Bad Zappa Songs, Anyone?

This is a guest post by Alan Wechsler from Albany, NY.
If you’ve written an article which you think would make for some interesting discussion, feel free to send it to us at hello[at]killuglyradio.com. Perhaps we’ll even publish it!

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?

104 Responses to “Bad Zappa Songs, Anyone?”

  1. Paul Jonker-Hoffrén says:

    Hi,

    I think Lumpy Gravy is a very important album, maybe not necessary in Zappa’s Canon but as a classical record – it’s use of ‘cut-up’ techniques foreshadows a lot of stuff. I agree that it is hard to get the meaning of the talking parts, but somehow this album is similar to John Zorn’s Naked City.

    As for Jazz from Hell, I like the compositions a lot (how can you not like G-spot Tornado – happy song!). I don’t believe there is soul IN music, rather i think people are conditioned to perceive certain types of sound as an expression of a feeling (which is bullshit). Zappa must have been very thrilled to have his most difficult compositions performed correctly (and as we know, he sampled the Ensemble Moderne’s sounds for future synclavier use). But I think while the Yellow Shark or Greggary Peccary by EM are very, very good, I do like the clarity of the jazz from hell album, plus it has the shock value of the live guitar solo in the middle. Different sonic worlds, definitely!
    Greetings from Finland

  2. Bálint says:

    Hm, it would be interesting to add notes to the songs above, but fist my dislikes:
    - Luigi and The Wise Guys – I dont thing I’ve listenned to it more than once (or twice). And: this is a “bonus track” for the CD edition!.. Why?…
    - Tegno Na Minchia Tanta – see as above.
    - Uncle Meat Film Excerpt – this, on a classic album like Uncle Meat? Ununderstandable. I’ve made a single-CD-cut for myself. :-)
    - SEX – too slow, too long, too boring. Totally unneccessary.

    Well, at first.. I don’t know how much more do I have – we’ll see later :-) .

  3. Jamez says:

    1. Luigi And The Wise Guys
    2. The Radio Is Broken
    3. Charlie’s Enormous Mouth
    4. Rubber Shirt

  4. A.F. Harrold says:

    Hi, I agree with Paul there’s lots to like on Jazz From Hell and especially Lumpy Gravy, and with Balint and Jamez that Luigi is hardly the finest bit of bonus one could expect (and seems to be Zappa being nasty about (a member of the road-crew?) someone with no right to reply – at least taking the piss out of public figures they can respond if they want to), and that the Uncle Meat additions add nothing.

    I suspect there’s going to be a lot of overlap on pet dislikes, as well as a lot of fighting for secret favourites (for example I’d stick up for Weasels, which is only two minutes long, including applause, and must be consumed in context as the closing event on the album – that noise is what every rock band does at the end of every song, strumming vigorously to say – ‘look how loud my finish is!’), but that’s the nature of Zappa.

    Here just one extra from me to be going on with.

    The Illinois Enema Bandit – besides it being the encore at just about every show in the ’80s and subsequently becoming a tad boring, and putting aside the fact it often harbours nice solos and that I find the ‘court room’ scene at the end a fun piece of interaction between performers, this is in the end a song celebrating a series of serious real-life sexual assaults at gunpoint on women – nevermind it being a piece of ‘folk documentary’, I find it unsettling and unpleasant. (Especially hearing some of the early introductions.)

  5. Paul Jonker-Hoffrén says:

    I am going to defend Rubber Shirt very much indeed :) Of course it is weird because it is this xenochrocity thing, but I just love the bass solo and what happens on drums. I don’t care that these things don’t belong together. Although I like Occam’s Razor on ‘One Shot Deal’ I like it more in the context of Joe’s Garage. – and A.F. Harrold, total agreement on the context of Weasels. Rock bands just do that kind of stupid stuff and I think it is very funny in the context of this bizarre album – as if to say, ‘look, we still are a rock band!’

    I do agree with TNTM and the Uncle Meat film stuff. From the Dub Room Special I nonetheless understood that Tengo.. is a song written by a roady or something, and that the lyrics say some very dirty stuff in italian.

    OK, one more: the 1980s remixes of Cruising with Ruben and the Jets? I have never heard the original versions, and although I hear the ‘anachronism’ in drums and bass, I still like especially the bass sounds, they are so deep and growling.

    Illinois Bandit – I like the solos but it is rather unnerving to listen to the lyrics (as a non-native englishspeaking person I can ignore this a bit more). I think Zappa is willfully harsh in the end, although there is truly a psychological phenomenon that victims tend to start identifying with to perpetrator…

  6. jonnybutter says:

    Luigi and The Wise Guys, definitely.
    Stick Together
    Conehead
    Mudd Club
    ‘Enema Bandit’ is pretty boring, and not terribly funny in practice. I understand why the idea appealed, but the song is dull. BTW, I don’t think the stuff in the end is meant to be harsh; as Zappa says, it’s a parody of typical blues lyrics and hollywood movie cliches – that the women want the fiend to go free.
    I was always bored by ‘Muffin Man’.

    I like ‘Rubber Shirt’ too. And Lumpy Gravy is a classic, which I never found to be boring.

  7. epistrophy says:

    1. The Mud Shark.
    Lyrically and musically dull.
    2. No Not Now
    Lyrically uninteresting, musically uninteresting, and the production has no contrasts, no dynamics.
    3. All of the re-writes that turn up on Thing-Fish.
    4. Sex (the re-release version)
    - actually I used to like the vinyl version, but the remix features some terrible lyrics.
    5. The Poodle Lecture.

    i could go on….but I don’t want to be too negative, especially after my scathing review of Philly ’76.

    In Defence:
    i love Billy The Mountain – it is packed full of great tunes with outrageous lyrics: I often find myself singing “A mountain is something, you don’t want to….”, much to the bewilderment of whoever I am with at the time.

  8. Thinman says:

    Kaiser Rolls. For good reason never released by Frank.

    Th.

  9. Jake St. Vitus says:

    I’ll be writing more later, as I’ve loved Zappa’s music for 20+ years and still have (more than) a few that never worked for me. And I find this topic more fascinating than “what do you like by Zappa”. There is something about constructively discussing which songs don’t work for you. And it’s great when someone else hates the song you love and yet you both still adore “Blessed Relief” (by example).

    My off-the-top-of-the-head list:

    1. No Not Now (or ever, really)
    2. Sex (always sounded like Spinal Tap imitating FZ)
    3. Any Downers (old 70′s live version – love the YAWYI version, too short in my opinion)
    4. Luigi…
    5. Jazz Discharge Party Hats (tasteless and hard on the ears)
    6. Wild Love (yes indeed, I remember back in high school I just didn’t get why the “perfect” Zappa album in my opinion could not have had a better song lead into “Yo Mama”. Sounds like Weird Al does Zappa.)
    7. Drafted, Jumbo, Husband, and even Teenage Wind from YAWYI. (great album that might have been better as a single disc)
    8. Conehead album version (I like it live).
    9. (The thankfully never officially released) Swallow My Pride
    10. Much of Broadway – Why Don’t You…, Jezebel…, in fact it is easier to write what I do like on this album.

    I’ve decided not to even count “Tengo…” as a song.

    Always loved Rubber Shirt, no problem with Enema Bandit except with smutty introductions to the song in some boots. The fact that my wife loves the song was surprising (and relieving). Radio is Broken makes me laugh. I like all of Lumpy Gravy. Nig Biz is one of my favorite songs, and I quite like Be In My Video even if it sounds almost exactly like Carol You Fool (also one of my favorite feel-good songs).

    I could get hyperbolic quickly, so I’ll stop here until I have something else worth contributing.

  10. Theydon Bois says:

    My least favourite Zappa tracks (not including the likes of “The Poodle Lecture” – does anybody actually rate that?) are those which consist wholly or largely of one idea (maybe two) repeated ad infinitum, endlessly hammering you over the head with their limited material. “I Don’t Even Care”, “No Not Now”, “Ya Hozna” and “Little Rubber Girl” are all in this camp. None of these is completely worthless – they each have some saving grace, be it an amusing lyric here, a nice performance from a member of the rockin’ teenage combo there – but they are essentially dull, not an adjective that I often have cause to associate with Zappa music. (I do like “Help, I’m A Rock”, though, so perhaps I’m a bit inconsistent.)

