A song about a dream of being a baby Eskimo, this is one of the canonical Zappa tunes familiar to the mainstream. It's album, Apostrophe ('), was the first Zappa album to achieve mainstream commercial success, becoming certified gold in 1976. "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" was also the first Zappa single to make the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #86.
When we talk about it here, keep in mind that we're also including the subsequent songs "Nanook Rubs It" and "St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast" on the same album, all three of which combine to tell the complete story.
Zappa names himself "Nanook" in the main character of the Eskimo. "Nanook" actually comes from Inuit legend, being the master of the polar bears. In a 1922 silent film Nanook of the North, the character was introduced to worldwide audiences as a mere mortal Eskimo struggling to eke out an existence in Quebec, Canada, for himself and his family. Just about every stereotype of Eskimos, from the igloos to the sleigh dogs to rubbing their noses to say "hello," came from this film.
Zappa mentions retaliating against a fur-trapper in vengeance of the trapper's abuse of his "favorite baby seal." Baby seals were the celebrity cause du jur in the mid-1970s, along with the plight of whales and the slaughter of animals for their fur in general. After a few years of this, PETA launched in 1980 to protest animal exploitation. So this is yet another bit of social satire on Zappa's part.
This song gets a re-arrangement and extension on the album You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1, teamed up with "Nanook Rubs It" and "St. Alphonzo's Pancake Breakfast" live at the Hammersmith Apollo, London, in 1979.
One more bit of lyrical cleverness, in "Nanook Rubs It" Zappa refers to the "vigorous circular motion" with which he rubs yellow snow into the fur-trapper's eyes as "destined to take the place of the mud shark in your mythology." The "mud shark" is a reference to a bit of urban lore (somewhat true, although frequently exaggerated) about Led Zeppelin band members fooling around in a motel room with a groupie and a fish. We're so tired of talking about it already that we'll just let Snopes
handle this one. Zappa had a song about the mud shark at the Fillmore East in 1971.
In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Zappa's only mention of "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" is to say that songs like this one helped to pay for his more expensive hobby of composing and performing orchestra pieces - eventually released as London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. I & London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. II.
In the same book, Zappa reveals that during the time of recording Apostrophe ('), his newborn son Ahmet was in the hospital intensive care unit, having been born prematurely. He was born with a collapsed lung. Zappa mentions, "I would work all night in the studio and end my shift with a visit to the hospital. I could talk to him and cheer him up, stick my hand in the incubator and hold his finger and say 'Come on and get it.'" Ahmet pulled through, and has a thriving celebrity career today.