"This here song might offend you some If it does it's because you're dumb" —Frank Zappa, "Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station"
"A lot of what we [The Mothers] do is designed to annoy people to the point that they — just for a second — might question enough of their environment to do something about it." —Interview with British TV in 1968.
Frank Zappa (December 21, 1940 — December 4, 1993) was a famous Crazy Awesome and prolific composer/musician, singer, virtuoso guitarist, Record Producer, film director and anti-censorship activist. His massive 75-album output, both solo and with his band The Mothers of Invention, is largely known for spanning almost every genre known to man from straightforward rock 'n roll to free-jazz, musique concrète and classical music, alternating between heavy experimentalism and accesible catchiness and being chock-full of satirical, absurd, gut-bustingly hilarious lyrics. While he had occasional brushes with mainstream fame in The Seventies and The Eighties, the bulk of his career was spent as a legendary cult figure, boasting a small but devoted fandom and critical acclaim. His eclecticism, absurdism, instrumental talent and anti-establishment stance has been heavily influential, with numerous acts citing his influence such as Primus, Phish, John Frusciante, Black Sabbath, Dream Theater, System of a Down, George Clinton, Mike E. Clark and "Weird Al" Yankovic. Several other famous musicians have worked with him at various points, such as Adrian Belew, Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar, Mike Keneally, Steve Vai (who began his career as guitarist in his backing band [Vai actually began his career with Zappa when he was a 17 year old by sending note-perfect transcriptions of some of Frank's guitar solos to Zappa who then hired him]), Jean Luc-Ponty, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and friend (occasional rival) and collaborator Don Van Vliet.Zappa's life-long anti-establishment stance manifested itself through harsh criticism of public education and organised religion, and most famously through his anti-censorship activism. The latter earned him lasting fame when he showed up at a Senate hearing in 1985 and completely tore the PMRC a new asshole with his statement, memorably comparing their proposed "Parental Advisory" sticker to "treating dandruff by decapitation". As a result, the PMRC slapped his entirely instrumental Jazz from Hell album with the "Explicit Lyrics" warning (the only instrumental album to have such a sticker), citing the title of the song "G-Spot Tornado".He once appeared in a The Ren & Stimpy Show episode, voicing the Pope (which was edited due to censor complaints). He also appeared in an episode of Miami Vice, playing the role of a coke lord. Zappa also hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live during its fourth season (1978-1979), which didn't go over so well with the cast at the time, who saw Zappa's mugging and calling attention to the cue cards during sketches extremely irritating (the only cast member who liked Frank Zappa and was glad that he hosted was John Belushi). Zappa died of cancer in 1993. Some of his songs were used during the first two seasons of Duckman as a tribute and his son, Dweezil, was cast as the voice of Duckman's moronic, Valley Boy son, Ajax. Two years later a group of Zappa fans in Lithuania paid to have a bronze bust of Zappa erected in downtown Vilnius, although Zappa wasn't Lithuanian and had never visited the country. It went on to become Vilnius' second-most-popular tourist attraction. In 2008 a replica was erected in Baltimore.No relation to the otherZappa. Or the blacksmith from Chrono Cross (though with the game's repeated musical Shout Outs, he may be...)Oh, and he gave his four kids really weird but cool names like Moon Unit Zappa, Dweezil Zappa, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan Zappa and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen Zappa.
Affectionate Parody: The album Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, made along with the Mothers of Invention, is an affectionate parody of fifties doo-wop music. Borders on Indecisive Parody, as the sound was so authentic that many radio stations believed it to be made by another band entirely.
All There in the Manual: A lot of times, the liner notes spell things out and explain some of the in-jokes, word salads, satirical intentions, and weird lyrics (Zappa felt that having the liner notes and album jacket to look at and touch was part of what fans treasured about the music buying experience). Beyond that though, there's still his autobiography which explains a lot, also the snippets of vital info you get from reading the oceans of Zappa info available on the net. Many Zappa confederates and well-wishers have stepped out from behind the curtains over the years to explain motivations or in-jokes or origins of songs. Also, Zappa's vast non-American audience is frequently confused by Zappa's satirically America-centric references, his younger audience is frequently confused by his unspeakable filthiness, and his modern audience is confused by his (often deliberately) dated references. These people gather all over the internet to enlighten each other in public. There's a lot out there to take in.
