Frank Zappa's Endless Play

I consider myself candid, opinionated and well-meaning.

Please do NOT read this topic if you offend easily.

Copyright 2010-2013, 2016, 2018 by Richard J. Ballard -- All Rights Reserved.

I can visualize a person reading this webpage periodically wrinkling their nose and thinking This discussion is not politically correct! My goal is not to offend; instead my goal is to understand. IMO understanding is good.

Why do I provide this information? It appears that everybody has a license to criticize and to complain, but few make positive societal contributions. IMO Frank Zappa's musical history teaches us the games that people play. (And if playing is not intelligent, then what is intelligent?)

What can I say about the most intelligent musician that I have encountered? (IMO all musicians are above average.) In 1967 my rock and roll band buddies introduced me to Frank Zappa's music. My rock and roll band buddies sought local gigs (and local girls), and Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention sought a Top 40 AM radio hit (and local girls). All were fru$trated.

Some people criticize Frank Zappa, saying Frank Zappa is not that smart. Frank Zappa is talented, but Frank Zappa incorporates other musicians' good ideas into his own work. IMO recognizing quality is proevolutionary intelligence. After more than forty years still I am impressed whenever I listen to Frank Zappa's music.

Freak Out! [1966]
Frank Zappa and The Mothers' debut album. Poortrays mid-1960s LA counterculture (Hungry Freaks, Daddy!) and reflects the counterculture's paranoia (Who Are The Brain Police?).

YouTube video:
Watch the Mothers Of Invention performing Who Are The Brain Police? (6:06)

Absolutely Free [1966]
Frank Zappa and The Mothers' first popular (?) album (a-hem) celibates the mid-1960s California plastic people.

Lumpy Gravy [1966]
An orchestrally-enhanced companion to We're Only In It For The Money. Outtakes spliced atop a strong eclectic musical framework.

We're Only In It For The Money [1966]
Frank Zappa and The Mothers satirize straight society. Eric Clapton vocal cameo; album jacket (a-hem) satyrizes Sgt. Pepper's Loanly Hearts Club Banned. [Are you hung up? ... Outta sight! Billy shears!]

YouTube video:
Watch the Mothers Of Invention performing Dog Breath, Mother People, & You Didn't Try To Call Me. (7:47)

Cruising With Ruben & The Jets [1968]
(Despite inclusion of Mothers' earlier favorites How Could I Be Such A Fool?, You Didn't Try To Call Me and Anyway The Wind Blows) A not remarkable collection of teenaged angst-ridden rock and roll tunes. I'm forced to assume that this was Frank Zappa's musical attempt to follow the conforming popular path, and that Frank deserted the conforming popular path when that path did not pay. I'm curious about Frank's reaction when he heard Jan & Dean's popular classic Little Old Lady From Pasadena repeatedly played on Top 40 AM radio.

Uncle Meat [1968]
Music loosely based upon (father) Francis Zappa Sr.'s retirement experiences after contracting for Uncle Sam. The selection Mr. Green Genes became humorously controversial: for years afterword Frank Zappa denied any connection to the Captain Kangaroo show.

YouTube videos:
Watch the Mothers Of Invention performing The Air. (4:59)
Watch the Mothers Of Invention performing King Kong. (13:42)

Hot Rats [1969]
Frank Zappa's first solo (with many friends) effort, this primarily instrumental album straddles rock and jazz. Jean-Luc Ponty and Sugar Cane Harris play jazz violin, while Mothers regular Ian Underwood plays clarinet and saxophone multiple parts through the magic of studio overdubbing. Peaches En Regalia became a standard throughout Frank Zappa's career. Captain Beefheart provides the vocal on Willie The Pimp.

Burnt Weeny Sandwich [1969]
A primarily orchestral album featuring solos by Frank (organ), Ian Underwood (sax), Don Preston (piano) and Sugar Cane Harris (violin).

