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Frank Zappa - where to start?


Behind the Curtain
Staff member
I'm interested in exploring some Zappa. Based on what sorta grabbed me in reading his wikipedia page, I've got two albums on order, an early one (We're Only in It for Money), and a late/classical one (The Yellow Shark). But he's got so many it's hard to know what else to sample. Anyone got any particular favorites, and if so, what about the album(s) do you especially like?
That sounds like fun. I want in. My only exposure to Zappa was going to a Terry Bozzio drum clinic. Which, if he played in Zappas albums like he did for the clinic, i would be very intererested.
"One size fits all" is really darn good.

I also love "Studio Tan" though it can be a bit over the top on silly for many people. The music is stunning.
Oooo... Definitely go with Apostrophe!

I've never liked Joe's Garage - I get bored when he is rambling into the phaser about how awful pop culture is.
Thanks guys, keep it coming! I'm adding Hot Rats, One Size Fits All, and Apostrophe to the list now, will delve further after I've had a chance to actually listen to some of these. But I'm still interested in hearing other opinions!
I'm more of a fan of his later years, rather than the "Mothers of Invention" period.
My three recommendations:
Them or Us double album, great tunes, and some great guitar solos (actually ALL FZ albums have great guitar solos)
Tinseltown Rebellion I think his best social/political satire disk ever, and some screamingly funny live cuts like "Panty Rap"
Jazz from Hell Instrumental, one live guitar solo but the rest of the album is all samples done on a Synclavier. Very "out there"

There are several live concerts available on DVD too (the Halloween concert is one of my favorites).
Thanks Botch! I'll check those out. Yeah, a concert video is a good idea too. Before today, I barely woulda even recognized a picture of him.

Edit: ah wait, you seem to be talking about DVD-A, not videos... :oops:
No, I'm talking about DVD videos. I have The Torture Never Stops, Does Humor Belong in Music, and Baby Snakes. Torture is the Halloween concert, Humor is a live concert with some interesting interviews, and Snakes has a lot of interviews with some really weird people, and lots of claymation.
Perhaps Amazon doesn't carry them, you'd have to go to Barfko-Swill records, let me see if I can find the address...

EDIT: It's now http://www.zappa.com. I forgot the movie "200 Motels" which is kind of a "on-the-road-with-the-band" documentary (I know I own it, it must be on VHS). I also noticed they have another one I don't have, Uncle Meat!
This forum is costing me again... :angry-tappingfoot:
Ah ok, I just did "zappa halloween" in amazon and came up with a DVD-A. Seems there's a new version of the Torture DVD coming out in Nov, or else I could get the existing one for $45! :shock: Well I can wait a month.
Hmm, my copy is just a straight DVD in stereo.

TELL YA WHAT, I can let you have my ONLY copy, for only $40, and I'll pick up the mass-marketed, cheapened shortened compressed ad-filled new one when it comes out, PM me!
Crap. I own 27 CDs, 3 vinyl disks and 1 8-track tape of Zappa's, thought that was most of his output but I'm not even close, after looking at what's available on Amazon.

This forum is really costing me... :angry-tappingfoot:
I have over 100 Zappa albums, including 5 picture disks from the 1980s. THe guy was incredibly prolific, and when digital technology came out he remastered and re-recording his favorite old recordings to sound the way he had intended but was unable to accomplish back in the day. I also have most of his classical music, great stuff. His estate is still releasing new material several times a year. I cannot fathom how he produced so much music.
Not only prolific in writing, but he brought up and developed ,so many incredible musicians, kinda like Ellington, Ferguson and Miles...
I think Hot Rats will be a good one to start with. Jazzy and jammy. I loved that one when I first got into Zappa, but at this moment I wouldn't rank it as one of my faves. It's good to start with cause it's middle of the road. Then again, maybe it's not good to start with because it's so middle of the road. If you like Hot Rats, then try Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo.

Apostrophe is a must have. The Yellow Snow Suite is probably the best thing Zappa ever did. If you like Apostrophe, try Overnite Sensation and One Size Fits All.

One Size Fits All is another must have. Inca Roads, Florentine Pogen, the two Sofas. Good, good stuff.

I was a huge fan of Absolutely Free when I first got into Zappa. It's weird. But it references Stravinsky, so Paul may like that. It's funny. It's also sometimes offensive. A really good Zappa album.

I can understands Flint's complaint about Joe's Garage. I have others. But the music on that album is really good, especially Disc 1. The first song is one of my favorite Zappa songs. It's a pretty offensive album lyrically. Some of it can be justified as social commentary, some can not. It is also full of immature humor, but that's OK by me. If you like Joe's Garage, try Sheik Yerbouti. There's at least one really offensive song on there. It happens to be the song that has one of my favorite musical moments on it too.

