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YMMV / Frank Zappa

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  • Archive Panic: 53 albums in 35 years, plus all the ones released posthumously (new releases continue to this day), not to mention one of the most obsessive bootleg collections in all of rock with hundreds upon hundreds of high-lineage concerts, studio rehearsals, alternate takes, and unreleased studio albums (!) zapping across the ether in lossless audio format as we speak. Good luck.
    • In fact, it inspired the cover of the posthumous 1996 release The Lost Episodes.
  • Audience-Alienating Premise: Zappa's entire career is this. The man has embraced Genre Roulette as his musical style, and in consequence, his mainstream commercial success has been low. His songs are considered Cult Classic and his fans are actually very devoted, however.
  • Awesome Music: Ooh boy...
  • Bizarro Episode: Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, a doo-wop album with the premise that it's by a fictional Chicano group called Ruben & The Jets. Even for Frank Zappa it sticks out like a sore thumb, although closer listening reveals that it's not quite as straightforward as it sounds.
  • Broken Base: Generally Zappa's 1960s and 1970s output is held in high regard by most fans. His later output is more polarizing. Some fans consider it politically dated (with explicit references to the Reagan era); others complain that although it's musically more slick, it's instrumentally less varied (the usual complaint being along the lines that the rock songs don't sound as colorful as in the 1970s); or else the fans just consider the later stuff obnoxious and irritating. Two of his most hated records are both from this time period: The Man From Utopia (1982) and Thing-Fish (1985), yet even these have their fans. His classical compositions from this era get a bit more praise, though some feel he shouldn't have used the Synclavier as much. Zappa, who hated conformity, seems to have thrived on Base Breaking.
  • Creator Worship: Saying anything bad, ever, about Zappa is liable to trigger his fans' Berserk Button. Scroll down for evidence.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Had enough vulgar and politically incorrect songs to warrant a compilation album, Have I Offended Someone?.
  • Cult Classic: One of the great cult figures in American music. He never attained the same level of mainstream success as some of his rockstar contemporaries, but his fanbase is huge and incredibly devoted to this very day, and his influence on rock and experimental music can't be overstated.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Now has its own page
  • Epic Riff: Many, including:
    • "Peaches en Regalia", "Willie the Pimp", and "Son of Mr. Green Genes" (from Hot Rats)
    • "I'm the Slime" (from Over-Nite Sensation)
    • "Ms. Pinky" (from Zoot Allures)
    • "Eat That Question", from The Grand Wazoo, which is almost entirely made of epic riffs. Also "Cleetus Awreetus-Awrightus" on the same album.
    • "Tryin' to Grow a Chin", from Sheik Yerbouti
    • The Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar trilogy, a collection of Zappa's live guitar solos, and quite possibly the greatest guitar album ever made, along with the follow-up Guitar.
  • Face of the Band: Didn't even found the Mothers of Invention, but took over almost instantly.
  • Fandom Rivalry: Obviously with fans of The Beatles (although as shown above John and Paul liked Zappa despite not sharing it back) considering how We're Only in It for the Money is a middle finger to both the band itself and its "hippiedom" and basically overall philosophy.
  • First Installment Wins: His first and third albums, Freak Out and We're Only in It for the Money, are the only ones on the 2003 version of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, despite being listed as one of the 100 greatest musicians by the same magazine.
    • In general, despite many of his subsequent groups being held in high esteem, the Mothers Of Invention remain his most iconic.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Besides the fact that he was very influential in the country's underground scene and regarded as a symbol of anti-authoritarianism, Czechoslovakia's first post-Communist president, Václav Havel, was a huge fan of Zappa and wanted to name him government consultant on trade, cultural matters and tourism. The Bush administration, probably still pissed about the PMRC thing, torpedoed the entire idea, and Havel made Zappa a cultural attaché instead.
    • Havel was imprisoned due to listening to Zappa albums - this is where the huge Czech love comes from. Also, the Bush administration flat out said that they'd break off relationships if he were to be named so.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • Some of the songs on We're Only in It for the Money are based on the ludicrousness of the idea of cops killing hippies. Two years after the album's release, the Kent State murders happened.