Mothermania [1969]
This collection is Frank Zappa's re-edit of songs from the Mothers' first three albums; the edits IMO give this album some value-added of its own. Not to be confused with the MGM-issued album The Worst Of The Mothers which is an assortment of songs from the Mothers' first three albums including no re-editing and generating no royalties for Frank or for the band.

Weasels Ripped My Flesh [1970]
[Wee A Sells, R.I.P. Ped, MI Flesh (think LOL I T A).] Frank Zappa and The Mothers primarily instrumental album featuring both live and studio performances.

Chunga's Revenge [1970]
(See hung A's revenge: Are you hung up? ... Outta sight!) This funny bluesy rock solo (with many friends) album is an early sampler from Frank Zappa's long-in-preparation 200 Motels project depicting musicians' road life. Frank was better known for libertarian skepticism than for antimilitary sentiment; I find remarkable the album selection Would You Go All The Way? which reminds me of director Steven Spielberg's 1979 comedy film 1941 starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. I also find remarkable the album selection Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink.

YouTube video:
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Chunga's Revenge. (6:21)

Fillmore East -- June 1971 [1971]
Frank Zappa and The Mothers' great live concert album. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan [of the Turtles (later)] join the Mothers.

Just Another Band From L.A. [1972]
Frank Zappa and The Mothers live from UCLA in a joyful performance featuring The Mother's classics.

The Grand Wazoo [1972]
(The Grand Washington DC Zoo) Frank Zappa and The Mothers poortray DC politics as The Battle Of The Banneds.

Waka/Jawaka [1972]
(Whack! A jaw acher!) Frank Zappa and friends concentrate on avant garde jazz/rock while Frank recovers from an on-stage attack. Masterful eclectic composition and artful performance; the humor chiefly lies in the selection titles.

Over-Nite Sensation [1973]
Frank Zappa and The Mothers ridicule unconventional sex. This album's music features Jean-Luc Ponty's jazz violin.

YouTube videos:
Watch Frank Zappa on NBC's Saturday Night Live performing I'm The Slime. (3:12)
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Montana. (6:17)

apostrophe (') [1974]
(A Post Trophy! Who owns it? Who is in charge?) Frank Zappa's humorous lyrics in an album featuring Jack Bruce (drums) and Jean-Luc Ponty (violin): Nanook Rubs It teaches us about the deadly yellow snow, while Cosmik Debris introduces the eternal question "Is that a real poncho or a Sears poncho?"

YouTube videos:
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Cosmik Debris. (8:06)
Watch Frank Zappa in concert (with claymation assistance) performing Stink-Foot. (4:28)

Roxy & Elsewhere [1974]
Frank Zappa and The Mothers' live concert two-vinyl-LP album recorded primarily at The Roxy, Hollywood.

One Size Fits All [1975]
Frank Zappa and The Mothers satirize the Los Angeles couch potato lifestyle.

Bongo Fury [1975]
Live concert album features Frank Zappa and The Mothers playing against Frank's boyhood friend Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart). The selection Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead shares Frank's prediction about the upcoming US Bicentennial (an opportunity to sell commercial gimmickery) while the selection Advance Romance indicates the band's assessment of their own Bicentennial opportunities.

Zoot Allures [1976]
(Zoo T A Lures: Is there life after high school?) Frank Zappa satirizes postgraduation youth frustration.

YouTube videos:
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Disco Boy. (4:21)
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing The Torture Never Stops. (11:51)

Zappa In New York [1977]
A 2 LP (sexually explicit) album recorded live during Frank Zappa and the Mothers' Christmas 1976 NYC concert.

Orchestral Favorites [1979]
Recognizing Frank Zappa's lifelong quest to be viewed as a music serious composer, perhaps this album is best viewed as a first step. It is an awkward album: the performance site and date are furnished but the orchestra is anonymous; and (even given the inclusion of the Duke Of Prunes selection) the effect is "Frank Zappa composes orchestra music" instead of "Frank Zappa adapts his music for orchestra".

