I discovered the late, great Frank Zappa in university. It was approximately the same period that I saw guys reading G.E.B. and listening to Dinosaur Jr and R.E.M. Actually, it wasn’t the same guys that put me on to Frank. It was another friend of mine, another nerd but a far more alcoholic one than I – I recall that he drank a full bottle of vodka on his rocking chair one night. Unfortunately, I lost contact with him. But I never lost contact with Zappa.
Now, as Terry Bozzio says on the intro to Baby Snakes, “People think Frank Zappa is some kind of mad man…they don’t realize that there’s notes involved.” This is quite true. Frank recorded about 67 albums between 1965’s Freak Out! and his premature death by cancer in 1993. His style ranged from rock-n-roll, to guitar solos to jazz to classical to “porn rock” to doo-wop and everything in-between. I have about 30-odd Zappa albums and am still discovering more sides of Frank 20 years later. My great regret was that I discovered his music only a few years before he passed away and so I never got to see him live in concert.
I’ll take a few posts this week to describe my favorite disks and give you a taste of Zappa-ness. Just for tonight, let me start with 1969’s Hot Rats. This classic masterpiece was Zappa’s first non-Mothers album and also his first foray into jazz. The album bears well its entire 47 minutes is revelatory of Frank’s compositional and musical skills. The opening song Peaches En Regalia became an instant classic. The 2nd track Willie the Pimp has a great bluesy feeling to it. The 3rd track, Son of Mr. Green Genes, became a favorite instrumental in many of Frank’s live recordings. The 16 minute Gumbo Variations is fascinating and complex. Not to mention Little Umbrellas and It Must Be a Camel which are typical Frank pieces as well. The whole album is tight and the musicians are all in top form. It’s one that you can listen to over and over – even 42 years later. Since I am soon going to be 42, I guess that says something!