Credit: Eddie Berman, Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY. Oct 25, 1980
Artists impress me when they produce music with an original sound.
This is a rare thing to behold… especially today when most radio music sounds like it was made in a factory somewhere in China.
For an authentic artist it can be quite unintentional to be unoriginal.
An man’s calling to create music implies that he is highly impressionable to begin with. So it is only natural that he internalizes inspiration from other artists.
Then often without realizing it, he creates a sound that is a merely a re-hash of that earlier sound without having added anything significant to it.
Or maybe it is intentional: the artist ‘sells-out’ and commercializes his sound to fit the popular trend.
It gets him paid and feeds the masses, but by compromising his authenticity he fails to make an impression on next generation artists and his work is thereby never immortalized.
Think of the grunge sound that Nirvana gave to the 90s. Kurt Cobain created an original soundtrack for an entire generation. What followed was hundreds of edgy alternative bands spinning that same ol’ sound: whiny heroin vocals, drop D guitar tuning, thrash singing style, lyrics expressing the malaise of the slacker youth.
All those imitators are gone and forgotten.
Musical trailblazing takes some serious grit. You’ve got to want a new sound more than you want success from its reception.
Most who take the former path don’t make it to enjoy the latter.
Those who do become legends.
A man called Frank Zappa was perhaps the most remarkable in adopting the ‘art for art’s sake’ mentality.
He was an artist’s artist in the truest sense.
He was a true original.
This is a man who had no limits in his musical experimentation. He was confined to no genre and was yet capable of producing masterpieces in each.
His wild time-changes, stretch vocals and looney lyrics are almost antagonistic in their extravagance. Listening to his music, sometimes it feels like Frank was intently trying to annoy and shut off the casual listener. This impression I get fits Zappa’s eccentric style and hyper-cynical personality.
Zappa was self-taught composer of classical music, a guitar master soloist, a jazz-rock fusionist, a singer and songwriter.
But instead of exploring different styles through a succession of periods as some artists do in their so-called evolution; Zappa did it all at once, shifting violently between styles within the same period and often on the same album.
His lack of commercial success (relative to his body of work) was in my opinion the result of this un-classifiableness he embodied. If the industry can’t define your style, they can’t identify your target audience nor package you to be sold. You are unfit for a price tag.
Further alienating him was his iconoclastic sarcasm and politically conservative opinions, which he shared freely. He disapproved of drug use and despised the do-nothing hippy crowd (which you might expect to be his core audience).
But this post is not meant to be a biography on Frank Zappa. And I can’t recommend one because I haven’t read any. His wiki page should serve well enough if you are interested in his life and legacy.
This post is here to recommend a few tracks, because Zappa’s discography is probably the most insurmountable collection you could ever hope to attack on your own.
Casually picking up a Zappa CD and getting ‘into Zappa’ is a roulette wheel. So much of his stuff is highly experimental and frankly un-listenable (pun intended), in my opinion.
But if you diligently mine his 62 (+40 posthumous) albums, you will uncover 24k gold. His guitar skills are incredible and his composition even more so.
In no particular order, below is a playlist of lovely Zappa tracks that demonstrate his range and ability… while also offering an enjoyable listening experience.
Give it a chance… I disliked this music the first time someone turned me on to it. Sometimes a little patience allows your ears to adjust to a new sound.
I experience a strange phenomena that the artists I love on the first listen I get over quick, while the ones that took some warming up to later became my all-time favorites.
- Peaches In Regalia
- Watermelon In Easter Hay
- Dumb All Over
- Echidna’s Arf
- Zoot Allures
- Soup n’ Old Clothes
- G-Spot Tornado
- Willie The Pimp
- On The Bus
- Little Umbrellas
- Camarillo Brillo
- Son of Orange County (More Trouble Every Day)
- Fine Girl
- Dog Breath
- Pygmy Twylyte
- Wild Love
- Black Napkins
- It might just be a one shot deal
- While You Were Out
- Alien Orifice
- Fembot In a Wet T-shirt
- Wind Up Working In a Gas Station
- Montana (dat solo)
- Rat Tomago
Please share your own suggestions in the comments below.