Sheik Yerbouti [1979]
(Shake Yer Booty!) This two-vinyl-LP work was Frank's first issuance on Zappa Records, was loaded with Zappa social humor, and despite the controversy is one of Frank's most popular albums. The album satirizes disco (Dancin' Fool), satirizes deliberately inept plumbers and mechanics (Flakes), and even ventures into awkward stereotypes (nobody I knew in college was offended). The album finishes friendly with a nice weak end (Yo' Mama).

YouTube videos:
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Dancing Fool. (5:34)
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Flakes. (5:14)
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Broken Hearts Are For Assholes. (4:06)
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Bobby Brown Goes Down. (3:44)

Joe's Garage: Acts I, II & III [1979]
The 2 music CD set replaces 3 LPs. Frank Zappa satirizes high school days (paradise: Yuppie joins the band) and post-graduation robot-like existence (paradise lost). This three-act play tells a complex story and includes socially ironic character references.

YouTube videos:
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Joe's Garage. (2:30)
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Why does it hurt when I pee? (3:39)

Ship arriving too late to save a drowning witch [1982]
Frank Zappa satirizes life among the southern California players. Includes Frank's daughter Moon performing the monologue on Valley Girl, the highest ranking hit single (#32 on the charts) that Frank ever produced.

YouTube video:
Watch Moon Zappa performing Valley Girl. (3:54)

Jazz From Hell [1986]
So-called New Age (i.e., sonic) influences are evident in Frank Zappa's foray into (complex) synthesized, avant garde jazz. This music CD won the 1987 Best Instrumental Album Grammy Award, but Wal-Mart flushed the music CD due to the irreverent title.

Does Humor Belong In Music [1986]
Frank Zappa assembled these tracks from various concerts performed with his 1984 band. The CD is remarkable for energetic instrumentals spiced with Zappa humor. Frank's son Dweezil is featured on the Whippin' Post blues selection.

The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life [1991]
This two CD live set showcases Frank Zappa's 1988 touring Big Band playing Zappa favorites plus interpreting other artists' classics. Frank's stage humor combines with an impressive mix of instruments.

YouTube video:
Watch the Mothers in concert performing Florentine Pogen. (10:05)

The Yellow Shark [1993]
The 26 member (German) Ensemble Modern performs Frank Zappa's almost humanly impossible to play avant garde compositions. An impressive monument for a musician who began by craving popular success on Top 40 AM Radio. The selection titles Times Beach II and Times Beach III might be remarkable to St. Louisians.

Guitar [1995]
This 2 CD set is a live collection of Frank Zappa guitar compositions. IMO the first CD's selections are somewhat self-indulgent (artistic temperment?) while the second CD's selections are more melodic.

Strictly Commercial: The Best of Frank Zappa [1995]
This sampler spans Frank Zappa's musical career and is a good introduction to Frank Zappa's irreverent humor. It grows on you: you'll enjoy the underlying musical composition and the performance quality.

YouTube videos:
Watch Frank Zappa in concert performing Be In My Video. (3:34)
Watch Frank Zappa performing Fine Girl. (3:13)

Mystery Disc [1998]
This outtake assortment lacks the unifying musical framework of Lumpy Gravy (earlier), but Mystery Disc is heavy on Zappa and Mothers' personality; the collection highlights the breadth and depth of the band's talent. Mystery Disc will be enjoyable addition to your next Zappa / Mothers Fan Club gathering, and it even includes a fan challenge: The cover notes list 35 different selections that are aggregated into 21 CD tracks. Who among your group can match the 35 selections to the 21 CD tracks? (Not easy.)

