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Trivia / Frank Zappa

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  • Ascended Fanon: Once during a concert, a fan called out for "Whipping Post" by The Allman Brothers Band, but Zappa and his band didn't know it at the time. They would go on to learn it and it would be performed often, including at the concert that produced the Does Humor Belong in Music? album. It's also available on Them or Us.
  • Author Phobia: Many of the things that functioned as berserk buttons for Zappa were things that he was also afraid of. He really did not like the idea of government-mandated restriction and control over people's lives, whether it be censorship or lack of choice.
  • Black Sheep Hit: The rather catchy (with the obligatory share of Lyrical Dissonance) "Bobby Brown Goes Down" from Sheik Yerbouti. In a documentary, Frank admitted to being amused that it kept climbing to #1 in Norway every once in a while, to the point where he wanted to send an anthropologist to find out why this was happening. Also fitting the bill are his two biggest hits in the US, "Dancin' Fool" and his only Top 40 hit, "Valley Girl" from Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.
  • Channel Hop: Zappa was originally signed to Verve Records. When the contract expired in 1967, he and manager Herb Cohen successfully negotiated with Verve to open Bizarre Records as a vanity imprint. Verve distributed Zappa's releases under Bizarre until 1969, when Reprise Records took over. In 1973, Bizarre went under, and Zappa and Cohen concurrently opened DiscReet Records as a new imprint under Warner (Bros.) Records. However, legal issues with Cohen would result in Zappa cutting ties with Warner and opening Zappa Records under Phonogram in 1977. In 1981, he would open Barking Pumpkin Records and stay there for the rest of his life, partnering with Rykodisc and EMI; Ryko would inherit the rights to the Zappa catalog on CD until 2012, when Zappa's estate took the rights over to Universal Music Group. They remain owned by Universal to this day.
  • 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 Backlash: Frank would eventually disown "Valley Girl" when its success mislabeled him as novelty music.
  • Executive Meddling: Zappa has encountered heavy amounts of this throughout his career:
    • One of the first cases of Zappa and Executive Meddling, comes from his first Album, Freak Out!". You know "Return of the Son of Monster Magnet"? The 12 Minute finale that's nothing but a bunch of drums and sound effects? Well, that's just the rhythm track. Zappa wanted to do more, but due to budget problems with the Studio he was a part of at the time, and due to the fact that the percussion work for what they did make was $12,000 (An insanely high amount of money for just a rhythm track), the studio wouldn't let him finish it. That is why it's subtitled is "An Unfinished Ballet in Two Tableaux'''. Unlike most of his other works, however, Zappa would never finish this track.
    • Lumpy Gravy was originally released in 1967 as a 22-minute orchestral album by Capitol Records. MGM Records sued Capitol, claiming that Zappa was not allowed to record for them because he was signed to Verve Records (which MGM owned), even though his contract stated that he was allowed to work on outside projects in which he did not perform; all of the music on the original Lumpy Gravy was performed by an orchestra. This Executive Meddling didn't turn out too bad, though, because Zappa ended up reediting the original album into a longer and more avant-garde album released by Verve in 1968, containing dadaist improvised spoken word pieces and archival excerpts from older surf, jazz and blues recordings, turning it into one of Zappa's most acclaimed albums.
    • We're Only in It for the Money had several bits edited out on its original release. Then the label pulled the album and released an even more edited version. Zappa heard the heavily censored release when he was receiving an award for that album, and consequently refused the award because it was now the censor's album, not his.
    • In the '70s, Zappa prepared an album called Lšther and delivered it to Warner (Bros.) Records. It consisted of 4 LPs of material which included orchestral pieces, studio recordings in various styles, live rock songs and Lumpy Gravy-esque dadaist spoken word pieces. Warner refused to release the box set, and insisted that his contract owed the label four more albums. Zappa cut three single albums and a live double album from the original recordings: Zappa in New York, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites, which would fulfill his contract. The label initially agreed to release this, putting out Zappa in New York with Zappa's prepared artwork, but removed the song "Punky's Whips", in which Terry Bozzio described a fictional sexual encounter with Punky Meadows of the glam rock band Angel, and insisted that Zappa still owed them four more albums. This led Zappa to sue Warner Bros. for breach of contract, and Warner Bros. to issue the rest of the albums with artwork by Gary Panter that he did not approve, and in fact, hated, once he saw the covers. These events spurred Zappa's "Warner Bros. Sucks" campaign and several critical references to the label throughout his career. Ironically, Warner later distributed posthumous Zappa releases by Rykodisc and later the Zappa Family Trust.
      • Even more egregious about Warner's unauthorized issuing of Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites is that in addition to the fact that Zappa prepared no artwork or even liner notes for the albums (meaning that the original albums were devoid of any crediting towards the original musicians), Zappa had not completed mixing on the original albums.
  • Fatal Method Acting: In December 1971, during an encore at the Rainbow Theater in London, Frank was pushed into to the orchestra pit by an audience member. His own band members thought he died. Frank substained head trauma, fractures, and injuries to his back, leg, & neck. It also resulted in a crushed larynx, which caused Zappa's voice to drop a third after healing. This happened just days after "some stupid" shot a flare onto the stage during a show at Montreux in Switzerland. It destroyed the Mothers' equipment and burnt the neighboring casino to the ground. This event was immortalized by Deep Purple on ''Smoke on the Water''.
