- Edgard Varèse, Igor Stravinsky, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Guitar Slim, Muddy Waters, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Béla Bartók, Doo-wop, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Otis, Captain Beefheart, Olivier Messiaen, Spike Jones, Bob Dylan, Pierre Boulez, John Cage, Charles Ives, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Roland Kirk, Maurice Ravel, Ravi Shankar, Big Mama Thornton, The Coasters, Toru Takemitsu, Kurt Weill, The Shaggs, Lenny Bruce, The Fugs...
- The Beatles, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Jimi Hendrix, Captain Beefheart, The Stooges, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, George Clinton, Steve Vai, Jethro Tull, Dead Kennedys, Talking Heads, "Weird Al" Yankovic, They Might Be Giants, Primus, Phish, Ween, Tenacious D, Pere Ubu, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, Devo, Kraftwerk, Oingo Boingo, System of a Down, King Crimson, Merzbow, Soft Machine, Steven Wilson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Frusciante, Insane Clown Posse, Radiohead, The Mars Volta, R. Stevie Moore, Magma...
Frank Vincent Zappa (December 21, 1940 — December 4, 1993) was a famous Crazy Awesome and prolific composer/musician, singer, 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 accessible catchiness and being chock-full of satirical, absurd, gut-bustingly funny lyrics. While he had occasional brushes with mainstream fame in The '70s and The '80s, the bulk of his career was spent as a legendary cult figure, boasting a small but devoted fandom and critical acclaim.
Many other famous musicians worked with him at various points, such as Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar, Mike Keneally, Steve Vai note , Jean Luc-Ponty, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Pink Floydnote , and friend (and occasional rival) and collaborator Don Van Vliet. Avant-garde guitarist Adrian Belew also got his big break working with Zappa, and managed to work with both David Bowie and Talking Heads off of the strength of his contributions to Zappa's music (having impressed Brian Eno enough to make him recommend Belew to both artists); in turn, his work with Bowie and GaGa led to him becoming the frontman for King Crimson between 1981 and 2008 (and he certainly didn't forget his roots working with Zappa; hell, "City of Tiny Lites" would fit right in with Belew's later work with King Crimson).
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 of Red Hot Chili Peppersnote , Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Dream Theater, System of a Down, George Clinton, Mike E. Clark, They Might Be Giants and "Weird Al" Yankovic.
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".
Despite his anti-establishment stance, Zappa was a major supporter of advancements in technology in music. He was one of the first non-classical, non-jazz artists to embrace digital recording, sourced out indie label Rykodisc to provide officially-sanctioned CD releases of his work (long before they hit it big with the Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie back-catalogs; incidentally, Bowie's decision to license his catalog to Rykodisc was directly inspired by Zappa's use of the label), and was an early adopter of the Synclavier digital synthesizer and sampler. The instrument would become an increasingly prominent feature in Zappa's work as the years went on and his music grew more complex, leading Zappa to believe that his work had reached a point where performing it with actual musicians would be next-to-impossible (the Modern Ensemble's performance of "G-Spot Tornado" on The Yellow Shark would at least partly trounce that notion). Zappa even predicted the rise of digitally downloaded music, albeit envisioning it as being a phone line-based service (seeing as how the internet at the time wasn't the publicly available and widely versatile network that it is today).
He once appeared in the The Ren & Stimpy Show episode "Powdered Toast Man", voicing the Pope (which, almost inevitably for both Zappa and Ren & Stimpy at this point, was edited due to censor complaints). He also appeared in an episode of Miami Vice, playing the role of a coke lord, ironic but also surprisingly apt given his own distaste for the drug and its prevalence at the time. 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 and led to him getting banned from the show (the only cast member who liked Frank Zappa and was glad that he hosted was John Belushi); SNL fans tend to consider it one of the worst episodes of the show, a possible Intended Audience Reaction on Zappa's part given his dislike towards the stringently limited amount of time he had to memorize and rehearse the episode's scripts. He published his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, in 1989.
Frank was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990; it was already terminal, and it's thought he was suffering with it for up to a decade prior. He devoted his remaining years to work with the Synclavier, and continued a prolific production schedule. He died in 1993, 17 days short of his 53rd birthday. His final album, the double-CD Synclavier epic Civilization Phaze III, was released the following year.
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, which actually was his birthplace. Rolling Stone recognizes him as the twentieth greatest guitarist of all time on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
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. Moon is probably best known for her vocals on Zappa's highest-charting single, 1982's "Valley Girl", and Dweezil has toured with many former Zappa band members over the past several years, playing much of his father's repertoire in a series of successful concert tours billed as Zappa Plays Zappa.
After his death, Frank's wife Gail managed the Zappa Family Trust, which is responsible for overseeing re-issues of his discography, overseeing the use of Zappa's works in other media, as well the release of new posthumous releases. In 2012, the Trust collaborated with Universal Music Enterprises to put out a massive CD reissue campaign of Zappa's canonical back-catalog, compiling every studio and live album released during his lifetime (including the three that Warner Bros. released behind his back) plus the 1996 posthumous release Läther under the "Official Release" banner; these reissues are nowadays considered the definitive CD releases of Zappa's material, with only a small number of exceptionsnote . The "Official Release" banner is also used for new posthumous releases that've been officially sanctioned by the Trust. When Gail passed away in October of 2015, Amhet and Diva were placed in charge of the Trust, much to the chagrin of their siblings.