Anorgasmia: On the album "Fillmore East, June 1971" the track "Do You Like My New Car?" features a sketch where Mark plays himself, while Howie plays a groupie who is in awe of Mark's "professionalism as a rockstar." Yet she tells him that she's "unable to come" unless he sings "his big hit song to her." Being part of The Mothers Of Invention Mark of course never had a hit single, but since he used to be a member of The Turtles too he just sings "Happy Together" to her. This sketch was also based on reality, as Mark did once encounter a groupie who had this request.
Anti-Love Song: Most famously on Freak Out!, but throughout his discography.
Arc Words: On Joe's Garage the phrase "The White Zone is for loading and unloading only. If you gotta load or unload, go to the White Zone. You'll love it. It's a way of life." comes up in at least three songs.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking/Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: This is sort of a YMMV example, but from versions of "Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?" performed in the '80s (examples can be found on, at the very least volumes 3 and 6 of the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series): "He called her a pig, a slut, and a whore, a bitch and a Republican." The last of those epithets is likely to be interpreted as either the least or the most offensive. Knowing Zappa, he probably intended it as the most offensive, but it should also be pointed out that we're not supposed to like the character who thinks "Republican" is a good insult.note Notably, he also revised Betty's favourite group from Helen Reddy to Twisted Sister in this era. In a coincidence, that group's frontman Dee Snider was, alongside John Denver, the only other musician besides Zappa to testify at the PMRC hearings, but Zappa had already started performing the revised lyrics before that occurrence.
Ascended Fanon: Once during a concert, a fan called out for "Whipping Post" by The Allman Brothers Band, but Zappa and his band didn't know it at the time. They would go on to learn it and it would be performed often, including at the concert that produced the Does Humor Belong In Music? album.
Attractive Bent-Gender: Occurs with Terry Bozzio in "Punky's Whips", in reference to androgynous male singer and guitarist Punky Meadows, a member of the Glam Rock band Angel.
Audience Participation: Would at times attempt to create special pieces involving different sections of the audience to sing different songs/compositions as a way to compensate for playing in terrible settings.
Badass Crew: The Zappa band once played an open-air concert in Italy in which, during the song "Cocaine Decisions", a full-scale riot broke out between the audience and the police. Since Zappa recorded all his gigs, you can hear on a live album the moment when it begins to get weird: the first crack of a tear-gas grenade going off near the stage. The singers hesitate but the band keeps playing, and when Zappa's attempts to calm things down don't work, he cues up the next song, "Nig-Biz". Despite the tear gas drifting onto the stage and into their faces, and the increasing mayhem in the stalls, the band keeps playing and gives a thoroughly awesome performance; according to Zappa, his bodyguard John Smothers had to keep running on stage to wipe the tears from the eyes of lead singer Ray White. To compound the Badassery, it was a song Zappa had only just written, which they'd never played live before. (You can hear all this on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 3.)
Baseball: You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 4 includes a spoof of the classic "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," done as a spoken broadcast of a game between the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs, with a sort-of rendition of the actual lyrics at the end.
Bawdy Song: A considerable chunk of his lyrics fit in this category.
Black Comedy: The album Thing-Fish, about a mutated gang of black stereotypes with dresses growing out of their bodies putting on a broadway show, in which they urinate on the audience. The two audience members remaining are chained up and forced to watch a character eat the raw digestive system of a pig surrounded by zombies. Various bizarre events ensue, involving a woman having simulated sex with an enormous briefcase, a man being defecated on by a deformed ventriloquist dummy while in bare-chested S&M gear, and an ending which has no resolution whatsoever, as dwarfs holding onions spill out of the set and several characters begin randomly having anal sex as a song from earlier in the album is played backwards. This also falls under What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?, Head-Tiltingly Kinky, Antiquated Linguistics and a variety of other tropes.
