So you need Frank Zappa in your life like you need a hole in your head or a third tit. You told Grant on the phone, he told me. I guess that would explain his absence from Pitchfork lists, and the general antipathy toward him surrounding clusters of upwardly mobiles.
The question is, do you OUTGROW true social commentary, or do you just develop too many disposable functional nodes in your head so as to continually mentally support it? Amidst mind-bending technical skill, in not only himself but the rest of his band too (Bowie and Neil Young both fall in line), Zappa embodied musical elitism and combined it with literally a sociological moribundity — the lack of even the flimsiest effort to fit in. While “love” was being brandished off by the hippies as if being some renewable fountain of youth, or nudie booth, Zappa was indicating that “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here.” What’s the point? Hippiedom was just another way of falling in line, another way of relinquishing your own uniqueness and subserving yourself to a larger zeitgeist. Zappa was not one for zeitgeist of any kind — and even when his music doesn’t make sense, even when it’s just downright unpalatable, its capability of exploring the outer cosmic reaches of our understanding of the art form should never be questioned. Cozy up with it? Eh, maybe draw your mental sword. All the better for purposes of polishing such things in the first place.
“I’m the Slime”
“You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here”
“A Token of My Extreme”
“St. Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast”
“Theme from Burnt Weeny Sandwich”
10 “Little Umbrellas” (Hot Rats)
A nice thoughtful instrumental here, bringing the pattern down a bit, with xylophone and bells percussion that sounds like vibrato or string bending, it’s played so rapidly. A good indication of why Hot Rats is often named by casual to ardent fans as the premiere album.
9 “Father O’Blivion” (Apostrophe)
This is where the album continues the general theme of the pancake breakfast, for the simultaneous purposes of probably making you feel really dumb and really normal, by comparison. And damn, listen to that percussion! But what else is new?
8 “Nanook Rubs It” (Apostrophe)
There’s just no arguing the cosmological sophistication of the “dog doo snow cone,” no matter how hard you might try.
7 “Trouble Every Day” (Freak out/Strictly Commercial)
Why did I pick this song? Eh, I dunno, it’s sort of more of a general crowd pleaser than anything that intense or meaningful, and making a disc of Zappa’s “commercially successful” efforts is sort of antithetical, to make an understatement. Maybe I’m just trying to pi** you off, which, as a fan of Frank Zappa in the first place, would certainly make sense, now wouldn’t it.
6 “Apostrophe” (Apostrophe)
I’ve often made the claim of both Zappa being my favorite guitarist ever, and, more prominently, the one to the greatest extent influential on Trey Anastasio, and this instrumental, one of three in total on this list, stands as the primary reference point for this. Ahem… ahem.. ahem… ahem… SHREDDING.
5 “Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown” (Burnt Weeny Sandwich)
I could sit here and tell you that the classical influence here in more baroque than modern, with the distinct measure breaks and overall meter (in addition to a sort of vague use of the harpsichord)… but what actually matters about Burnt Weeny Sandwich (and you could pick any damn song from it, it doesn’t matter) is that its sheer level of PLAYFULNESS will floor you — the way the notes and melodic strains pit relentlessly against one another in original and memorable writing. But yeah, way too classical for hippie radio probably.
4 “On the Bus” (Joe’s Garage)
Don’t you wish Zappa would make up his mind? No, you don’t, but still, up to this point on Joe’s Garage he’s earned his stripes primarily with degrading the sexualizing culture we live in containing lascivious desires and sexual conquests. None of the music has been stylistically sexual itself, and now what do we have here but essentially the perfect porno flick background noise. Ironically, it’s this unthinkable juxtaposition which grants it the bolstered power along with its autonomous musical excellence — Zappa UNDERSTANDS that the nude female body possesses an intrinsic personal power, and that this ties into the overall human comedy.
3 “The Torture Never Stops” (Zappa in New York)
The totality of Zappa in New York is notable primarily for its inclusion of the Terry Bozio “devil” skit (I can’t tell if that hilarious drawl is Bozio’s actual voice or not)… as well as the tale of the irresistible male concertgoer “Punky Meadows”… but musically matters come to a head with this nine-minute dirge about… well that’s where you encounter problems.
2 “Willie the Pimp” (Hot Rats)
This is Zappa and the band branching out and becoming COOL — unleashing this infectious funk song that could soundtrack any jam song or hippie festival, a cluster of black imagery every bit as satirical as it is rhythmic and urban.
1 “Uncle Remus” (Apostrophe)
As with most Zappa, and despite the fact that this is an ironically simple, approachable pop tune, it’s hard to clearly trace a specific influence. And in fitting with the general trend, it was more INFLUENTIAL than it was INFLUENCED, but this is odd too, because what I see more than anything is a LYRICAL thread leading to Liars’ “It Fit When I Was a Kid” — just a visual imagery of emaciating opulence, of amputating this shameless gluttony these Los Angeleans see in their immediate surroundings, and hell, having a little good ol’ fun, nasty fun.