I loved Roxy and Elsewhere right from the first listen. I think it's pretty accessible. But I had been listening to Zappa for quite some time before I heard Roxy and Elsewhere. Still, a good fun album.

If your looking at Surround Sound Zappa, I think Quadiophliac is better than the Halloween concert. In fact, I think the Halloween disc may be one of my least favorites (but it's been a long time since I've listened).

It's important to keep in mind that Zappa made so many different kinds of albums, that it's not really possible to listen to just a few and conclude that you do not like Zappa.

The thing that stands out about Zappa to me is that he can make me laugh out loud, not with any lyrics, but just the music itself. He somehow wrote really good, funny music.
Cool, thanks Aaron! Yeah, I'm interested in sampling all his various styles/periods. Gonna be fun!

BTW, what brought this up was my visiting friend I mentioned elsewhere who is a guitarist and a big Zappa fan. We had a great listening session to other various bits&pieces of my music collection a few nights back. While he's in Baltimore, he went on a mini-pilgrimage to go see the bust of Zappa near downtown - Zappa was born in Baltimore and there was a commemorative deal with this statue unveiled just a few weeks ago. See here.
Have to agree with the others about Hot Rats. I love that album. I have it and One Size Fits All, which I don't like too well (though I do love "Inca Roads"). Inca Roads is the only song I like on OSFA.

Zappa is hit and miss for me. Songs like "Pajama People" just come off as stupid to me and are not in the same vein as the first track. "Willie the Pimp", from Hot Rats, is about as "comedic" as I can go with Zappa. I much prefer his playing and the more musical albums to the ones where he throws in the comedy. I've probably listened to OSFA maybe ten times the ten years I've owned it. Hot Rats on the other hand, I'll throw in the player from time to time.

Maybe I need to revisit OSFA, but since I now have the luxury of sites like Grooveshark where you can hear an entire album before buying, I'll have to give those other mentions listed a spin and see if they are worth adding to my collection.
I also love "Burnt Weenie Sandwich", originally a Mothers of Invention album, now sold as a Zappa album.

Little can be said other than "OMG" when I listen to "Shut up and Play yer Guitar" which is a collection of his most brilliant guitar solos recorded up to that point.
Sheik Yerbouti - This is a must!!!!!

All songs by Frank Zappa except "Rubber Shirt" by Bozzio/O'Hearn/Zappa. Dates & venues infos from Information Is Not Knowledge

[edit] Side one
"I Have Been in You" – 3:33 Basic track: January 25, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"Flakes" – 6:41 Basic track: January 25, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"Broken Hearts Are for Assholes" – 3:42 Basic track: January 27, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"I'm So Cute" – 3:09 (1995 CD) 4:20 (Vinyl and EMI CD) Basic track: January 24-28 or February 27-28, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
[edit] Side two
"Jones Crusher" – 2:49 Basic track: October 31, 1977 - The Palladium, NYC
"What Ever Happened to All the Fun in the World" – 0:33 See Läther
"Rat Tomago" – 5:17 Guitar solo from The Torture Never Stops played live on February 15, 1978 - Deutschlandhalle, Berlin, Germany
"Wait a Minute" – 0:31[3] See Läther
"Bobby Brown (Goes Down)" – 2:49 (song sample, 600Kb)[4] Basic track: January 24-28 or February 27-28, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"Rubber Shirt" – 2:45 Bass part: September 25, 1974 - Goteborg, Sweden
"The Sheik Yerbouti Tango" – 3:56 Guitar solo from The Little House I Used To Live In played live on February 15, 1978 - Deutschlandhalle, Berlin, Germany
[edit] Side three
"Baby Snakes" – 1:50 Basic track: February 28, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"Tryin' to Grow a Chin" – 3:31 Basic track: January 24-28 or February 27-28, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"City of Tiny Lites" – 5:32 Basic track: January 24-28 or February 27-28, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"Dancin' Fool" – 3:43 Basic track: February 28, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"Jewish Princess" – 3:16 Basic track: October 30, 1977 - The Palladium, NYC
[edit] Side four
"Wild Love" – 4:09 Basic track: February 28, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK
"Yo' Mama" – 12:36 Vocal sections basic track: February 28, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK; Guitar solo: February 25, 1978 - Hemmerleinhalle, Neunkirchen am Brand, Germany; Part of the backing track for the solo: January 27, 1978 - Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK