SAY GOODBYE TO THIS SITE...On July 16, 2015 I got an email from Comcast informing me that starting October 8th, they would be "discontinuing personal web pages". What that means is that after Oct 8th, every page under the home.comcast.net URL (mine and every other site set up by a Comcast user) will vanish into a puff of greed.
How can they possibly justify this? Aren't they supposed to be an Internet Service Provider, one of the biggest and most profitable ones in the business? Well, apparently they came to the realization that most of their customers are happy just putting all their content up on Facebook or some other third party site that profits off them via targeted advertising. Those of us who liked to maintain our own web sites were a small enough minority that Comcast figured losing a few of us who were really, really angry about this was not going to hurt their bottom line.
Their official excuse is that they're switching to a different web hosting service provider to "improve customers' web experience", and this new host can't support personal web pages. Which sounds like a huge load of bull to me, but there you have it.
I was looking for a low-priced (preferrably free) alternative site to host these pages, since they're basically just a vanity project and I can't really justify spending a lot of extra money per month on web hosting. For now, I'm trying out a free hosting site called Byethost - here's the URL for my new site:
If you have this page bookmarked, please change it to the new page. Thanks.
To anyone who ever took the time to email me feedback (which was overwhelmingly positive) about the site, I thank you. If there's any particular content you really like, I'd recommend archiving it off somewhere. If you'd like to contact me about this, use my Comcast email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, although as soon as I can convice my wife that we no longer need Comcast, I plan to switch to a different ISP.
Every year between Dec. 4th (the anniversary of FZ's death) and Dec. 21st (his birthday), I make an attempt to listen to every single one of Frank Zappa's releases. The first year that I was successful in getting to them all was 1999, and while I was listening I was also writing. The result was a group of mini-reviews of each and every official Zappa album, including the Beat the Boots series. There were even a few "outside" projects that Frank was involved with, like the GTOs, Jean-Luc Ponty, L. Shankar, etc.
But the web page holding these reviews grew to the point where it was over 300K of plain text. Way too much information for anyone who just wants an overview of Zappa's works. So, I decided to move each of the reviews out to its own page (see the index below) and create this page which will hopefully just give the overview I originally intended to write.
(Update, 2002: Once again I did the massive Zappa marathon, but this time I took my time and extended it through January of 2003. While listening, I "spiffed up" this web site by adding a new style sheet to make things look nicer, and doing a little editing and revising here and there. Plus I added a few more albums to the "related albums" page. Nothing major, but since I've gotten so many positive comments about these FZ pages, I figured I should do some more work on it).
Fans of progressive rock, if they listen to it long enough and read enough reviews and interviews, will eventually get curious about Frank Zappa. He has been mentioned as an influence by everyone from the Beatles (Paul McCartney is quoted in the biography "Blackbird" as saying that Zappa's first album, Freak Out, was "the first pop album that wasn't just a collection of singles" and that it was an influence on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) to Dream Theater (the drummer is a big Zappa fan, and can be seen wearing a Zappa t-shirt on the back of the first Liquid Tension Experiment disc), and dozens of other bands and musicians in between. Zappa's "serious" music has been performed by Pierre Boulez, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Ensemble Modern and many others. Over the years, Zappa's bands introduced many musicians who would go on to much success in the rock and jazz worlds - Chester Thompson (Genesis, Weather Report), Terry Bozzio (UK, Black Light Syndrome), Adrian Belew (King Crimson), Steve Vai (G3), Mike Keneally (Beer For Dolphins), George Duke and others. There's almost no musical style that Zappa didn't tackle at one point or another - rock, progressive, jazz, avant garde, 20th century classical, electronic - and all with Frank's unique style and sense of humor.
Those credentials are enough to get many prog-rock fans curious, but then the big question becomes "Where do I begin?" With over 60 albums released during his lifetime, plus at least that many more in the form of posthumous releases, compilations, the Beat the Boots series, tribute albums, side projects, etc, etc, it is very easy to be overwhelmed by the Zappa catalog. Fortunately, depending on the type of music you're looking for, it's easy to narrow it down to a few top choices. Once you get started though, it's just as easy to get hooked. There are many people (myself included) who started out as casual fans and eventually reached the point of obsession, needing to own every note the man ever wrote, played or conducted. If that doesn't scare you off, here are some recommendations on where to begin...
In addition to the Cheap line, Ryko has also put out two compilations called Strictly Commercial and Strictly Genteel. The first has some good stuff on it, but seems to focus mostly on Frank's rock and "novelty" songs. The latter disc looks at Zappa's orchestral and "serious" music, and might be a good place to start for those who are interested in that side of FZ's catalog.
In 2002 Ryko rolled out even more FZ compilations. This time they tried two different approaches, first packaging together similar albums as "threesomes", then getting famous musicians to put together "picks" of their favorite Zappa songs. The first threesome gathered together three early Mothers albums, the second grouped jazzier discs. Both are probably worth picking up if you don't already have the included albums. The "picks" CDs were compiled by Larry LaLonde of Primus and Jon Fishman of Phish. I haven't heard either one yet.