Black Sheep Hit: The rather catchy (with the obligatory share of Lyrical Dissonance) "Bobby Brown Goes Down". In a documentary, Frank admitted to being amused that it kept climbing to #1 in Norway every once in a while. Also fitting the bill are his two biggest hits in the US, "Dancin' Fool" and his only Top 40 hit, "Valley Girl".
Body Horror: Frank Zappa defeats the Devil by invoking the power of Titties and Beer... and burrowing right into his body.
"Then go home and check yourself. You think we're singing 'bout someone else?" ("Plastic People")
"The child will grow and enter a world of liars and cheaters and people like you/who smile and think they know what this is about/you think you know everything/maybe so/the song we sing/are you listening?" ("The Idiot Bastard Son")
Scottish rocker Alex Harvey loved Frank Zappa and finally got to open for him one night. The crowd booed Alex off the stage, and Frank never intervened or helped in any way. Alex was kind of crushed.
Tommy Chong is a huge Zappa fan. Zappa attended one of Cheech & Chong's performances and left because he hated the duo's stoner humor, much to Chong's disappointment.
Brotherhood of Funny Hats: Claimed that the title The Grand Wazoo referred to whoever it was in one of these organizations who had the biggest, stupidest hat.
Call Back: His music is filled with these; he called it "Conceptual Continuity." Musical and lyrical elements recurred from songs to song; for example, "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" has both musical and lyrical references to earlier songs such as "For Calvin (and His Next Two Hitch-Hikers)" and "Billy the Mountain." The callbacks even extend to works of other artists he produced; Captain Beefheart's "The Blimp (Mousetrapreplica)" contains elements of the Mothers' "Charles Ives" (which appears on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 5 as well as the coda to the CD version of "Didja Get Any Onya?" on Weasels Ripped My Flesh).
The Casanova: "You want to get set free onetime? All you have to do is get your pants off, admit that you have your pants off, find somebody of the opposite sex, or, if you wanna be a little bit weird, you can do something else, but do it sexually, that's the only way you're going to set yourself free."
Also "That's right, you heard right..." and "Aw-reety, aw-righty." Zappa loved cheesy showbiz catchphrases. His invariable sign-off at the end of a concert was a straightforward "Thanks for comin' to the concert, good night."
Terry Bozzio had 'One more time for the world!'
Jimmy Carl Black had "Hi there, boys and girls. I'm Jimmy Carl Black, and I'm the Indian of the group."
Concept Album - A handful of his albums fit this trope. A few examples are the Freak Out!—Absolutely Free-We're Only in It for the Money trilogy, Crusing with Ruben & the Jets, Uncle Meat, Joe's Garage, Thing-Fish, Broadway the Hard Way and Civilization Phaze III.
Freak Out! is often considered the first rock concept album (if The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which came out a month before it, isn'tnote the songs on Pet Sounds are thematically unified but Brian Wilson has hinted that it may not have been consciously intended as a concept album), so it could be listed as the Ur Example, Trope Maker, and/or Trope Codifier. Actually, all three of the Mothers' first albums (Absolutely Free and We're Only in It for the Money round out the trilogy) could qualify, depending on how you define "concept album".
Arguably, Freak Out!—Absolutely Free-We're Only in It for the Money could not be considered a trilogy, as the album Lumpy Gravy was produced before We're Only in It for the Money.
Lumpy Gravy was not a Mothers album, however, although some of the Mothers did appear on it. However, in its own way it, too, could be considered a concept album.
Apostrophe(') is a concept album for the first five songs. The narrator has a dream that he is an Eskimo named Nanook, and when he discovers a fur trapper beating his favorite baby seal he rubs yellow snow in his eyes, causing him to go blind. The fur trapper must travel to the Parish of St. Alfonso, currently hosting a pancake breakfast, with food cooked by Father Vivian O'Blivion. The narrator then visits a scamming fortune teller whom he humiliates. The album then branches off into unrelated territory, concluding with the tale of a horrid disease called Stink-Foot.
