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  1. #1
    Member thedunno's Avatar
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    Frank Zappa: Which 5 albums to get first?

    Frank Zappa is perhaps the biggest hole in my record collection. The sheer size of his discography always scared me so I never explored.

    I have decided to take the plunge and buy 5 Zappa albums.

    Which 5 albums should I get (and why?) to get a good overview of what Frank Zappa is about ?

    Joost

  2. #2
    Early:

    Absolutely Free for song, farce and history.
    Uncle Meat for -seriously- visionary rock/progressive/avant-garde/whatever and heavy duty history.

    Mid:

    Roxy and Elsewhere for sheer musicality and abundance of ideas.
    One Size Fits All for refinement and groove and production values galore.

    Later:

    Studio Tan for advancement, entertainment and fun.
    "Improvisation is not an excuse for musical laziness" - Fred Frith
    "[...] things that we never dreamed of doing in Crimson or in any band that I've been in," - Tony Levin speaking of SGM

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scrotum Scissor View Post
    Early:

    Absolutely Free for song, farce and history.
    Uncle Meat for -seriously- visionary rock/progressive/avant-garde/whatever and heavy duty history.

    Mid:

    Roxy and Elsewhere for sheer musicality and abundance of ideas.
    One Size Fits All for refinement and groove and production values galore.

    Later:

    Studio Tan for advancement, entertainment and fun.
    Very good suggestions. Although I would quibble that Studio Tan really comes from the same period as Roxy... and One Size..., not his late period. If you want late FZ, try Make a Jazz Noise Here - it's not quite as aggravating as much of his late-period work (partly because it contains quite a few late performances of earlier work), and has some excellent live playing.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Baribrotzer View Post
    I would quibble that Studio Tan really comes from the same period as Roxy... and One Size..., not his late period.
    I meant "later 70s", John. Not much of a fan of 80s Zappa here.
    "Improvisation is not an excuse for musical laziness" - Fred Frith
    "[...] things that we never dreamed of doing in Crimson or in any band that I've been in," - Tony Levin speaking of SGM

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scrotum Scissor View Post
    I meant "later 70s", John. Not much of a fan of 80s Zappa here.
    Neither am I.

    He got successful enough at the time that he was always playing huge echoey halls. So he simplified his music; the more intricate material just turned into mush in those venues. Also, he got rid of the horns (until the '88 tour band), which were always a central part of the FZ sound, and which I missed. Furthermore, Frank went through his own version of selling out at that point - he played to his core audience of smart, horny, and unattractive 13-year-old boys, stressed the dumb, dirty, and mean-spirited jokes, and wrote an awful lot of songs that were funny once if at all and didn't have enough musical interest to overcome that. Playing the best guitar of his life wasn't enough to overcome those factors

    Or at least that's my opinion.

  6. #6
    Member chalkpie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scrotum Scissor View Post
    Early:

    Absolutely Free for song, farce and history.
    Uncle Meat for -seriously- visionary rock/progressive/avant-garde/whatever and heavy duty history.

    Mid:

    Roxy and Elsewhere for sheer musicality and abundance of ideas.
    One Size Fits All for refinement and groove and production values galore.

    Later:

    Studio Tan for advancement, entertainment and fun.
    This is a great call overall....maybe Absolutely Free could be be swapped for something like Grand Wazoo but yeah.
    If it isn't Krautrock, it's krap.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Scrotum Scissor View Post
    Early:

    Absolutely Free for song, farce and history.
    Uncle Meat for -seriously- visionary rock/progressive/avant-garde/whatever and heavy duty history.

    Mid:

    Roxy and Elsewhere for sheer musicality and abundance of ideas.
    One Size Fits All for refinement and groove and production values galore.

    Later:

    Studio Tan for advancement, entertainment and fun.
    Good list here. I'm glad to see some love for Studio Tan, one of my favorite FZ records.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Scrotum Scissor View Post
    Early:

    Absolutely Free for song, farce and history.
    Uncle Meat for -seriously- visionary rock/progressive/avant-garde/whatever and heavy duty history.

    Mid:

    Roxy and Elsewhere for sheer musicality and abundance of ideas.
    One Size Fits All for refinement and groove and production values galore.

    Later:

    Studio Tan for advancement, entertainment and fun.
    This is probably my favorite list of recommendations. Id probably swap out The Helsinki Concert (YCDTOSA Vol. 2) for Roxy & Elsewhere, I way prefer those versions of these songs. Probably his most celebrated band, and probably my favorite line-up, but the only studio album I really like from this period is One Size Fits All, which I adore. The others indulge in too much of the sophomoric scatological/vulgar humor which paid the bills, but was an aspect of Zappa that I never really cared for. But I loved when he was all-out absurdist as on OSFA and in the early days (Absolutely Free and Uncle Meat in particular). Though celebrated as a satirist, I thought he excelled at it on Were Only in It for the Money and barely anywhere else. In general, his satire is soured for me by a caustic misanthropic streak. I find the much-celebrated Sheik Yerbouti to be unbearable.

    I kind of want Hot Rats to be in there somewhere, too, because its such a classic, but you did ask for five. If you like his instrumental style, youre going to want it eventually (probably also Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo).
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  9. #9
    Member StarThrower's Avatar
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    Uncle Meat
    Hot Rats
    Grand Wazoo
    Roxy & Elsewhere
    One Size Fits All

    Just my suggestions. If you end up enjoying any of these you can keep exploring earlier or later stuff.

  10. #10
    Member Phlakaton's Avatar
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    Freak Out! --- I started in the basement - first one - still my favorite for many reasons
    Hot Rats --- Just get it -
    Roxy and Elsewhere --- Loads of great moments - vocal and musical -
    Joe's Garage --- harder for some to get into at first including me - vocals and singing can be challenging with Frank but rewarding in the end
    Yellow Shark --- Maybe some of his finest moments period.

