Rock Blog: Zappa Matters

August 30, 2016

There's a good chance you’ve heard of Frank Zappa, but you may have never heard his music. There’s also a good chance you may have heard his music and not cared for it. It’s kind of hard to define, or put into a real genre. Where you could say Aerosmith was sort of like The Stones, or in their own way Tool is sort of like Pink Floyd, there’s truly nothing else like Frank Zappa. You might be hard pressed to find a “catchy song” from him, or anything resembling a hit. He was immortalized in his prime in Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, when a fire burnt all the bands equipment -  “Frank Zappa and the Mothers were at the best place around, but some stupid with a flare gun, burned the place to the ground”. So maybe you’ve heard of him. The name alone is unique. Zappa.

If you like a great guitarist, you might dig Zappa. He was tremendous. A distinct sound and a great solo. He was also a tremendous performer, songwriter and true activist. Frank Zappa was classified as a rock artist, but his music was so unconventional that it rarely made it onto the radio. A little Jazz, Classical, Show Tunes, Spoken Word, and Rock. He knew no limits with his art, and stayed within no boundaries. Even his kids names were out there – Dweezil, Moon Unit, Ahmet and Diva. Why not?


I got into Zappa in college. It was really the kind of music that went great with all bong activities. Layers of instrumentation, bizarre and comedic lyrics, and sounds that you wouldn’t find in anything else you listened to. Comedic? Sample a few song and album titles: “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”, “Bwana Dik”, “Burnt Weenie Sandwich”, “The Muffin Man”, “Stink Foot”, “I’m the Slime”. The lyrics are more fun. True stoner giggle material. I’m sure it doesn’t translate in 2016, but there was and still is nothing like a day in a clouded dorm room with a bunch of Zappa albums.


From the start it was different. Zappa and his band The Mothers of Invention released their debut album “Freak Out” and it was the 2nd 2-record rock album ever released. Ever. He was one of the first artists signed to Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records (after Frank, Dean and Sammy of course).


Frank gave us 60 albums before his death in 1993, and over 40 since then. He fought against the PMRC, a group that was essentially trying to regulate music lyrics (remember parent advisory stickers?). He was an important figure in creativity and music. He inspired Hendrix, The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Sabbath, System Of A Down, Alice Cooper and wouldn’t you know it – Weird Al. Sadly his four kids have been embroiled in a legal battle for years over his estate, which was created by his ex-wife (their stepmother). Sad. Like Kardashian sad.  


There's a new documentary floating around called Eat That Question. You should check it out. If you dig it, many of Zappa’s best albums have been remastered and re-released. Then check out a few songs from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, his golden period. It's unlike anything else, and sure, you might not dig it, but it's definitely not like anything else.    


- Sergeant Hairclub