These days when one hear’s the name Frank Zappa often the first thing that comes to mind is either obscenity hearings, Dr. Dimento’s radio show; or that he named his children Moon Unit and Dweezil; however, there is much more to Zappa and his music than most people realize.
My first introduction to Zappa was in high school by a friend of my dads who was kind enough to lend me “Joe’s Garage Acts I, II, and III” on vinyl (dating myself here). After a few listens I appreciated the entertaining lyrics and storyline, but never thought about Zappa the musician, but rather Zappa the performer, who wrote songs about sex, bodily functions, gays, and life on the road as a band that included..well, more sex.
Zappa today may be best known as the person who single-handedly took on Tipper Gore and her ilk ( in 1985 she and other wives of senators co-founded of the Parents Music Resource Center or PRMC; an organization determined to ban satanic or sexual references in musical lyrics) who had convinced themselves that it was their duty to protect American youth from dangerous content (Poor Ozzy and his song “suicide solution” ).
Zappa testified at the governments hearings on censorship and defended musicians rights with regard to freedom of speech. “Censorship”, according to Zappa, was “like treating dandruff with decapitation”, he was right and although he did make very strong arguments against the push towards parental warnings on albums, the PRMC still got their wish. Did this make you think twice about buying an album? Not me.
During a meeting at the very same hearing, Al Gore appearently took the time to tell Zappa he was fan of his music…what a turd, did he tell his wife? This is the same guy who said he “invented” the internet right?
I had over the years I fell in and out of listening to Zappa, primarily resorting back to “Joe’s Garage” or “Sheik Yerbouti”, two albums I highly recommend. It wasn’t until last year that I bumped into a teacher at the school I work and discovered that he was a huge Zappa fan; he was kind enough to lend me the entire Zappa catalog on CD to burn (over 60 CD’s, yikes!). Over the past year I have taken the time to listen to an album a week. One will notice that as Zappa’s music develops over the years it focuses more and more into longer instrumental solos, although the comedic and novelty-esqe music he had been known for producing remained on most of his albums, instrumentals took center stage.
“Shut Up and Play Yer’ Guitar” is a 3-cd set from live performances recorded between 1979 and 1980. It is a massive work, and is entirely instrumental (hence the name, duh). I find myself playing this album on a regular basis while getting dinner ready, great background music. The songs are complex as they are beautiful; the album showcases how talented Zappa was as a musician and a composer. Although an incredible album, I would not recommend this to the first time Zappa listener, it’s far too guitar heavy.
Zappa’s sleazy humour is something not to be overlooked or trivialized by the first time Zappa listener; keep an open mind and take the time to learn just why this guy was a genius and master of his craft. A personal favorite album of mine is “Man From Utopia”, songs like “Dangerous Kitchen” and “Jazz Discharge Party Hats” are my personal favorites. Another album you may consider, and one that offers a bit of everything would be the 3-disc set “Lather”, it offers a nice assortment of Zappa ; highlights: “Honey, Don’t You Like a Man Like Me?” , “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes” , “The Legend of The Illinois Enema Bandit” and “The Duke of Orchestral Prunes”.
Shut Up and Play Yer’ Guitar gets 4 out of 5 stars.