until my boyfriend introduced me to frank zappa’s music i’d had an impression of it being an impenetrable catalogue of kookiness. i love kookiness, but the rabid fans and wide ranging styles of music that zappa produced seemed overwhelming. all it took was one song to coax me in: peaches en regalia. it sounded to me like a sweeping orchestral piece played on cartoon instruments in the discotheque of another dimension. i was intrigued and my preconceptions melted away as i fell more in love with the range and depth of a collection of music like no other. i’m really loving working while listening to zappa lately. if you don’t know much of his work, he is so much more than his most commercial song ‘valley girl‘ (though like so much of its stuff is hilarious but bitingly satirical) or some two-bit novelty-song writer, or whacked out hippy. sure he kinda looked like a hippy, but no drugs fueled his creativity. there is something about his pure musical genius that really taps into my subconscious and tickles my creative bone (tee hee.. i said bone! but its ok because sometimes i listen to jazz, so i can make ‘bone’ jokes.) so if you think you might not be into this post thats ok, but at least give this first song a chance and tell me it doesn’t make you smile a little bit:
peaches en regalia, from the album hot rats
what do you think? its pretty i think. i love those sweeping piano parts and the honky horn section. if you like the go! team, i think you’d enjoy this song. something about it makes me think of sesame street too, for some bizarre reason. did i mention i love the organ section? its an incredibly original composition, executed with such precision by such talented musicians. a rare thing these days for sure.
who needs the peace corps, from the album we’re only in it for the money, by frank zappa and the mothers of invention
this song is goofy and it reminds me of peter sellers’ character in ‘i love you alice b toklas’ trying so hard to fit in with the hippies. its sung by frank who is channeling a hippy poseur detailing their plan of action once they get to the hippies mecca – san francisco:
first i’ll buy some beadsand then perhaps a leather band to go around my headsome feathers and bellsand a book of indian lorei will ask the chamber of commerce how to get to haight streetand smoke an awful lot of dopei will wander around barefooti will have a psychedelic gleam in my eye at all timesi will love everyonei will love the police as they kick the s#%t out of me on the streeti will sleep…i will, i will go to a house…that’s, that’s what i will do:i will go to a house where there’s a rock & roll band ’cause the groups all live togetherand i will join a rock & roll band and i will be their road managerand i will stay there with them and i will get the crabs
the delivery of the line “Oh, my hair is getting good in the back!” never fails to make me giggle. frank’s social commentary is largely done in a goofy way but always nestled in a brilliantly composed piece of music. hotcha! “how i love ya ‘frisco!”
i promise, from the album zappa in new york
this track is dreamy, and has such a great 70s sound. the start of it is quite cinematic and i’ve included this in my mixtape for you as an example of frank’s compositional prowess. not everything is goofy, or satirical. some things are just experimental, or beautiful, or all of the above. it reminds me a bit of some songs by air (the band) in terms of the sound of the keyboards, synth and the bass. halfway through this is just like some amazing space oddysey. its a beautiful, languorous track.
uncle remus, from the album apostrophe (‘)
as i mentioned, zappa was so good at writing lyrics that seem humourous on the surface but are incisively truthful. this is written shortly after the civil rights era and talks about the changes in attitude within the african american community. in case you didn’t know, uncle remus is a character from folktales that justified slavery or made an effort to convince people that slaves were complicit with the system. from zappa wiki jawaka:
“Uncle Remus” paints a picture of african americans as having largely given up the fight. They accept the fire hoses turned on them, and casually say that it’s not so bad as long as it’s not winter time, when the water is cold. Instead of standing up for themselves, the would-be nephews of “Uncle Remus” are excited about the potential of their afros growing out and enjoying how snappy they look in their new clothes. If that’s not superficial enough, their way of “fighting back” is by sneaking around in the predawn hours and vandalizing the yard ornaments of rich white folk.
doreen, from the album you are what you is
oh my, this whole songs makes me want to sing along super loud and rock out like a crazy lady. please note the amazing harmonies. please also note the awesome guitar solo. please dance about with me now. to-ni-yiy-yiy-yight!
what do you think? are you a zappa fan already or just considering dipping a toe in the water? to make it easy for you here is a starting point of what i would say are good albums to start with:
Freak Out! really great 60s sound, good songs with some pretty funny, very 60s quirkiness. find out what’s got into suzy creamcheese and immerse yourself in some excellent psychedelic rock.
this one could be a bit more challenging, but i love it. its essentially like falling into a tv or radio, alice in wonderland style. fragments of dialogue fade in and out and some excellent orchestrations pepper the hallucinatory soundscape. its conceptual but not unlistenable, if you liked ‘peaches en regalia’ you’ll enjoy the compositions.
One Size Fits All sounds both futuristic and of-its-time. its jazzy in parts (like ‘i promise’ i mentioned earlier) but has some really good 70s sounding songs.
Apostrophe (‘) this one is much more playful and gonzo yet still there’s some (and i quote my boyfriend) “crazyass musicianship”.
very approachable, not too challenging but fun and zappa being zappa. eg ‘montana’ is about becoming a dental floss farmer. where else are you going to find a really good song that just so happens to be about dental floss?