    Of the other songs that have been mentioned so far, “SEX” is definitely a lame dog of a song. Even by Zappa’s smutty standards, the lyrics never really rise above immature sniggering, while the music in the verses is mostly recycled from “Crew Slut”. The other Man From Utopia tracks that have been mentioned bother me less; admittedly, “Luigi And The Wise Guys” does appear to show off a less-than-flattering school-bully side of Zappa’s personality, but I can’t imagine that absurd lines like “You eat cheese and other things” would have bothered the victim unduly.

    I wouldn’t say that anything on Jazz From Hell is actually bad; its major problem (“Night School”, “G-Spot Tornado” and “St Etienne” aside) is that it’s often rather forgettable. And while it’s true that the Synclavier sounds are rather primitive compared to today’s electronic music, it would be a mistake to criticise the songs on that basis; after all, if you get too hung up over how dated and ineffective older records sound by modern standards, you end up doing stupid things like re-recording all the drum and bass tracks on some of your classic early albums, and nobody likes that.

    Some of the other choices that have been mentioned are wildly off-base, though. Lumpy Gravy is a definitive mission statement, “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” is an entirely appropriate coda to the album (and to the recorded work of the original MOI), “Jelly Roll Gum Drop” is immense fun (the backing vocals remind me of Smiley Smile-era Beach Boys), and “Rubber Shirt” works three times over as an introduction to xenochrony, an oasis of relief in the middle of Sheik Yerbouti, and a nice O’Hearn showcase. Also, I think the original author may have missed the point of “Be In My Video”; it’s a parody of early-’80s Bowie, isn’t it, rather than hair metal? I find that song loads more fun than much of the live output of the ’84 band, which is odd considering that it’s almost exactly the same lineup.

    I’m sure there are others. I’ll come back to this.

  11. tim says:

    There are a lot of misses post-1976 or so for me.

    Tengo Na Minchia Tanta really kills the Uncle Meat re-release for me.

    Be In My Video is also awful.

    Ya Hozna. Blech.

    I’m not into his goofy parody songs like Disco Boy, Jewish Princess, Bobby Brown Goes Down, Dancin’ Fool, or Valley Girl either.

    Most of You Are What You Is. Doreen is the saving grace on that record.

    Most of Joe’s Garage (save for Outside Now and Watermelon). Sy Borg / Stick It Out in particular were much better with Flo and Eddie as part of the Sofa suite.

    Everything on Sheik Yerbouti except for City of Tiny Lites.

  12. Al Stone says:

    There are days when I would rate Lumpy Gravy as my favourite, and it rarely drops out of my top 5. The two tracks that are on my unfavourite list are Bobby Brown – notthing in it redeems the boring chord sequence for me – and Stevie’s Spanking. Apart from being one of the least subtle of Zappa’s musical offerings, I find the lyrics unnecessary. Zappa usually picks targets that deserve the treatment he gives them so why display Steve Vai in this way? Does he think he’s paying him a compliment?
    I used to find Jazz Discharge Party Hats and The Radio is Broken tedious until I started to appreciate Vai’s guitar overdubs and I like both tracks now.

  13. jonnybutter says:

    A funny thing about ‘The Radio Is Broken’ is that it manages to quote (yet again) ‘My Sharona’ (right after the Vai guitar lick), and that the track comes right after ‘Tink Walks Amok’ (a favorite of mine), which practically deconstructs the same song. Also the idea that Space Girls need to reproduce with Grade Z movie stars (like Sonny Tufts) is funny.

    ‘Jazz Discharge’ is fairly boring, but Vai does do an amazing job. BTW, a subtlety which might be lost on non-native English speakers is the fact that ‘jazz’ originally meant ejaculate (or ‘Jizz’…or ‘discharge’). So ‘Jazz Discharge’ is not just random words put together.

    FWIW, I don’t think Zappa was mistreating Vai vis a vis ‘Stevie’s Spanking’. I’d call it gentle teasing, certainly milder than what was directed at other people, e.g. Bald Headed John, Bozzio. Not a very good song, I agree, but also not really malicious.

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    Everything on Sheik Yerbouti except for City of Tiny Lites.

    Geez, no ‘Wild Love’?

  14. Timothy says:

    Alan Wechsler ,
    Hey, now, hey!
    Hey! Do you know what you are?
    You’re an asshole! ASSHOLE!

    I think back in the days of The Gilded Grape
    I once saw you doing the wrist array
    with Sir Richard Pumpaloaf.

  15. Renaud says:

    “You are what you is” is a terrible piece of crap. 5 minutes wasted. There’s almost nothing musically happening : 2 chords repeated endlessly with boring lyrics on top. Oh yes, the title is good.

  16. stefan says:

    Funny, I think some of the songs/albums mentioned in the post are absolutely essential. Here are my least favorite Zappa songs:

    “Honey, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me?”: Interminable, unmusical, pointless, flaccid dreck.
    “Teen-Age Wind”: Mocking spoiled teenagers? Was this song coauthored by Andy Rooney?
    “We’re Turning Again”: I’m sympathetic to Ben Watson’s view that Zappa presents an absent moral center, but saying “so what the fuck” in response to government massacres of peaceful protesters seems a bit harsh to me. (Then again, maybe Frank is saying that we have to reject platitudes and false pieties about the past in order to bring about true social change. Who knows.) Also, I wish snopes.com had been around in 1985 so FZ would have left out the urban legend about the ham sandwich that killed Mama Cass. I think this is also Steve Vai’s least favorite Zappa song.
    Every live version of “Dinah-Moe Humm”: If you’re just going to phone it in because you hate everyone who wants to hear it, why bother?
    “The Torture Never Stops” (every version): I think this is a song about itself, like “Hotel California.”

    I also take issue with Zappa’s late-1970s and early-1980s reliance on faux-reggae vamps and sickly, cheezoid synth timbres. But to me, none of this significantly diminishes his status as the single most important musical figure of the late 20th century.

  17. Tjodolf says:

    I don’t like jazz rock or hair metal, so there is A LOT of FZ’s stuff that’s lost on me. I wouldn’t call it bad, I’m just not that interested; I prefer the MOI and the experimental/classical stuff. I haven’t actually heard all the seventies and eighties rock band albums, and if I’ve heard them, they mostly haven’t made much of an impression. (But “Sheik Yerbouti” is close enough to new wave to work for me!) As for the satirical stuff, a lot of it attacks targets I know or care nothing about, since I don’t share FZ’s background … “Cheepniz” is a song that is FOR something, I can get behind that!

    Of the things listed here, I’d defend
    - “Weasels ripped my flesh”: A beautiful and warm little noise piece.
    - “Lumpy gravy”: Pure genius, overflowing with ideas; there’s orchestral music, there’s crazy rambling, what’s not to like?
    - “Jazz from hell”: I’d say it holds up amazingly well, considering the primitive equipment it was recorded on, and “G Spot Tornado” is one of the all time FZ classics.
    - “Jelly roll gum drop”: FZ loved doo wop, and “Ruben and the jets” is a FZ album that gets points for human warmth. (I was gonna say “the one”, but that’s not true.) This song is no different from any of the songs on the album … just throw away your CD copy, there’s a hair metal band standing in front of the loudspeakers and trying to play along. Hair metal dated awfully, so the new bass and drums actually sound a lot older than the rest of the track.
    - “Billy the mountain”: I’ve only got the “Playground Psychotics” version, and it’s 30 minutes of pure rock’n'roll bliss.

  18. disciple of "Bob" says:

    I don’t care much for the Flo ‘n Eddie era (though I do like Billy the Mountain a great deal), and I severely dislike “Broadway the Hard Way.” I never liked “Bongo Fury either, except for a couple of tracks, but that’s mostly because I really don’t like Captain Beefheart.

    Other than that, I completely disagree with the OP. Tossing aside LUMPY GRAVY? That guy needs to see a doctor.

  19. jonnybutter says:

    ‘Motherly Love’ is not very good, but I suppose it was designed to be a throwaway. Didn’t he call it ‘A Body Commercial’ or something?

