I'll start off this post by proclaiming proudly that I've owned the Frank Zappa collection 2.5 times over. Alright not every single single and posthumous release, admitted but the main core Frank Zappa catalogue. Let it be known that I LOVE the music of Frank Zappa. Frank Zappa dared to go out and do music which was really interesting and exciting. He dared to be different and was a Classical, Jazz, Avant Garde, Experimental Rock composer of the greatest order. In short there's nothing I've heard of Frank Zappa that I haven't liked (Even 'Little Green Rosetta' beats most modern day music songs you'll hear on the corporate controlled radio stations these days. Also it's funny).
Now with that said, I'm going to put forward a list for the beginner which I feel is THE main core of Frank Zappa's released work. This is of course by no means a complete list as there's still material which has yet to see the light of day and is not acknowledging the fact that the incredible Frank Zappa wrote music exclusively for live performances whose only release was a live version. So please keep this in mind for later exploration into the depths of Mr Zappa's incredible work.
Alright, now with that said here is my delivery of the main Frank Zappa catalogue for the uninitiated and an explanation which is not intended as a flame war creating vehicle of mass anger and hysteria but is simply to allow those poor folks who have not been Frank Zappa fans for years like most of us a vehicle of acquiring a nice Frank Zappa collection without going broke in the process. (If you become serious about Mr Zappa's music you'll eventually want every golden nugget but initially this would cripple your bank account in no time. Well if your actually supporting the Frank Zappa trust and purchasing your albums legally, which by the way supports the Frank Zappa trust in releasing more of his unreleased material. Essentially, just because the amazing Frank Zappa has sadly passed away, does not mean his legacy does not live on. Far from it and the incredible Dweezil Zappa and family continue to put out some wonderful new releases from time to time, not to mention tour to show case his incredible music. This can only continue with your support. So if you love the music, support it. If your brave, harass your local radio station and get them to play it. Don't be at all surprised if they refuse for any reason. Sadly Mr Zappa's music is not understood by all and sadly overlooked by those who can't handle more than a repetitive jingle.).
Now without out further fan worship(which is only right for this great composer), here is the list you should focus on and the reasons why. Enjoy if your going in brand new, I envy you as you have an incredible musical journey ahead of you. For those of us that know, we'll just continue to enjoy, so everyone is a winner.
The very first album I would recommend to the uninitiated is 'Hot Rats'. This was Frank Zappa's 2nd solo album. Skip 'Willie The Pimp' if your not used to the very interesting vocals of the legendary 'Captain Beefheart' as this has sadly turned people away before they have heard the full album. In short you will experience a mind blowing eclectic mix of legendary instrumental performances the likes of which you will probably have never heard before. Then if you handled that, enjoyed the work and want more, listen to 'Willie The Pimp'. If you could handle that, then here is the list your after for putting together a VERY nice Frank Zappa collection.
1. Freak Out (1966) (This is Frank's first major release and the band 'The Mothers Of Invention' do a terrific job). It isn't as hard hitting as 'Hot Rat's but it's so experimental and interesting that only a moron couldn't get the superb experimental work going on here. A mind blowing record for it's time that still has a massive fan following today(including myself). For some reason my 2 favourite tracks are 'Who Are The Brain Police' and 'Trouble Every Day'.
2. Absolutely Free (1967). The Mothers continue with this even more interesting experimental release.
3. Lumpy Gravy (1967). As if Absolutely Free wasn't enough, Mr Zappa also produced his first solo album. Lumpy Gravy is a real homage for this fan to Edgard Varese, one of Frank's heroes. It's really interesting and enjoyable. For some reason I enjoy this one most on long trips(that's car travelling people, I'm not into drugs).
4. We're Only In It For The Money (1968). Another fine Mothers release. This was actually the first Frank Zappa album I ever heard. It blew my mind. I couldn't believe these guys were able to get a record released with music like this. Totally out there, different and very interesting. After 2 listens I was hooked.
5. Cruising With Ruben & The Jets (1968). Very interesting departure from what can only be described to the first time listener as bizarre music that preceded it. Amazingly it works and show cases that these guys are able to adapt.
6. Uncle Meat (1969). A great musical opera practically.
7. Hot Rats (1969). How Frank released this gem of an album while producing Uncle Meat, we may never know but he did and I'm ever so thankful he did.
8. Burnt Weeny Sandwhich (1970), More from the Mothers but sadly the band had been disolved at this point.
9. Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970), Great to hear more from The Mothers but I got the feeling that this album and Burnt Weeny Sandwhich were for the express purpose of generating money for Franks next major release. Never the less there great albums if you got into the interesting earlier works.
10. Chunga's Revenge. (1970). This was Frank's 3rd Solo album. What's not to like on this one?
11. Waka/Jawaka (1972). Frank was pushed off stage in London sometime during a tour around the Chunga's Revenge album release and suffered some serious physical injuries. This release shows his mind was not damaged in the fall and he thankfully made a full recovery over the next couple of years.
12. The Grand Wazoo (1972). This is one of my all time favourite Frank Zappa releases and the track 'Cleetus Awreetus Awrightus' is one of my favourite pieces of music.
13. Over-Nite Sensation (1973). With this album, Frank finally became a mega Rock star in all sense of the word. Even people who didn't get into Frank Zappa before this release finally did when they heard this album. Imagine writing songs about making someone orgasm and your toilet blowing up. Way to go for writing songs about subjects other than the main 3 offenders on all radio station today(come on, don't tell me you don't know what they are).