Zappa albums with pages on TV Tropes, as indicated by the 2012 "Official Releases" reissue campaign (studio albums in bold):
- Freak Out (1966)
- Absolutely Free (1967)
- Lumpy Gravy (1968)
- We're Only in It for the Money (1968)
- Cruising with Ruben & the Jets (1968)
- Uncle Meat (1969)
- Hot Rats (1969)
- Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970)
- Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970)
- Chunga's Revenge (1970)
- Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971)
- 200 Motels (1971)
- Just Another Band from L.A. (1972)
- Waka/Jawaka (1972)
- The Grand Wazoo (1972)
- Over-Nite Sensation (1973)
- Apostrophe (') (1974)
- Roxy & Elsewhere (1974)
- One Size Fits All (1975)
- Bongo Fury (1975)
- Zoot Allures (1976)
- Zappa in New York (1978)
- Studio Tan (1978)
- Sleep Dirt (1978)
- Sheik Yerbouti (1979)note
- Orchestral Favorites (1979)
- Joe's Garage (1979)
- Tinseltown Rebellion (1981)
- Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar (1981)
- You Are What You Is (1981)
- Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch (1982)
- The Man From Utopia (1983)
- London Symphony Orchestra (1983/1987)note
- The Perfect Stranger (1984)
- Them or Us (1984)
- Francesco Zappa (1984)
- Thing-Fish (1984)
- Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention (1985)
- Does Humor Belong in Music? (1986)
- Jazz from Hell (1986)
- Guitar (1988)
- Broadway the Hard Way (1988)
- The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life (1991)
- Make a Jazz Noise Here (1991)
- The Yellow Shark (1993)
- Civilization Phaze III (1994)
- Läther (1996)note
TV Tropes, what's gotten into you?:
- 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.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic parodied Zappa's style in the song "Genius in France", which is an original "style parody" rather than a takeoff of an existing song. It sounds uncannily like a real Zappa piece, thanks at least in part to Frank's son Dweezil showing up to play the guitar solo.
- The introduction to "The Illinois Enema Bandit" from Zappa in New York starts out with a march followed by some Dragnet-style heavy brass and "this is a true story"-type narration.
- 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 CD issue of this album added roughly forty-one minutes of dialogue from the unfinished film of the same name between the original LP's third and fourth sides, alongside a bonus track recorded almost two decades later in the early eighties ("Tengo na minchia tanta", which also appears in the Dub Room Special video), that ended up in a later revision of the film (one that saw home video release) but otherwise had nothing to do with Uncle Meat itself. Uncle Meat proper is just under seventy-seven minutes, which at the time could not fit on one CD; making two discs felt short, so the bonuses were added to really pad it all out. Most Zappa fans call them "penalty tracks".
- Joe's Garage: This 3LP / 2CD Rock Opera is a bit of a Broken Base, as the plot and tight sequencing at the beginning of the album starts to unwind as the album plays out. The album spends three songs early on focusing on a background character and her sexual encounters with a band (as a bit of an Author Tract), and the final third of the album features little in the way of plot and plenty in the way of guitar solos.
- Thing Fish: Another 3LP / 2CD Rock Opera, generally considered to be the most despised record in Zappa's catalogue. The album was critically panned on release for repurposing eight songs to fit the narrative of the album.
- Album Title Drop:
- "It Can't Happen Here" from Freak Out:Who could imagine that they would freak out somewhere in Kansas?
- "Hot Rats", in "Willie the Pimp"
- Apostrophe is mentioned in "Stink-Foot".
- "It Can't Happen Here" from Freak Out:
- All Drummers Are Animals: Terry Bozzio, hoo boy.
- 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.) Indeed, several songs in the late 70s and early 80s were based entirely around in-jokes, such as "Punky's Whips" (see Attractive Bent-Gender.) 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.
- Animal Motifs: Fido the poodle (Apostrophe ('), Roxy & Elsewhere), pigs and ponies (Lumpy Gravy), the mudshark (Fillmore East, June 1971), giant spiders (Roxy & Elsewhere, Sleep Dirt), toads (Weasels Ripped My Flesh) and weasels (Weasels Ripped My Flesh).
- Anorgasmia: On the album Fillmore East, June 1971 the track "Do You Like My New Car?" features a sketch where Howard plays himself, while Mark plays a groupie who is in awe of Howard's "professionalism as a rockstar." In other versions of the sketch (the Fillmore album doesn't make it clear), she tells him that she "can't come" unless he sings "his big hit record" to her. Being part of The Mothers Of Invention Howard 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 Howard 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: From versions of "Honey, Don't You Want a Man Like Me?" from Zappa in New York 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.note
- Attractive Bent-Gender: Occurs with Zappa's then-drummer Terry Bozzio in "Punky's Whips", in reference to androgynous male singer and guitarist Punky Meadows, a member of the Glam Rock band Angel. The song was based on Bozzio keeping a picture of the guitarist with him.