  20. Jake St. Vitus says:

    A quote from Jake St. Vitus:

    I don’t care much for the Flo ‘n Eddie era

    Now see, here I agree. I didn’t “get” Flo and Eddie until maybe 2 years ago. WTF? They grew on me like a lot of idiosyncratic comedy. Kind of like Rich Fulcher’s “Mr. Fossil” from the Mighty Boosh.

    A quote from Jake St. Vitus:

    I never liked “Bongo Fury either

    And on the flipside: once I start Bongo Fury I actually need to listen to the whole thing. If I hear the opening notes of Debra Kadabra, I need to be hearing “Goodnight Austin Texas wherever you are!” in about 40 min. Before iPods if I could only bring 5 FZ CDs on the road with me Bongo was always one of them. Beefheart anchors that album in place for me as a solid listening experience.

    Two more:

    You Are What You Is, the song – love it. I blast it. I love the new wave dance beat going on. I even like the video. It’s repetition is what makes it work for me.

    Broken Hearts – one of my most favored but only the Sheik version. The 80′s live version ruins any set I listen to. How could FZ change the powerful

    A quote from Jake St. Vitus:

    Hey! Do you know what you are?

    to a wimpy, thin, high-pitched squeal?

  21. jonnybutter says:

    ‘Your Mouth (Is Your Religion)’

  22. Andrew Bean says:

    Agree with many of the more popular choices above, and would like to add ‘He’s So Gay’….pointless finger-pointing, illogical association of homosexuality with other less usual sexual activities, to give just two reasons. The version with Johnny Guitar Watson interjecting his disgusted comments is even more irritating. Were any of Franks band members gay, and how did they feel about this song? The same way as Ike did about the black-orientated songs?
    Agree with the correspondent above (whose post i can’t find) about Chad…stilted, uninteresting, mechanical, although he’s significatntly better on the 88 stuff in my opinion.

  23. el effel says:

    we´re turning again, awful stuff. people who dont like zappa sometimes claim that they cant stand his voice, and everytime i hear that song i agree.

  24. Plooker says:

    I’m a lover not a hater, but I think I sold my thingfish back to buy whitecastle cheeseburgers.

  25. Bálint says:

    Turning the thing upside down – what I DO LIKE from the “I-hate-these” tunes mentioned above:

    - Jazz from Hell – I could never feel the „machine-like” sound of this, I hear music, and surprisingly a very human one: if you listen to the details, you’ll hear that almost each of the drumbeats of G-Spot are different and playful, and the whole album is really adventourous. You can realise its real value by comparint the tunes here by the covers made by the Ensemble Modern. Nice try, but.. just lifeless somehos. But in Jazz From Hell: it really works!
    - Your Mouth – hey, its a nice song! A simple one, with nice orchestration.
    - Charlie’s Enormous Mouth – Maybe not the best song in the world, but it’s alright, I like thet the vocal melody is always changing. It’s close to „Beautiful Guy” in my head, and the musicality of these tunes were shown to me in ZomyWoofs midi-covers (just like in the case of Sy Borg – heard it instrumentally yet?)
    - Rubber Shirt – I like it, though I never understood the method it was made. There was a solo (?) by Tom Fowler, and then.. and then.. errr.. (?…)
    - Illinois Enema Bandit – well, not bad, especially because of the solos. My big surprise was listenning to One Shot Deal: it is not the lowpoint of the album, at all, it is REALLY enjoyable there (with Ray White, with the bass…)

  26. Cotti says:

    Interesting. With the exception of Torchum, I like all of the music listed in the post. Too much comments to add to my comparison, though.

    Yes, I enjoy EVEN Jazz From Hell. I must be something like a Playground Psychotic.

  27. Plooker says:

    A quote from Plooker:

    I’m a lover not a hater, but I think I sold my thingfish back to buy whitecastle cheeseburgers.

    In retrospect I would rather have thingfish. Good call Bálint. I always liked stick together on YCDTOS 4, good harmonies.

  28. epistrophy says:

    Your Mouth – a total throwaway.

    But I can’t believe Broadway the Hard Way gets such a bum deal – That album is one of my very favourites! Is it because I bought it when it came out and understood quite a few of the 80′s political references?

    …and I think the Ensemble Modern’s versions of synclavier material, especially The Beltway Bandits, really brings them to life….

    It’s a measure of Frank’s genius that he could have so many sides that were so diverse and therefore appealing to so many different audiences.

  29. Alan Wechsler says:

    You guys make some great points. There are definitely worse songs than Lumpy Gravy or Billy the Mountain!

    Alan (original author)

  30. brett says:

    Jazz from Hell: unmelodious? Really? You might want to give this one another listen.

    I also really like a lot of your “least favorite” tunes, but to each his own.

    My least favorites: Stick Together, Planet of My Dreams, Promiscuous

  31. Robert says:

    Yes, go listen to Jazz From Hell. And again. And again. And AGAIN. I started this in 1986 and didn’t stop until today. Even in FZ’s catalogue there are only a few items that survive such a repetitive listening exercise!

  32. xorg says:

    I think most people would agree that the extra stuff added to the CD release of ‘Uncle Meat’ was crap.
    I don’t know why, but I tend to think of FZ’s stuff in terms of albums rather than individual songs. In this context, I can find no redeeming features in ‘Thingfish’- a waste of time and resources and a complete disappointment. ‘Playground Psychotics’ has its moments but generally it seems like a throwaway just to document the Flo and Eddie era. And there’s too much of ‘Joe’s Garage’ – it should have been edited down; likewise ‘You Are What You Is’.
    But I won’t hear a word said against ‘Lumpy Gravy’. A truly outstanding and idiosyncratic achievement.

  33. Jacques says:

    Well, as most of your dislikes differ from everyone else’s dislikes, it just points out how everyone’s listening habits differ. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m sure FZ had his reasons for putting out the music he did, and didn’t. In example, I dislike most of “You Are What You Is”, but I understand the necessity of its existence. Anyway, here’s my list..
    - Willie the Pimp. Damn that’s a boring piece of nonsense.
    - Pojama People. First of all, I don’t agree with Frank’s idea behind the song, and second, the song itself is more boring in Zappa’s catalogue than the subject.
    - Dessicated (When Yuppies Go To Hell). Actually, I just haven’t bothered with it much yet. I find the experimental 1988 stuff unnecessary. It could’ve been so much better, but the samples kinda ruined the whole thing for me.

  34. Harry Barris says:

    sorry for poppin’ in here so late (as someone who really only listens to the studio records from 1972-74 I’m not qualified to speak about the rest) but damn, Jacques, you must not really be a fan of long FZ guitar solos because Willie The Pimp and Po-Jama People are two of Zappa’s best studio recorded solos, imo, and DEFINITELY two of his “greasiest” & “funkiest”, but guys named Jacques usually aren’t too hot for the funk!

  35. Matt says:

    I don’t think that Nig Biz is offensive at all. The lyrics detail how some record labels treated black musicians (and really, most musicians in general) by manipulating them, telling them what to play and how to look, and then dropping them when sales went down. To the record labels, these musicians were merely nigs to be used then discarded. At least I think that’s what FZ was trying to say.

    My least fave FZ songs:
    Your Mouth
    It Might Just be a One Shot Deal
    Luigi & Wise Guys
    SEX

    And I dislike the present-day piano people on Civ Phaze III, especially Michael Rapaport. I wish that FZ had stuck with the original piano people only.

  36. urbangraffito says:

    I used to fiddle with my back feet music for a black onyx.

    My entire room absorbed every echo.

    The music was . . . thud like.

    The music was . . . thud like.

    I usually played such things as rough-neck and thug.

    Opaque melodies that would bug most people.

    Music from the other side of the fence.