Zappa himself only ever put together three compliations of his work. The earliest was a contractual obligation from the original Mothers era that ended up being Mothermania. It's a 40 minute or so album that consists entirely of songs from the first few Mothers albums, but remixed and re-edited by Zappa. The next compilation didn't come for another couple decades, until Ryko started to re-release the entire Zappa catalog in the 80s. At that time, Frank put together Have I Offended Someone?, a single CD that covered Zappa's entire career (up to that point) but focused mostly on his more offensive songs. It supposedly contains some remixed tracks and alternate versions of songs, but I never got around to buying it and I think it's out of print now. The most recent FZ-produced compilation is Understanding America, a two disc set that Frank must have put together around the same time as "Offended", but which focuses on his social commentary and parody tracks. I wouldn't say any of those albums are must-owns, but if you're looking for a compilation as a starting point, might as well go with one that Frank put together himself.
What the world really could have used is a good boxed set of four or five CDs that presented a chronological history of Zappa's work along with a thick booklet full of photos, a biography and a discography. Maybe even a DVD with interviews and exerpts from 200 Motels, Uncle Meat, Baby Snakes, etc. Considering how many bands got boxed sets when CDs first became popular and the fact that at the time nearly the entire Zappa catalog was controlled by one company (Rykodisc), I'm amazed that such a set never came out. I'm guessing Ryko couldn't get Gail to approve the idea and/or provide some unreleased material from the vault to entice fans who already had all the albums. I'd still love to see such a set come out (I'd be first in line to buy it), although I guess with the rise of MP3s not many people are still willing to spring for the packaging, especially for an artist as "obscure" as Frank Zappa. On the other hand, I just spent a small fortune on a 4-CD, 1 DVD boxed set of Loudon Wainwright III - if such a box could be put together for ol' Loudo, why not Frank?
This band also created one of Zappa's masterworks, 200 Motels. A film about life on the road and how touring can make you crazy, the two-disc soundtrack contains a lot of Frank's early orchestral work as well as rock songs, movie dialog and general weirdness. The sound quality on this one is a little on the crappy side, but the album is still a classic.
The next release from this band was a live album that has become a favorite of many Zappa fans, Roxy and Elsewhere. If you like that one, the same band (and some of the same songs) is featured on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 2, with the music played even faster and with more precision.
My favorite of the Roxy band albums is the last one that was released - One Size Fits All. If I had to pick one album for prog-rock fans to start with, this would be the one. It was one of the first two Zappa discs I bought (along with Hot Rats), and it hooked me. Fusion fans should love Inca Roads, which is considered by many to be FZ's single best song. Can't Afford No Shoes and Po-Jama People are catchy, blues-based rockers with great guitar work. Sofa is a beautiful, proggy instrumental in 3/4 time. San Berdino and Andy are great, high-energy rockers with some nice complexity and stop-on-a-dime musicianship. A little something for everyone.
If you're really, really into Frank's guitar playing, get Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar, but only get the others if you're really fanatical about it. If you don't think you can handle an entire album of guitar solos, try Joe's Garage, which combines an album's worth of song-oriented material with several guitar-vehicle tracks.
The earliest synclavier tracks appeared between the orchestral pieces on The Perfect Stranger, and on the follow-up album that contained music written by Francesco Zappa. With each new release it seemed that Frank was getting more and more confident with the machine, as the tracks that make up half of Meets the Mothers of Prevention and most of Jazz From Hell kept getting better and better. But Zappa's use of the instrument reached its peak on the album that many consider to be his magnum opus, Civilization Phaze III. This two-disc, very avant album is a high-tech continuation of Lumpy Gravy, with synclavier work so smooth and mature that it's difficult to tell which parts of the album were recorded on the machine, and which parts are played by the Ensemble Modern. Beginners may want to start with Jazz From Hell, but if you want to dive in head first, bring up the Zappa web site and order a copy of Civilization Phaze III.
The Roxy band is, of course, spotlighted on Roxy and Elsewhere, but sound even more impressive on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol 2. In New York features the mid-70s band, and some of Zappa's most infamous live songs. An archival 1976 concert in Australia was recently released by the Zappa Family Trust under the title FZ:OZ. The 1982 band is showcased on the second disc of You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol 5, while the '84 band is represented by Does Humor Belong In Music?. The final tour in 1988 is probably the best documented of all Zappa's tours, with three releases, two of them doubles: Broadway the Hard Way, The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life and Make a Jazz Noise Here. The 1992 Ensemble Modern orchestral shows are documented on The Yellow Shark.
