Stream 82 Hours of Frank Zappa Music: Free Playlists of Songs He Composed & Performed


Cre­ative Com­mons image by Jean-Luc Ourlin

When we think of 60s avant-gardism, we like­ly think of lit­er­ary fig­ures like William S. Bur­roughs or John Barth, film­mak­ers like Stan Brakhage or Ken­neth Anger, and art stars (and per­haps inven­tor of the “art star”) like Andy Warhol. In music, we may drop names like La Monte Young, Ter­ry Riley, Philip Glass, Sun Ra, or even Ornette Cole­man, who began devel­op­ing his impro­visato­ry the­o­ry of “har­molod­ics” in the late six­ties, chang­ing the way many musicians—in every pos­si­ble style—approached their own exper­i­men­tal­ism.

We may not often be inclined, however—as stu­dents of the avant-garde—to include the name Frank Zap­pa in the com­pa­ny of such “seri­ous” artists. There are many rea­sons for this, many of them attrib­ut­able to delib­er­ate choic­es Zap­pa him­self made to occu­py a space in-between that of a seri­ous exper­i­men­tal com­pos­er and a pop­u­lar rock and roll provo­ca­teur whose music and lyrics par­o­died the coun­ter­cul­ture and whose impos­si­ble-to-clas­si­fy albums skirt­ed nov­el­ty sta­tus.

And yet, writes All­mu­sic, Zap­pa’s “com­ic and seri­ous sides were com­ple­men­tary, not con­tra­dic­to­ry… most of all, he was a com­pos­er far more ambi­tious than any oth­er rock musi­cian of his time and most clas­si­cal musi­cians, as well.” You don’t have to take my word for it—or the word of such a stan­dard­ized ref­er­ence guide as All­mu­sic. You can hear for your­self, for free, a playlist of Zap­pa-as-com­pos­er, thanks to Spo­ti­fy Clas­si­cal Playlists.

Yes, you do have to down­load, if you don’t already have, the free Spo­ti­fy soft­ware. But the rewards are great. You’ll hear inter­pre­ta­tions of Zap­pa in New Orleans-style jazz and funk in tracks like “Zom­by Wolf,” per­formed by Asphalt Orches­tra; musi­cal man­i­festos against con­formism in “Hun­gry Freaks Dad­dy,” per­formed by the Frank Zap­pa Merid­i­an Arts Ensem­ble; satir­i­cal, dystopi­an col­lages like “Food Gath­er­ing in Post-Indus­tri­al Amer­i­ca, 1992,” per­formed by The Yel­low Shark.

The cat­a­log is vast and impos­si­ble to sum­ma­rize, the music per­formed by jazz and clas­si­cal ensem­bles of all kinds. Fans of canon­i­cal Zap­pa will be equal­ly well-served by anoth­er Spo­ti­fy Clas­si­cal Playlist which aims to make all of the eccen­tric guitarist/composer/bandleader/shameless self-pro­moter’s record­ed out­put with his band The Moth­ers of Inven­tion (or just The Moth­ers) avail­able to stream in a chrono­log­i­cal discog­ra­phy.

Depend­ing on your location—and the date you’re read­ing this post—you will be able to hear most or all of 917 tracks over 56 albums, from the debut 1966 album Freak Out! to the posthu­mous 1998 com­pi­la­tion Mys­tery Disc. Read more about Zap­pa-as-com­pos­er and the com­plete Zap­pa discog­ra­phy project at Spo­ti­fy Clas­si­cal. For those with objec­tions to stream­ing music ser­vices, Ulysses—compiler of the Spo­ti­fy Clas­si­cal Playlists—observes that “the man him­self came up with an idea for music sub­scrip­tion in 1983.” Like Zap­pa’s music, and like the man him­self, his pro­pos­al was com­plete­ly ahead of its time—and per­haps ahead of ours as well.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Young Frank Zap­pa Turns the Bicy­cle into a Musi­cal Instru­ment on The Steve Allen Show (1963)

The Night Frank Zap­pa Jammed With Pink Floyd … and Cap­tain Beef­heart Too (Bel­gium, 1969)

Frank Zap­pa Debates Cen­sor­ship on CNN’s Cross­fire (1986)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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