- 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.
- Author Appeal: Music in general, freedom of speech, Edgard Varèse, Igor Stravinsky, Doo-wop, smoking, coffee, politics, comedy, Satire, ..., which are all a Creator Thumbprint too.
- Awesome McCoolname: Art Tripp
- Autobiography: The Real Frank Zappa Book
- Badass Crew: Zappa 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. When a tear gas canister went off near the stage, the singers hesitated but the band kept playing, and when Zappa's attempts to calm things down didn't work, he cued up the next song, "Nig-Biz". Despite the tear gas continuing to fill the stage and the increasing mayhem in the stalls, the band kept playing and gave a thoroughly solid 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. As Zappa had a habit of recording every live performance, the full audio of this was eventually released on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore Vol. 3.
- Badass Moustache: Even a trademark logo.
- Badass Normal: Believe it or not, a human being wrote all that.
- 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.
- Berserk Button: Country Music, hippies, love songs, the plastic people, Republicans, unions, Disco, Richard Nixon, the American government, American public schools, Ronald Reagan, drug users, televangelists, the Moral Majority, MTV, the PMRC, Pat Boone, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Michael Jackson, advertising,...
- Biting-the-Hand Humor: We're Only in It for the Money splits its time between satirizing the mistreatment of actual outcasts ("Concentration Moon", "Mom & Dad") and mocking hippies ("Who Needs the Peace Corps?", "Absolutely Free", "Flower Punk").
- 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 from Zappa in New York... and burrowing right into his body.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: "Wet T-Shirt Nite" on Joe's Garage:Ike Willis: I know you want someone to show you some tits! BIG ONES! WET ONES! BIG WET ONES!
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done a couple of times.
- "Plastic People", from Absolutely FreeThen go home and check yourself. You think we're singing 'bout someone else?
- "The Idiot Bastard Son", from We're Only in It for the MoneyThe 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?
- "Plastic People", from Absolutely Free
- Broken Pedestal:
- 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 in the liner notes of "The Lost Episodes" 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" from Studio Tan and Läther has both musical and lyrical references to earlier-released songs such as "For Calvin (and His Next Two Hitch-Hikers)" from The Grand Wazoo and "Billy the Mountain" from Just Another Band from L.A.. The callbacks even extend to works of other artists he produced; Captain Beefheart's "The Blimp (Mousetrapreplica)" from Trout Mask Replica 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 "Didja Get Any Onya?" on the Rykodisc CD edition of 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."
- "Take it away, [name]!"
- "Bring the band on down behind me", when making an announcement.
- Also "That's right, you heard right..." and "Aw-reety, aw-righty" and "Hello/Goodnight, boys and girls". 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."
- "Suzy Creamcheese, what's got into you?"
- Catholic Schoolgirls Rule: "Catholic Girls", from Frank ZappaDid they all take the vow?
- Classical Music: His work often incorporates classical music, or is classical music, and he often employed classical orchestras. Started out in serious music and took up rock/pop music as a day job. The Perfect Stranger, London Symphony Orchestra and The Yellow Shark are all classical albums.
- Concept Album: A handful of his albums fit this trope. Some featured recurring thematic ideas, while others were fully fleshed out rock operas. Notable examples include:
- 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 ), so it could be listed as the Ur-Example, Trope Maker, and/or Trope Codifier. The following two Mothers albums, Absolutely Free and We're Only in It for the Money, were heavier concept albums than Freak Out!, with the latter being a satire on all sides of the Flower Power movement: the hippies that abandoned their cause to conform to a lifestyle of flowers and weed, and the fakes who would join them to look hip; the parents who didn't pay attention to their kids; and the police who would eventually brutalize those kids.
- Cruising with Ruben & the Jets: An album of straight doo-wop songs, removed form their era.
- 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 the trapper 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.
- Joe's Garage: A man is jailed for playing in a rock and roll band in a time when music is outlawed. Falls off the rails hard by the end.
- You Are What You Is: A stream-of-consciousness story skewering teenagers, groupies, phonies and religious fanatics.
- Thing Fish: Mutated black people stage a play for an unwitting white couple as a pretense to kidnap and torture them, and show how their carelessness led to their situation. Spectacularly falls off the rails and bursts into flames by the end.
- Francesco Zappa: Zappa performing compositions by the actual 18th century composer Francesco Zappa.
- Civilization Phaze III: A post-apocalyptic society lives within a piano, as sentient pigs and ponies have taken over the Earth. The album is conceptually linked with We're Only In It for the Money (Phase I) and Lumpy Gravy (Phase II) as all share source material from 1966-67.
- Confusing Multiple Negatives: The chorus of "You Are What You Is":Do you know what you are?
You are what you is,
You is what you am,
(A cow don't make ham),
You ain't what you're not,
So see what you got,
You are what you is,
And that's all it is...
- Continuity Nod: Zappa 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 Don't Think I Can Go 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.
- You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore Vol.3 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. When that joke wears out, Ike and other bandmates find more exclamations to throw in there to keep Zappa laughing.