  11. #11
    Start with Hot Rats.

    And then:
    - We're only in it for the money
    - Uncle Meat
    - Burnt Weeny Sandwich
    - Waka Jawaka

    This is not my top 5. This is my take on how one gets a cpmplete first impression (and possibly directed at what I believe is close to your taste)

  12. #12
    Just don't start with Ruben & the Jets. In fact, skip it altogether.
    "Improvisation is not an excuse for musical laziness" - Fred Frith
    "[...] things that we never dreamed of doing in Crimson or in any band that I've been in," - Tony Levin speaking of SGM

  13. #13
    Member hippypants's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scrotum Scissor View Post
    Just don't start with Ruben & the Jets. In fact, skip it altogether.
    Probably not the best place to start, but I disagree to skip it. It's a great one.

    1. Freak Out
    2. We're Only In It For the Money
    3. Uncle Meat
    4. One Size Fits All
    5. Absolutely Free

  14. #14
    Member Burley Wright's Avatar
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    I'll probably get raked over the coals for suggesting this but Amazon Music Unlimited has over 100 Zappa albums.

  15. #15
    Member thedunno's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burley Wright View Post
    I'll probably get raked over the coals for suggesting this but Amazon Music Unlimited has over 100 Zappa albums.
    I do not have a subscription to any of those music streaming services and the I do not plan to get one.

  16. #16
    Member StarThrower's Avatar
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    It should be mentioned that Hot Rats sounds very different depending on whether you listen to the original mix (2012 edition) or the 80s remix. The remix is denser with a much hotter guitar sound. The original sounds more akin to a jazz record with a bit more spaciousness and guitars farther down in the mix.

  17. #17
    Member since March 2004 mozo-pg's Avatar
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    I would add Apostrophe. Excellent musicianship and lots of humour.
    What can this strange device be? When I touch it, it brings forth a sound.

  18. #18
    Freak Out if only for "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet".
    Just Another Band from LA for the best of the Flo & Eddie period
    Apostrophe' for George Duke's playing
    [I]Roxy & Elsewhere[I] for an awesome band
    The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life for another awesome band
    Maka ki ecela tehani yanke lo!

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sturgeon's Lawyer View Post
    Freak Out if only for "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet".
    Just Another Band from LA for the best of the Flo & Eddie period
    Apostrophe' for George Duke's playing
    [I]Roxy & Elsewhere[I] for an awesome band
    The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life for another awesome band
    I would replace Roxy with Studio Tan and add Wazoo but otherwise agree.
    No one plans to take the path that brings you lower

  20. #20
    Absolutely Free - early Mothers
    Hot Rats - early studio instrumental
    Apostrophe - shorter songs, humor
    One Size Fits All - best studio balance of humor, songs, instrumental
    Make a Jazz Noise Here - later live, some humorous vocals but lots of smoking instrumental.

  21. #21
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    It cannot be denied. The Zappa shelves are now overflowing with product. Must be hard for a newcomer to navigate.

    For me, starting with 60s Mothers, in social satire mode:

    We're Only In It For The Money

    Mostly instrumental Zappa:

    Hot Rats (his most popular album, maybe? It was a Top 10 album in the UK at the time!)

    70s Mothers...his best ever bands, for me:

    Overnite Sensation
    Apostrophe
    Roxy And Elsewhere

    If you like those, you can't go wrong with Freak Out!, Absolutely Free, Uncle Meat for the 60s Mothers and in the 70s, The Grand Wazoo and One Size Fits All. Could have put any of those in the Top 5 as well.

    I like the crazed collage approach of Lumpy Gravy as well but that's one for further down the line, I suspect.

    I'm surprised nobody ever put together a collection of his instrumentals like 'Peaches En Regalia', 'Black Napkins', 'Zoot Allures', 'Watermelon In Easter Hay', 'Apostrophe' etc. Would be a good entry level release for rock fans, I suspect.

  22. #22
    Banned Dave (in MA)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JJ88 View Post
    I'm surprised nobody ever put together a collection of his instrumentals like 'Peaches En Regalia', 'Black Napkins', 'Zoot Allures', 'Watermelon In Easter Hay', 'Apostrophe' etc. Would be a good entry level release for rock fans, I suspect.
    There was Strictly Genteel for the serious music, but no counterpart that I can think of for the rock/jazz side that didn't have vocals.

    FZPTMOFZ is the closest, though it focuses on guitar playing and contains some different versions of the same pieces.

  23. #23
    Occipital Provocatee Plasmatopia's Avatar
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    Today's list:

    The Grand Wazoo
    One Size Fits All

    Roxy & Elsewhere
    You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 1 (gotta start somewhere)
    Make A Jazz Noise Here
    Just sitting at home rocking back and forth and jealously caressing my invisible collection of theoretical assets.

  24. #24
    Member thedunno's Avatar
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    Okay, these seem to get the most votes so far and go on the buy list.

    Hot rats
    The grand Wazoo
    Roxy and Elsewhere

    Runners up:
    Apostrophe
    Make a JAzz noise here
    One size fits all
    Uncle meat

    Thanks for the recommendations so far.

  25. #25
    Member chalkpie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thedunno View Post
    Okay, these seem to get the most votes so far and go on the buy list.

    Hot rats
    The grand Wazoo
    Roxy and Elsewhere

    Runners up:
    Apostrophe
    Make a JAzz noise here
    One size fits all
    Uncle meat

    Thanks for the recommendations so far.
    You cannot go wrong with that list. If those albums scratch an itch, filling in the gaps was one of the greatest music collection experiences I've ever had. The runner up list above is as essential imo.
    If it isn't Krautrock, it's krap.

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