    “Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top” –Don Van Vliet

    A bad Zappa song? Tsk, tsk. I think all this post serves in doing is outlining the variations in individual tastes when it comes to Zappa’s music. Myself, I have always been a fan of Zappa’s (and the Mothers’) more dissonant music (the more dissonant the better) as well as much of the music composed by Zappa alumni (Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Elliot Ingber, etc.). Even if there are elements of some songs I don’t much care for, overall, there is always something in every Zappa and Mother of Invention song for a Freak like me to enjoy and celebrate – either lyrically, musically, or it’s overall conceptual continuity. Why else, then, collect untold field recordings, as well as the recordings of former alumni (no matter how minor)? A bad Zappa song? In his entire canon of songs, the only song I actually avoid listening to is “Valley Girl”. I don’t recall him ever performing it live, either. Ultimately, it’s the only FZ track that is. . .“like really nauseating
    Like BARF OUT
    GAG ME WITH A SPOON
    GROSS
    I am SURE
    TOTALLY . . .”

  37. Matt says:

    But Valley Girl does have a killer bass line.

  38. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Matt:

    But Valley Girl does have a killer bass line.

    You certainly do validate my position, Matt. VG does have a killer base line, but damn, those inane lyrics just ruin it for me. It also didn’t help that I was in my last year of High School when that album came out, and every girl I dated that semester absolutely adored that song. Of course, they bought the entire album – Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch – yet did they ever play any other cuts besides “Valley Girl”? Noooooooo. Too fucking dissonant. Speaking of wonderfully dissonant songs, you’ve just gotta love the songs “No, Not Now”, “I Come From Nowhere”, “Drowning Witch” and “Teenage Prostitute” for pure distilled dissonance. To me, it’s in songs such as these that Zappa comes closest to Beefheart in overall avant garde playfulness.

  39. Alan Wechsler says:

    Great discussion. Actually, after reading all these replies I think I’m going to amend the original list. I guess Lumpy Gravy is too experimental an album (in one poster’s eloquent description, “a mission statement,”) and too early in Zappa’s career to be included here, even though I can’t listen to it. Likewise, Weasles, if taken as a commentary on r&r concerts in general, I guess it works. And it is kinda short. I still stand by Billy the Mountain … if you’re going force an audience to listen to a 25-minute song, you ought to come up with a better storyline (but they’re right … a mountain is definitely something you don’t want to fuck with.)

    Interesting ideas about including Bobby Brown and Illinois Enema Bandit as unfair to women or gays. All true. After all, what exactly occurred when “she had my balls in a vice but she left the dick?” And would such trauma really turn someone gay? Likewise, I doubt any of Michael Kenyon’s victims found his song amusing. Nevertheless, Bobby is too funny and Enema too entertaining (with a kick-ass ending by Ray White on the In New York version) to be included here.

    If we wanted to include all misogynistic songs there would be no shortage — Bamboozled, Easy Meat, etc. But they’re kick-ass songs, so the obnoxiousness is forgivable.

    Po-Jama People and Willie lame? Impossible. And Planet of my Dreams? Not exactly a pivotal song, for sure, but that guy’s voice is amazing.

    I also don’t think it’s fair to include newer material … I think this should only include albums released before Zappa gave up music in 1988. So some of that add-on stuff or late releases are hardly worth mentioning. It’s merely filler material anyway, and perhaps never meant to be released originally.

    Nice to see all those Jazz from Hell supporters, but I still find it unlistenable.

    So, my amended list:

    1. No, not now — does anyone really like falsetto?
    2. Sex — Man from Utopia is such an uneven album, how could I be such a fool for not including something from it here? However, I do like Kitchen, Radio and Party Hats, unlike some other posters. They crack me up. So Sex it is. We Gotta Stick Together is a good contender, though.
    3. Billy the Mountain — sorry, guys. Love side 2, though.
    4. Jelly Roll Gumdrop
    5. Jumbo/Charlie’s (why is YAWYI ranked so highly by critics? … it would have been much better as a single album)
    6. Why don’t you like me
    7. Jazz From Hell, any song
    8. Torchum
    9. Be in my video
    10. Nig biz — nice defense of this song, recent poster, but I still think it doesn’t work. I’ve read the lyrics, and they could refer to a black or white band. In fact, I doubt all the old black blues artists that got pooched in the 1950s were given “all the coke they could toot.” Sounds more like bands from the 80s he’s referring to. In this song, I think he failed to make his point.

  40. urbangraffito says:

    How can anyone have listened to Roy Estrada and not really like falsetto? The falsetto in songs like “No, not now” and others have their beginnings with Estrada’s “In the Sky”. Love ‘em both.

    Man from Utopia is overall an entertaining Zappa album. Excellent instrumentals punctuated by Zappa’s sardonic humor in songs like “Sex”, “The Radio Is Broken” and “Stick Together”.

    Here is where we separate the “Mothers” from the “fuckers”, boys. Who cannot listen to the utter genius of “Billy the Mountain” and not understand the basis for Frank Zappa’s overall conceptual continuity? It’s all there. The entire philosophy. Musically, lyrically, sociologically. The seeds of Greggory Peccary, 200 motels, Orchestral Favorites. Only someone who is solely a fan of Frank would so completely disregard this mini-masterpiece in which FZ first whetted his lips concerning multi-leveled conceptual continuity.

    Jelly Roll Gumdrop is a masterful piece of doo wop magic (and I’m speaking the original mix, here). Wonderfully sung, beautifully played.

    If I have but one criticism for Zappa’s post 1981 releases (after TTR), it’s that they were too over produced, too over-dubbed. Many of the songs mention in the list coming from ‘YAWYI’ sound much better coming from ‘Crush All Boxes’ because they aren’t so over-produced.

    There is nothing wrong with Nig Biz except, perhaps, the reek of political correctness at work. As Patti Smith said, we are all niggers, just different colours. Zappa was no misogynist. Yes, he sung about sex (so did everyone in the 1970s and later). Neither was he a homophobe. He sung about what he observed in society around him at the time, and quite successfully so, I might add. As a satirist, no one was below his radar.

    It’s quite easy to accuse Zappa of being an anti-semitic, a gay basher, or even a misogynist because of his lyrics without first determining the context of these lyrics.

    Just because he wrote about smothering “my daughter in chocolate syrup…” and “…make her do a nasty on the White House lawn” on ‘Brown Shoes Don’t Make It’ didn’t mean he was about to fuck Moon up the ass.

  41. Mezcalhead says:

    I love just about everything he wrote up until 1979. Sheik Yeurbouti & Joe’s Garage are the two albums that mark the point of serious decline imo. And it gets worse from there. The humor especially takes a nosedive.

  42. Jacques says:

    @Harry Barris: I’m not a big fan of guitar solos as such – I like well constructed music however quirky. My username has nothing to do with nationality, much less with my music taste. I’m from Finland and I like funk as much as anything, but I just don’t dig guitar solos too much.

  43. Harry Barris says:

    An FZ fan who doesn’t like guitar solos: always found those types of people *unusual*, sorry Jacques if i offended you. I’d be very interested to hear what your other favorite bands, genres and/or recordings (FZ or not) are if you would care to share. A classical music admirer, perhaps? Or maybe the Beach Boys…

  44. Thinman says:

    I’m getting frightened when reading about all those dislikes.

    A quote from Harry Barris:

    An FZ fan who doesn’t like guitar solos: always found those types of people *unusual*, sorry Jacques if i offended you. I’d be very interested to hear what your other favorite bands, genres and/or recordings (FZ or not) are if you would care to share. A classical music admirer, perhaps? Or maybe the Beach Boys…

    The most dangerous people are those who say “My taste is so diverse, I listen to everything”. When you examine their record collection you will usually only find things like Phil Collins (for rock), Sting (for Jazz) and André Rieu (for classical).

    Th.

  45. trurl says:

    I only hate two of his songs: Goblin Girl and Doreen.

  46. sterbus says:

    Only the chinese-sounding bit in Cheepnis.

  47. mtiberio says:

    A quote from Jacques:

    - Willie the Pimp. Damn that’s a boring piece of nonsense.

    I take it you don’t like smoking guitar solos? WTF

  48. Neal says:

    Cosmik Debris

    I fucking hate this song, and I skip it every single time no matter the version. The solo is the only saving grace, but even that makes me want to turn it off just because I know it’ll go back to those stupid lyrics and dumb melody.

    Beyond that song, there aren’t a lot that I can think of that I would call bad, just ones I haven’t listened to that much that I hate them. Stuff like “The Groupie Routine” I wouldn’t classify as a song per se, and I’ve never listened to Billy the Mountain that many times to make me think it’s bad, certainly boring though.