- Creator In-Joke: Zappa had so many in-jokes with his bandmates that he wrote multiple songs about them. Only a few of them have been fully explained, and only one "The Jazz Discharge Party Hats" from The Man From Utopia explains the joke for the audience (the joke in question was why certain members of the band wore women's panties on their head during concerts.) Other in-jokes are mentioned in passing in concerts, such as Zappa offhandedly mentioning in "Titties & Beer" from Zappa in New York that the Devil (played by drummer Terry Bozzio) jerks off to a picture of Angel guitarist Punky Meadows (which got its own in-joke song, "Punky's Whips". See Attractive Bent-Gender.)
- 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,Zappa: Out of necessity, we became the Mothers of Invention.
- Department of Redundancy Department:
- "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" from Zappa in New York has one, when the male protagonist loses his temper on being denied sex by the female protagonist:And she 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" from Just Another Band from L.A.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.)
- "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" from Zappa in New York has one, when the male protagonist loses his temper on being denied sex by the female protagonist:
- 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 Phaze II the triple album Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar and Läther which was planned as a quadruple vinyl album (it became a triple CD set).
- 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" from The Man From Utopia and "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" from You Are What You Is.
- 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.
- Elvis Has Left the Planet: "Elvis Has Just Left the Building" from Broadway The Hard Way, where the narrator asks Jesus to let him come back.
- 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. Other extreme examples are "Billy the Mountain" from Just Another Band from L.A., which was known to get as long as forty minutes sometimes during live performances, and the sort-of sequel "The Adventures of Gregary Peccary" from Studio Tan and Läther, which in the album version is twenty-one minutes long and in one live performance is thirty-three. "Black Napkins" is twenty-eight minutes long on the deluxe reissue of Zappa in New York. Absolutely Free could also be considered an example; it essentially consists of the 19:46 title suite (not to be confused with the identically named and much shorter song on We're Only in It for the Money, which is a completely different composition) and the 18:49 "The M.O.I. American Pageant", but these are each divided into several tracks. There are plenty of other examples, many of which also hover around the twenty-minute mark; you could probably fill four or five CDs with different songs Zappa stretched out to the twenty-minute mark in various performances throughout the years.
- Everything Is an Instrument: In one of his earliest performances live on the Steve Allen Show in 1963, Zappa played the fiddle... on a bicycle.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: "King Kong" from 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."
- The Evil Prince:
- The song "The Torture Never Stops" on Zoot Allures, features an Evil Prince.
- Thing Fish features a government scientist and part-time theater critic who's referred to as The Evil Prince.
- Fading into the Next Song: A lot of his albums contain almost no gaps except when needed for LP side breaks, although in some cases songs are linked with Studio Chatter rather than with musical cues. Good examples include Absolutely Free, Lumpy Gravy, We're Only in It for the Money, Läther, and Civilization Phaze III, but there are many others. Absolutely Free basically only has two songs (except on CD reissues, which add two short bonus songs), but they're divided into several tracks each.
- Filk Song: Cheepnis from Roxy & Elsewhere is a song about monster movies with unconvincing special effects.
- Freak Out: The name of his debut album, which really lives up to its name during the final three tracks (two songs on LP versions, but "Help, I'm a Rock" was divided into two tracks for CD releases).
- Gainax Ending / No Ending:
- Joe's Garage follows the story of Joe as he is arrested for performing music at a time when music is declared illegal. At the end, he plays one final guitar solo in his mind before hanging up his imaginary guitar and rejoining society. The ending is represented by "A Little Green Rosetta", which goes entirely off the rails from the album itself and even from itself halfway through the song.
- Thing Fish involves a WASP couple being tortured by genetically mutated black people, under the pretense that everything happening to them is All Part of the Show the WASP couple thought they were watching. It eventually devolves into an enormous orgy involving every character as a song from earlier in the album plays in reverse.
- 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 Cruising 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.)
- Groupie Brigade: Zappa wrote countless songs about groupies and their devotion for rock stars, most notably on the albums Chunga's Revenge, Fillmore East, June 1971, 200 Motels and album one of Joe's Garage.
- 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 Hyena: Louis the Turkey on Lumpy Gravy.
- Ikea Erotica: Offences by a certain other rock musician are parodied hilariously in "Is That Guy Kidding or What?" and "I Have Been in You" from Sheik Yerbouti.
- I'm a Humanitarian:
- 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" from Over-Nite Sensation, "Help I'm a Rock" from Freak Out, "Pick Me, I'm Clean" from Tinseltown Rebellion and "I'm a Beautiful Guy" from You Are What You Is.
- Informed Ability: We know Studebaker Hoch (in "Billy the Mountain" from Just Another Band from L.A.) 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.
- Instrumentals: They were often the highlights of his albums.
- Insufferable Genius: Had an IQ estimated at 172 and could, at times, be somewhat insufferable.
- Intercourse with You:
- Parodied and taken to the extreme with "Dirty Love" from Apostrophe ('), "Titties and Beer" from Zappa in New York, "Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt" from Joe's Garage and many more.
