Sunday, January 30, 2005

Musical Ditties for January - Zappa fits all!

After racking up over 100 tunes last month from eMusic (22 cents a track!) I eagerly awaited for my subscription to start again in January. I have the 65 tracks a month plan which is just about right or at at least I thought so. To my surprise and delight the entire collection of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was released exclusively to eMusic in January.

Say what you want about Zappa he was a rare musical genius. In some ways his career mimics Miles Davis. Miles went through many phases as he consistently explored different genres. There was Miles playing bop, blues, funk, fusion.

Same with Zappa. There was Zappa playing sixties pop, social-satirical rock, jazz, jazz-rock fusion, orchestral, live theatrical rock, guitar jams.

He, like Miles, was always exploring, never content with a successful sound and staying with it, milking it for all its worth. No, not these innovators. In some ways this was to the detriment of their careers as some of the roads they took became dead-ends.

I think Zappa always saw his work as a parody of the sound he was presenting. Everything had a tinge of sarcasm to it. Maybe Zappa's career was actually his own staging of a black comedy about the supericial music world he lived in. His lyrics,--satirical, perverse and biting, were there to tweak the noses and ruffle the feathers of the censorship crowds. If he could only see the corporate music world of today!

There are many great picks so here is a sampling:

Hot Rats: Gumbo Variations (Don "Sugarcane" Harris on violin), "Peaches 'n' Regalia"

Freak Out: "Help, I'm a Rock" (somewhat Kafka-esque but lots of fun).

One Size Fits All: "Sofa No.1" ("Saturday Nite Live" theme), "Po-jama People", "Inca Roads". Most of the vocals are by George Duke.

Waka/Jawaka: "Big Swifty". Big band-type jazz instrumentals.
Grand Wazoo: "Blessed Relief". Big band-type jazz instrumentals.
These two albums are "sister" recordings with the same explorations in mind. Today you'll hear jazz combos playing these tracks.

Apostrophe': "St. Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast", "Uncle Remus" (with George Duke), Father O'Blivion.

Over-nite Sensation: "I'm the Slime"

Absolutely Free: "Call Any Vegetable", "Plastic People"

Roxy and Elsewhere: "Be-Bop Tango"

I was never a fan of Zappa's lyrics when he ventured into the raunchy areas but I loved his satire. Though it delved into Los Angeles weirdness and kinkiness of the 60's and 70's I think his mission was to stick it to the censors. He capped it off with his hit single "I'm the Slime from the Radio". Today, his lyrics wouldn't lift an eye compared to the loathsome words of today's rapper's.

Zappa will still be enjoyed by many, and his repetoire re-presented by today's musicians, but be careful as you explore. You may get offended along the way. I think that's just how Zappa wanted it.

Copyright © 2005 James D. Fisher
All rights reserved.


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