    Lumpy Gravy is the precise album that made me want to listen to the rest of Zappa, and I wasn’t disapointed by Jazz From Hell, but it has been a few years since I’ve played it. Thing-Fish is one of his best in my opinion, but I know most hate it.

    Damn, come to think of it, there are several albums that I need to listen to again. That’s the thing with Zappa, there is so much music that it’s almost impossible to overplay one song or album if you own it all.

  49. PC says:

    To Alan Wechsler:
    If you think that “Jazz from Hell” is unlistenable because of its odd melodies, what about “The Black Page”?!
    I really don’t agree with you. You sound like someone who hates FZ’s melodic complexity…

  50. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Neal:

    Damn, come to think of it, there are several albums that I need to listen to again. That’s the thing with Zappa, there is so much music that it’s almost impossible to overplay one song or album if you own it all.

    Damn right, Neal. Add to his official catalogue all those bootlegs and field recordings, too. So much variation, improvisation…

  51. Robert says:

    A quote from PC:

    To Alan Wechsler:
    If you think that “Jazz from Hell” is unlistenable because of its odd melodies, what about “The Black Page”?!
    I really don’t agree with you. You sound like someone who hates FZ’s melodic complexity…

    Don’t make the same mistake that i made in my younger years. You are bashing a guy who doesn’t appreciate every fart FZ released. FZ himself said on many occasions that his music is OPTIONAL entertainment. If you like it – fine. If not – also fine. (I do, however, feel similarly. It took me a while to let people have their own way when dealing with the most beloved works of my most beloved composer…)

  52. Gnarly says:

    It’s all part of The Big Note, doncha know. I always enjoy how he juxtaposed the Do Wop with the dense impenetrable stuff, it’s his signature, Niceness next to Ugliness. Still, the only tune I’ve ever edited out is WRMF. It’s ugly all right but I think he stuck that in there to make fun of fans who profess to like everything, who would listen to the worst unlistenable crap ever and still cheer. Think about it- the band put down their instruments and left the stage while the instruments just fed (feeded?) back!

  53. Alan says:

    To PC:

    It’s true, I’m not a fan of Black Page, but I don’t mind listening to it, because I know it’s coming from real musicians and it sounds like it. If JFH was made by a real band, at least it might not have that synthetic, compressed, computerized sound that makes it sound soulless. It’s that as much as the dissonance that bothers me about it. When I hear Black Page, I can imagine all the band members sweating it up as they followed Frank’s directions and perverse tempo changes. That fact that it was recorded live makes it even better.

    Alan

  54. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    If JFH was made by a real band, at least it might not have that synthetic, compressed, computerized sound that makes it sound soulless.

    I think the actual song ‘Jazz From Hell’ is a gem, and benefited from being realized on the Synclavier.

    There’s a truism which has it that great artists say the same things over and over, but in different ways, and I think that applies to Zappa. In the literal sense of that, the song ‘JFH’ belongs with ‘Be Bop Tango’, ‘Eric Dolphy’ and his other funny-smelling jazz tunes. They make me smile.

    As has been remarked recently around here, there is some Zappa material that you don’t like at first, and end up loving later on, or at least liking. Of course there are some songs which really are trivial poop, a lot of which have been cited here, but for those of you who made sweeping statements about whole swaths (nothing after ’76; nothing on synclavier, etc.), you might change your mind…

  55. Shelley says:

    All these remarks, and not a single comment from either Bob or Alex?

  56. Robert says:

    A quote from Alan:

    To PC:
    If JFH was made by a real band, at least it might not have that synthetic, compressed, computerized sound that makes it sound soulless.

    You are raising an interesting aspect here. Various musicians have tried to supply live versions of tunes of Jazz From Hell, namely the Band From Utopia (and others, i think) with Nite School and the Ensemble Modern with G-Spot Tornado. The latter nowadays is something like THE standard FZ tune that you have to supply a version for when you want to be member of the “Wow, i can play a computerized FZ tune” camp. I find all these efforts worth listening to and in many cases like what each respective musician is trying to accomplish. However, the versions on Jazz From Hell are there as reference points for all times. No human element other than the composer!

  57. Shelley says:

    A quote from Robert:

    You are raising an interesting aspect here. Various musicians have tried to supply live versions of tunes of Jazz From Hell, namely the Band From Utopia (and others, i think) with Nite School and the Ensemble Modern with G-Spot Tornado. The latter nowadays is something like THE standard FZ tune that you have to supply a version for when you want to be member of the “Wow, i can play a computerized FZ tune” camp. I find all these efforts worth listening to and in many cases like what each respective musician is trying to accomplish. However, the versions on Jazz From Hell are there as reference points for all times. No human element other than the composer!

    Is this Bob commenting under a different name in a last ditch attempt to sound grown-up and intellectual?

  58. Alex says:

    A quote from Shelley:

    All these remarks, and not a single comment from either Bob or Alex?

    Nope.

    Don’t really want to touch this one.

  59. nikita coltrane says:

    Accusing “Charlie’s Enormous Mouth” of being “misogynistic” is really a stretch, if not downright retarded. I don’t think it’s especially mean-spirited, either, unless you happen to be really sensitive about the feelings of dumb people who let their friends pressure them into doing cocaine. As for the song not having a point, I would think the point is PEOPLE WHO DO COCAINE ARE NOT THE SMARTEST PEOPLE.

  60. nikita coltrane says:

    Quote:
    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

    What’s completely missing the mark is the writer of these sentences. Whether you care for the song of not, “Be in My Video” is not musically supposed to be a spoof of anything. The lyrics are by no means specific to dumb heavy metal videos. They relate more to the general overuse of certain ridiculous cliches in pop videos of that era. Some of the things mentioned are right out of some of David Bowie’s videos of the time.

  61. jonnybutter says:

    We’ll dance them Blues!

  62. Robert says:

    A quote from Shelley:

    Is this Bob commenting under a different name in a last ditch attempt to sound grown-up and intellectual?

    Nope, this is not the “Bob” you are thinking of. Genuine Robert from somewhere in Germany.

  63. exile says:

    These are opinions of course, and as such worthless to you…

    Tengo Na Minchia Tanta

    Big Leg Emma
    Honey, Don’t You Want a Man Like Me?
    The Illinois Enema Bandit

    All the tracks with vocals on Sleep Dirt (but then I was accustomed to the LP)

    Easy Meat
    For the Young Sophisticate
    Bamboozled by Love

    No Not Now (sometimes I hate it sometimes I like it)
    Valley Girl
    I Come from Nowhere (I recall an interesting bit in the middle…)

    Most of The Man from Utopia, particularly:
    Cocaine Decisions
    Stick Together
    SEX

    Much of Them or Us

    Much of Thing Fish (but I do like some moments)

    Most of Broadway the Hard Way, particularly:
    Rhymin’ Man
    Promiscuous

    And these 2 smell funny:
    The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life
    Make a Jazz Noise Here
    To me they are slick and charmless, tediously littered with “ooo look at my new toy” samples…
    … the Stravinsky/Bartok arrangements are nice.

  64. Alan says:

    Nikita is correct … Charlie’s is more a song about drug use than about a woman. I guess I hadn’t heard it in a while. It’s still really annoying, though!

  65. barbssonn says:

    Among some others already mentioned…

    Pedro’s Dowry
    Most of Guitar album (some solos are great)
    Frogs With Dirty Little Lips
    Man From Utopia/Mary Lou
    Much of Absolutely Free album
    Baby Snakes album…love the movie.
    For the Young Sophisticate from Tinseltown (sucks)
    Can’t do Francesco Zappa AT ALL.

  66. Bob says:

    Is part three up yet?

  67. Alex says:

    A quote from Bob:

    Is part three up yet?

    I’m starting to warm up to you.

  68. Bob says:

    It’s UP!!!

