Music—Tribute to Frank Zappa

Rated PG


The meek shall inherit nothing.—Frank Zappa


Originally, I was going to put together a Top 10 list of my favorite songs by the American composer Frank Zappa (1940-1993) ( However, considering how many different bands and orchestras he put together I could make a Top 10 for each one and have a Top 200 list. So, I culled through some of my favorites songs and picked what I thought were the best performances posted on YouTube.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with his work, Zappa described himself as a rock and roll musician and composer. He demonstrated an interest in everything from classical to jazz to doo-wop and blues, funk, country western and rock-and-roll—and recorded much of it live. He was also a humorist and a self-proclaimed “Constitutional fundamentalist.” He was, in short, my kinda guy—incredibly talented, intelligent, disciplined, irreverent, funny and a musical genius besides. He was Mozart on ecstasy (without the drug) and will be sorely missed by those who took the time to understand the scope and breadth of his rich talents.

—I love this song. Fantastic arrangement with Steve Vai joining in on guitar and Chad Wackerman on drums.

—A haunting rhythm with more great guitar work from Zappa and a long solo.

—Unfortunately, there’s no live footage of this. It’s direct from the album Chunga’s Revenge. I took my parents to the Fillmore East to see this band so it has sentimental value to me personally. My Pop totally dug “the guy on the vibes.” That was George Duke he was referring to. The band had both Ansley Dunbar and John Guerin on drums.

—Lovely melody and vocals that transition into the hard rock sound of More Trouble Every Day. Rock and roll at its best.

MUFFIN MAN, Live 1977 (4:49)
—A crowd favorite. Great guitar solo. Warning: this hard-driving beat will stick in your head for a long time.

— I puzzled over the lyrics in this song for decades until I finally cognized what I felt was the significance of the album title “Apostrophe” as well as the lyric: “…the crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe.” Read my take on this here.

—Zappa’s stab at gurus. Humorous lyrics, tight band, rock and roll with a blues/boogie beat. Amazing solos on guitar, saxophone and keyboards.

THE LITTLE HOUSE I USED TO LIVE IN (Part 1—13:35, Part 2—5:05)—
This is my all-time favorite Zappa song. Beautiful piano intro, many tempo changes, jazz, blues and classical fusion, incredible muscianship (as usual) especially piano, drums and blues violin the likes of which you’ve never heard. Zappa’s been called our modern day Mozart and it absolutely shows in this orchestration. With no lyrics, it takes you on a journey of rhythms and transitions. Do not miss the incredible drumming in part 2, and the church-like organ in the pounding crescendo.
Part 1 (13:35)
Part 2 (5:05)

MONTANA (6:18)
—Another crowd-pleasing classic. Great vocals, solos, and super-tight band.

FINE GIRL (3:14)
— This tune totally sticks in my head after I listen to it.

Incredible band. Check out the vocals and Zappa’s guitar solo.

ZOMBY WOOF (7:07)—This is Dweezil Zappa’s band performing with Steve Vai on guitar.

BOLERO (6:25)—Zappa shows his appreciation of Ravel’s Bolero

FULL CONCERT, BARCELONA, 1988 (2:12:20)— For the true afficionado. This has comedy (from the album Broadway the Hard Way) as well as Zappa’s version of Ravel’s Bolero, an incredible arrangement of Whipping Post, I Am The Walrus, and the true story called The Illinois Enemy Bandit. See the master at work.

Our God says
“this is the way!”
It says in the book:
“burn ‘n destroy…
‘n repent, ‘n redeem
‘n revenge, ‘n deploy
‘n rumble thee forth
To the land of the unbelieving scum on the other side
’cause they don’t go for what’s in the book
‘n that makes ’em bad
So verily we must choppeth them up
And stompeth them down
Or rent a nice french bomb
To poof them out of existence
While leaving their real estate just where we need it
To use again
For temples in which to praise our god
(“cause he can really take care of business!”)

—from Jumbo Go Away.

THE COMPLETE LIVE NEW YORK PALLADIUM 1981 (1:57:14)—This is the show I wish I could have seen. It has a bunch of my favorite songs. It visits places political, raunchy, symphonic, funky, orchestral, anti-religious and hilarious. Awesome musicians, as usual. Check out the symphonic version of Flakes, complete with a Dylan sound-alike. There’s a rare glimpse of Zappa on keyboards. They rock Broken Hearts are For Assholes and check out Chad Wackerman on drums in You Are What You Is (“and that’s all it is”). Also included is Zappa’s classic “traditional Halloween song,” The Torture Never Stops. For the finale, The Illinois Enema Bandit is rocked to the max.


DOES HUMOR BELONG IN MUSIC?, 1984 (56:32)— Starting with a seriously inspired version of Zoot Allures, this combination of concert interspersed with interviews throughout takes a rapid comedic turn into Tinsel Town Rebellion (where Zappa blasts the music industry) and revives a few classics such as: The Green Hotel, The Dangerous Kitchen (“…it’s disgusting and dirty, the sponge in the sink is squirty…”), He’s So Gay (“…maybe later we’ll all be gay…”), Bobby Brown (“…oh God I am the American dream, but now I smell like Vaseline…”), Keep it Greasy (“…any kind of lube will do, maybe from another part of you…”), Honey Don’t You Want a Man Like Me? (“…he called her a pig, a slut and a whore, a bitch, and a Republican and slammed the door in a petulant frenzy…”), Dinah Mo Hum (“…I don’t mind that she called me a bum but I knew right away she was gonna cum…”), a balls-out arrangement of Cosmik Debris (“…the price of meat has just gone up and you’re old lady just went down…”), and finishes up with Be In My Video, Dancin’ Fool, and to really get you on your feet, a rocked-out version of Whipping Post which may even raise Duane Allman himself out of the grave. Short interviews throughout touch on drugs, women, politics and music. And titties, of course. Crank the volume, pay attention to the lyrics, and laugh your ass off in amazement at Humor in Music.

As an interesting side note, here’s a link to the old STEVE ALLEN SHOW (16:29) on TV back in 1963. Zappa performs a piece he called “a small improvisation for two bicycles, a prerecorded tape and instrumental ensemble.” He was 23 years old.

 ZAPPA ON DRUGS (2:50)—An interview clip from 1971 about Zappa’s take on drugs, and his visionary insight about the plutocracy facing the so-called Acid Generation.

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