"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 organized 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 statements, 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.Dweezil has toured with many past Zappa band members over the past several years, playing much of his father's repertoire in a series of successful tours billed as Zappa Plays Zappa. Frank's wife Gail oversees the Zappa Family Trust, which is responsible for overseeing re-issues of his discography, as well the release of new posthumous releases.
Album Filler: Many first-time Zappa listeners will likely enjoy the accessible tracks on his albums more than the complex and weird ones. However, people who gradually get used to the more difficult songs will after a while appreciate them too. That said, there are some tracks that have been criticized for being nothing but album filler, even by hardcore fans.
Uncle Meat: The original LP was a double album praised by every self-respecting Zappa fan. The CD release, however, had not enough tracks to make it a full double album. To compensate for that Zappa added several minutes of dialogue and a musical track, "Tenchio Minchia Tanta", from his low-budget film Uncle Meat (1988) to fill up CD 2 of the album. While "Tenchio Minchia Tanta" is enjoyable to play more than once the dialogue track isn't.
Joe's Garage: This double album is a Rock Opera and a Broken Base among fans. Some people adore it, others feel there is a lot of padding. The plot often goes nowhere and focuses to much on bawdy comedy that doesn't drive the story forward. The long guitar solos on CD 2 have also divided audiences. Some like them, others claim they it's just noodling for the sake of noodling. Zappa's interludes as the Central Scrutinizer also irk some listeners, because when you play the tracks it's always the first thing you have to endure before you get to the music. In the otherwise beautiful "Watermelon in Easter Hay" Zappa's jabbering takes up more than a minute and he even talks over the guitar intro! And then there is the final track, "A Little Green Rosetta", which has nothing to do with the rest of the plot and just seems to be there to go out on a less depressive note.
Thing-Fish: Another double album and, despite some very forgiving fans, the most despised record in Zappa's catalogue. Apart from a grotesquely absurd plot that, again, just goes nowhere the album is mostly comprised of stock songs from earlier Zappa albums where Ike Willis just sings over the music, but in an obnoxious voice.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Bowties Are Cool: He referenced them often in his lyrics, but always to allude to boring square people, like for instance Bow Tie Daddy.
Call Back and Continuity Nod: 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).
Casanova Wannabe: "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."
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.
Continuity Nod: Made continuity nods to his entire oeuvre all the time. He even had a special name for it: "conceptual continuity".
Corpsing: He often included moments like these on his albums.
During White Ugliness and I Believe I Can't Get Through This Again on Lumpy Gravy people crack up in laughter.
Zappa cracks up during the intro of "Muffin Man" from Bongo Fury.
Zappa cracks up several times on Joe's Garage, usually whenever the word plooking is mentioned.
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!"
Billy the Mountain was a mountain/ Ethel was a tree growing off his shoulder (Billy was a mountain. Ethel was a tree growing off his shoulder.)
Distinct Double Album: Freak Out was one of the first rock double albums in history, though on the CD release it all fits on one disc. Other double albums in Zappa's catalogue are Uncle Meat, 200 Motels, Zappa In New York, Thing-Fish, Make A Jazz Noise Here, all the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore albums, Playground Psychotics, Civilization Phase III and the triple albums Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar and Läther.
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.
Epic Rocking: He did this countless times throughout his career; one of his best known examples is the seven minute guitar solo during "Willie the Pimp" on Hot Rats or the epic jams that take up the final tracks of Freak Out and Uncle Meat''.
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."
Freak Out: The name of his debut album, which really lives up to its name during the final three tracks.
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.
George Lucas Altered Version / Re Cut: Zappa 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, most notably We're Only in It for the Money and Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, had newly recorded instrumentation. Purists derided these initial reissues, which emerged between 1986 and 1995. 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. It should be noted that some albums, such as Crusing and Uncle Meat, are simply better mastered copies of the 1986-1995 altered versions. A full list of comparisons between nearly every pressing of each album, can be found here.
The film version of Uncle Meat kept on production well after 1968, to the point where a song recorded in 1982 made the cut before the project was ultimately shelved. (An unfinished version got a direct-to-video release in 1987.)
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.
The truck driver is eaten in "Mr. Green Genes" from Uncle Meat.
The devil in "Titties 'n Beer".
"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.
And it was at that precise moment that he remembered
An ancient Eskimo legend
Wherein it is written
On whatever it is that they write it on up there
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.
Lyrical Dissonance: Zappa often gave his compositions lyrics that were either politically militant, offensive, vulgar, nothing but indecipherable inside jokes or just plain silly and/or stupid.
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.
Lumpy Gravy: A very intimate musical collage of instrumental music, sound effects, distortions of tapes and surreal conversations.
We're Only in It for the Money: Again a collage sound, with mostly rock, but avantgarde classical music too. Protest songs about the hippie culture, which was very audacious back in 1967, and songs satirizing police, parents and the square people. Apart from that Zappa introduced songs like "Let's Make The Water Turn Black", full with inside jokes incomprehensible to other people.
Uncle Meat: A collage album with more emphasis on instrumental music, though occasional recordings of Zappa with band members and song with totally surreal lyrics are also heard. It's less heavy on the satirical stuff.