Corpsing: One live version of "Bobby Brown" features singer Ike Willis repeatedly breaking off in mid-line to exclaim, for no apparent reason, "Hi-ho Sil-verrr!", to the point that even Zappa can't sing for laughing.
Curse Cut Short: On his episode of A&E Biography, he explained that, at the time he renamed the Soul Giants "The Mothers," the word mother was short for motherfucker and was slang for "great musician," and that the Mothers were a group of motherfuckers. The record company insisted that they change the name, so the line is,
"Out of necessity, we became the Mothers of Invention."
"And he slammed the door (THE DOOR!) in a petulant frenzy."
"A PETULANT FRENZY! THIS IS A PETULANT! FRENZY! I'M PETULANT, AND I'M HAVING A FRENZY!"
Downer Ending: The narrative of Joe's Garage has one in the form of the instrumental track "Watermelon in Easter Hay", in which the protagonist, depressed over nobody being able to hear his imaginary songs in a society where music is banned, retreats to his room and dreams one last song as a farewell to music before he conforms to society. Although this is the end of Joe's story, it's not the end of Joe's Garage the album, as the final track is a very odd fake-shambolic singalong featuring Zappa and anyone who was in the studio at the time, called "Little Green Rosetta" - technically a Gainax Ending.
Also, his death from prostate cancer at age 52.
Drugs Are Bad: He didn't like them, and he didn't want his band members using them while working. Wrote some anti-drug themed songs like "Cocaine Decisions" and "Charlie's Enormous Mouth".
However, that said, he was a lifelong opponent of the drug war, making him a slight subversion of this trope as well. He didn't think people should be using drugs, but he also didn't think it was any of the government's business whether they were or not, and furthermore felt that creating a black market was much more dangerous than having a legal, regulated market.
Dystopia: Joe's Garage is a rock opera set in a dystopian future where music and sex will be illegal, and the dominant religion is the Church of Appliantology.
Evil Mentor: One night, the green but eager original line-up of Alice Cooper caused an entire club to walk out. A music manager named Shep Gordon saw the strong reaction they caused and realized their powers could be harnessed for more profitable use. He took them to see Zappa, who signed them for this own label (he was impressed when they mistook his instructions and showed up at 7 am completely ready to play, and the Alice Cooper band idolized Zappa). Once they were on the label, their maniacal labelmates The GTOs starting dressing the boys from Alice Cooper and giving them their signature bizarre look. Soon, these young "shock rockers" have a reputation, enough so that someone thinks it's cool to throw a chicken at them on stage. The lead singer, Alice Cooper himself, said that as a young man from Detroit he really didn't know from chickens and assumed that if he threw the stupid bird back it would fly away, right? It didn't and was famously torn apart by fans. Of course, Alice Cooper earned national news headlines for deliberately and Satanically killing a chicken on stage. Frank Zappa called Mr. Cooper the very next day and asked about the "Chicken Incident." Zappa heard the true story and immediately said "Well, whatever you do, don't tell anyone you didn't do it."
"As much as I would like to walk out there and 'be myself,' the fact is that the 'self' that I am- when I am just 'being myself'- would be utterly boring and unwatchable on a stage."
George Lucas Altered Version: Frank decided to heavily alter much of his catalog when it was reissued on compact disc, due to the improved mixing and recording technology which he believed allowed him to improve the quality of the albums. A few of these had newly recorded instrumentation. Purists derided these initial reissues. The 2012 reissues, distributed by Universal, were largely sourced from the original, unaltered master tapes, in response to fans' poor reception of the altered versions.
Generation Xerox: Frank's son, Dweezil, is an amazing guitarist who is more than willing to play his father's songs, with equal technical brilliance, but also has his own, unique style.
