Frank Zappa's been dead for more than 12 years now, but this isn't an attempt to sympathetically reevaluate the career of the decently deceased - I was already a fan when he was alive. This is actually an attempt to point you, the Zappa Hater, toward the Frank Zappa music you may enjoy. WFMU is crawling with Zappa Haters, and their hostility is largely justifiable. But not entirely.
The Zappa Hater tends to fall into one of several unique categories, so I'll use these categories to the advantage of you the hater. Here's the categories - once you've assigned yourself to one, jump the flip to discover the Frank Zappa music you might like.
THE BEEFHEART PURIST There's long been a theory, indeed once propagated by the Captain himself, that Van Vliet was childlike and pure until he was corrupted by the control-freak Frank, who ruined "Trout Mask Replica". Well... that sort of naivete is charming - and opportunistic and trite. This stance also requires you to write off "Trout Mask Replica" as a shitty record. Impossible.
THE PRIMITIVIST You, like the Beefheart Purist, resent what seems to be an overly academic approach, and I'll split you into 2 subcategories: Rock and Serious Music.
- The Rock Primitivist is annoyed by weird time signatures, too many notes, pointless departures, goofy (but not sublimely so) lyrics, meticulous arrangements, too many bandmembers, slick productions -- in short, anything that gets too head-y. Zappa was hugely guilty of every last one of these transgressions, and in fact nearly every note he recorded after 1972 fits the bill.
- The Serious Music Primitivist does not go for fussiness. 12-tone composition and serialism are very 20th Century, German, and stale. It just sounds like weirdo regular music. You want to explore new sounds, not different notes, or a whole lot of them stacked on top of each other. For you, Zappa tries a bit too hard.
THE JET BLACK HAIR PERSON You actually do like some Frank Zappa music -- all the stuff he recorded in the Lancaster CA desert in 1962, before he grew his hair and started with the freaky deaky music. "How's Your Bird", "World's Greatest Sinner" and other border radio R&B novelties. There's really no reason for you to look further.
THE OFFENSENSITIVE You're not particularly tickled by songs like "Crew Slut", "Jewish American Princess", "Bobby Brown Goes Down", or "Shove It Right In", and who can blame you? Zappa used to defend himself with the claim that all these people he writes about actually do exist, and that he's merely documenting them. Well, you got your people who choose to document such things, and your people who don't. I'm with you on this one. Back there in 1966 and 1967 Zappa brilliantly, even heroically, skewered the hypocrisy of your parents, your grandparents, your enemies, the pigs, the straights, the scammers - oh, and You. And he was right. Go buy "Absolutely Free" and "We're Only In It For The Money", and forget about all that "Thingfish" and "Them Or Us" bullshit.
DOES COMEDY BELONG IN MUSIC? NO. I can't argue with you there.
Sound samples aplenty just under this crease...
A lotta links to the WFMU Realaudio Archives:
What Zappa music might I, The Beefheart Purist, enjoy?
"Willie the Pimp", Hot Rats, 1969 - of course
"The Gumbo Variations", Hot Rats
"Trouble Every Day", Freak Out, 1966
"Alley Cat", The Lost Episodes, 1996
"Directly From My Heart to You", Weasels Ripped My Flesh, 1970 - tragically missing from the WFMU archives, but there's lots of Little Richard versions that you should go check
Myself, I'm a Rock Primitivist. What do you recommend?
- "Magic Fingers", 200 Motels, 1971
- "Tell Me You Love Me", Chunga's Revenge, 1970
- "Transylvania Boogie", Chunga's Revenge
- "Mystery Roach", 200 Motels
- "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right?", Absolutely Free, 1967
- "Didja Get Any Onya?", Weasels Ripped My Flesh, 1970
- "Help I'm a Rock!", Freak Out, 1966
- Lumpy Gravy, 1967 - the entire album
- "The Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny", We're Only In It For the Money, 1967
- "Weasels Ripped My Flesh", Weasels Ripped My Flesh, 1970
Really, both of these albums in their entirety oughtta do the trick.
My own additional personal recommendations:
Absolutely Free, We're Only In It For The Money, Lumpy Gravy (all 1967) and Uncle Meat (1969) are what the kids call Total Fucking Godhead. Genius constructions of collage and schizo conceptuality, albums like "The Faust Tapes" and Red Crayola's "Parable of Arable Land" would be inconceivable without this unholy quartet of LPs.
Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1969) and Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970) just keep on blowing my mind. Both veer from perfectly honest doo-wop ("WPLJ", "Valarie") to free improv and noise ("Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask", "Weasels Ripped My Flesh") to vicious blues ("Directly From My Heart to You", "Little House I Used to Live In") and beyond.
"Wedding Dress Song / Handsome Cabin Boy" - it's Zappa doing sea chanteys.
Here's Zappa spending an hour on the radio with KSAN's Tom Donahue in 1968, as aired on WFMU in a September 2003 edition of the Aircheck program.
King Kong Several months back, one of WFMU's own non-haters Wm. Berger posted this video of the Mothers performing "King Kong" to this very blog; if you'd just like to hear the song, audio here.
200 Motels, the movie, is a trippy yet violent and incredibly weird hippy movie. Here's the trailer.
Frank Zappa, Internet Dynamo (yep, censorship, Crossfire, 1986)
Finally, since some of you still need convincing, some validation for you: here's The Fall covering Zappa. "I'm Not Satisfied"