The local AM station had a low-budget FM sister with 'underground' music and few commercials, and they would play just about anything: jazz, blues, entire albums, even some classical and serious experimental: Reich (It's Gonna Rain, Come Out), Subotnick (Sidewinder), etc. This was when Beefheart and Zappa were starting to peak.
It was great; weird lyrics and incredible rhythms I never heard before, one of the first things I recall: Ian Underwood Whips It Out: 'thud-THUD!, thud-THUD!, thud-THUD!...'
I mean, I had no idea drums could be played that way. It was like a photograph negative, except it worked. Also liked his sometimes percussive-like attack on the guitar. Steve Vai called it 'visceral', rather than virtuosic, but I'd dispute his definition of virtuosic: the sheer range of expression, styles, color, improvisation, layering, arrangement, integration into a larger whole, gadget-experimentation (in a class by itself right there), soloing and supporting and accompanying, even humor, put him in a virtuosic class of his own.
His voice was equal to any nightclub singer if he wanted to, but to him that was worth nothing to him but throw-away parody.
I heard Aaron Copeland in a CBC interview in the mid-eighties or sometime, and they asked him (this was strictly classical/serious stuff, it wasn't a general question) something like:
'Do you see any interesting new composers these days?'
'Well, I'm impressed by the work of Frank Zappa...'
I almost fell outa my chair...
Although it's impossible to put Zappa into any one slot, because of his sheer volume and variety and depth, I have to regard him as THE giant of 20th century music. He went into the rock and jazz halls of fame, having pushed those genres to the absolute limits, and on the other hand provided tons of thoroughly accessible, and simultaneously, brilliant, music in both. Serious Music? Rather than dry, abstract modern vocal experimentation, he integrated the same into the weird and hilarious:
'Whooo... could imagine... they would freak out... in Minnesota...?' 'mi mi mi mi mi....'
'Kansas' becomes an atonal musical figure to play with. I guess we could dispute how much he was playing with vocalization, and how much making a goof-ball song with a bit of social comment, the other members improvising. But to him, I think, it was all part of a whole.
How many pieces really did Glass or Reich and the minimalists do, for example, that Zappa couldn't have equalled in a few days' work?