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Thread: Frank Zappa: Which 5 albums to get first?

  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

  3. #3
    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.

  4. #4
    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.

  5. #5
    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)

  6. #6
    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

  7. #7
    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.

  8. #8
    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.

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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.

  10. #10
    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!

  11. #11
    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.

  12. #12
    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

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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.

  14. #14
    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.

  15. #15
    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.

  16. #16
    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.

  17. #17
    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.

  18. #18
    Member Bake 2's Avatar
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    A lot depends on where you are as a listener. A couple of weeks ago I went to get an amp checked out while wearing a Hot Rats shirt, the engineer bench testing it asked if I'd heard Ruben and The Jets... it was his favorite FZ record. Seemed a little hard to believe... It's maybe not my favorite, but it's the first one I heard, remember feeling really let down by it at first, but it can grow on you. The vocals from Ray Collins, Roy Estrada and FZ are pretty carefully put together and have an aroma that you probably won't get anywhere else. You kind of always know there's something under the 50's veneer. It surfaces w/ gruntingly odd harmonies and Xenakis like percussion in a few spots... the guitar raunch on Stuff Up The Cracks is kind of priceless. If you don't run out and buy it you may never know what it's like to have your best sharkskin suit thrown out on the lawn right on top of some dog waste.

  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
    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.

  21. #21
    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 really can't go wrong with any of these. I would add Studio Tan to that list as well.

  22. #22
    Insect Overlord Progatron'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.
    Greasy Love Songs presents these in a slightly better light with the original mixes, but if you don't want an entire album of doo-wop, you're screwed either way. Personally, the best one they did was their version of Valarie on Burnt Weeny Sandwich. That's about the largest dose of that style that I need, personally.

    As for the choices already given here, you've got plenty to go on. Since you're definitely getting Hot Rats, The Grand Wazoo and Roxy And Elsewhere, I'd recommend the already mentioned Apostrophe for a fairly easy-to-get-into album to start things off with. But for your fifth choice, definitely get something from the early Mothers. Some of those albums are truly an adventure. (Yes, One Size Fits All is an amazing album and is credited as FZ/Mothers, but that's not the era I'm talking about.)
    Prog, Metal and Classic rock reviews/interviews - www.velvetthunder.co.uk

  23. #23
    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.

  24. #24
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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.

  25. #25
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    Timely thread as I've been listening to a lot of Zappa as the year gets underway.
    Hot Rats
    Apostrophe
    One Size Fits All
    Halloween '77
    Sheik Yerbouti

    These are my five favorites. Runners up to the five would be a tie between Live in NY (1977) and Weasels Ripped My Flesh.

    He played with such phenomenal musicians, many of them directly related to the progsphere, notably Adrian Belew, Terry Bozzio (Bozzio also does the live 'devil' voice on Titties n' beer in the latter '70' bands) and Eddie Jobson.

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