No Commercial Potential by David Walley
Frank Zappa is known as a prolific composer / performer and as a sometimes profane social critic. A book cannot teach you about Frank Zappa's music, but a book can provide historic background concerning the artist's motivation. Author David Walley's 1972 biography (updated in 1980 to cover Frank's career through the release of the albums Joe's Garage Act I and Joe's Garage Acts II & III) discusses Frank Zappa's evolution from musically-inclined but alienated high school student, through Frank's years struggling for visibility and acceptance as leader of the Mothers Of Invention, through Frank's evolution as a solo artist leading a somewhat transient band of supporting musicians, to Frank's emergence as a rock music accepted statesman and head of his own label Zappa Records. Each career stage discussion is salted with quotations from admirers and critics commenting on Frank's relations with the businessmen, the musicians, and his fans in the music community. And the biography highlights some of the social satire lyrics that Frank used to entice audiences to listen to his music. But the biography primarily discusses music as a tough business, highlighting the struggles Frank Zappa faced both to keep his bands financially together and also to fund his continuing musical career.

YouTube videos:
Watch Frank and Moon Zappa on Late Night with David Letterman August 10, 1982. (11:48)
Watch Frank Zappa on Late Night with David Letterman June 16, 1983. (14:40)

The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso [1990]
Encountering The Real Frank Zappa Book, Zappa fans are likely to exclaim "Finally!" and fantasize smoozing at their local tavern when a guy walks up, sits on the adjacent bar stool, and starts telling humorous anecdotes about what really happens backstage at rock and roll concerts. This book is meant to be entertaining; but its motivation was Frank noticing several existing books describing his music and career, and Frank believing that first-person candid recollections could dispel the caricatures that other authors use to describe Frank Zappa. A serious process was used to write the book: a correspondent (Peter Occhiogrosso) asked questions during extensive taped interviews with Frank; the correspondent wrote the book's first draft; and Frank edited that draft into a publisher's second draft. This authoring process preserves Frank's ideas and colloquialisms; but the writing style is Peter Occhiogrosso's, the discourse is serious, and on several occasions I was reminded of watching the television show 60 Minutes.

The book's first five chapters discuss Frank's childhood interests and ambitions, his early attempts to break into music (and film), the formation and evolution of the Mothers Of Invention (MOI) band and Frank's struggles to keep the band working. These chapters are presented in a detailed and serious manner; they are very factual but if you want a sense of MOI evolution within the late 1960s music scene, No Commercial Potential (discussed previously) is a better source.

The sixth and seventh chapters document Frank's European early struggles: the audience burnt down the Casino de Montreux in Geneva Switzerland during a Deep Purple / MOI concert; an audience member came onstage and punched Frank at the Rainbow in London England, knocking Frank fifteen feet down into a concrete-floored orchestra pit and (shades of Bob Dylan's motorcycle) placing Frank in a wheelchair for a year; and the union sued Frank for breach of contract after an obscenity preemptive complaint cancelled his concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. These chapters again are presented in a serious and detailed manner; there's little humor but there is insight into some of Frank's opinions.

Then you reach the chapter All About Music and that tavern good talker you had hoped for suddenly appears. Frank discusses the art of composing music; the joys of working with your own band (musicians who know your style and, once familiar with the music, require very few cues to achieve the exact effect you are seeking); the bureaucracy and staidness of conventional symphony orchestras and the high cost of converting musical scores into sheet music an orchestra might play; the evolution of recording and mixing technology, and how modern technology can create listening experiences far superior to real life. And Frank discusses the Synclavier, a computer musical instrument that allows a composer to document and realistically solo perform his compositions, automating the entire process except for the concert paying audience that funds the composer's continued efforts. The reader has a better understanding of Frank Zappa and his motivations by the end of this chapter.

The book's remainder elaborates on Frank's social, political and religious opinions. If one started reading the book here, one's impression would be a detailed and seriously presented rant. But after reading about Frank's struggles to get the commerical marketplace to accept his (radical composition and obscene lyrics) music, and after reading about Frank's struggles getting sufficient bookings to keep his bands financially afloat, the reader understands Frank Zappa's perspective on these opinions. Understanding is not acceptance, but understanding is good.