  69. profusion says:

    Here are my comments about some of Alan’s list:

    * Jumbo Go Away/Charlie’s Enormous Mouth

    I agree about Jumbo Go Away. It’s one of the very few Zappa songs that makes me cringe with embarrassment when I listen to it in the presence of someone else. I don’t detect sarcasm or a deeper point, just one ugly guy making fun of other ugly people. I’m not really down with that. Charlie’s Enormous Mouth, though, is a far more interesting song. You do know that FZ wasn’t actually commenting on the size of the putative Charlie’s piehole, right?

    * Why don’t you like me? (Broadway the Hard Way)

    Not one of the better songs on that album/tour, to be sure. It raises a larger point about the ’88 tour and live albums. The political/social commentary seems much more limited to that particular time and place than did FZ’s earlier work. Joke songs about Michael Jackson, Jesse Jackson, and Jim Bakker just don’t resonate much anymore, and probably not at all if you weren’t actually there in the ’80s.

    * Billy the Mountain (Just Another Band from L.A.)

    Agreed. Brings up all that I don’t like about the vaudeville band. Too much talking and not enough playing. As comedians, Flo and Eddie were very talented singers. I know others love this stuff, so it’s undoubtedly just a reflection on my own tastes.

    * Any song (Jazz from Hell)

    I appreciate JFH because of how FZ was trying to break the boundaries. It would be a lot better if you could find a way to rerecord it with better samples in the Synclavier, like he ultimately was able to use on Civ Phaze III.

    * Jelly Roll Gum Drop (Cruising with Rubin and the Jets)

    The entire album is a great concept that I have absolutely zero desire to actually listen to. It’s great that others enjoy it, though.

    * ‘Torchum’ Never Stops (Thing-Fish)

    I enjoyed ThingFish when it was new, but it also has not aged very well. Ike’s dialect voice was funny when used sparingly, but that’s obviously not the case on ThingFish.

    * Be in my video (Them or Us)

    It’s about a lot more than hair metal bands. Musically, though, I wouldn’t say that FZ was trying to imitate or take the piss out of any specific genre that was on MTV at the time. It has more of a doo-wop thing going on, I’d say. Another song that doesn’t mean much outside of the context of the mid-’80s.

    * Nig Biz (unreleased, except live)

    It’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. Probably would have gotten FZ in a lot of hot water had he actually released it on an album–which is probably why he didn’t. People tend to lose their critical faculties whenever the N-word is involved. Heck, a white guy in the Washington DC government was forced to resign a few years back after using the legitimate word “niggardly” during a city council meeting. It’s become a huge third rail in American culture, and was largely so back in the early ’80s when Nig Biz was on the FZ setlist.

  70. Jacques says:

    @Harry Barris (again): No offense taken. As for my favourites, I can appreciate almost any sort of music, as long as there’s nothing truly offensive to the ear, such as Axl Rose. And I really loathe musicals, which is why I kinda like Thing-Fish. I’m not gonna do a list of my favourites here, the list would be too long.

  71. Thinman says:

    A quote from Jacques:

    @Harry Barris (again): No offense taken. As for my favourites, I can appreciate almost any sort of music, as long as there’s nothing truly offensive to the ear, such as Axl Rose. And I really loathe musicals, which is why I kinda like Thing-Fish. I’m not gonna do a list of my favourites here, the list would be too long.

    No comment.

    Th.

  72. Rub says:

    Amongst the more futile ways to spend your life, debating taste must surely be in the top three. At least as long as the arguments are presented as subjective preferances (“I like bananas”) and not as objective truths (“Bananas are best”). You can’t really argue against someone who says “I like bananas”. What would the counter argument be? “No, you don’t”? However, having read the post above, I do feel a desire to contribute to the excersise. In my opinion, absolutely nothing FZ ever did, was sub-standard (I cannot bring myself to use words like “bad” or “poor” in connection with FZ). Admittedly, some of his compositions are easier to access than others. It’s easier to hum along to the simple chord structure of “Bobby Brown” at first listen, than to the “Jazz from Hell” album. But it may be that the ultimate rewards for those who bother to immerse themselvs in the latter album, is just as great. On the other hand, it’s easy to take an intellectual’s approach and discard the aforementioned “Bobby Brown” as inferior pop music. But as a social comment, concerning a particular type of young man, or even -dare I say it – as a metaphor for the US itself (chew on it a little, before spitting it out), it may be among FZ’s best. I think what I am trying to say, is that FZ’s music gives back in proportion to what you are willing to put into it. If you listen to Thing-Fish once, and put it away for good at the back of your record collection because you are offended by Ike’s OTT “N-dialect”, then it should come as no surprise if you feel that Thing-Fish is an album that really doesn’t “give” you anything. Listen to it a couple hundred times, and your perception of the album might change. But it’s all up to you, and it’s all good.

    MUSIC IS THE BEST!

  73. Alex says:

    A quote from Rub:

    Amongst the more futile ways to spend your life, debating taste must surely be in the top three.

    Hence:

    A quote from Alex:

    Don’t really want to touch this one.

    Compare tastes, have fun, enjoy what you agree on, and just know that if you’re fronting the FZ cover band at the KUR annual barbecue, covering “SEX” would probably not be greeted warmly. Plan accordingly.

  74. Jacques says:

    A quote from Thinman:

    A quote from Jacques:

    @Harry Barris (again): No offense taken. As for my favourites, I can appreciate almost any sort of music, as long as there’s nothing truly offensive to the ear, such as Axl Rose. And I really loathe musicals, which is why I kinda like Thing-Fish. I’m not gonna do a list of my favourites here, the list would be too long.

    No comment.

    Th.

    And you just had to comment to say that? :D Gotta love internet.

  75. Bálint says:

    One more thing that comes to my mind: the otherwise sensational tunes in surprisingly poor orchestraion. To me these are:

    - Dog Breath (Just Another Band)
    - T’Mershi Duween (Jazz Noise)

    Comparing to other versions – I just dont understand these ones. But all these bring out the conclusion already written down by somebody up there: “there are several albums that I need to listen to again”. Okay, now I’m checking “Just Another Band”.

  76. profusion says:

    A quote from Rub:

    Amongst the more futile ways to spend your life, debating taste must surely be in the top three.

    I think there’s been more interesting discussion on this thread than that. Discussing *why* you or I don’t like something can facilitate an exchange of ideas, even if it doesn’t actually change anyone’s mind.

  77. Plooker says:

    It made me pull out a bunch of stuff I had not listened to in a long time.

  78. Theydon Bois says:

    A quote from Rub:

    Amongst the more futile ways to spend your life, debating taste must surely be in the top three. At least as long as the arguments are presented as subjective preferances (“I like bananas”) and not as objective truths (“Bananas are best”).

    But a discussion of “bad” Zappa songs, or bad artistic artefacts in general, can go beyond subjective issues of taste. I think it is possible for a work (even a Zappa work) to be objectively bad; for instance, if an artist aims to achieve something with a particular work and then falls short of that aim, then the resulting work can hardly be claimed to be of equal quality to another work that does everything it sets out to do. (We may of course have subjective fondnesses for the former, perhaps because we have the view that it exhibits some awkward charm, but this is a different matter entirely.) If we take seriously the idea that discussions like this involve only expressions of personal taste then we end up in a universe where it’s not possible to point out that Stravinsky was a better composer than, say, my dad, and then we deserve everything we get.

    So it is not necessarily trivial to discuss bad Zappa songs. Examples of objectively failed compositions would be, perhaps, satirical songs which (for some reason or other) fail to hit their target. “Dancin’ Fool”, for instance, fails on at least one level (as a parody of disco music) because, despite the song having some surface arrangement details that mirror disco’s idiomatic devices, the Sheik Yerbouti production style (i.e. instrumentation, performance, mix) prevents it from sounding very much like disco music at all (as becomes overwhelmingly clear if you’ve ever lined it up immediately after “100 Disco Classics” or something).

    (Obviously the above is a bit simplistic as a critique of “Dancin’ Fool”, since FZ’s intention for the piece wasn’t solely the adoption of disco tropes but their subversion, as evidenced by the rhythmic spanner-in-the-works provided by “I may be totally wrong but I’m a…”. I’m getting sidetracked though.)

    Also, while I appreciate your argument that FZ’s music “gives back in proportion to what you are willing to put into it”, I don’t think it all gives back at the same rate. How many more times have I to listen to “Little Rubber Girl” before it yields its hidden treasures?

