Cruising With Ruben & The Jets

Frank Zappa / Mothers Of Invention

Rykodisc, 1968

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If anyone has followed the musical career of Frank Zappa for any length of time, they know they should expect the unexpected, much like with Neil Young. Just because Zappa followed a particular trend on one album does not necessarily mean that's what you'd hear on the very next release.

Still, back in 1968, it had to floor some people when, after three albums of pseudo-pop/rock, the Mothers Of Invention came out with a disc entirely devoted to doo-wop music. For this is what you get with Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, albeit tampered with over time. More on that in just a moment.

In a sense, this shouldn't have been a big surprise to many people. After all, Zappa was a big fan of doo-wop music, and (if memory serves me correctly) had been a collector of doo-wop 45s from his teenage days on. The earlier Mothers of Invention albums (except maybe for my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 We're Only In It For The Money) had hints of early rock and doo-wop scattered in the grooves, such as on "Go On And Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder" on Freak Out!. So, maybe a whole disc devoted to doo-wop might have been a bit of overkill, but it couldn't be a total shock.

Indeed, Cruising With Ruben & The Jets does feel like overkill; because Zappa and the Mothers lock themselves into one particular style of music for 40 minutes (unlike other discs which provided a rather interesting mixture of styles to keep the listener on their toes), it's far too easy for one to lose focus on this disc. That's kind of a shame, because even though there's some humor mixed in with these songs, Zappa does respectfully tackle the genre he loved.

The problems with this disc as it is today are twofold. First, one has to wonder why Zappa and the Mothers went back and covered a few songs they had done just two years before. "I'm Not Satisfied," "How Could I Be Such A Fool" and "Anyway The Wind Blows" all were originally on Freak Out!, and I can't say I like the new versions better. In all honesty, I'd have preferred to hear the Mothers actually tackle some doo-wop songs performed by groups who were even in 1968 forgotten about, if only to jar people's memories back into shape.

Second, if you want to hear how this disc should sound, listen only to "Stuff Up The Cracks," or better yet, pay blood money and buy an original pressing of this on vinyl. Ever since 1985, this version of Cruising With Ruben & The Jets has featured bass lines from Scott Thunes and drums from Chad Wackerman - who, needless to say, were not members of the Mothers in 1968. Yes, I know that this was Zappa's property, and he could do whatever he wanted with it, but adding modern drum and bass lines would be like taking a chisel to Michaelangelo's "David".

Be that as it may, there is still a lot of listenable material on this disc. Both "Deseri" and "Jelly Roll Gum Drop" are quite enjoyable, and if you didn't read the credits, you may even swear they were old songs covered by the Mothers. But Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, while somewhat worthwhile, does prove that you can have too much of a good thing.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc, and is used for informational purposes only.