- Most of the Fillmore East, June 1971 album is about this - the "groupie suite" which occupies most of the album is filled with references to assorted fetishes and sexual acts
- Chunga's Revenge has almost every vocal tune be about this ("Road Ladies", "Tell Me You Love Me", "Would You Go All the Way?"), except "Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink".
- Several songs on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 6 as well, which Zappa himself acknowledged in the notes.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While Frank could be difficult to deal with, he nevertheless showed devotion to many of the people in his life and fought passionately for personal freedom.
- In the 1970s Zappa hired a music copyist to copy a bunch of music he'd written; these were the days before it was possible to get computers to do that. As the work went on (music copying takes a long time), the copyist found out that he and his wife were going to have a baby. Towards the end of the job, the copyist was worried that he was about to have a newborn child and be out of a job. Zappa said goodbye to the guy and let him go, and then the next day rang him up and told him "I feel bad letting you go like this when you could really use the money. I'll find more work for you to do." He kept the copyist on the payroll for several more months.
- Two Scandinavian fans once approached Zappa after a gig and asked if he could say goodnight to their little brother, who had wanted to come but was too young, and was in bed at home. Zappa went back to their house and woke the kid up to say hi, and then sat in the family kitchen for hours drinking coffee with the parents and talking politics.
- Lampshade Hanging:
- For both the incidents described in the lyrics of this particular song and, arguably, his entire body of work, from "Jazz Discharge Party Hats" from The Man From Utopia:Some of you might think this is weird, no wonder
It's not exactly normal, but what the heck
- "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" from Freak Out is a total Lampshade Hanging.
- For both the incidents described in the lyrics of this particular song and, arguably, his entire body of work, from "Jazz Discharge Party Hats" from The Man From Utopia:
- Large Ham: Terry Bozzio, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Captain Beefheart, Adrian Belew, Flo and Eddie... really, Frank's band was a World of Ham.
- Last Note Nightmare:
- Perhaps the Trope Maker, "I Ain't Got No Heart" from Freak Out! is a Double Subversion.
- "The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny" from We're Only in It for the Money is a Last Song Nightmare. note 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.
- A telephone conversation between Zappa and a friend of his wife can be heard on We're Only in It for the Money.
- "If we'd all been living in California " on Uncle Meat consists of nothing more than Jimmy Carl Black complaining about the financial situation of the band.
- The end of the three hour film Baby Snakes (1979) keeps on going for 10 minutes, even after the concert is over. We even follow Zappa's car going back on the road for a while.
- Left Hanging: Nanook Rubs It from Apostrophe (').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
- Listeners 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.
- Live Album: Zappa has released an alarming amount of live albums in his career. Many of his releases that are considered proper "albums" have been fully live albums, such as Sheik Yerbouti and Bongo Fury. Many of them featured studio overdubs, while some featured studio compositions interspersed with the live material (like Weasels Ripped My Flesh.) Notable albums include:
- Roxy & Elsewhere: A showcase of Zappa's formidable 1974 band.
- Zappa in New York: Zappa's December 1976 shows with an enlarged ensemble including members of the Saturday Night Live band.
- Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar: Guitar solos excerpted from concerts (later repeated on Guitar.)
- the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series: carefully selected live performances over the course of Zappa's career.
- Ahead of Their Time, Hammersmith Odeon, etc.: Full versions of performances which were previously excerpted and overdubbed for studio albums (Hammersmith being the basis of Sheik Yerbouti, for example.)
- 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.
- Matzo Fever: "Jewish Princess" from Sheik Yerbouti.
- Medium Awareness: From "Sy Borg" on Joe's Garage:Joe: But I...
I, I, I, I, I...
I can't pay
I gave all my money
To some kinda groovy
Two songs ago...
- Mind Screw: A lot of his albums qualify.
- Misogyny Song: Zappa was often accused of writing misogynist songs, though he defended himself that he had written more songs about "stupid men" than "stupid women". Granted, it doesn't help that a lot of his "stupid men" songs were written in-character, attacking and dismissing women for any variety of reasons.
- Mister Muffykins: Zappa built an entire Running Gag concept about poodles in his lyrics, also pondering why humans have felt the need to modify this dog species according to their own kitschy desires. A famous example is "The Poodle Lecture", included on various live albums and videos. A spoken prelude to "Dirty Love", it incorporates poodle-grooming into the story of the Garden Of Eden.
- Mondegreen: His cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" from Are You Experienced uses the widely noted mondegreen "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" amongst other lyric changes For the Lulz.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Frank Zappa was an expert at this. He wrote songs about the dangers of going to your kitchen at night ("The Dangerous Kitchen", from The Man From Utopia), dental floss ("Montana" from Over-Nite Sensation), sex dolls ("Mrs. Pinky" from Zoot Allures), smelly feet ("Stink Foot" from Apostrophe (')), wet t-shirt contests and working in a muffin factory ("Wet T-shirt Nite" and "A Little Green Rosetta" from Joe's Garage),...
- Must Have Caffeine: Although he eschewed the harder stuff (and didn't tolerate drug use by his band members either), Frank consumed coffee and cigarettes by the truckload.