  • Funny Character, Boring Actor: From the section "Life on Stage" in the chapter "All About Music" in The Real Frank Zappa Book:
    As much as I would like to walk out there and 'be myself,' the fact is that the 'self' that I am- when I am just 'being myself'- would be utterly boring and unwatchable on a stage.
  • He Also Did: Produced Captain Beefheart's 1969 album Trout Mask Replica and Grand Funk Railroad's 1976 album Good Singin', Good Playin'.
  • Magnum Opus Dissonance: Even though Zappa never named Thing-Fish his masterpiece he often called it an essential album because of the political message. Yet to this day many Zappa fans revile it as his worst, least imaginative and most unenjoyable record ever, partly because unlike most of his other albums it contains little new music; many of the backing tracks are from previous Zappa songs and just have new vocal tracks. Disenchanted fans consider the political aspect so far-fetched that it's impossible to take seriously: it's a bizarre and obscene parody of a Broadway musical, featuring a chorus of mutant black men who've been the victims of medical experiments that have made their heads shaped like potatoes, and also featuring an uptight yuppie couple in the audience who are reluctantly drawn into the action, a baby with an eerie robot voice and many, many different kinds of sex acts. Despite its weirdness, some fans do prize it as a masterpiece.
  • One-Hit Wonder: As mentioned above, Zappa has just one Top 40 single to his credit, "Valley Girl" from Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.
  • Referenced by...: References to Zappa in popular culture has its own page.
  • Role-Ending Misdemeanor: Was kicked out of his first band because they said he played the cymbals too much.
  • Sequel Gap: Civilization Phaze III was released over 25 years after Lumpy Gravy, to which it is a sequel (Lumpy Gravy is itself a sequel to We're Only in It for the Money; the "Phaze III" references the fact that Civilization is the third installment).
  • The Shelf of Album Languishment: Lšther was submitted to Warner Brothers in 1977, but due to Executive Meddling, was not released as submitted until 1996. The material intended to be released on the four-LP set was instead divided between four albums, one of them itself a double LP set.
  • Throw It In: He elevated this to a central artistic principle. he would rehearse his bands for weeks, drilling them so that they could change styles mid-song with just a hand gesture from him — and then release recordings in which everything falls apart because one of the band does a ridiculous ad-lib that cracks the others up.
  • Tribute to Fido: Zappa did this literally, featuring a poodle named Fido in many of his song lyrics, especially on Over-Nite Sensation, Apostrophe (') and Roxy & Elsewhere. He too owned a dog named Frunobulax, which became the Giant Poodle Monster Frunobulax in the song Cheepnis in Roxy & Elsewhere.
  • What Could Have Been: He was pretty much past his peak dexterity as a guitarist and had to call Steve Vai in for help near the end... But he could have gone on a damned sight longer as a composer.
    • thankful that he lived as long as he did - an on-stage accident at the Rainbow Theatre in London in 1971 could easily have killed him. Even though it didn't, his injuries were serious enough to keep him in a wheelchair and off the road for six months; it also lowered his vocal range by a third.
    • Between Zappa's tour with his The Grand Wazoo big band and his return to a small rock/jazz group, there was a 3 month period at the end of 1972 where Zappa toured with a much smaller brass combo known as the Petit Wazoo. Zappa fans love the Petit Wazoo, are hungry for any material from that era, and frequently lament it only lasted for 24 concerts. Two albums have been released of Petit Wazoo material: Imaginary Diseases and Little Dots
    • One can only guess what Zappa's late '70s output had sounded like if Bianca Odin didn't succumb to continually abrasive audiences and stuck with the band past 1976.
    • Legend has it that George Lucas approached Frank to compose the music for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. He turned it down and John Williams got the job instead.
    • In his last days, he quit the guitar and seemed to not be considering returning to rock music. Instead, he spent quite a bit of time with musicians of different 'folk' traditions— the Tuvan Throat Singers, Huur-Huun-Tuur, and the Irish Chieftains. It seemed like World Music was the next genre he was really going to experiment with— some examples of this can be heard on his last album.
    • Near the end of the 1970s Bob Dylan contacted Zappa in person to produce one of his next albums. Although ideas were worked out Dylan eventually withdrew himself from the project.
    • Cheech Marin auditioned for a singing role for Zappa's band at one point. However, he left the country the day after in an emergency, and never knew if he got accepted or not.
    • Popular rumor is he was a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and was in talks to make a guest appearance, but sadly died before anything could be done. Given Zappa's resemblance to The Master one can only image the fun that would have been had.
    • He was asked to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival, but refused. His main reason for refusing the invite was his lack of respect for the San Francisco bands, who he would have been sharing the bill with.
    • He refused a spot at Woodstock due to his hatred of hippies and had no regrets. Similarly, he turned down an offer to appear at Live Aid in 1985, citing his distrust with how the charity concert's funds would be used (specifically suspecting it of being a front for a cocaine-laundering scheme), and walked away without any regrets.
  • Working Title: Originally the album We're Only in It for the Money was going to be called Our Man in Nirvana. Zappa changed the title and the concept when he heard about the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band hype.