Frank Zappa for Beginners
December 19, 2016
Sometimes you find yourself hankering to listen to something life-altering, something so special, but have absolutely no idea where to start. Like a hungry girl unsure of what she wants to eat, you seek the streaming services for an answer, only to become overwhelmed with the limitless amount of options. Then you look at the colossal artists of yesteryear and begin to discover the men and women who shifted sound as we know it. One such Goliath is the revolutionary sonic phenomenon, Frank Zappa.
But what do you do with an artist whose discography is so gargantuan, whose affect on music still reverbs throughout the entire genre spectrum today? Where do you even start? In anticipation of Nu Deco‘s January 15th performance at New World Center which will feature a tribute to the legendary musician by composer Sam Hyken, we’re breaking down Frank Zappa’s music for all you beginners out there. Here are our picks for the songs you absolutely need to check out for a thorough 101 education:
“Peaches en Regalia”
It may be a bit intimidating for you vocal-hungry listeners, but “Peaches En Regalia” is a perfect showcasing of Zappa’s instrumental composition ability. Clarinet, breezy guitar riffs, and playful rhythms are found here. Besides, if you didn’t start hard, you wouldn’t be making him proud.
This one finds Zappa in the classic realm of sex appeal so often slithering its way into his musical performance. It has an instant funk foundation that makes you want to get down, and some of the dirtiest lyrics living up to the song’s title.
“My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama”
It may not have charted when released with The Mothers of Invention, but the heavy title lives up to the massive guitar solo it holds inside. It came at an experimental time for Zappa, and was clearly a track he cared about as it was released multiple times and in different versions.
Easily one of his grandest pieces, “Montana” has everything you need to truly understand the tour de force that was Frank Zappa. Blazing guitar, funk foundations, non-stop drums, and an all-encompassing atmospheric production. Plus, Tina Turner comes in for some stellar back-up vocals.
“Hungry Freaks, Daddy”
The leading song on Zappa’s first album fronting The Mothers Of Invention, “Hungry Freaks” is a representative piece of the alt-hippie counterculture movement of the period. It’s out there but still very much composed with a subdued power bubbling at the surface.
“Brown Shoes Don’t Make It”
As Ultimate Classic Rock puts it: “One of Zappa’s earliest free-form masterpieces, a seven-minute pop explosion that wraps up about a decade’s worth of Top 40 radio in a typically twisted take-down of dwindling U.S. values.” And that’s about all I can say about that.
“Any Kind of Pain”
Entering the 80s, Zappa began to shift his work with a heavily undercurrent of political and social messaging. While “Any Kind of Pain” has your trademark 80s sound, it still holds an un-moving and mature message that makes it impossible to overlook.
Zappa’s unwavering social opinions could be easily found in his complex lyric-style, but what he couldn’t express through words, he injected passionately into sound. This one may feel light-hearted and quintessential “Summer of Love”, but it’s hard at its core and filled with heavy drums.
Early 80s Zappa in all his glory, featuring his daughter, Moon on lead vocals. This one is his only Top 40 hit and not because of its West Coast satirical outlook, but because the very Valley Girls he was poking fun at were the ones who took it as an early 80s anthem. Ironic.
We end our list with one of Frank Zappa’s most popular songs, the title track on his three-act rock opera about the music business. The melody may lead towards the mainstream, but the biting roots are still there, attacking punk rock and popular music at every turn.