follow us in feedly
Holy Freak Out, Batman! Frank Zappa and ‘The Boy Wonder Sessions’
title

image
 
This song, believe it or not, is actually a collaboration between Burt Ward, better known as “Robin” on the 60s Batman TV series, and Frank Zappa. Long circulated on variously titled bootlegs, “The Boy Wonder Sessions” were recorded in 1966 with Mothers of Invention (and Velvet Underground) producer Tom Wilson at the mixing desk. Mothers Jimmy Carl Black, Elliot Ingber and Roy Estrada are present, however Zappa doesn’t actually play on these sessions, although he arranged and wrote most of the material recorded. Note the bit that sounds like Zappa’s later “Duke of Prunes” composition near the end.

From Burt Ward’s autobiography, Boy Wonder, My Life In Tights:

I should have had the wisdom I now have when I signed a recording contract with MGM Records- I wouldn’t have signed it. MGM staffer Tom Scott [I think he means WIlson] was assigned as my producer. He brought in one of the visually wildest groups imaginable as my backup band, the Mothers of Invention. What a sight! Neanderthal. They had incredibly long, scraggly hair, and clothes that appeared not to have been washed in this century if ever. These were musicians who became famous for tearing up furniture, their speakers, their microphones and even their expensive guitars onstage. They were maniacs!

Of all the people in the world to team with this wild and crazy bunch, I can’t believe I was the one. The image of the Boy Wonder is all American and apple pie, while the image of the Mothers of Invention was so revolutionary that they made the Hell’s Angels look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Even I had to laugh seeing a photo of myself with those animals.

Their fearless leader and king of grubbiness was the late Frank Zappa. (The full name of the band was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.) After recording with me, Frank became an internationally recognized cult superstar, which was understandable; after working with me, the only place Frank could go was up.

Although he looked like the others, Frank had an intelligence and education that elevated him beyond brilliance to sheer genius. I spent a considerable amount of time talking with him, and his rough, abrupt exterior concealed an intellectual, creative and sensitive interior.

For my records, the plan was to record four sides and then release two singles prior to producing an album. After listening to me sing, Frank got a wild idea to make use of my hideous voice to do a hilarious recording with a song that had some of the Batman feel to it. He picked “Orange Colored Sky.”

I can’t bear to think of this song. The memories are too embarrassing. Though the intent was to create comedy by putting my lousy singing to good use, the actual result was so disastrous that the studio thought the tape had been left out in the sun and warped. They insisted on re-recording.

But first, MGM took a radical step as an insurance policy that my next session would sound better. They sent me to an expensive vocal coach—and no doubt hoped for divine intervention. Back in 1966 they were shelling out about $1,000 a week for those lessons. That was a lot of money, more than three times what I was bringing home after working twelve hours per day in my monkey suit for an entire week. With the coach raking in that much, even I am surprised that after two weeks of training, the lady politely asked me not to come back. I’m not sure if she felt that having me as a student was damaging to her career or if listening to me sing was destroying her eardrums, or both.

In an attempt at self-preservation, the record company had me just talk on the second two sides I recorded. That I could do very well! The material for the song was a group of fan letters that had been sent to me. Frank and I edited them together to make one letter, which became the lyrics for the recording. Frank wrote a melody and an arrangement, and we titled the song, “Boy Wonder, I Love You!”

Among the lyrics was an invitation for me to come and visit an adoring pubescent fan and stay with her for the entire summer. She wrote, “I will even fix you breakfast in bed. I love you so much that I want you to stay the whole summer with me!” The lyrics ended with “I hope you know that this is a girl writing.”

Lots more information can be found here.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger

 

 

comments powered by Disqus