- My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Zappa frequently targeted his home country in his lyrics and during interviews.
- 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.
- Named After Somebody Famous:
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: The Trope Maker, arguably.
- New Sound Album: Zappa had a new sound every single album, even during individual tracks! He was so versatile that even hardcore fans may not like all the albums he released.
- Freak Out: Psychedelic rock, love song parodies, political protest songs and complete madness.
- Absolutely Free: More epic in scale, with direct musical quotations of Igor Stravinsky and Gustav Holst and a majority of political protest songs and hidden messages.
- 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 doo-wop music, which was totally unpopular at the end of the 1960s.
- Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh: Mostly instrumental songs, live tracks and some cover songs.
- Hot Rats: A more jazzy sound, mostly instrumental except for one track.
- Chunga's Revenge, Fillmore East, June 1971, 200 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.
- Over-Nite Sensation, Apostrophe ('), Roxy & Elsewhere, One Size Fits All: The music here combines hard rock with epic and increasingly complicated jazzy jams and a full band with professional musicians. The lyrics are more surreal and/or focus on bawdy topics without much politics/
- 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". (These albums were all pieced together by Warner Bros. through Executive Meddling; Zappa's original vision for this material was finally released as intended in 1996 as Läther).
- 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, London Symphony 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 Phaze III).
- Nipple and Dimed: Satirized in "Fembot In A Wet T-Shirt" from Joe's Garage: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 and Does Humor Belong in Music?, for instance. Some tracks have this aspect too, like The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet.
- Non Sequitur: From "Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder" from Freak Out: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
- Noodle Incident: The true nature of what happened on the 1988 tour that made Zappa cancel the rest of the tour and fire the band may never be known. The received wisdom for years was that bassist Scott Thunes, who was responsible for rehearsing the band in Zappa's absence, was a Jerkass who antagonised the band and that the rest of the band sided against him: the truth seems to be considerably more complicated and has to do with complex intra-band dynamics.note
- 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 teens and twenties, his years watching B-movies and being the proprietor of Studio Z in Cucamonga in the early 1960s: Village of the Sun, Debra Kadabra, ''
- Nude Nature Dance: Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance from We're Only in It for the Money. Also hinted at in 'The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary' (and made visible in the related piece of animation by Bruce Bickford).
- N-Word Privileges: Zig-zagged; the Title Track of You Are What You Is contains an n-bomb in the second verse. The first half of the song is sung in unison by Zappa and his African-American backing vocalists, but for the inflammatory word, Zappa suddenly isolates his own voice, which just ends up drawing more attention to it.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations and One Scene, Two Monologues: Zappa features moments like this on Lumpy Gravy and during Flower Punk on We're Only in It for the Money.
- One-Woman Song: "Big Leg Emma" (Absolutely Free, Zappa in New York), "Lonely Little Girl" (We're Only in It for the Money), "Electric Aunt Jemima" (Uncle Meat), "Deseri" (Cruising with Ruben & the Jets), "Valerie" (Burnt Weeny Sandwich), "Sharleena" (Weasels Ripped My Flesh), "Magdalena" (Just Another Band from L.A.), "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up" (Joe's Garage), "Doreen" (You Are What You Is), "Evelyn, A Modified Dog" (One Size Fits All), "Sad Jane" (London Symphony Orchestra), "Artificial Rhonda" (Thing Fish), "Babbette" (YCDTOSA, Vol. 1), "Chana In De Bushwop" (YCDTOSA, Vol. 3), "Ruth Is Sleeping" (The Yellow Shark), "Charva" ("The Lost Episodes").
- OOC Is Serious Business: In one live recording from Geneva in the early 80s, Zappa got enraged by the audience throwing used syringes onto the stage, and drops his usual sardonic onstage persona to tell them, with deadly seriousness, that if anything else gets thrown on stage, the concert will end there and then. There's a pause, during which the audience goes on being unruly. Then:Zappa: [audibly pissed off] House lights. Concert's over. [Slow fade on the still yelling audience]
- The Parody: Zappa enjoyed parodying various musical styles and artists, including The Beatles (The album cover of We're Only in It for the Money), Peter Frampton (I Have Been In You from Sheik Yerbouti), Bob Dylan (Flakes from Sheik Yerbouti), Christopher Cross (Teenage Wind from You Are What You Is), Michael Jackson (Why Don't You Like Me? from Broadway The Hard Way),...
- Piss Take Rap: "Promiscuous" on Broadway The Hard Way.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: Naturally, as someone who was fiercely against censorship, Frank was not afraid to hurt people's feelings if it meant avoiding worthwhile satire. He famously defended "Jewish Princess" on the grounds that "Unlike unicorns, they actually exist." This eventually warranted a compilation album of his most overtly politically incorrect songs, Have I Offended Someone?.
- 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.
- Pornstache: Zappa's long black moustache.
- Professional Wrestling: "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" from Sheik Yerbouti mentions a "no holds barred tag team grudge match."
- Progressive Rock: One of the Trope Codifiers, and arguably, Trope Makers (Absolutely Free in particular could qualify for the latter). Songs like "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" from Absolutely Free and "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" from Studio Tan and Läther are staples of the genre.