Cruising with Ruben & the Jets: A total break with Zappa's image: no satire, no bawdy comedy, no experimentations, no political messages, but a Homage to doowop music, which was totally unpopular at the end of the 1960s.
Burnt Weeny Sandwich: Mostly instrumental songs and two sung covers.
Hot Rats: A more jazzy sound, mostly instrumental except for one track.
Chunga's Revenge, Fillmore East, June 1971, Two Hundred Motels and Just Another Band From L.A.: a more blues rock oriented sound with two new lead singers, Mark and Howie from The Turtles. The lyrics are far more bawdy and mostly center around rock bands on tour and their sleazy intercourse with groupies. There is also more emphasis on songs that have the allures of a comedy sketch with just a drum in the background as musical accompaniment.
The Grand Wazoo and Waka/Jawaka: Jazz albums, mostly instrumental, with less emphasis on songs. Comparable to Hot Rats in that regard.
Bongo Fury, Zappa In New York and Sheik Yerbouti: Rock albums mostly recorded live, with epic songs and instrumentals. Zappa's guitar solo's start to get longer and longer.
Zoot Allures: A darker, sleazier rock sound, where instrumental work and songs are in balance.
Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites: Mostly instrumental albums with a Genre Roulette sound that almost sounds like the soundtrack to a Looney Tunes cartoon at times, exemplified by the musical sketch "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary".
Joe's Garage: A Rock Opera with a story that is continued from the first until the penultimate track. Introduced a xenochronic sound and the second side of the double album is surprisingly melancholic for a Zappa album. His trademark ultralong guitar solos start to become more prominent.
From the 1980s on Zappa's albums became more politically pointed again (and unfortunately so specific in their targets (Ronald Reagan, Moral Majority, televangelists, MTV,...- that most of it is very dated), combined with more bawdy songs sang with increasingly more silly, comedic voices. More classically orchestrated albums came out (The Perfect Stranger, Francesco Zappa, The London Symphonic Orchestra, The Yellow Shark), two completely instrumental albums with guitar solos (Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar, Guitar), compilations of memorable moments during live concerts (The six volume You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series, Make A Jazz Noise Here, Playground Psychotics, The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life, The Lost Episodes, Ahead Of Their Time, Läther), Synclavier stuff (Jazz From Hell, Civilization Phase III).
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!"
Non-Appearing Title: Some album titles are never uttered on the albums themselves: Lumpy Gravy, for instance. Some tracks have this aspect too, like The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet.
"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"
Nostalgia Filter: He had no need for nostalgia and devoted a whole chapter in his autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book about how people's tendencies to look over their shoulders and be Two Decades Behind caused progress to be slowed down. Only a few songs in his repertoire have a nostalgic feel to them and always refer to his teenage years watching B-movies and being the proprietor of Studio Z in Cucamonga in the early 1960s: Village of the Sun, Debra Kadabra, ''
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").
Public Secret Message: He included secret messages and clues in the album art work and lyrics of his songs that are still being decyphered by fans and music historians world wide. He also had at least one secret word in each concert that he gave, usually inside jokes between him and his band members.
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 Unmitigated 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.
Repurposed Pop Song: Zappa would sometimes re-use songs or snippets from music he produced for other artists in his own work. An example is "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up", originally for Jeff Simmons' solo album and later re-used and covered on Joe's Garage.
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".
Shaggy Dog Story: Several, including "Billy the Mountain" and "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary". These two especially parodied the idea of the Rock Opera by making them as bizarre and shaggy as possible.
Zappa had a regular habit of quoting other people's songs (as well as his own) to give specific flavour and context to his own works. These included jazz and pop standards, traditional pieces, classical works and songs from his contemporaries. Several of Zappa's musical quotations were context-sensitive, especially in live jams during the 70s, where the quotation was cued by Zappa making a reference to it onstage, or wasrehearsed into the song to evoke a certain feeling (such as the 1932 song "Isn't It Romantic?" being inserted into a few lines of "Punky's Whips" to emphasize how wacky the romance in the song is.) The traditional compositions "God Bless America", "America the Beautiful" and "Marine's Hymn" are regularly quoted throughout Zappa's discography, as well as the rhythm and blues song "Louie Louie". Various works from Igor Stravinsky and Gustav Holst were quoted early on in his career, on Absolutely Free and Cruising with Ruben & the Jets.
The notes for "The Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny," the instrumental at the end of We're 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.
Studio Chatter: Frequently kept it on the albums. Some of it was spontaneous, other scripted.
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.. Also the devil brags he has the souls of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.
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.
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. We're 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.
Word Salad Lyrics: Used quite a lot, but not as common as you might think. Perhaps the best example comes from "Stink-Foot":
Well then Fido got up off the floor and he rolled over and he looked me straight in the eye, and do you know what he said? "Once upon a time, somebody say to me (this is the dog talking now) 'What is your conceptual continuity?' Well I told him right then," Fido said, "'It should be easy to see The crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe'".
Word Salad Title: A lot of his albums: Uncle Meat, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Zoot Allures, Sleep Dirt...
"Weasels Ripped My Flesh" was from the cover of a magazine. The piece is about exactly that, apparently.
Burnt Weeny Sandwich comes from a sandwich that Zappa enjoyed eating. Zoot Allures is a play on the French exclamation "Zoot alors!"