Popular music today is in a state of absolute shambles. Nine out of ten recording artists got their contracts based completely on their abs rather than their talent. Pop stars sputter mindless drivel and hip-hoppers obscenely describe unconventional acts that really would be better left unsaid. Most so-called musicians should not really be referred to as musicians. The radio is overwrought with mindless production. This is why I turn to my Frank Zappa collection when I want to be harmoniously satisfied.
Unlike the unequivocal trash pervading the airwaves, Frank Zappa has something to say about everything. Choose from any of his 50+ albums and find something new, unique, musically complex and generally interesting. His music is so varied it’s hard to believe the same man is responsible for it all.
Hot Rats is a mostly instrumental Jazzy masterpiece. Littered with 18 minute opuses, Zappa hides his social commentary and just jams out. Shiek Yerbouti yarns quite a different tale. This album is rife with opinionated lyrics. Zappa’s style is unlike anything in recorded history, a beautiful thing. Joe’s Garage is an album with another completely different flavor. Calling it a concept-album would be doing it a disservice. (Concept albums are better left to pretentious wannabe-artsy bands like Styx?!?! You remember Mr. Roboto right? I didn’t think so.)
Joe’s Garage chronicles the rise, experiences and fall of a faux rock band. Tunes like title track “Joe’s Garage,” “Crew Slut,” and “Keep It Greasy” are linked together by way of Zappa’s own eccentric narration. Aside from the overall story involved, the songs themselves simply rock.
By surrounding himself with the best musicians of the day, Zappa’s albums are all extremely polished. Metal deity Steve Vai and legendary drummer Terry Bozzio are just amongst the musical geniuses littering Zappa’s studio sessions. Aside from these names in the music industry, tons of unknown jazz masters appear.
Because of Zappa’s continued reinvention of his styles, the instrumentation is also unlike that of any other performers. Very often, Zappa will juxtapose genres that had never before been coupled. Jazzy vibraphone with funk bass and classical flute is a recipe for some weird music.
Zappa was a skilled composer, songwriter, and guitarist. Those lucky few who even know Frank Zappa sometimes even forget that he played instruments at all. In point of fact, Zappa could hang with some of the best guitarists of all time.
With his screeching wah pedal, Zappa goes note for note with some of the most brilliant contemporary axe-men. On a live bootleg record, Zappa collaborates with the Allman Brother’s on one of their most famous tunes: “Whipping Post.” Deftly, he “Zappafies” the once bluesy song into a frenzy of fluttery guitar lines both jamming with the original artists, and at once making it his own.
Additionally, his guitar solo on the tune “Inca Roads” was voted one of the top guitar solos of all time according to Guitar One magazine.
Setting his music aside for a moment, Zappa was generally a great thinker and an outspoken social critic. When Tipper & Al went bananas in the 80s, trying to censor free speech, Zappa was one of three main speakers who addressed the Supreme Court. His dialogue in front of the highest court in the land was altogether funny, but also intelligent and apropos. He ran circles around the loaded questions posed to him and was instrumental in the cases’ decision.
FZ (as his fans affectionately refer to him) once said “without deviation, progress is not possible.” This virtually summarizes everything about Frank Zappa. From a man who did zero drugs in the 1970s. He who created different music that reached different ears. Listen to him. You may not like him exactly, but he will at least affect you.