Peaches En Regalia — Where to Start With Frank Zappa
Preamble: A note from the co-author Chris McCann
In my late teens Zappa was just a name to me...
It wasn't until a mid week adventure on the trimmings from a sheet of lsd and my first taste of "Dinah-Moe Humm" - that Frank became my Elvis Presley. Initially, I was drawn to his lewd comedic spin on life that all of us thought about, but nobody mentioned. But with a closer listen, it became very apparent that he was one of the greatest musicians, wordsmith's, and composers of all time. I was hooked!
This playlist from 69 - 76 represents some of the key pieces that struck a chord for me, and hopefully will for you also. To be honest, it barely scratches the surface of what you'll go on to discover inside of Frank and the Mothers treasure chest.
The work of Frank Zappa spans three decades and contains 60 plus albums. On top of all that, he is completely unique compared to most rock musicians that came out of the 60’s and 70’s. A “Where to Start” playlist seems very necessary for one to dive into the ingenious world of Zappa.
This is an artist cherished by rock fans, jazz lovers, and classical composers alike. An artist who was completely free, original, and astoundingly intelligent. An artist who created very serious music with comedic lyrics that are very not serious. An artist that Thundercat, Phish, and George Clinton all name as a main influence. Frank constantly surrounded himself with the best musicians available. His bands were on another level.
We want everyone to love Zappa as much as we do. In order to achieve this, we feel it’s best to hone in on one specific portion of his immense discography: 1969-1976 or the re-invented Mother’s period. To us, Zappa’s best albums were produced during this short period of time. This playlist is a sequential collection of delicately selected tracks from albums released within those years. Here are the albums we chose from: Hot Rats, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Chunga’s Revenge, Live At Fillmore East 1971, Just Another Band From LA, The Grand Wazoo, Over-Nite Sensation, Apostrophe, Roxy & Elsewhere, One Size Fits All, Bongo Fury, and Zoot Allures.
It’s safe to say that none of Zappa’s music is “accessible.” Having an open mind and a sense of humor will allow listeners to access his style. With that said, this specific assortment of songs should grab your attention and allow you to experience a balanced blend of his brilliance as a composer, guitarist, bandleader, and advocate for freedom of speech. Early Zappa could be too bizarre for a starting point. Later Zappa might be too dense or divergent to begin with. But right here near the middle, there is a sweet spot of one of a kind rock-fusion. A perfect run of progressive studio albums and well captured live recordings.
This playlist is not only for beginners. All Zappa fans will enjoy this. What do ya say, ya ready?
at a glance:
"Peaches En Regalia" begins a new era in Zappa’s career. What follows the beautiful drum fill intro is a whole new type of musical vibe. Sporadic, intricate rhythms. Experimental instrumentation. Unique melodies, and heavy grooves.
"Willie The Pimp" takes us on an electric violin extravaganza by Sugar Cane Harris, and contains vocals by the one and only Captain Beefheart. Zappa features with a trademark guitar solo of an almost unrehearsed freeform jam style.
If you're going to call a song "Burnt Weeny Sandwich" you can pretty much do anything you want with it. And if you're going to make it the title track of the album, you best make it a theme. All in all, this is just a really cool 60's style instrumental jam. Frank was basically a key ambassador for the wha-wha pedal as you can hear, and will continue to hear.
"Get A Little" showcases the thick, raw, sound-check style jams Frank could sometimes get into. These types of tracks prove that his one chord vamps could be just as nasty as his lyrics.
The Mothers and "My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama" give us a catchy chord arrangement with a classic beatnik sound. If you were ever unaccepted by a potential girlfriend's parents - I'm sure you'll get this track and might even have it on high rotation.
"Sharleena" has a captivating, beautiful sound to it. It’s also not a humorous track musically or lyrically. A rare thing for Zappa.
"Tell Me You Love Me" takes you on a 70's rock piss a la Zappa. Laced with big hair guitar and fully equipped with orgasmic backup singers. All just to drive home the possibility of a much sought after sexuall inturlude.
This song is a journey. It has many sections and explosions. It paints a vivid picture of what it was like to experience Frank Zappa and his outrageous band: The Mothers, live in the early seventies.
From "Live at The Fillmore June 71" I bring you "The Mudshark"
This narrative theatrical account of events has always been in question. But apparently Frank and The Mothers wrote this track according to the possible wives tale of a group of musicians (whom I won't mention) that happened to pleasure a well known groupie of the era with a FISH - was it frozen or fresh? You can do your own research on this one. Or just listen.
Another outlandish, theatrical live track. The band is screaming hot on this particular recording. Spot on. It makes you wonder how often they rehearsed? With all that said, it’s still just some great rock n’ roll. Also, one of Frank’s most rippin’ guitar solos?
Track 2 from "Just Another Band From LA" is yet another shot at anyone thats just a waste of fucking space - or a "flake" according to Frank. "Call Any Vegetable" takes us on a high energy organ driven track by Bob Harris - with a classic Mothers sound and the disregard for anyone that stands still for way too long.