Many fans (myself included) aren't particularly happy with Zoot Allures, but then others love it. That's another album that supposedly sounds much better on vinyl. From the 80s, the most controversial album is probably The Man From Utopia. It has several great tracks, but it also contains some of Zappa's absolute worst songs, so many fans hate the album. Another 80s album that is often dismissed is Francesco Zappa, because Frank didn't write the music and the use of the synclavier sounds particularly primitive on that album. Personally, I think it's a pleasant album (makes great Christmas music), but I wouldn't put it at the top of a "must have" list. Another album that generates great controversy is Thing Fish. A lot of fans think it's absolutely brilliant, but I agree with the camp that thinks it was a good idea that was ruined by poor songs and an overuse of tracks recycled from previous albums. Plus there's a lot of really graphic language, so this definitely isn't the place to start for the easily offended.
Unless you're really into Flo and Eddie and/or Zappa's "documentary" side, Playground Psychotics probably isn't a good starter. Many long-time fans complain about the amount of off-stage antics included on that one. The Lost Episodes and Mystery Disc also contain a lot of material that is mostly of interest only to hard-core collectors, although there's also some good music on each. And lastly, although it's a fantastic album, Civilization Phaze III is probably way too advanced for beginning listeners. However, if you're a big fan of avant music, then by all means dive right in.
Even this overview rambled on much longer than I had intended. Hopefully though it might help some folks find what they're looking for in the massive Zappa catalog. Maybe it might even start off someone who will end up becoming as fanatical about Zappa as I am. If you're just getting started with FZ and you're into great music, you've got a lot of wonderful albums ahead of you.
If you have questions about any of the above overview, or any of the below album reviews, or if you just want to talk Zappa, feel free to email me. I used to have a direct email link here, but in an effort to cut down on the amout of spam I receive, I removed it. You can piece together my email address from the clues provided on my Home Page - scroll down towards the bottom of the page and look for the bold word email.
|Rare Meat||Cucamonga Years||Freak Out|
|Absolutely Free||'Tis the Season to be Jelly||Lumpy Gravy|
|We're Only In It For The Money||Electric Aunt Jemima||The Ark|
|Our Man In Nirvana||Cruising With Ruben & The Jets||Uncle Meat|
|Hot Rats||Burnt Weeny Sandwich||Weasels Ripped My Flesh|
|Chunga's Revenge||Freaks and Motherf*#@%!||Fillmore East, June 1971|
|Disconnected Synapses||200 Motels||Tengo Na Minchia Tanta|
|Swiss Cheese / Fire!||Just Another Band From LA||Waka / Jawaka|
|The Grand Wazoo||Piquantique||Overnight Sensation|
|Apostrophe(')||Unmitigated Audacity||Roxy & Elsewhere|
|One Size Fits All||Bongo Fury||Zoot Allures|
|Conceptual Continuity||At the Circus||Saarbrucken 1978|
|In New York||Studio Tan||Sleep Dirt|
|Sheik Yerbouti||Orchestral Favorites||Anyway The Wind Blows|
|Joe's Garage||Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar||Tinseltown Rebellion|
|You Are What You Is||As An Am||Ship Arriving Too Late...|
|The Man From Utopia||Baby Snakes||London Symphony Orchestra|
|Boulez Conducts Zappa - The Perfect Stranger||Francesco Zappa|
|Them Or Us||Thing-Fish||The Mothers of Prevention|
|Does Humor Belong in Music?||Jazz From Hell||Guitar|
|You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volumes 1 through 6||Broadway the Hard Way|
|The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life||Make a Jazz Noise Here||Playground Psychotics|
|The Yellow Shark||Ahead of Their Time||Civilization Phaze III|
|The Lost Episodes||Lšther|
|Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa - A Memorial Tribute||Cheap Thrills and other compilations||Mystery Disc|
|Everything is Healing Nicely||FZ:OZ||Halloween|
|Joe's Corsage||Joe's Domage||QuAUDIOPHILIAc|
|Joe's Xmasage||Imaginary Diseases||Trance-Fusion|
|The Making of Freak Out (MOFO)||Buffalo||The Dub Room Special!|
|Wazoo||One Shot Deal||Joe's Menage|
|Lumpy Money||Philly '76||Greasy Love Songs|
|Congress Shall Make No Law...||Hammersmith Odeon||Carnegie Hall|
|Feeding the Monkies at Ma Maison||Road Tapes venue 1 - Vancouver 1969||Finer Moments|
|Mothermania||Understanding America||Road Tapes Venue 2 - Helsinki 1973|
|Joe's Camouflage||Roxy By Proxy|
1999 Postlude: Well, that does it for official releases. I managed to listen to them all between the anniversaries of Zappa's death and birth and still have a day left over. I'll probably listen to some bootleg stuff and tribute albums tomorrow, but I'll be away from a computer so I won't be able to type them up. Later on, I may add to this page.
I hope someone got some use out of my lengthy ramblings on this page. If so, the case of carpal-tunnel I gave myself typing it up will have been worth it. If you want to make any comments about this page or the opinions expressed therein, feel free to email me. I used to have a direct email link here, but in an effort to cut down on the amout of spam I receive, I removed it. You can piece together my email address from the clues provided on my Home Page - scroll down towards the bottom of the page and look for the bold word email.