    • One of the songs on Civilization Phaze III is entitled "I Wish Motörhead Would Come Back". After December 28, 2015, so does pretty much everyone else in the world (the song is talking about a different Motorhead, but the point stands; then again, the Motorhead that Zappa mentions has also passed on).
    • Bassist Roy Estrada messing around with the inflatable sex doll in Baby Snakes wasn't quite as funny after Estrada was arrested and convicted for child molestation in 1994 and 2012. Which also makes the Shout-Out in "The Illinois Enema Bandit" rather awkward.
    • The song "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is about a sleazy politician who fantasizes about having sex with thirteen year old girls and even his own daughter on the lawn of the White House. Um...
    • Quite some lyrics or song titles in Zappa's oeuvre refer to STD's, which were a nuisance in the 1960s and 1970s, but back then all medically treatable. Since the arrival of AIDS in the 1980s, references as such don't sit so well with modern day listeners. Especially considering Lucy Offerall, one of the groupies in 200 Motels, died from it in 1991.
    • While it's a pretty safe bet that the 9/11 attacks weren't what Zappa had in mind, this line from the "Hydrogen" section of the chapter "All About Schmucks" in The Real Frank Zappa Book reads much differently today.
    "Some people in the Imaginary Heartland of America might say,Who gives a shit? They ain't going to get us. They ain't coming over here. Why, some of 'em don't even have air-o-planes."
    • "Trouble Every Day" was written about the rioting in Watts some decades ago, but it sounds like it could've been written within the past 3-5 years. Not one word of the song even needs to be changed to be relevant to today's political and racial climate after the killings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and many others.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: In the former category, the line about hippies getting crabs in "Who Needs The Peace Corps?" became even funnier when Joe's Crab Shack released a psychedelic advertisement promoting "Peace, Love and Crabs".
    • "You Are What You Is" has an interesting twofer: not only does its description of a black man who learned how to play golf and got a good score pretty much predict Tiger Woods' claim to fame, but its first verse about a white man pretending to be black becomes even more hilarious after NAACP chapter president Nkechi Amare Diallo was discovered to actually be a white woman named Rachel Anne Dolezal who claimed she "identified" as black.
    • A Black Comedy variant: One of the tracks of his Rock Opera Joe's Garage is a tongue-in-cheek Progressive Rock parody called "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?" about Joe getting VD. Decades later, Zappa himself died of prostate cancer —painful urination is one of the early symptoms of the disease.
    • One of the oldest Running Gag in the Zappa canon is requesting Caravan with a drum solo. Fast forward to 2014...
    • In his autobiography, Zappa proposes a novel music distribution system, where the best of every record company's songs would be digitally duplicated and stored in a central processing location, where they would be accessible by phone or cable television. This was in 1989, long before the advent of digital music downloads.
    • "Bobby Brown Goes Down" fits this following #MeToo.
  • Misaimed Fandom:
    • Became popular with hippies, a subculture he hated.
      • It's worth noting, though, that while he justifiably dismissed the subculture as a trend that wouldn't last, as a lifelong libertarian he was sympathetic to a large number of their socio-political aims (though, to be clear, by no means all of them), and the attacks on We're Only in It for the Money mostly ("Flower power sucks" in "Absolutely Free" is the most obvious exception) aren't on the hippie subculture as a whole but on people who were only participating in it for the sex, drugs, and/or (in the case of performers) money without caring about its social aims. By far his biggest problem with the subculture seemed to be that, while it was ostensibly aimed at attacking conformity, it had quickly evolved into yet another form of conformity due to how many people were participating in it. That said, this didn't stop him from relentlessly attacking the more ridiculous trends associated with the subculture, such as their fashion.
    • Valley Girls, even though his song "Valley Girl" from Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch was really a Take That! from Moon Unit Zappa at the Valley Girls at her school.
    • Zappa's work has also become somewhat popular among neo-Reaganist and/or traditionalist conservatives as of The New '10s, despite Zappa having spent much of the 80's being a vocal critic of Reaganism, traditionalism, and neoliberal conservatism as a whole (to the point where his one and only conventional music video— "You Are What You Is"— got banned for depicting Reagan in the electric chair).
