WHERE TO BEGIN WITH… Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa (1940-1993) remains today one of the most respected composers and musicians of all time. Spiritual son of Edgar Varèse, Zappa has a legacy that is still on for the better. His career covered more than four exotic decades. Here are three entry points to dive into the man’s sonic ocean.
Excentric, yes. Genius? Maybe.
Frank Zappa interviewed by Jamie Gangel on The Today Show, 1993 (link).
#1 – Frank Zappa – Willie the Pimp (Hot Rats, 1969)
What makes Willie the Pimp special :
- The vocal apparition of Zappa’s longstanding accomplice Captain Beefheart one year before the release of Trout Mask Replica.
- The participation of violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris, the pioneer of violin amplification.
While the lyrics (sung by Beefheart) have been proven powerful enough to be printed on the inside gatefold of the record, the song suffered at first from critics focused on Zappa’s guitar playing. Yes, pentatonic scales might be the basics of blues rock guitar soloing. That being said, Zappa and Harris’ strong cohesion combined with the early use of a wha guitar pedal truly reveal the strength of the song. Long before the loudness war in production, Hot Rats sounded… loud. Ask the drums.
#2 – Frank Zappa – Titties and Beer (Zappa in New York, 1976)
Don’t get fooled by this schoolboyish title, Titties and Beer is one of the many milestones of Frank Zappa’s career and epitomizes his collaboration with lengendary drummer Terry Bozzio. Titties and beer is mainly remembered for the hilarious and meaningful dialog happening between the two. While this version stays politically correct, this one includes a genuine wind of revolt against Warner Brothers.
#3 – Frank Zappa – RDNZL (YCDTOSA Vol 5., 1992)
Zappa’s obsession with live recording and tape editing allowed him to release around thirty live albums during his career. This show (Palermo 82) sadly ended in a riot, but this harmonious cohabitation of Steve Vai and Zappa’s guitars is not to be missed. A special mention for Frank’s solo (segment starting at the 2min43 mark) and his abrupt (but yet melodic and masterful) shift to another segment of the original composition.