  79. jonnybutter says:

    Speaking of music video cliches, if you haven’t seen it yet, this is a very funny remix of ‘Billie Jean’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFYdNuHoG0c&feature=player_embedded

  80. Shelley says:

    There are no BAD SONGS, only BAD LISTENERS.

  81. Plooker says:

    A quote from Shelley:

    There are no BAD SONGS, only BAD LISTENERS.

    Hmm…Where is my tie? I have to think about this one.

  82. Plooker says:

    Hey Shelly, have you ever heard Bitchen Camero?

  83. Bongo Bob says:

    Theydon Bois: Three holes, no waiting…

  84. Theydon Bois says:

    Are you chatting me up?

  85. Alex says:

    A quote from Plooker:

    A quote from Shelley:

    There are no BAD SONGS, only BAD LISTENERS.

    Hmm…Where is my tie? I have to think about this one.

    A kitty wearing a tie? How perverse!

  86. HotRats says:

    I love Jazz Form Hell and Lumpy Gravy.

    About Jazz From Hell I also have to say that it di stands the test of time!

  87. HotRats says:

    @Paul Jonker-Hoffrén:

    Tengo una michia tanta, menas “I’ve got a big dick” :) and my idea is that Zappa with that song/video, is just having fun of that gross italian guy. My idea – I’m Italian :)
    is that Frank is telling us: look, that man is the south italian stereotype coming to life.

  88. HotRats says:

    A quote from Renaud:

    “You are what you is” is a terrible piece of crap. 5 minutes wasted. There’s almost nothing musically happening : 2 chords repeated endlessly with boring lyrics on top. Oh yes, the title is good.

    aaargh! I really like that song. I like the fact that is based on 2 repeted chords, I like the cool rythmic structure, I like the lyrics and I love the title.

  89. rob says:

    A quote from rob:

    aaargh! I really like that song. I like the fact that is based on 2 repeted chords, I like the cool rythmic structure, I like the lyrics and I love the title.

    And the video they did for MTV was pretty good, too. Of course they wouldn’t show it…

  90. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Theydon Bois:

    A quote from Rub:

    Amongst the more futile ways to spend your life, debating taste must surely be in the top three. At least as long as the arguments are presented as subjective preferances (“I like bananas”) and not as objective truths (“Bananas are best”).

    But a discussion of “bad” Zappa songs, or bad artistic artefacts in general, can go beyond subjective issues of taste. I think it is possible for a work (even a Zappa work) to be objectively bad; for instance, if an artist aims to achieve something with a particular work and then falls short of that aim, then the resulting work can hardly be claimed to be of equal quality to another work that does everything it sets out to do. (We may of course have subjective fondnesses for the former, perhaps because we have the view that it exhibits some awkward charm, but this is a different matter entirely.) If we take seriously the idea that discussions like this involve only expressions of personal taste then we end up in a universe where it’s not possible to point out that Stravinsky was a better composer than, say, my dad, and then we deserve everything we get.

    So it is not necessarily trivial to discuss bad Zappa songs. Examples of objectively failed compositions would be, perhaps, satirical songs which (for some reason or other) fail to hit their target. “Dancin’ Fool”, for instance, fails on at least one level (as a parody of disco music) because, despite the song having some surface arrangement details that mirror disco’s idiomatic devices, the Sheik Yerbouti production style (i.e. instrumentation, performance, mix) prevents it from sounding very much like disco music at all (as becomes overwhelmingly clear if you’ve ever lined it up immediately after “100 Disco Classics” or something).

    (Obviously the above is a bit simplistic as a critique of “Dancin’ Fool”, since FZ’s intention for the piece wasn’t solely the adoption of disco tropes but their subversion, as evidenced by the rhythmic spanner-in-the-works provided by “I may be totally wrong but I’m a…”. I’m getting sidetracked though.)

    Also, while I appreciate your argument that FZ’s music “gives back in proportion to what you are willing to put into it”, I don’t think it all gives back at the same rate. How many more times have I to listen to “Little Rubber Girl” before it yields its hidden treasures?

    Wonderfully put, Theydon Bois. From the earliest titles in Zappa’s catalogue, Zappa has always wrote songs that sometimes hit, sometimes missed their target: Status Back Baby, Motherly Love, Wowie Zowie, WPLJ, Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink, Valerie, Disco Boy, Punky’s Whips, etc. I’ve always loved these songs, but I loved them because they were so simple and straight forward. Not all FZ songs need be highly complex to be good and entertaining. “How many more times have I to listen to “Little Rubber Girl” before it yields its hidden treasures?” you ask. Remember, Theydon, the song of which you speak sprung from “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder” at the 31 October 31st, 1978, Palladium show in NYC. It should be approached in that context, not solely the lone Vol 4 YCDTOSA track.

  91. PC says:

    A quote from Robert:

    Don’t make the same mistake that i made in my younger years. You are bashing a guy who doesn’t appreciate every fart FZ released. FZ himself said on many occasions that his music is OPTIONAL entertainment. If you like it – fine. If not – also fine. (I do, however, feel similarly. It took me a while to let people have their own way when dealing with the most beloved works of my most beloved composer…)

    I’m not in my younger years. :)
    I don’t mean to bash anybody… but I think that words must be in support of arguments. Alan Wechsler talks about the ‘unmelodious songs’ of JFH, but I believe that is exactly the opposite: that album has many melodies, incredibly complex and beautiful melodies. Maybe that’s the problem: beyond certain complexity, melodic ideas are difficult to understand.
    Melodies in pop music are simple, but MUSIC is huge. ‘Pop music’ is just a little country in that Universe.
    ‘… Music is the best’.

  92. andre cholmondeley says:

    Great discussion…though I agree — so subjective and it’s hard to take some of these songs out of context. Gee– other than “Promiscuous” there is hardly any Zappa that I ever skip –and even THAT song…only cos it’s such poorly executed rap (and I think highly of Zappa’s “rap skills”, from “trouble every day “(1965) to “excentrifugal forz” to “dumb all over”…

    What?!??!!? I love “Jazz From Hell”. In fact – I think it holds up fantastically given the 25 yr span…Why? IMHO one big reason is ‘cos it’s made from HI RES samples of REAL INSTRUMENTS, not 80s-vintage models or algorithms.

    - I agree…”Billy The Mountain” gets quite tedious. THo’ — for some reason the “Playground Psychotics” version is waaaaay more enjoyable..why is that I wonder?

    -I’ve been told by people who sang on it –’Charlie’s Enormous Mouth” – is about a very famous singer — let’s say her name RHYMES with “Charlie” and she has a HUGE mouth…..

    Oh what the hell, Frank can’t be sued. It’s about Carly Simon but they changed it late in the game so as to not have legal issues. It all makes more sense now, right?? The very large mouth, the blow etc.

    -Of course, “Be In My Video” takes shots at the WHOLE overwrought MTV high budget videos, with direct nods to “Let’s Dance”

    On the other hand “Let’s Dance” IMHO is a great song, still gets airplay, and introduced the world to Stevie Ray Vaughn……that’s a whole ‘nother discussion…

    I’d like to weigh in on “Nig Biz”….sorry, there’s nothing “PC” about shying away from that word… and this comes from a well-establised opponent of being PC…..

    I am also a HUGE Patti Smith fan, have seen her live too many times to count, and it’s always painful when she does “Rock n Roll Nigger”. Clearly I know she’s not a racist…Clearly I know Frank’s not a racist…

    But I challenge this notion (never proposed by black people, as far as I’ve ever heard) that “we are all niggers”.

    Here’s my issue with it — no matter how “downtrodden” or “punk rock” or “suffering under the boot of society” you are…unless you are getting your ass beaten by cops at 3am, in every state in america, unless you are getting dragged to your death behind a truck, all while hearing “Die! Nigger!!” then, um, no, sorry, we’re not all in that same boat.

    When I start hearing abt white kids being pulled over, illegally searched and beaten by BLACK cops, over and over and over without punishment and with a shrug from local citizens, then I’ll feel like we’re in “Post-Racial” america….

