Everyone knows how prolific Frank Zappa was as a composer. So it’s natural that such a great songwriter might have a few duds. I thought it would be fun to put a list together of his worst. Yes, it’s arbitrary and petty, but if you don’t like it you can grow your own green rosetta…
- Jumbo Go Away/Charlie’s Enormous Mouth (You Are What You Is) – I was never a huge fan of YAWYI, because the songs all sound homogenized and overproduced. However, there’s some great tunes on the album – Dumb All Over, Coneheads, Suicide Chump, the title track. But Jumbo and Charlie’s are not among them. The songs seem particularly misogynistic, not to mention mean-spirited, without being funny or even having a point. And by the way, the “female” voice is incredibly annoying, just as it is on I don’t want to get drafted (“I don’t want nobody/to shoot me in the … foxhole.”).
- Why don’t you like me? (Broadway the Hard Way) – The ’88 tour contained a half-dozen new songs, and none of them were particularly inspiring. After all, what’s hard-hitting in a song about “women in advertising” (Planet of the baritone women). Nevertheless, Why don’t you like me stands out as particularly mediocre because 1. it’s a retooling of Tell me you love me and 2. how could a song about Michael Jackson be so unfunny? I mean, Richard Thompson referred to Michael in a song about Janet Jackson a few years ago – and not even by name – and he had the audience rolling in the aisles. But Zappa’s take on pop’s most pathetic star is as limp as the late Jackson himself.
- Weasels ripped my flesh (Weasles Ripped My Flesh). If I wanted to hear five minutes of pure feedback I would buy Lou Reed’s Play Machine Music, thank you very much.
- Billy the Mountain (Just Another Band from L.A.). In truth, this song has its moments. But anyone who hears this after listening to the far superior Adventure of Greggary Peccary is going to be hugely disappointed. Billy goes nowhere in its 25 minutes of tedium, and musically doesn’t have much going for it either. However, Studebaker Hawk is a great name.
- Any song (Jazz from Hell) –Zappa was so happy to have purchased the Synclavier in the mid 1980s – now he could get rid of musicians with their tedious personalities and human limitations and compose whatever the hell he so desired. Was this such a good idea, however? Aside from having absolutely no soul, the unmelodious songs on this album seem like nothing more than something you’d listen to in an Introduction to Electronic Music class as a sort of lesson in what was possible, circa 1987. But most importantly, does it stand the test of time? I don’t think so. Now that any bozo can make the same sounds with a $1,000 Mac, it makes us appreciate real musicianship more and more. No one will ever go to a concert hall to watch a person playing a computer.
- Jelly Roll Gum Drop (Cruising with Rubin and the Jets) – On a Dr. Demento show, Zappa once introduced this song by referring to it as “mongoloid entertainment.” That’s a strange thing to call a genre of music that Frank is said to have loved. Anyway, while some of the Rubin songs are tasty, this one is merely flavorless. Frank, if you thought it was mongoloid, why record it at all? And by the way, the remixed drum and base lines give all the songs on this album a bizarre “then and now” feel that completely ruins the historic nature of these recordings.
- Any song (Lumpy Gravy) – There may be fans of this uneven, experimental orchestral album, and it certainly has its psychedelic and humorous moments. However, any bourgeoning Zappa fan who makes the mistake of buying this record before hearing such masterpieces as One Size Fits All, Sheik Yerbouti, Hot Rats or Absolutely Free will probably swear off Frank for the rest of his or her life.
- ‘Torchum’ Never Stops (Thing-Fish) – How do you ruin one of Zappa’s greatest songs? Create a stupid “mock-negro” accent and pepper a two-record set with it, including this annoying version of Torture. Ike Willis is a genius, but his potato was clearly bakin’ too long to think that his dialect wouldn’t annoy the hell out of most fans after a while.
- Be in my video (Them or Us) – This is supposed to be a spoof of heavy-metal hair bands, right? So why does it sound like Oingo Boingo? It’s just another case of Zappa completely missing his mark (not unlike Harder than your husband, which was supposed to be a send-up of country-and-western songs, but was actually so dry in its humor it could have easily played at any cowboy bar in Tulsa or El Paso). And by the way, am I the only Zappa fan who thinks that Chad Wackerman is the most boring drummer to ever pound skins with Frank? The guy has incredible precision and talent, for sure, but he has no personality and no power. Of course, it’s impossible to have “hands with a hammer” when you’re playing synth drum pads (boo)!
- Nig Biz (unreleased, except live) – Having a black guy sing this song doesn’t make it any less pointlessly offensive. Hey, I’m no prude – I loved Catholic Girls and Jewish Princess. But what does the rock ‘n’ roll (or blues?) industry have to do with the most detested word in the English language?
What do you think? Agree or disagree? Was Zappa incapable of failing? Or perhaps you have other ideas for Zappa’s worst songs?