- Protest Song: Zappa wrote many satirical songs depicting the society he lived in, but also criticized American politics: "Trouble Every Day" (Freak Out), "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" (We're Only in It for the Money), "Plastic People" (from Absolutely Free),...
- 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. Starting in the late 1970s (it was only an occasional phenomenon prior to that), he also had at least one secret word in each concert that he gave, usually inside jokes between him and his band members.
- Pun-Based Title:
- Zoot Allures - say it out loud and use your French knowledge.
- Sheik Yerbouti - Think of a famous disco hit...
- "Dinah-Moe Humm" from Over-Nite Sensation: "I heard a Dinah-Moe humm", a pun on a humming dynamo.
- "Manx Needs Women" from Zappa in New York is a pun on the film "Mars Needs Women".
- "Aybe Sea" from Burnt Weeny Sandwich
- "Läther" from Läther - Yes, the umlaut is important.
- Questioning Title?: Zappa has a few songs with such titles: "Who Are The Brain Police?", "How Could I Be Such A Fool?" (Freak Out), "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right?" (Absolutely Free), "Are You Hung Up?", "What's The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?" (We're Only in It for the Money), "Didja Get Any Onya?" (Weasels Ripped My Flesh), "Would You Go All The Way?" (Chunga's Revenge), "Do You Like My New Car?", "What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are?" (Fillmore East, June 1971), "What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?", "Would You Like A Snack?" (200 Motels), "Eddie Are You Kidding?" (Just Another Band from L.A.), "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?" (Roxy & Elsewhere), "Honey Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" (Zappa in New York, Läther), "Whatever Happened To All The Fun In The World?" (Sheik Yerbouti), "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?" (Joe's Garage), "What's New In Baltimore?" (Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention), Does Humor Belong in Music?, "Swans? What Swans?" (Guitar), "But Who Was Fulcanelli?" (Music/Guitar).
- Real Life Writes the Plot/Ripped from the Headlines: Many of his lyrics are inspired by 20th century society, both politics and real life anecdotes from his personal or bandmembers' lives.
- Regional Riff: During "Almost Chinese" (Lumpy Gravy) and "Cheepnis" (Roxy & Elsewhere) an oriental riff is heard.
- 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.
- 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" from You Are What You Is. "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk" from Broadway The Hard Way 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.
- Revolving Door Band: Zappa was well-known for both hiring and firing musicians on short notice. Just look at the line-up of the Mothers of Invention. Having said that, when he found good musicians that he got on personally with, he liked to keep them in the band for as long as they wanted to stay: Ruth Underwood first played with Zappa in 1967 and appeared on several albums over the next ten years, while Ike Willis joined the band in 1978 and (apart from a brief hiatus) was still there for the final tour in 1988; Scott Thunes lasted from 1981 to 1988, etc.
- Rewritten Pop Version: The Black Page is featured twice on Zappa in New York in different versions, with the second version specifically described and announced as the "easy, teenage, New York version."
- The Rival:
- 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 & 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" (from Just Another Band from L.A.), "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" (from Studio Tan and Läther) and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" (a seven-minute long mini-rock opera from Absolutely Free).
- 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.
- Rock Star Song:
- "Joe's Garage" from Joe's Garage.
- "Bobby Brown" is something of it in reverse.
- Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: Waka/Jawaka.
- 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.
- Serious Business: Turned down a nomination for running for the President of the United States on the Libertarian Ticket. Also, was cultural attaché for the Czechoslovak government and has a statue of him in Vilnius, Lithuania.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness:
- "What's The Ugliest Part of Your Body?" from We're Only in It for the Money: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" from Studio Tan and Läther, wet dreams as "nocturnal emission" in "Dental Hygiene Dilemma" from 200 Motels, 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" from Joe's Garage.
- "What's The Ugliest Part of Your Body?" from We're Only in It for the Money:
- Sexy Soaked Shirt: Made fun of, in true Zappa fashion, in "Wet T-Shirt Nite" from Joe's Garage.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Several, including "Billy the Mountain" from Just Another Band from L.A. and "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" from Studio Tan and Läther. 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" from Zappa in New York 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.
- Skinny Dipping: Mentioned in "Jazz Discharge Party Hats" from The Man From Utopia.
- Smoking Is Cool: Considered tobacco a food.
- The Smurfette Principle: Mallet percussionist Ruth Underwood stands out in a mostly male cast of musicians throughout Zappa's career. That said she's also very good and key to his "Mother's 2.0" sound of The '70s.
- There were also short-term female band members and recurrent guests - Joanne Mc Nabb (1972), Norma Jean Bell (1975), Lady Bianca (1976), Lisa Popeil and Thana Harris (both early '80s) - and in the "undocumented" department there were Alice Stuart (1965), Essra Mohawk aka Sandy Hurvitz (1967) and Nigey Lennon (1971)
- Solo Side Project: He is a special case. When he was part of the Mothers of Invention he released one solo album outside the group's activities, namely Lumpy Gravy. None of the band members appear on it as a group, though a few of them (Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada, Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood and Bunk Gardner) have guest appearances, but only in speaking parts. All music on the record is instrumental and recorded with an orchestra. Seeing that Zappa was pretty much I Am the Band from the start and all of his output nowadays is branded under the name "Frank Zappa" the distinction has disappeared.
