Quite a few important events occurred on December 4th throughout the years, but on a musical level, today is the day Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer 15 years ago.
Coincidence that December 4th is also the day when in 1971, the Montreux Casino was set ablaze by someone wielding a flare gun during Zappa‘s concert for the Jazz Festival, leading the casino to burn to the ground and have the members of Deep Purple (who were in the audience) return to their hotel room, watch the smoke rising above Geneva’s lake and incite them to write one of the most iconic rock songs of all times, Smoke On The Water? (sorry for the tedious sentence). Coincidence that today is the day where in 1952, Burger King opened up their very first burger joint in Miami?? huh?!?
Anyways, I had to send my regards to one of the monsters of modern music. So much is to be said on this character that, for the sake of my time today, it’s best if I just leave you to some songs and videos.
I’ll just say this: for those of you who never “got” or “got into” his music, he produced more than 60 albums with his band The Mothers Of Invention and about 100 albums total. He played virtually every single style of music and even invented a few (when I say everything I mean everything – from albums entirely made of Doo Wop to contemporary classical music for which he even won awards who earned him ample respect amongst classical composers). He was the most prolific composer of his age, and he bridged all those genres—rock, jazz, classical, avant-garde and novelty music—with masterful ease. So there is most certainly a song or two you would absolutely love.
For the sake of recommending more or less accessible music pieces of his repertoire, for his instrumental side check out albums like ‘Hots Rats’ and ‘The Grand Wazoo’. For his lyrics, that are as important as his music, I really don’t know what to recommend. Just get your hands on a very nicely done posthume compilation called ‘Strictly Commercial’ and you’ll get a narrow yet good idea portrait of who he kind of was.
Here are some tunes displaying many aspects of Zappa’s musicality:
I’m The Slime from Over Nite Sensation (1973)
The Sheik Yerbuti Tango from Sheik Yerbuti (1979)
Village of The Sun from Roxy and Elsewhere (live – September 10th 1974)
Inca Roads from One Size Fits All (1975)
Bobby Brown from Sheik Yerbuti (1979)
Who Needs The Peace Corps from We’re Only In It For The Money (1968)
On The Bus from Joe’s Garage (1979)
Call Any Vegetabele from Just Another Band From L.A (1972)
Sofa No. 1 from One Size Fits All (1975)
His music is only a small portion of what the man represented. The most penetrating social and satirical commentator of all musicians, the artist who almost ran for presidency if his sickness hadn’t caught up on him, one of the main inspirations for Matt Groenings’ The Simpsons and many politically incorrect social satyres, one of the first artists to create his own record label and distribution company (Sun Ra beat him to it in the 50s), the artist who conceptualized P2P way before mp3 with musical distribution through telephones lines, the most vigorous activist for the right to express explicit lyrics in music, the mentor who launched some of the best session musicians like Steve Vai, Terry Bozio, Vinny colaiuta, Micheal and Randy Brecker, Ruth Underwood and lots more, a recording, mastering and production genius having produced, in my humble opinion, the best sounding live shows and albums EVER, and so many other things I have forgotten, Zappa was and will always be regarded as… well, Zappa, the one and only.
Zappa at 22 on the Steve Allen Show playing the bycicle:
Zappa in rehearsal for a Baby Snakes’ representation
Zappa in politics (on CrossFire in 1986)
Frank Zappa just being Zappa (“Camarillo Brillo” & “Muffin Man” 1979)
Well that’s about it. Listen to Frank Zappa. We are in dire need of someone like him in these troubled times. He will be forever missed.
(Recommended readings: his autobiographical The Real Frank Zappa Book).