that razor blade and cut it apart and reassemble it a different way, and it still would make sense. I could do this twenty ways. The material is definitely related.”

Ray Collins rejoined the Mothers of Invention for the recording of the album, as his high falsetto was suited for the recordings. According to Collins, “I brought the ‘style of being raised in Pomona, California, being raised on the Four Aces, the Four Freshmen, Frankie Lane, Frank Sinatra and Jesse Baldwin. The early influences of R&B came into the Southern California area when I was probably in the tenth grade in high school. And I remember Peter Potter’s show, and I think I recall the first R&B tune on there was ‘Oop-Shoop’. Frank actually had more influences from the ‘real blues’, you know, like Muddy Waters, those kind of people. But I wasn’t into that in my early life. I was more of the pop culture, pop radio things, and it’s always been more of a favourite of mine than the early blues stuff – even though I love John Lee Hooker and all those people.”

According to Bunk Gardner, “Cruising with Ruben & the Jets was an easy album to record. We were recording it at the same time as Uncle Meat because the songs were easy and very simple and didn’t require a lot of time for arrangements and technical overdubbing. It was the beginning of the end for Ray Collins because all the new material Frank was writing was a little too far out and away from Ray’s roots – which was Ruben-era material. Motorhead too was in his glory during the recording of this album. He loved Ruben and that was really his kind of music to get nostalgic over – on stage and doing the dance steps and playing that music […] I really enjoyed playing a solo on Ray’s tune ‘Anything’. I remember Frank, Ray and Roy standing in the control booth while I recorded my solo. Frank was telling me after the first take to keep it simple. So I nailed it on the second take and everyone was happy!”

Concept

Within the concept of the album, Ruben Sano was the leader of the fictitious band “the Jets”. The back cover depicted Ruben with an early high school photograph of Zappa. According to artist Cal Schenkel, “I started working on the story of Ruben and the Jets that is connected with the Uncle Meat story, which is this old guy turns this teenage band into these dog snout people […] We started that before it actually became Ruben and the Jets. That came out of my love for comics and that style, the anthropomorphic animals, but also it was part of a running story line.”

Zappa stated regarding the album’s lyrics, “I detest ‘love lyrics’.” He intentionally wrote lyrics he described as “sub-Mongoloid” to satirize the genre. The music of Cruising with Ruben & the Jets was the most straightforward genre work the Mothers of Invention had performed yet, attempting to faithfully reproduce the sound of 1950s doo wop and rock and roll. However, the arrangements included quotes from Igor Stravinsky pieces and unusual chord changes and tempos.