  • Not So Crazy Anymore: An almost immediate example: When We're Only in It for the Money came out a lot of people thought he was crazy because of all the references to cops shooting hippies. This was intended to be somewhat over-the-top, but it was a nod to contemporary police brutality and was intended to reflect what could happen if things got worse. Slightly under three years later, they did; the Kent State shootings happened. They were done by National Guardsmen rather than the police, but other than that, it occurred almost exactly as he predicted. The proximity of the events has also led to several cases of Artistic License Rock History as people have claimed that the songs on the album were inspired by the Kent State shootings.
  • Pandering to the Base: Zappa is an odd example of this trope. On one hand he simply did what he liked, telling the audience literally to get fucked if they hated what he did on stage or in his work. A huge chunk of his lyrics are inside jokes, incomprehensible to anyone but him and his band members. Yet on the other hand he did put in a lot of Running Gag material (conceptual continuity) that only his hardcore fans would recognize and cheer about.
    • Another respect in which Zappa Pandered to the Base was in concerts, later in his career: he tended to spend more time (as he put it) "walking up and down on stage being a buffoon" and less time playing music. His excuse was that people weren't necessarily coming to his concerts to hear difficult music. However, it didn't stop him making difficult music and putting it out on his studio records, and the recorded evidence showed that he was still perfectly capable of playing punishingly abstract music to stadium audiences.
  • Quirky Work: Frank made some of the most bizarre music ever recorded, ranging from eccentric comedy rock to experimental jazz and classical.
  • Retroactive Recognition: Somewhat common amongst his band members.
    • For starters, one time guitarist Jim Fielder would go on to co-form Blood Sweat And Tears.
    • Rhythm guitarist Lowell George, who formed Little Feat shortly after being fired.
    • Adrian Belew, who would play with King Crimson, Talking Heads, and Nine Inch Nails among others.
    • Steve Vai
    • Bozzio, Patrick O'Hearn, and rhythm guitarist Warren Cuccurullo would later form New Wave band Missing Persons.
    • Cuccurullo would subsequently join Duran Duran before they reunited with Andy Taylor.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Long before scandals erupted around Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, Zappa was mocking the hypocrisy of televangelists and religious fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in songs like "Heavenly Bank Account", one of the first musical artists to do so. Before this, the idea of musicians taking aim at religion was nearly unthinkable. However, decades of mockery and Saturday Night Live sketches have made the jokes in Zappa's songs seem tame and unimaginative to current-day audiences.
  • Suspiciously Similar Song: The chorus to "Valley Girl" sounds quite similar to "Mongoloid" by Devo.
  • Tear Jerker: Zappa was reportedly quite skeptical about making music that served as this trope, though he has made music that is moving beyond tears: "Watermelon in Easter Hay" (an instrumental from Joe's Garage), "Mom and Dad", "The Idiot Bastard Son" (from We're Only in It for the Money), "Oh No" (Weasels Ripped My Flesh, though the Roxy & Elsewhere version is equally moving), "Inca Roads" (One Size Fits All), "Black Napkins" (Zoot Allures), "Strictly Genteel" (200 Motels),...
    • In his autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book, he wrote that "Village of the Sun" from Roxy & Elsewhere struck him as a sensitive lyric, adding, "There aren't too many of those in MY catalog."
    • In the context of his life/career, most of his last album, Civilization Phaze III, is this, but nothing more so than the final track, "Waffenspiel" (German for "Gun Play"). Most of it consists of rain and gun sound effects and a barking dog. It has an eerie, tragic finality to it, as though nothing but silence will follow. Given that the album was released posthumously, it is heartbreaking in context. Zappa's widow Gail also revealed later that Frank said of his work on the album, "I've done everything that I can", which can add further to the tragedy of the album.
    • "Stuff Up the Cracks" from Cruising with Ruben & the Jets is a lighthearted number about committing suicide via oven gas that nevertheless is kind of sad, especially the anguished cry of "Don't leave me" prior to the instrumental portion in the longer cut from Greasy Love Songs.
