“In spite of your insistence that you are not into Frank Zappa, avid fan Roger Von Lee believes that you would change your mind if you heard the right album. ‘You’re prejudiced, because the only Zappa you know is “Valley Girl” and “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow,”‘ Von Lee says. ‘Seriously, you need to check out Hot Rats or Absolutely Free. Zappa and the Mothers were at their peak, and Zappa’s jazz-rock fusion experiments predate Bitches Brew. That’ll totally convince you that Zappa’s the shit.'” Or so reports a brief dispatch from The Onion, “Frank Zappa Fan Thinks You Just Haven’t Heard The Right Album,” which, like all their best work, resonated strongly with a certain segment of readers everywhere.
Like any artist who creates their own genre, Frank Zappa built up both a deeply loyal fan following and almost as deep a resistance among those who never found a way in. Or given Zappa’s prolificacy, which resulted in more than sixty albums recorded with his band The Mothers of Invention and otherwise, maybe we should say he created several of his own genres. And while this vastness and variety makes Zappa’s body of work that much richer and more rewarding to true believers, it also makes it even more intimidating to the neophyte. If you want a single experience that will give you a strong sense of just what makes Zappa’s musical journey so weird and wonderful — and what keeps fans coming back more than a quarter-century after the man’s death — have a listen to this Spotify playlist, Frank Zappa’s Musical Evolution (and if you don’t have Spotify, you can download and register free):
The playlist first appeared as a guest post on Spotify Classical, whose feats of musical curation we’ve featured before. “I assembled this playlist of 401 Zappa tracks that, for me, represent his best and most accessible musical compositions,” writes creator Kris Herbst, adding a bit about his own musical journey: “I became a Zappa fan in 1969, at the age of 13, when I was turned on to the We’re Only In It For The Money album by my Boy Scout troopmaster. Two years later, I went to my first Zappa concert, when the band included Flo and Eddie and Ian Underwood. Listening to Zappa helped open my mind to exploring a wide range of music, especially jazz.”
Feel free, as you listen to these 401 songs, to browse all the Zappa-related material we’ve previously featured linked below. And if you want to get a little more context, read the A.V. Club’s Frank Zappa primer, in which John Semley writes that, “like most of the things that attract and nurture the attention of pop-culture obsessives, Frank Zappa’s music is exceptionally rewarding. Zappa conceived of everything he did as part of a grand artistic mission,” a “comprehensive, totalizing concept of art that ranged between albums, concert films, and even interviews. Musical phrases, ideas, and even characters reappear across albums, providing theoretical and attitudinal connective tissue.”
And if that doesn’t intrigue you, well, just flip back to The Onion: “Von Lee added that if those two don’t get under your skin, he can recommend another 15 to 20 albums that will for sure.”
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.