Punky’s Whipped – Puncturing The Hilarious Pomposity Of Angel

The return of Angel reminds us again of the biting Frank Zappa satire of the 1970s.

We get a lot of press releases here at The Reprobate that hail the return of some band of yesteryear as though it was the Second Coming, despite said band having been distinctly second division (at best) even during their heyday. I’ve no idea why we are targeted with so much of this but most of it heads straight to the bin. Now and again though, something catches our attention, though usually not for the reasons that were intended. So it was this week when we received notice of the new album from Angel, which the PR assures us is “brilliant, melodic and supremely powerful”.

You might not remember Angel, even if you are old enough to. The band was once hyped to be the Next Big Thing after being discovered by Gene Simmons and signed to Casablanca. The band was posited as the mirror image of Kiss – they dressed all in white as opposed to Kiss’ black stage outfits and had an androgynous image. The band were also the opposite of Kiss in that they were generally unsuccessful and gave it all up after five albums, falling apart in a series of line-up changes. I once bought one of their albums, found in the bargain bins at the Manchester Virgin Megastore: it was terrible.

In fact, Angel’s main claim to fame is probably the Frank Zappa song Punky’s Whips, a luridly salacious tale of how Zappa’s drummer Terry Bozzio had fallen madly in lust with a photo of Angel guitarist Punky Meadows. Like many a Zappa song, it took the real-life moments of his band members’ lives that he had become privy to and turned them into exaggerated satire that said band members were then made to perform. In Punky’s Whips, Zappa explains that in the photo in question, “Punky was seen with a beautiful shiny hairdo in a semi-profile which emphasized the pooched-out succulence of his insolent pouting rictus, the sight of which drove the helpless young drummer mad with desire!”

The track continues in much the same vein, including the claim that Punky has “more fluid than Jeff Beck” and is the sort of thing that would puncture the credibility of many a band, particularly an up-and-coming rock act that seemed to take itself very seriously. Angel had just two albums out when the song was recorded in 1976. Apparently, Punky Meadows gave his approval for the song to be released, which explains why he never took legal action – but he was probably in a difficult situation. Had he tried to prevent the song’s release, it would not only expose him as humourless (and maybe homophobic – after all, people would say, would he object to the song if the person in love with him was a woman?) but by allowing the release it made him the butt of a joke. If Zappa’s aim was to puncture the pomposity of bands like Angel – and let’s be fair, he could’ve chosen any number of swaggering acts who were around at the time – then we can say mission accomplished.

Punky stuck with Angel until their break-up and has been back with the band since 2018 when he and fellow original member Frank DiMino joined the last incarnation of the band – assorted versions had staggered on and off between the 1980s and 2000s. This new line-up has returned to the recording studio, their 2019 album Risen being the first since 1999’s In the Beginning – and that was the first since 1979’s Sinful. By this schedule, we shouldn’t be expecting another Angel album until 2039 so Once Upon a Time has appeared somewhat ahead of schedule.

I haven’t listened to an Angel album since the one I picked up on the cheap in the early 1980s – and I only played that once before consigning it to the unwanted pile, so I can’t make a direct comparison. But Once Upon a Time is dismal stuff, desperately ‘epic’ (so lots of soaring everything) and very, very dull despite its best efforts to seem important. It’s all very theatrical and symphonic, and if you like that sort of thing, you’ll possibly like this. But I can’t help but feel that there is no need for this now, just as there was no need for it in the 1970s. Where’s Zappa when you need him?


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  1. Punky comes across as a good sport who could take a joke. For argument’s sake, only, because it’s vanishingly unimportant, one could argue that Zappa is the homophobe, for finding male-on-male arousal worthy of public ridicule. Perhaps he doth protest too much? His defensive ‘Captain Tom’ belittling of Bowie at the Grammys could be read as envious distancing of the pretty man, or exasion of unwanted homo-arousal. The flip of the ’60s libertine freedom crusade: that which is not forbidden is compulsory??? Discuss. LA rock certainly had plenty of homo-sceptics tho’. They didn’t trust em at Edgewood Armoury I guess, thought they were Reds or devos. And Frank was the straightest ‘weirdo’ ever. Maybe he was Tom Selleck in a wig and false nose all along. Did you ever see em together? Of course, I’m sure he is Godzilla to Angel’s Bambi creatively and otherwise … which makes events seem more like bullying than ever! Mind you, such fare was all in good fun in those days – made men out of us, regardless of sexual preference, or genital configuration. A (too late) zinger: ‘Big nose’s music is for people too dumb for jazz or classical and too snobby for rock’. Never heard em, but I’ll bet I’d find a few tracks in Angel’s catalogue I really dig – I’m that kind of sicko …

    1. Zappa’s gay mockery is definitely worthy of investigation – not just here but in other tracks like Bobby Brown. I suppose we can say that the songs are ‘of their time’ – which is my go-to comment about people doing things in the past that we might raise eyebrows at now.

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