Frank Vincent Zappa, born 1940 in Baltimore USA, passed away 1993 in Los Angeles, was an author, guitarist, bandleader, film maker, business owner and satirist who started his recording profession in 1966 with the Moms Of Invention double album Go crazy – an unprecedented overindulgence for a new band in popular song and a leader to the Beatles Sergeant Pepper album, of some twelve months later on.
From the word go, Zappa was an edgy, intriguing and rather exotic figure in the world of rock ‘n roll. His musical influences alone marked him out as a radical, from the modern classical works of Edgard Varese, Igor Stravinsky and Anton Webern to rhythm and blues artists such as Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Howlin’ Wolf and the esoteric records of vocal groups like The Channels, Don & Dewey, The Penguins and Jackie Dee and the Starlites. His command of these and many other different musical languages make him one of the significant musicians of the 20 th century.
I have actually become knowledgeable about a great deal of his output over the previous thirty years approximately, and there is now a large amount of his product to assess. For this slightly morbid workout of picking one’s own funeral soundtrack, I’ve decided to whittle down to 4 those Frank Zappa songs I love and believe best exemplify him. I ‘d be interested to hear the choices of any other Zappa fans:
Strictly Genteel – the finale from the movie 200 Motels, mainly sung by Theodore Bikel. Numerous, alternate versions of this piece have been launched since the original, taped variation in 1971 and among my favourites is the choice from, appropriately enough, the Orchestral Favourites album. Shocking.
Inca Roadways – from the 1975 album One Size Fits All, this is a masterful mix of jazz, funk, wildly original electric guitar and the feverish interplay between a group of artists completely versed in Zappa’s compositional design and tightly woven by numerous months of practice session and live performance.
Watermelon In Easter Hay – from the 1979 album Joe’s Garage Acts II & III; & III; a rather standard musical backdrop for Frank, although the time signature of successive bars is 4/4 then 5/4. It nevertheless includes him as a lead guitarist par quality, capably abetted by the slide guitar atmospherics of Denny Walley and Vinnie Colaiuta’s delicate drumming. A monumental achievement.
The Black Page – from the private album Zappa In New york city, originally intended for the monstrous 4-record set, “Soap” that prompted a big legal conflict with the Warner Brothers label. A standard 4/4 time signature underpins the entire structure, however the thick polyrhythms that live within this structure render it savagely complicated as a percussion piece, made a little more available with the addition of its basic melody. I still have a hard time to understand how an ensemble first handled to play this …