14. Apostrophe' (1974). Seriously essential Frank Zappa album that continues the magic of Over-nite Sensation.
15. One Size Fits All (1975). Another Mothers release but mostly a posthumous effort. Still a nice album.
16. Bongo Fury (1975). Essentially a bonus disc for the Once Size Fits All album but featuring the one and only Captain Beefheart as well.
17. Zoot Allures (1976). Just when you were thinking Frank Zappa couldn't top the incredible Over-Nite Sensation. He does with this fine album.
18. Lather (1978). OK, now here's a bit of a trouble maker but one I feel is only right. This album was actually released in 1996 for the first time but here's the kicker. The ever amazing Frank Zappa wanted to release an 8 sided album, called Lather at this very moment, but sadly the greedy record giant 'Warner Brothers' wouldn't let him. (This is why there was so much 'Warner Brothers' sucks promotion from both Frank Zappa, the band and the fans at the time and even till the present day). So sadly Frank had to release 4 separate works at the time called 'Zappa In New York', 'Studio Tan', 'Sleep Dirt' and 'Orchestral Favorites', to get these brilliant pieces of music out. So my advice to the first time listener is not to bother purchasing any of these releases until you can get them all dirt cheap. Instead purchase Lather. It's a BRILLIANT album that I put above works like Yes's 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' for example. A superb musical treat full of interesting ideas and listening to it in it's entirety is like experiencing a unique comedy rock opera. Very amusing both musically and lyrically and very Frank. This is the album you really want.
19. Sheik Yerbouti(1979), I'm mentioning even though it's mostly live material because it's so awesome and fun.
20. Joe's Garage Acts I, II and III. (1979). Now this IS a rock opera of amazing proportions and one with an interesting tail on music and the corporate giants that control the industry. Hilarious and very amusing, there's also a lot of truth woven into this sonic tapestry of rock awesomeness.
21. Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar Collection (1981). Absolutely incredible solo guitar instrumental albums. There's something in here for every fan of the guitar. It was originally released as 3 albums 'Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar'. 'Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar Some More' and 'Return of The Son Of Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar'. A must have set for guitar fans that you can pick up in it's entirety these days in the one collection.
22. You Are What You Is (1981). Releasing this and the Shut Up 'N Play Your Guitar' collection was one hell of a feat but Frank did it and this album is a great easy listening rock album. You Are What You Is, should be a top 10 radio favourite the world over. It's got a lot of truth and it's a superb catchy quick song.
23. Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (1982), Fun album that I regard as a continuation of 'You Are What You Is'.
24. The Man From Utopia (1983), Another story album. Kind of had inklings of Joe's Garage about it to me.
25. London Symphony Orchestra Volumes 1 and 2 (originally released in 1983 and 1987 respectively you can pick them both up in the one set these days on glorious CD for a bargain price). Simply stunning and very interesting orchestral music. Perhaps it's because I also love classical music but mostly it's because you can almost hear Frank's joy at hearing his music played so stunningly well.
26. Them Or Us (1984). Absolutely magic album. It also features the one and only 'Steve Vai' so be prepared to be wowed. Interesting songs about things most people dare not write about and the music. Sensational.
27. Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention (1985). I'm sure you can surely work out who the preventers are and way to go Frank for delivering an 'In Your Face' album.
28. Jazz From Hell (1986), terrific album all produced on the Synclavier synthesiser. An enjoyable instrumental album. This was Frank's final studio album until 'The Yellow Shark' in 1993. All other releases after this are live recordings produced from the incredible Zappa archive. Sadly Frank was rather ill from the world's most horrible illness 'cancer' during these years but that didn't stop him from putting out a highly recommendable collection of sensational live material. (In addition, there was also a couple of 'Beat The Boots' box sets that were released to boycott the many bootlegs that fans had proliferated and sold to other fans illegally.
29. The Yellow Shark (1993). Some regard this as Frank's final work and in terms of while his was alive there almost right, which ever way you look at it, what you have here is a masterpiece of fine ensemble music that only Frank Zappa could have composed.
30. Civilisation Phase III (1994). While this was released after Frank sadly passed away, this album was produced during his lifetime. While not entirely finished the Frank Zappa family ensured it saw the light of day and many thanks to them for this as it is without doubt an essential extension of 'The Yellow Shark' for this fan but one which brings out a final kind of musical story that I'll leave for you to discover new fan.
I know many of you are going to pipe in about all the albums I've left out but go and check for yourselves, there either compilations or live albums, not new studio albums. Now that said if you fall in love with this very interesting and amazing music, then you have to go and grab all those live albums as there's some tracks that were only released live so if you ignore all the live albums your not only missing out on new Frank Zappa material your short changing yourself of some of the most amazing concerts ever released in audio form. My biggest trouble is I love watching Frank Zappa in concert as well. You just never know what he's going to do next and the concerts are sonically and visually mind blowing to boot.
The 30 albums mentioned here comprise all of Frank Zappa's main studio works and will provide you with most of his music but be warned. There's a LOT more out there, much of it is still only just seeing the light of day, only now after all these years. That's only thanks to his wonderful devoted family who are continuing to release the amazing music of Frank Zappa. That can only happen with you, the devoted fan base. So support a legend and receive new recordings as a reward people.
Long live the music and the memories of Frank Zappa.