Z is for Zappa

Frank_Zappa_-_Jazz_From_HellHe was an iconoclastic fellow, that Frank Zappa was. The Wikipedia described him as “an American musician, bandleader, songwriter, composer, recording engineer, record producer, and film director.”

Here’s a 16-minute segment from 1963 with Steve Allen, a talk show host formerly on the Tonight Show, featuring a then-unknown musician playing a most unusual instrument. The sounds are early indicators of Frank’s musical direction.

I learned about Frank Zappa originally because he was usually represented on those early Warner Brothers Loss Leader compilation albums (two LPs for two bucks) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, often on the fourth side, where his unconventional music wouldn’t turn off the less adventuresome listener. There was even a special Loss Leader, ZAPPÉD, “a single disc featuring acts on Frank Zappa’s Bizarre/Straight labels.” Many of his songs in that first period were as a part of the group The Mothers of Invention. One of his best-known songs, from one of those albums, is the instrumental Peaches en Regalia [LISTEN].

He was not at all a chart-topper, but his influence led to his selection to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, posthumously, for he died in 1993 of prostate cancer just before his 53rd birthday, the same disease that killed my father.

His two top 50 hits in the United States [LISTEN] were:
Dancin’ Fool (#45 in 1979)
Valley Girl (#32 in 1982); it featured Frank’s daughter Moon Unit Zappa on vocals.

I won’t share with you his other Top 100 song, or indeed some of his other non-charting singles. I WILL say that the line “Now is that a real poncho or is that a Sears poncho?” in context, in Cosmik Debris, is one of my favorite lines in pop music.

It was rumored that his instrumental album Jazz from Hell had a parental advisory warning. That’s not true, although some of his other albums DID have the sticker for explicit lyrics. What IS true is that some local retailer tagged it. It went on to win a Grammy. LISTEN to Night School, the first song off the album.

In recent years, Zappa Plays Zappa, an American tribute act led by Dweezil Zappa, Frank’s eldest son, has been touring. For the curious, LISTEN to about an hour of Zappa Plays Zappa.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

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