Hear the Musical Evolution of Frank Zappa in 401 Songs

zappa evolution

Image by Helge Øverås, via Wikimedia Commons

“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.”

Related Content:

Who the F*@% is Frank Zappa?: Kickstart the Making of the Definitive Frank Zappa Documentary

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

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

Frank Zappa’s Experimental Advertisements For Luden’s Cough Drops, Remington Razors & Portland General Electric

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

The Night John Lennon & Yoko Ono Jammed with Frank Zappa at the Fillmore East (1971)

When Frank Zappa & Miles Davis Played a Drug Dealer and a Pimp on Miami Vice


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.

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Mattlepat says:

    Zappa always impressed me. wtih that sense of humour he had.

  • Mattlepat says:


  • William says:

    The “Industry” did not like Frank. He represented (and still does) the kind of artistic freedom that can scare an authoritarian system like ours.

    I love Frank. I discovered him in 6th grade after an older sibling bought Freak Out, and have been listening to him ever since. Through all 100 official releases, and beyond. Frank is a daily thing for me…almost always.

    People often cite his humor, not realizing the underlying message is always one of social anarchy. Frank was the ultimate anti-establishment warrior. He not only talked the talk, he walked it, too.

    I miss him. And I’m sure he would not like what is happening to his legacy as it is being handled by those currently controlling the Zappa Family Trust.

  • brad robling says:

    I too love frank. first saw him on Saturday night live in 70s. I live in Indiana so only got to see him once in indy. & if people dont git him, thats there lose. & i agree with the family trust it shameful.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.