Genre Roulette: He performed at least one song in virtually every genre of his time: blues, rock, jazz, classical, fusion, and so on.
Heroic BSOD: For a while, he was paying the Mothers of Invention a decent stipend, even when they weren't working. One night, he heard his hero Duke Ellington begging a promoter for a small advance and got disgusted with the biz. He subsequently broke up the Mothers.
"I Am" Song: "I'm the Slime", "Help I'm a Rock," "Pick Me, I'm Clean," "I'm a Beautiful Guy"
Informed Ability: We know Studebaker Hoch (in "Billy the Mountain") is heroic because the narrator claims he is. He never actually does anything heroic in the song, which is probably the whole point.
Insistent Terminology: Zappa wanted the music itself to express ideas and humor beyond the words. He said that a college's music appreciation class's example of a trumpet sounding like it was "laughing" was a very weak and shallow example of what he was going for. He pointed out old car horns going "arooga" or Harmon-muted trumpets as being hilarious for unexplainable reasons. Now, in practice Zappa's theory along these lines mostly presented itself as a deliberately Igor Stravinsky-esque use of Standard Snippet for humor purposes, but there were some cases where he innovated his own motifs, which is where this trope comes. The most memorable is probably Zappa's idea that someone talking through a plastic megaphone is the ultimate expression of bland, faceless authority. If you don't think plastic megaphones are that hilarious and/or ominous, you will by the time Zappa's done with you, especially after Joe's Garage.
"The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny" from We're Only in It for the Money is a Last Song Nightmare. note Of course, that album was intended to be played before Lumpy Gravy, so conceptually it leads into an even weirder album which ends with the instrumental version of the straightforward and upbeat "Take Your Clothes Off"...which leads into the third album, released over 30 years later, Civilization Phaze III, which is a Last ALBUM Nightmare, depending on how you look at it. To a lesser extent "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" on Freak Out! could be perceived the same way.
The title track of ''Weasels Ripped My Flesh" is another example of this on the scale of an entire album, even with the applause at the end of the track.
Leave the Camera Running: Frank Zappa enjoyed leaving small snippets of casual conversations or incidents on his albums.
"If we'd all been living in California…" on "Uncle Meat" consists of nothing more than Frank having a conversation with the band.
The end of the three hour film "Baby Snakes" (1979) keeps on going a long time, even after the concert is over. We even follow Zappa's car going back on the road for a while.
Loads and Loads of Characters: You have all the weird original characters from Zappa's songs, all the weird and talented musicians who play the songs and get mentioned in the songs like characters, and all of the weird non-musicians and hangers-on who get mentioned just as frequently.
Magnum Opus Dissonance: Even though Zappa never named Thing-Fish his masterpiece he often called it an essential album because of the political message. Yet to this day many Zappa fans revile it as his worst, least imaginative and most unenjoyable record ever, partly because unlike most of his other albums it contains little new music; many of the backing tracks are from previous Zappa songs and just have new vocal tracks. Disenchanted fans consider the political aspect so far-fetched that it's impossible to take seriously: it's a bizarre and obscene parody of a Broadway musical, featuring a chorus of mutant black men who've been the victims of medical experiments that have made their heads shaped like potatoes, and also featuring an uptight yuppie couple in the audience who are reluctantly drawn into the action, a baby with an eerie robot voice and many, many different kinds of sex acts. Despite its weirdness, some fans do prize it as a masterpiece - making it also a Base Breaker.
Myth Arc: His preferred term for it was "conceptual continuity". Also, his "xenochrony" method of lifting guitar riffs and melodies from either himself or others (he was a big fan of the "Louie Louie" riff) and inserting them in other songs.
Nipple and Dimed: Satirized in "Fembot In A Wet T-Shirt:" "That's right, you heard right... our big prize tonite is fifty American Dollars to the girl with the most exciting mammalian protruberances...as viewed through a thoroughly soaked, stupid looking white sort of male person's conservative kind of middle-of-the-road COTTON UNDERGARMENT! Whoopee! And here comes THE WATER!"
