The Four Frank Zappa Songs I Wish They Played at My Funeral
Frank Vincent Zappa, born 1940 in Baltimore, USA, extravaganza for a new band in pop music and precursor to the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album some twelve months later.
From the start, Zappa was an avant-garde, provocative, and somewhat exotic figure in the world of rock ‘n roll. His musical influences alone marked him out as a maverick, from the contemporary classics of Edgard Varese, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern to rhythm and blues artists like Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Howlin’ Wolf, and the esoteric registers of vocal groups like The Channels. , Don & Dewey, The Penguins and Jackie Dee and the Starlites. His mastery of these and many other different musical languages make him one of the significant musicians of the 20th century.
I have become familiar with much of his output over the last thirty years and there is now a great deal of his material to evaluate. For this slightly morbid exercise in choosing one’s own funeral soundtrack, I’ve decided to narrow it down to four Frank Zappa songs that I love and think best exemplify him. I’d be interested to hear any other Zappa fans’ picks:
*Strictly Genteel – the ending of the movie 200 Motels, largely sung by Theodore Bikel. Several alternate versions of this piece have been released since the original version recorded in 1971 and one of my favorites is the selection from the Orchestral Favorites album, appropriately enough. Amazing.
*Inca Roads – From the 1975 album One Size Fits All, this is a masterful mix of jazz, funk, wildly original electric guitar, and the feverish interplay between a group of musicians deeply versed in Zappa’s compositional style and woven together by various trial months. and live performance.
*Watermelon In Easter Hay – from the 1979 album Joe’s Garage Acts II & III; a fairly conventional musical backdrop for Frank, although the time signature of consecutive bars is 4/4 then 5/4. Yet he presents him as a quintessential lead guitarist, deftly instigated by Denny Walley’s slide-guitar atmosphere and Vinnie Colaiuta’s sensitive percussion. A monumental achievement.
*The Black Page – from the Zappa In New York single album, originally intended for the monstrous 4-disc set, “Lather”, which sparked a major contract dispute with Warner Brothers. A basic 4/4 beat underpins the entire composition, but the dense polyrhythms that live within this framework make it wildly complex as a piece of percussion, which becomes a bit more accessible with the addition of its basic melody. I still have a hard time understanding how an ensemble managed to play this for the first time…