The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life

Frank Zappa

album cover

A Primer on One Devious Daredevil

Frank Zappa (1940–1993) was an American original, a wry satirist disguised as a crude jokester, a bandleader whose daredevil deviousness regularly pushed the musicians around him to the threshold of genius. Oh yeah, and he shredded the electric guitar like nobody else. For most of his life, though, he was dismissed as a crank. It took a flurry of outrageously diverse releases just before and after his death to change that impression.

A restless explorer, Zappa is hard to pin down. His artistic contribution ranges from conceptual rock (Uncle Meat) to ribald satire (Sheik Yerbouti) to cerebral jazz fusion (Hot Rats) to ambitious theater works (Thing Fish) to challenging contemporary classical compositions (The Yellow Shark) that require a steel-trap mind to execute correctly.

Although you probably need ten Zappa albums to fully "get" his genius, this live set, culled from the 1988 tour that was Zappa's last big rock sojourn, offers a thrilling representation of this mayhem-maker's incredible range. As it opens, Zappa tells the crowd that he's met Johnny Cash that day, and in preparation for a guest appearance, Zappa and the band work up Cash's "Ring of Fire" as a slow, skanky reggae. Cash doesn't show (his wife got sick), but Zappa and band play it anyway, expanding its original meaning to include jokes about hemorrhoids. That sets the tone for a nothing-sacred set that includes an irreverent romp through Ravel's Boléro, a campy send-up of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to heaven," and a demonic "Sunshine of Your Love" that inspires Zappa's unhinged near-delirious guitar genius. There are also chipper versions of Zappa originals "Zoot Allures," "The Torture Never Stops," and "Lonesome Cowboy Burt," one of several songs with new lyrics commenting on the thenrecent fall of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart.

Every track contains at least one moment of jaw-dropping instrumental dazzle—a stickler for precision, Zappa led one of the most accomplished, well-rehearsed bands in rock history. Though completists will argue that studio versions of some songs are better, The Best Band serves as a spirited primer on one of the twentieth century's most provocative musical thinkers. If you don't like this, you'll probably never get Zappa.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1993, Rykodisc
Key Tracks: "Ring of Fire," "Zombie Wolf," "Cosmic Debris," "Purple Haze"
Catalog Choice: We're Only in It for the Money; Hot Rats; Zoot Allures; The Yellow Shark
Next Stop: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band: Safe as Milk
After That: The Mars Volta: The Bedlam in Goliath
Book Pages: 886–887

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Comments:

#1 from beil urtlma, ulta alta, mongolia - 12/13/2008 3:41

10xcsn
got me pizzen to the beat.
dance , sing and groove to these 1000 ton hits.
AMMMMMMMMENNNN, BRO.

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