Released in October 1971, Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels” was a miraculous feat, a cinematic collision of the venerated musician and composer’s kaleidoscopic musical and visual worlds that brought together Zappa and his band, The Mothers, Ringo Starr as Zappa – as “a large dwarf” – Keith Moon as a perverted nun, Pamela Des Barres in her acting debut, noted thespian Theodore Bikel, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and an incredible assortment of characters (both on screen and off) for a “surrealistic documentary” about the bizarre life of a touring musician. A heady, psychedelic stew of low and high brow art forms, the film, written by Zappa and co-directed by him and Tony Palmer, mixed together irreverent comedic skits, madcap satire, eye-popping animation and virtuosic on-screen musical performances from both The Mothers and the RPO for a fascinating and free-wheeling multimedia extravaganza. Shot in just 10 days with a budget of around $650,000 from distributor United Artists, “200 Motels” was one of the first movies to be filmed entirely on videotape and Zappa and crew pushed the envelope of the burgeoning new medium’s possibilities, mostly notably through its use of spectacular – and at the time – state-of-the-art visual effects. Described by Zappa as “at once a reportage of real events and an extrapolation of them… other elements include ‘conceptual by-products’ of the extrapolated ‘real event’ … In some ways the contents of the film are autobiographical,” “200 Motels” was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as a “a stunning achievement” with “just the right touch of insanity,” and the “Zaniest piece of filmusical fantasy-comedy since The Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’” by Daily Variety.
The music, and its corresponding soundtrack, was equally diverse, a wild pastiche of avant garde rock and orchestral compositions interspersed with dialog from the film. Up until that time, compositions like the finale piece, “Strictly Genteel,” were some of the most ambitious material ever written and recorded by Zappa. The band in the film and on the soundtrack consisted of Frank Zappa (guitar & bass), Mark Volman (vocals & special material), Howard Kaylan (vocals & special material), Ian Underwood (keyboards & winds), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), George Duke (keyboards & trombone), Martin Lickert (bass), Jimmy Carl Black (vocals), and Ruth Underwood (orchestra drum set), not to mention the aforementioned Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In true Zappa fashion as he wrote in the album’s original liner notes, “This music is not in the same order as in the movie. Some of this music is in the movie. Some of this music is not in the movie. Some of the music that’s in the movie is not in the album. Some of the music that was written for the movie is not in the movie or the album. All of this music was written for the movie, over a period of 4 years. Most of it (60%) was written in motels while touring.”
In celebration of “200 Motels” golden anniversary, Zappa Records, UMe and MGM have assembled a definitive Super Deluxe six-disc box set of the beloved, yet hard to find, soundtrack for release on November 19. Fully authorized by the Zappa Trust and produced by Ahmet Zappa and Zappa Vaultmeister Joe Travers, the monstrous 200 Motels 50th Anniversary Edition brings together the original soundtrack, newly remastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, along with a staggering amount of unreleased and rare material unearthed from FZ’s Vault, including original demos, studio outtakes, work mixes, interviews and movie ads, along with newly discovered dialog reels, revealing an early audio edit of the film. Also included is a wealth of never-before-heard audio documentary material surrounding the project.
Discs 1 and 2 feature the remastered soundtrack with the second half of the second disc consisting of demos and demo outtakes; two of the many highlights from these sessions include unreleased alt mixes and alt takes of the Chunga’s Revenge tunes, “Road Ladies” and “Tell Me You Love Me.” Discs 3 and 4 contain the “Dialog Protection Reels,” which reveal an early version of the movie, while Disc 5 and 6 present unreleased outtakes, alternates and historical nuggets sequenced in the order of the original shooting script, the way Zappa originally envisioned before he ran into time and budget constraints. These illuminating discs reveal Zappa’s original intent for the film for the first time.
The six-disc set will be housed in a 64-page hardcover book in a handsome 12” x 12” slipcase. The packaging replicates the original booklet updated with revealing new liner notes from Pamela Des Barres, Ruth Underwood and Joe Travers, as well as Patrick Pending’s essay from the 1997 reissue, and is chock full of motion picture artwork, stills and images, from the film and its making, many which have never been seen before. This must-have collector’s release will also include a custom “200 Motels” keychain and Do-No-Disturb motel door hanger and a full-size replica of the original movie poster. Years in the making, all the audio was meticulously identified and transferred over several years as Travers dug through the Vault to create a new high resolution 96K/24B digital patchwork stereo master from the original analog tapes. The Vault material was mastered by John Polito in 2021.
The remastered 200 Motels soundtrack will also be reissued on vinyl as a 2LP pressed on 180-gram black vinyl and also as a limited edition red vinyl pressing on 180-gram vinyl. This is the first time the album has been available on vinyl in decades. The soundtrack will also be released on 2CD and all formats will include a smaller version of the movie poster. Additionally, the entire Super Deluxe Edition box set will be available digitally for streaming and download, marking the soundtrack’s digital debut, in both standard and hi-res audio. Pre-order for all configurations is available now.
Available today is the first taste of the 50th Anniversary Edition with the track “Mystery Roach” (Dialog Protection Reel) taken from Disc 3, which houses the “Dialog Protection Reels.” Found in the Vault, these work in progress tracks reveal an early version of the movie. The music mixes are in mono and were created before Zappa went into Whitney Studios for over-dubbing and sweetening.