An Evening With Wild Man Fischer by Wild Man Fischer [1968]
Anyone who's ever dealt with street people knows that they are not all drunk or stoned; some of them are confused vegetables coping as best they can, and in this group Wild Man (Larry) Fischer is a high performer. Frank Zappa spent considerable effort (Call Any Vegetable?) producing and mixing Wild Man Fischer's two-vinyl-LP album; the album never will win any musical awards, however it provides a chaotic and entertaining view of 1960s LA street life. And if you listen carefully you might recognize IMO the model for Bill Murray's SNL lounge singer characterization.

YouTube video:
Watch Wild Man Fischer with Frank Zappa on Beat Club Interview (1970). (1:57)

Permanent Damage by The GTO's [1969]
Wikipedia contains a well-written history of the GTO's (Girls Together Outrageously): they were 1960s LA rock groupies who also had musical aspirations, and Frank Zappa offered to produce their (one and only) record album. Individuals must judge for themselves this album's musical quality; the album highlights the 1960s rock scene from the groupie perspective, and Frank Zappa obviously had fun producing this album.

YouTube videos:
Watch the GTO's: Girls Together Outrageously. (1:00)
Watch the GTO's: Groupie Couture. (2:10)

Strictly Personal by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band [1968]
Captain Beefheart's distinctive style includes sarcastic titles, hints of Native American rhythms, and one foot in the blues.

Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band [1969]
(Capt. Beefheart and His Magic -- Banned) Frank Zappa's boyhood friend Don Van Vliet includes (teetotaling) Islamic melodies in this 1969 album produced by Frank Zappa.

YouTube videos:
Watch Captain Beefheart on Late Night, November 11, 1982. (10:57)
Watch Captain Beefheart on Letterman (1983). (9:33)

King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays The Music Of Frank Zappa by Jean-Luc Ponty [1969]
Jean-Luc Ponty converts Frank Zappa themes into European well-balanced avant garde jazz (stylistically different from United States traditional jazz) in this instrumental collaboration with Frank Zappa. IMO this 1969 collaboration exposed Frank Zappa to new musical opportunities.

No Absolute Time by Jean-Luc Ponty [1993]
Jean-Luc Ponty emphasizes complex musical composition and precise performance (instead of social commentary) in his own avant garde jazz performances.

Illusions by George Duke [1995]
Composer / keyboard artist George Duke toured with Frank Zappa and the Mother Of Invention in 1970. This pop jazz studio album features electronic instrumentation and IMO borrows several Quincy Jones musical themes.

Muir Woods Suite by George Duke [1996]
This live album is themed jazz performed with a jazz formal orchestra. The musical style is George Duke's own and is quite different from Frank Zappa's style; the musical achievement is comparable to Frank Zappa's afterlife The Yellow Shark (earlier).

Golden Hits by The Turtles [1998] Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan form the continuing backbone of The Turtles, and also they tour as Flo & Eddie. This 1998 music CD is a reissue of their most popular songs; their style is different than Frank Zappa's style but their vocals enrich the band's performances. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan joined the Mothers with the Fillmore East -- June 1971 (earlier) album. The collaboration was successful; IMO the collaboration decision is remarkable.

The Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Dawson [1987]
Frank's musician son Dweezil Zappa and musician Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac play rebel roles in this film. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Dawson (Hogan's Heroes, Family Feud) star in this 1987 plausible apocolyptic vision; consider the television series COPS and The Shield.

The Brutal Truth
starring Christina Applegate, Justin Lazard, Johnathon Schaech and Molly Ringwald
Frank's daughter Moon plays a radical feminist returning classmate in this R-rated dramatic film, a film that IMO is modeled after The Big Chill starring William Hurt, Tom Berenger, May Kay Place and Jennifer Tilly.

We're only in it for the money.

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