    • The sobering commentary on the dangers of America becoming a theocracy in "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk" from Broadway the Hard Way.
    What if Pat gets in the White House? (No fucking way, Ike. You know what I mean)
    The rights of certain people disappear mysteriously?
    Now wouldn't that sort of qualify as an American tragedy?
    Especially if they cover it up saying "Jesus told it to me!" (I mean vapor tight, we're like this, I mean that)
    I hope we never see that day (I mean that. Right there. It's hot. It's hot.)
    In the land of the free, or one day will we? (92?) Will we? (96?)
    And if you don't know by now the truth of what I'm telling you
    Then surely I have failed somehow, surely I have failed somehow
    Surely I have failed somehow, and Jesus will think I'm a jerk just like you
    If you let those TV preachers make a monkey out of you!
    I said "Jesus will think you're a jerk" and it would be true!
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: For the 1985 remasters, Frank remixed We're Only in It for the Money and Cruising With Ruben & the Jets with '80s production techniques as well as replacing the bass and drums with then members Arthur Barrow and Chad Wackerman, prompting a backlash from long time fans as well the Mothers, most of whom filed lawsuits for unpaid royalties.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Zappa's Concept Albums and Rock Operas tended to be plotted much like a comedy routine – in which stories and anecdotes tangentially flow from one into the next – rather than having a completed story behind it. One example: Joe's Garage, a story about a man arrested for performing rock music on the eve of music getting banned from society, spends a lot of time in the middle on wild sexual adventures. The album dedicates three songs to his ex-girlfriend, who becomes a mindless sex slave after performing sexual favours for another band for over a year. The final third of Joe's Garage requires the liner notes to make sense of what is actually happening, as the libretto gives way to lengthy guitar solos.
    • Thing-Fish goes from a grave piece of High Concept to literally devolving into a massive orgy by album's end.
  • Tough Act to Follow:
    • Early on in the seventies, Frank had to compete with the legacy of the Mothers' catalogue. Eventually subsided.
    • George Duke is almost universally considered the best keyboardist Frank had, and each subsequent keyboardist struggled to escape his shadow.
    • Ed Mann, while a talented percussionist in his own right, remains in Ruth's shadow.
  • True Art Is Angsty: Mostly averted; he frequently derided this and stuck to comedy. However, played straight with some of his more fervent protest songs, like "Heavenly Bank Account". Civilization Phaze III also has elements of this, as he composed it when he knew he had a terminal illness, and it reflects his impending death.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: Frequent, especially on his sound collages.
  • Values Dissonance: On songs like "Sy Borg", Zappa seemed to find the idea of homosexual sex very funny. And there's plenty of examples of women being objectified in his music, cf. the Wet T-shirt example listed above.
    • "The Illinois Enema Bandit" is a particularly egregious example, as it's based on the true story of a criminal who preyed on women, robbing them and giving them forced enemas. Zappa clearly thought that this was hilarious, but nowadays it comes across as a song that makes sexual assault into a punchline.
  • Values Resonance: On the other hand, many of his protest songs are more applicable now than they were when they were written ("Trouble Every Day" is a particularly good example).
  • Vindicated by History:
    • Initially derided for its bawdy humor and held as replacement scrappies, the Flo and Eddie Band has gained a better reputation over the years with fans, if not to the extent of what surrounded it.
    • Cruising with Ruben & the Jets has also gained some love as an enjoyable album on its own merits (being one of Frank's most accessible albums helps).
    • Frank himself. He did receive some critical attention and a loyal cult following, but since his work was such a Genre Roulette from the start, rock fans, jazz fans or classical music fans all had the idea he operated in a different genre then theirs. Thus, they mostly ignored him. Other people were put off by either his intellectualism or the bawdy sex comedy he used in his songs. The latter aspect was also the reason why some people saw him more as a kind of musical clown/novelty artist, like Spike Jones. Since Zappa's death in 1993, his reputation has only grown as the true scope of his work became better-known. His collaborations with classical orchestras, like London Symphony Orchestra, The Perfect Stranger and The Yellow Shark have gained him more respect as a classical composer too.