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.

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Comments (4)
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  • 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.

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