Thursday, December 09, 2004

Frank Zappa

I've been a big fan of Frank Zappa since about 1969 (yikes!). I stumbled across him by accident, buying a copy of "We're Only In It For The Money" solely because the cover was so weird. I was stunned. I bought (and still have and play!) every album of his that came out thereafter (and before) and attended at least one concert every time he came through NYC, whether at the Fillmore East, the Palladium or the Felt Forum, until his death.

Whenever people ask for recommendations about the "best" Zappa albums they get a wide divergence of suggestions because he produced so many different kinds of music -- the early silly yet pungent "comedy" Zappa, the sophisticated jazz/rock Zappa, the Flo and Eddie Zappa, the guitar Zappa, etc. In addition, in my case as in many others, it's difficult to identify his "best" work in any objective sense because listeners associate particular albums with particular times in or phases of their lives. In my case, for example, I am always going to love WOIIFTM because I cannot help but associate it with the sense of delight I experienced discovering it as a Ninth grader.

All that said, I'll suggest a few albums. Take my suggestions with a pound -- not just a grain -- of salt.

Early Zappa/Mothers of Invention: "We're Only In It For the Money" (1968). A hilarious yet brutal take on American Culture. If you like this, try "Freak Out" and "Absolutely Free".

Early "Jazz/Rock" Zappa: "Hot Rats" (1969). If you like this, try "Waka/Jawaka" and "The Grand Wazoo".

Early Post-Mothers Comedy/Guitar/Flo and Eddie Zappa: "Live At The Fillmore East June 1971". A personal favorite because I attended several of these concerts. Incredibly nasty skits (warning: some indecent but hilarious material) and amazing and amazingly sophisticated music. If you like Flo and Eddie, try "200 Motels" and "Just Another Band from LA" (1972).

Middle Zappa: "Apostrophe" (1974). Just a great all-round album. FWIW, probably my most-played album during college. If you like this, I'd suggest "Over-Nite Sensation" (1973), "One Size Fits All" (1975), "Roxy and Elsewhere" (1974) and (a little more distantly) "Zappa in New York 1978".

A Bit Later: "Joe's Garage Acts I, II and III" (1979). Biting (although a trifle paranoid and over-the-top) social commentary and, far more importantly, heavenly guitar. The song "Watermelon in Easter Hay" contains one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful guitar solos ever played. If you like the "guitar" Zappa (and live his guitar solos were simply overwhelming) there are several guitar solo collections such as "Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar".

Happy listening!

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