- The Something Song: "Frog Song" from "Joe's Domage", a posthumous album. (Which is a work-in-progress version of "It Just Might Be A One-Shot Deal").
- Sophisticated as Hell: His humor could be crude at times, but his music was very sophisticated, with jazz and classical influences.
- Space Whale Aesop: "A mountain is something you don't want to fuck with."
- The Spartan Way / Stage Dad: 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.
- Special Guest:
- Jimi Hendrix on the album cover of We're Only in It for the Money. On the same album Eric Clapton says: It's God, I see God.
- Captain Beefheart on Hot Rats and Bongo Fury.
- Keith Moon (The Who) and Ringo Starr play a part in 200 Motels, as does groupie Pamela des Barres.
- Tina Turner and the Ikettes on the album Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe (').
- Sting comes on stage and sings on a cover of "Murder By Numbers" on the live album Broadway the Hard Way.
- John Lennon and Yoko Ono appear on Playground Psychotics, John delivering a blistering cover of Walter Ward's "Well (Baby Please Don't Go)" with Yoko doing her trademark wail in the background.note
- Speech Bubbles: Zappa made use of these on the album covers and gatefold sleeves of Lumpy Gravy, We're Only in It for the Money, Uncle Meat, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets and the Barking Pumpkin logo.
- 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.
- Spoof Aesop: "A mountain is something you don't want to fuck with."
- 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.
- Stock Animal Name: The poodle in Zappa's conceptual continuity is called Fido.
- Studio Chatter: Frequently kept it on the albums. Some of it was spontaneous, other scripted.
- Suicide as Comedy: His song "Suicide Chump" from You Are What You Is must be the most hilarious song ever written about suicide.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: His lyrics were usually either pointed political/sociological satire or a Bawdy Song about groupies and the like. He absolutely despised Silly Love Songs and didn't care about be taken seriously, making most of his music comedy stuff. Yet Zappa could write very heartwarming music if he wanted, notably in his guitar solos and some of his instrumental compositions, but also in genuine non-comedy songs like "Lonely Little Girl" (We're Only in It for the Money), All tracks on Cruising With Ruben And The Jets, "Valerie" (Burnt Weeny Sandwich), "Twenty Small Cigars" and "Sharleena" (Chunga's Revenge), "Tears Began To Fall" (Fillmore East, June 1971), "Village Of The Sun" (Roxy & Elsewhere), "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up" (Joe's Garage) and "Alley Cat" ("The Lost Episodes").
- 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.
- Take That!: Many, of which the quote at the top is a Take That, Audience!.
- 'Titties n' Beer' in the film Baby Snakes 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" from Broadway the Hard Way is one directed at the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
- "Trouble Every Day" from Freak Out, 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.
- Zappa's home recording studio was dubbed "Utility Muffin Research Kitchen" ("UMRK" for short) as an obvious jab at audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL). By the time MFSL started tapping into the CD market, Zappa began branding early CD releases of his back-catalog in Europe as being special UMRK remixes.
- Terrible Pick-Up Lines: Frank Zappa recorded Dancin Fool during the disco craze. Desperate for a date, the Dancin' Fool haunts the discotheques despite being hopelessly inept at dancing. The song concludes with the Fool trying some corny pick-up lines on a barfly.
- 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.
- Two-Part Trilogy:
- 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).
- Unabashed B-Movie Fan: Zappa loved B-films, especially cheap monster movies, and referenced them a lot in his work, sometimes only in the titles.
- Toilet Humour:
- Let's Make The Water Turn Black from We're Only in It for the Money, about two men collecting urine in a jar and smearing nose drippings on a window. Based on a True Story, by the way.
- Pound For A Brown On The Bus from Uncle Meat, about Jimmy Carl Black mooning on the tour bus for a bet.
- Nanook Rubs It from Apostrophe (') about an Eskimo rubbing dog urine drenched snow in a fur trapper's eyes.
- Stink Foot from Apostrophe (') about smelly feet.
- Why Does It Hurt When I Pee? from Joe's Garage
- And he actually had two photographs of him taken, seated on the toilet, which were later sold as a poster.
- 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" from Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.
- Virtual Ghost: A highlight of some of the recent Zappa Plays Zappa tours is when Dweezil (or the entire band) duets with archived footage of Frank projected onscreen.
- What's an X Like You Doing in a Y Like This?: Used repeatedly.
- With Lyrics: A borderline case - Frank stated in interviews that some of his songs were essentially instrumental compositions that had lyrics thrown in at the last minute so that listeners with short attention spans wouldn't get bored.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Used quite a lot, but not as common as you might think. Perhaps the best example comes from "Stink-Foot" from Apostrophe ('):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!"
- Your Little Dismissive Diminutive: "Dancin' Fool" from Sheik YerboutiI am really something
That's what you'll probably say
So smoke your little smoke
Drink your little drink
While I dance the night away.