Monday, June 23, 2008

Early Zappa

They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. In order to get re-acquainted with my vinyl record collection, I have decided to listen to all of my records in reverse order. Rounding out the Z's of course was a healthy dose of Frank Zappa, particularly his early recordings, released in the late 1960's. While I have my favorite early Zappa albums (We're Only In It For the Money and Hot Rats) on compact disc, I still have several vinyl records from this period. What interests me about this music is that it sounds so different from much of the other rock 'n' roll music being made during this period. While much of the music in this period was blues based, Zappa drew upon classical, jazz and doo-wop among other influences and used a vast variety of instrumentation that was outside of the standard guitar/bass/drums lineup. On the Freak Out LP, the use of different types of compositional techniques with improvisation and tape loops are groundbreaking. The Uncle Meat album is fascinating for the same reasons. It has large swaths of music sprawling over four sides originally means for a movie of the same name, so there are moments where jazz meets rock 'n' roll and cinematic music. His use of satire in his lyrics was also quite unusual, and while sometimes if flops, when it does work, particularly in terms of social mores and generational change in the late 1960's, it is very effective. The song "Ugly Freaks, Daddy" really makes this point of the young going in a different direction from their parents who came up tempered by depression and war.

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