"You cheated me baby And told some dirty lies about me Fooled around with all those other guys That's why I had to get my khakis pressed"
One-Hit Wonder: as mentioned above, Zappa has just one Top 40 single to his credit, "Valley Girl".
One of Us: He was the quintessential band geek (He played snare, to be specific), and loved "monster movies". Also, he enjoyed listening to modern classical music, being especially fond of difficult modernist composers like Anton Webern, Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varese, Pierre Boulez and Elliott Carter.
Pop-Star Composer: Inverted as he rarely licensed his songs for movie soundtracks, and when he would, he tended to favor movies by foreign directors. This seems to have continued even after his death. Recent examples were two songs used in the 1997 Wong Kor-Wai film Happy Together and "Watermelon In Easter Hay" used over the end credits of Y Tu Mamá También. Most movies that feature Zappa songs are either his concert films or documentaries.
Protest Song: Many, many examples to name. Played both relatively straight ("Trouble Every Day", "Who Needs the Peace Corps?", "Plastic People") and subverted ("Who Are The Brain Police?", "Flower Punk").
Recurring Riff: Often from songs written decades earlier; see xenochrony above.
Reference Overdosed: Zappa's work is literally packed with references to other musical works and genres, 20th century politics and society and even inside jokes. Fans are still deciphering hidden meanings.
Refuge in Audacity: Became increasingly prevalent as the years passed, although it was there from the start - it was unheard of for an unknown rock group to release a double album at the time Freak Out! appeared, and by some accounts it's the first rock double album of any kind. The fact that Tom Wilson produced it probably helped the group's fortunes a lot - Wilson had, by that point, gotten the kind of stature that basically meant any act he produced could do pretty much anything they wanted, as long as he signed off on it (which he usually did - he was a smart enough producer to trust his artists' instincts).
Released Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar, a triple album of guitar solos excerpted from live performances. Followed by another album of similar length and execution, Guitar, 7 years later.
Let's not forget his quadruple album with a running time of over two and a half hours, Läther, which his record company refused to release at the time. It eventually got released in 1996 as a 3-CD set with four bonus tracks that extended the running time to almost three hours.
Religion Rant Song: "Dumb All Over," "Heavenly Bank Account," "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing". "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk" is a Type 3.
Occasionally Captain Beefheart. Both were cult icons of avantgarde music who were once childhood friends and always shared a love-hate relationship.
Lou Reed and Zappa never got along; Zappa had no time for Reed's glorification of drug use, although he admired some of Reed's songs, notably "Femme Fatale" and "All Tomorrow's Parties", and praised The Velvet Underground And Nico in a 1967 interview. Their rivalry makes it especially ironic that Reed was chosen to induct Zappa into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, saying in his induction speech "I admired Frank greatly, and I know he admired me", although in 1966 Reed's verdict on Zappa had been quite different: "He's probably the single most untalented person I've heard in my life. He's a two-bit, pretentious academic, and he can't play rock 'n' roll, because he's a loser."
Rock Opera: Most famously Joe's Garage. Also, 200 Motels, Thing-Fish, "Billy the Mountain", "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" (a seven-minute long mini-rock opera).
It's worth noting that a lot of these are pretty obvious parodies and deconstructions of rock operas in general, namely "Greggery Peccary". Thing-Fish also features deconstructions of a lot of Broadway tropes.
Secret Word: Zappa introduced a "secret word" to his audience during all of his concerts. This was usually an inside joke only he and his band members would get, but it would hold the attention of the audience during the show.
"All your children are poor unfortunate victims of systems beyond their control A plague upon your ignorance and the gray despair of your ugly life"
Zappa was particularly fond of doing this. Describing drugs as "chemical amusement aid" in "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary", wet dreams as "nocturnal emission" in "Dental Hygiene Dilemma", and perhaps the most extreme example, "a thoroughly-soaked stupid-looking white sort of male person's conservative kind of middle of the road cotton undergarment", aka the eponymous item of clothing in "Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt".