Eat That Question is where things start to get a little jazzy, and a little funky. But we like that. Enter George Duke with one of the finest keyboard performances of all time (using both a Fender Rhodes and a Wurlitzer simultaneously.) A gigantic jam.
Wow. The first time I heard this my mind was blown. The music was so cool, and different. Yet, the lyrics were so ridiculous. I loved it. Two extremes, balanced perfectly. It’s crazy when you actually begin to imagine this world he is creating as you listen along.
"Dinah-Moe Humm" was the very track that sparked my obsession with the chainsmoking legend. Layered with multiple overlays this masterpiece not only flows orgasmicly - but also lyrically. Listen in at depth or throw on your favourite headphone's to experience this amazing track at its full potential.
Here’s a deep anti-racism song on how Zappa felt about racial prejudice in the United States. It has a heartfelt mood to it. Frank and the band are singing and playing with a lot of emotion on this one. “Down with doom” he says, right before melting face via a blasting guitar solo.
From 1974's "Apostrophe Album" - "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" is a studio track that once again uses multiple overlays to portray the story within a dreamscape - a young boy from the arctic and a patch of yellow snow. This track is also the prelude to "Nanook Rubs It ". Furthermore it rolls into " St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast" - which is the third and final track in the trilogy - the third track is loosely connected but continues the story of the fur trapper. Anyhow - whatever you do, don't eat the yellow snow!
"More Trouble Every Day" was originally released in 1966 on The Mothers of
Invention debut album "Freak Out" - although featured on this list is a live - off the cuff rendition of the track. Originally written in rebuttal for the sensationalist media surrounding the Watts Riots. This is one helluva track and I suggest giving the studio version a spin also.
Arguably the best band Zappa ever had, captured live. Comic banter introduction. An unparalleled style of music. The best Zappa guitar solo that I know of. This track just might sum it all up. My all time favorite Zappa recording.
Frank had a knack to observing society, and then telling it like it is. He even found a way to perfectly articulate a certain style of people who probably often gave him a lot of grief. A showcase of Frank's classic, soft and low vocal delivery. Truly a great song all around.
"San Ber'dino" - yet another hilarious story that's possibly - part fact and fiction?
Zappa apparently served 10 days in the one-horse facility - so given that, he probably had an idea of not only the poor conditions but also the locals that were born there and never quite managed to leave - sad but true. Also, a guest feature of the legendary Johnny "Guitar" Watson on vocals. One of Zappa's all time heroes.
Another fave Zappa track right here. It’s wild that Zappa and his bands were notoriously drug free. It’s almost like olympic athletes that are vegan. Frank couldn’t afford to lose musicians to poor health, or getting arrested. Nobody could come in overnight and just perform this music as a substitute. I always thought that to be a valid reason to not allow drugs. This song is a good example of the high caliber musicianship needed to be a Mother. It also speaks to Zappa’s under-rated influence on the “Jam Band” sound sans the drugs.
This is one of my all time favourites and I'm sure you'll get on board with me. The "Muffin Man" narrative intro tells of an obsessed scientist that's devoted his time to create the ultimate Muffin - on an almost cultish or religious level I might add - I've never found or read any info relating to the track but it's always been a good laugh with such odd subject matter. "Good night Austin Texas wherever you are!"
Out of all the songs on this list, Wonderful Wino makes me laugh the most. You can picture this character so easily as he is being described in the song. Frank inspired by people watching again I suppose. A heavy groove on this track too.
"Ms.Pinky" - Not only hilarious - but this track is nothing less than genius - If you'd like to know more about Ms. Pinky, Google's a great place to start LOL. Frank gives a pretty accurate description of the latex head and it's pro's and con's - I'm sure they were top sellers in their day.
Perhaps one Zappa’s most beautiful compositions. It’s just so cozy and relaxing. Who knew guitar feedback could be used so musically? It also feels like a good send-off for this playlist. Long live Zappa. “Music is the best!”
more playlists for frank fans:
About the curator - Matt mccalpin
Musician/Teacher/Songwriter/Producer/Music Collector. Matt McCalpin lives a life committed to music. He was born with a guitar in his lap, and soul in his heart. A funkified odyssey that began with an accomplished education from Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, has refined into a relentless amount of music created, stages played, students taught, and friendships formed. Currently Matt lives in Michigan with his wife, kids, and pup. When not spending time with his family, he is avidly collecting music, performing, recording, and producing the funk band Medicinal Groove. "Music is the best!"
About the curator - chris mccann
Drawn to music from an early age, Chris' first album was The Beach Boys - Good Vibrations, a record he'd spent weeks saving up his pocket money for. Now after many years of second hand vinyl markets and countless concerts and festivals, Chris a painter and decorator by day, continues to chase the dragon for that next cool music discovery. Raised in Brisbane and now operating out of Noosa on Australia's sunshine coast, you can learn more about Chris at https://www.noosadecorating.com/