    We may ignore it — but this is commonplace still for young black males. (See Dave Chappelle’s “Black Whtie Supremacist” skit)

    Having said that — I love the song, it’s a killer blues piece, it’s funny, sarcastic and makes it’s point as moist FZ lyrics do…but as a few people have said — Frank understood it’s “third-rail” capacity enough to not make the song an evergreen.

    This isn’t written bitterly or with anger, but thoughtfully, with an attempt to add another perspective, having been punched in the face and almost blinded by racist thugs. Yes that happens to Whites all the time BUT NOT USUALLY sanctioned by representatives of the state while in uniform..

  93. Robert says:

    A quote from HotRats:

    @Paul Jonker-Hoffrén:

    Tengo una michia tanta, menas “I’ve got a big dick” :) and my idea is that Zappa with that song/video, is just having fun of that gross italian guy. My idea – I’m Italian :) -
    is that Frank is telling us: look, that man is the south italian stereotype coming to life.

    If you’re italian: Care to elaborate a bit more on what Massimo is talking about in this piece? My italian is not good enough. I seem to spot references to anal and oral sex and a chicken, but that could just as well be an easy guess. :-)

  94. nikita coltrane says:

    A quote from Tjodolf:

    I don’t like jazz rock or hair metal, so there is A LOT of FZ’s stuff that’s lost on me.

    - “Jelly roll gum drop”: FZ loved doo wop, and “Ruben and the jets” is a FZ album that gets points for human warmth. (I was gonna say “the one”, but that’s not true.) This song is no different from any of the songs on the album … just throw away your CD copy, there’s a hair metal band standing in front of the loudspeakers and trying to play along. Hair metal dated awfully, so the new bass and drums actually sound a lot older than the rest of the track.

    I think you either don’t know what “hair metal” is or have some really warped definition of it that is totally different from everyone else’s, because none of your uses of it here make any sense in context.

  95. Tjodolf says:

    Oh, Mr coltrane, don’t be like that! No one likes a contrarian. You know perfectly well what the word “hair metal” means, and if you don’t recognize any trace of the typical eighties hair metal sound in the drums, the rhythm guitars or the mix and production in eighties Zappa albums like the remixed “Ruben and the Jets” – good for you!

  96. sluggo says:

    Thing Fish for me is a perfect example of where Frank desperately needed an objective opinion from someone else to help edit and fine-tune his ideas. It could’ve been a great work but I think it needs a lot of editing and rewriting plus a greater focus on writing new music. Joes’ Garage for me works more because the music is more listenable and the expository sections are fairly brief. Thing Fish is something like 20-30% spoken exposition with repetitive music in the background. I laughed really hard the first couple listens but after that I knew the story, it wasn’t shocking anymore, and the music, for me, is very sub par. Joe’s at least has some great songs and solos in between the storyline.

    But, if he had a collaborator who called him out when he was doing something not as good as usual, perhaps he would’ve been pushed to work longer on things until they were better. I may be totally off base, but I just think he was quite arrogant and not always the best self-editor sometimes. Other times his instincts were absolutely spot on. And, I still think he is a towering genius of a composer, guitarist, arranger, etc. And, arrogance is something that most great artists probably are guilty of, to some degree or another (with many exceptions of course), and it probably helped that he believed in his talents so much otherwise we wouldn’t be so fascinated by his life and work.

    I think the most famous creative person who most desperately needs people to be critical of his ideas is George Lucas! He must be surrounded with only yes men since he apparanlty is incapable of admitting that he doesn’t have any good ideas anymore and he cannot direct a movie to save his life anymore, but this doesn’t stop him from making some of the shittiest movies ever. Zappa never came close to Lucas’ cluelessness, though. Thing Fish is infinitely more interesting than The Phantom Menace. :)

  97. James says:

    A quote from James:

    Thing Fish for me is a perfect example of where Frank desperately needed an objective opinion from someone else to help edit and fine-tune his ideas.

    Great works of art are seldom produced by committees. You are entitled to your opinion, but I for one am very grateful for the fact that FZ was a dictator, and not a meek “oh-dear-I’m-really-not-sure-if-this-is-good-enough” wimp. The meek shall inherit nothing! Democracy in politics is great, but not in the arts. FZ had freedom of expression, we have the freedom to listen to somebody else is we don’t like what FZ expressed. I, however, do!

  98. Dark Clothes says:

    I’ve been listening to the Thing-Fish cassette while driving lately, and agree totally with your view, sluggo. The work is partly engaging and entertaining, but also in serious need of editing. To present this as a triple album was unnecessary and damaging. The good parts and the full story could easily have fit onto two vinyl discs. As it is, the whole thing is dragged down by the boring and embarassing parts (and notably the Harry/Rhonda sections). Lumpy Gravy could have been equally tedious, but is saved by masterly editing. Thing-Fish just doesn’t have that edge, and comes off as sometimes brilliant, too often self-indulgent.

  99. jonnybutter says:

    Interesting comments, Sluggo and Dark. I agree that Frank occasionally could have used an editor (it’s not hard to understand why he didn’t have one though: he himself was, in a way, a Master Editor). I pretty much never listen to ‘Thing Fish’, because it seems sort of flaccid – a few times listening were enough. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday, but somehow I doubt it.

    Frank liked to play with perspective a lot. His whole project/object really was like one big item, and the constituent parts were different angles, close ups, long shots, boom or crane shots, etc. Some ‘shots’ are more interesting than others. For example, at first, I really didn’t have the patience for ‘Billy The Mountian’ (what you might call an extreme close up), but I got to like it more later – especially the ‘Playground’ version. But for me, it’s not dense enough to be interesting to listen to over and over and over; Thing Fish is like that, but bears even fewer listenings.

  100. ThatZappaGuy says:

    I must say I’m not too partial to Be In My Video, Fine Girl, or Disco Boy. Granted, there is still plenty of his music that I’ve yet to hear, those three are very annoying to me. Also, quite a bit of Joe’s Garage, despite how much I like it overall, I must skip over if I’m not doing a complete listen-through. For example, Stick It Out, Sy Borg, Scrutinizer Postlude, Dong Work for Yuda, Keep It Greasey… I suppose that I just don’t care as much for Acts II and III too much. The title track on Apostrophe (‘) gets a bit old after a while, and much of Sheik Yerbouti I could take it or leave it. But this is probably because my favorite line-up is a tie between the early Mothers and the Roxy band, so I suppose I’m a bit biased on some of these albums. I would say that a lot of Joe’s Garage seems very different compared to most of Frank’s music… it seems very cold and isolated at times and when I listen to it, Watermelon in Easter Hay is almost like the cry for help that despite the great idea and overall musicality, something is lost in that album, as are much of his 1980′s releases.

  101. jonnybutter says:

    Try sometime to listen to (or think about) ‘Sy Borg’ as just music and mouth noises. It’s a beautiful song, I think.

  102. darms says:

    Been listening to Frank since 1969, have most of his albums, vinyl & CD, and while I like some of his music more than others, he’s got one song that just plain pisses me off – “Jumbo Go Away”. It’s downright offensive, has no redeeming qualities whatsoever & totally screws up the wonderful “If Only She Would Have” Doors pastiche that follows. Damn it Frank, some people are big and just cannot help it. The world already makes fun of them enough as it is at least if they’re female. If you had written a song making fun of fat men maybe I wouldn’t be so hostile but as written & recorded, you just ripped into an all too easy target and that sir, was a cheap shot, something I feel was beneath you.

    BTW, “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes” was a tough sell for me years ago until I ran sound for a band that covered it nicely. But hearing it done live totally turned my attitude around. Can’t say that about “Jumbo Go Away”, however. That one was just plain mean.

  103. urbangraffito says:

    darms, i suggest you give a listen to the post, Frank Zappa – Cynic, Satirist, Social Anthropologist. In particular, the YouTube video. Jumbo was an actual person. As Zappa often did, he wrote about real people and their strange and odd quirks, not as stereotypes.

  104. filthyhabits says:

    Wow. Just about all of you suck at Zappa. Bad. A couple of you should consider suicide, and the rest of you start listening to top 40, because that is all you are capable of comprehending.

    Sure you’re entitled to your “opinion”, but some of these opinion givers should be executed.

    That is all.

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