In every Frank Zappa fan’s life comes the moment when they are talking to a friend who is unfamiliar with Zappa’s work and they ask you “what songs would I know?”
Sigh. This is a precarious spot to be in. First, you think of your favorite songs, then realize that most your friend would NOT be familiar with. Second, you try to think of Zappa that you yourself may have heard on the radio that you can reference for them, and struggle to come up with any. Sure you mention “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow”, but beyond that… Third, you realize that of course you WANT your friend to enjoy the wonder that is Frank Zappa, but how to begin? You have taken decades to come to your current level of fandom and are familiar with the many eras of Zappa’s music. You wouldn’t throw someone into “200 Motels” or “Thing Fish” straight outta the gate. My favorite Zappa track is “Greggery Peccary” but that is a 20 minute excursion and not really representative of the bulk of Zappa’s work, at least for the uninitiated.
Do you focus on the amazing guitar work with some solo stuff like “Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar”? Do you take your friend down the road of live albums, studio cuts only? Bootlegs? You don’t want your first step to be the end of their interest, and there are plenty of Zappa collections you could point them to, but that’s weak. After all, do you really want your friend listening to “Dinah Mo Hum” or “Bobby Brown Goes Down” as a first taste? These songs are great, but are not for the uninitiated as a stating point.
It’s then that you know you are going to have to take on the task of creating a curated collection aimed directly at the inner ear of your friend. A collection that shows them why YOU love Zappa, and their gateway drug to the world of Zappa that could be theirs, if they choose to continue. A collection that tries to bring in some great guitar work, shows some Zappa social conscience, includes humor with just a sprinkling of the right amount of crassness.
I opened my hard drives and began picking.
Of course I hit “Apostrophe” first. Though I opted out of “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow”. This is the one track he thought he knew. If you think you haven’t heard it, your probably wrong.
I wanted to get a track or two from The Mothers to show the evolution of his work, but stuck mostly with my favorite era and one I thought may appeal to my friend Alan most… late 70’s early 80’s. No Flo and Eddie, sorry. I chose from those that I knew off the top of my head, then did a deeper dive. In some cases I had to choose between the live cut I was most familiar with and the studio track. When I looked up “Montana” for instance I had 3 studio cuts and 7 live tracks just in what I had on my hard drive of CD’s alone. So there were some decisions to be made.
In the end I came up with 18 tracks that I thought may entertain, not scare away, and may leave the listener curious and on a good day, wanting more. I don’t fully expect Alan to love this… I know his taste, but I do believe that this collection is as close to a beginning with Zappa that it is possible to assemble for him.
I have created a Spotify playlist if you care to have a listen. It’s in alphabetical order. After spending so long picking and assembling the tracks, frankly, organizing them into the best order seemed maddening, so I let the alphabet make the call. It didn’t turn out too bad.
For the record, here is what I chose. See what you think.
Frank Zappa For The Uninitiated:
Bamboozled By Love
Dumb All OVer
I’m The Slime
The Torture never Stops
Tinsel Town Rebellion
Titties & Beer
Trouble Every Day
Watermelon In Easter Hay
Willie The Pimp
Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station
You Are What You Is
If you are a new initiate to Zappa and want to dive in, I would recommend “Apostrophe” as a starting point. It’s where I started and look at me now. Lol.