The notes for "The Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny," the instrumental at the end of Were Only In It For The Money, instructs listeners to read Franz Kafka's "In the Penal Colony" before listening to it.
His album "Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch" takes its name and cover art from a Droodle by author Roger Price.
The Spartan Way: He loved family life and relished being a father... But his whole life and in fact his whole house were configured to serve his musical career. His entire family was swept up in its orbit, and they've all helped out one way or another. The nightmarish practice and touring schedules of his bands. Living with Zappa meant living for Zappa's music.
Spoken Word In Music: Zappa's signature vocal style in many of his works, which makes them sound a lot like bizarre poetry set to music.
Standard Snippet: Zappa had an ironic and fervent love for how hilarious and expressive these could be and had his band drilled to play them flawlessly. The combination of universal recognition and wretched cliche was like a magical drug to Zappa's post-modern psyche.
Start My Own: After years of dealing with nonsense from major record labels, he created his own, Barking Pumpkin, with his own distribution system and other enterprises. Of course, after his death his catalogue was eventually re-absorbed by major labels.
Suicide as Comedy: His song "Suicide Chump" must be the most hilarious song ever written about suicide.
Take a Third Option: When there were two diametrically opposed groups, Zappa would usually choose to ridicule them both: hippies/squares, Republicans/Democrats (although he generally heaped much harsher scorn on Republicans), battle of the sexes, list goes on. It even extended to his serious writings - for instance, in The Real Frank Zappa Book he notes at various points that unions, businesses, and governments are all untrustworthy.
'Titties n' Beer' has Zappa unafraid of anything in Hell - because he was signed to Warner Bros. Records for eight fuckin' years.
The video for "You Are What You Is" depicted a Ronald Reagan lookalike (called "President from Hell") being hooked up to an electric chair.
"Rhyming Man" is one directed at the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"Trouble Every Day", the song that got the Mothers of Invention a record deal in the first place, is a Take That to the mid-60s American broadcast media and the way that they cover current affairs; it's like mid-60s Dylan singing Noam Chomsky.
Torture Cellar: "The Torture Never Stops" from Zoot Allures, which hovers between funny and scary.
Training from Hell: Serving a tour in Zappa's band was proof to all discerning people that you had chops, but the tours lasted forever and Zappa demanded perfection. George Duke related a story about how he missed a note in a concert once. Zappa stopped the whole song, announced that George was going to try that again, and restarted at the point where he had made the error.
Hot Rats got two sequels released close to each other, Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo.
Then, several years after that, there was the unoffically named Läther trilogy, consisting of Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt(sometimes referred to as Hot Rats III), and Orchestral Favorites, making up a three-part sexology. Confused yet?
Zappa kept this up until his death. Were Only In It For The Money and Lumpy Gravy, released within a year of each other, were intended as complements to each other (and even alluded to being such in their liner notes). Then, more than twenty-five years later, he produced the album Civilization Phaze III, which contains numerous references back to Lumpy Gravy. (Civilization was the last album he completed during his lifetime, and it was released posthumously. It was almost twice the length of the two previous albums combined).
Uncommon Time: Used pretty frequently. Lampshaded in one section of "Toads of the Short Forest" on Weasels Ripped My Flesh, which provides the page quote for this trope:
At this very moment on stage we have drummer A playing in 7/8, drummer B playing in 3/4, the bass playing in 3/4, the organ playing in 5/8, the tambourine playing in 3/4, and the alto sax blowing his nose.
Unusual Euphemism: On Joe's Garage, the term "to plook" is used to refer to sex and rape.
Other unusual Zappa euphemisms include "poot" (a reference to flatulence), "spoo" (ejaculation), and "numies" (mucus), although this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Valley Girl: Codified the trope with his 1982 hit single "Valley Girl".
Viewers Are Geniuses: A lot of his material requires extensive knowledge of multiple musical genres before you can even begin to appreciate it. Most obvious on albums like Lumpy Gravy.