Sometimes Frank Zappa is the first one to do something, and of course, sometimes he's the only. Zappa, whose historic works are available primarily on compact disc through Rykodisc, has become one of the first rock musicians to issue a three-inch CD single, "Peaches en Regalia," consisting of three older tunes with a total running time of 13 minutes. Previous CD singles have come in the standard five-inch configuration. Folks who remember the early days of rock 'n' roll and the importance of the plastic adapter for singles will be amused at just how far the miniaturization process has taken us: The three-inch CD also has an adapter so that it can be played in conventional CD players, only this time the disc goes inside the adapter. Delos has previously issued two dozen three-inch classical CDs; Sony and Philips have announced that they'll soon be producing units capable of playing three-inchers without that special adapter.
Zappa, most visible recently as a crusader against what he views as rock censorship fostered by groups such as the Parents Music Resource Center, will come to town for three concerts at the Warner Theatre, Feb. 8-10. This will be his first tour in three years and he'll be working with an 11-piece band that includes guitarist Ike Willis and a five-piece horn section led by ex-Washingtonian Kurt McGettrick on saxes and clarinet. Zappa, who will play guitar and, for the first time in concert, the Synclavier, will offer a completely different concert each night and is promising to unveil obscure titles such as "Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" and Barto'k's Piano Concerto No. 3, which may or may not segue into Zappa's interpretation of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."
The CD Crush
A recent Billboard story reported that due to the proliferation of American plants, compact disc manufacturing has finally exceeded demand -- capacity for 1988 is 250 million units while projected sales are 150 million. But while stateside production has virtually eliminated the need to import CDs, dropping costs significantly, such savings have yet to be passed on to consumers. Many of the labels that have invested heavily in CD plants seem intent on getting back their start-up costs immediately, in essence settling for high short-term profits at the expense of long-term potential. CD sales, which generate a significantly higher profit per unit than vinyl or cassette, have certainly helped the record industry toward what looks to be a record year, despite a lower total unit figure.
The problem, according to Billboard, seems to be at the manufacturers' end, because retailers have for the most part priced CDs as low as they can while still retaining a reasonable profit margin. But consumers -- who have seen hardware costs drop to the point where good CD players are available for as little as $100 -- find it hard to understand why software costs remain so high. Resistance is already noticeable in suddenly flat hardware sales: The Electronic Industries Association recently lowered its estimate for 1987 sales from 4 million units to 2.9 million units. Such facts may force the labels' hand early in 1988. Look for CD prices to drop significantly by midyear.
Son of Beatlemania
It seems only fitting that "Elvis, an American Musical" will premiere next July at the Las Vegas Hilton before embarking on a national tour. Presley played exclusively at the Hilton's 1,600-seat showroom between 1969 and his death in 1977: 16 times, 47 weeks, 700 performances, and there was never an empty seat, according to a Hilton spokesman. With several performers in the title role, "Elvis" will deal with Presley at different stages in his career and will use two large screens, three 35-mm projectors and more than an hour of movie and television clips. The show was written and will be designed by Robert Rabinowitz, who was the multimedia designer for "Beatlemania," and will be choreographed by Patricia Birch, who did both the stage and film versions of "Grease." The musical director will be producer Phil Ramone.
Meanwhile, RCA's extensive explorations of the Presley catalogue continue in January with the release of "Essential Elvis -- Tne First Movies," a 23-song, digitally remastered and mono-restored collection of music from the singer's first three films, "Love Me Tender," "Loving You" and "Jailhouse Rock." Included are newly discovered and previously unreleased versions of several songs such as "Loving You" (four versions) and "Party" (two) and "Mean Woman Blues." As part of its Essential Elvis series for 1988, RCA will also release digital versions of "Blue Hawaii," "G.I. Blues," "King Creole" and "Loving You," as well as digital versions of his best concert performances, including "Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii," "Elvis at Madison Square Garden" and "Elvis -- That's the Way It Is."