Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention – One Size Fits All

Note-for-note transcriptions with tab for all nine tracks from Zappa's classic 1975 release:

  • Andy
  • Can't Afford No Shoes
  • Evelyn, A Modified Dog
  • Florentine Pogen
  • Inca Roads
  • Po-Jama People
  • San Ber'dino
  • Sofa No. 1
  • Sofa No. 2. 

Transcriptions by Addi Booth

Publisher: Hal Leonard
Publication Date: December 1, 2011
ISBN: 9780634061110
UPC: 073999906240
Print Length: 184 pages
Dimensions: 9”W x 12”L

Available in Paperback and Digital



In the career of all historically significant artists, there usually is a quintessential work that defines them — and may even redefine a genre. Frank Zappa accomplished this on virtually every one of his records, but One Size Fits All is a mother lode.

I was 15 years old when it was released, and One Size Fits All was the first Zappa record I ever heard. It blew away the depressing dark cloud that had been hovering over my world and revealed a magnificently shimmering, star-filled night sky. It was then that I realized for the first time how truly beautiful and uplifting music could be.

And I wasn't alone. It didn't matter if you were a geeky teenage guitar player, a 13-year-old girl from Connecticut, a Fortune 500 attorney, or a Buddhist monk chanting in the foothills of Mt. Shasta in California — all of whom I have met in my life, and all of whom confirmed this phenomenon: If you heard this record and felt a kindred relationship to the material, it would have a profoundly positive, life-changing effect on you.

Back then in my Long Island teenage bedroom, I would have given anything to have this book you're now holding, just to see in black-and-white physical reality, the thumbprint of the universe's most excellent musical expression. It could have been revealed on a stone tablet at Mt. Sinai, but now it's here for us all.

Frank was an intuitive master of many forms of creative expression. His authoritative command of the English language, clever wit, incisive political commentary, and his proficiency in classical compositional skills, guitar playing, and computer compositions are well-documented.

But Frank's ability to compose and arrange for a rock ensemble is perhaps his most inspired gift. And many Zappa aficionados believe the group of musicians on One Size Fits All to be his finest band.

The album has that warm, fat analog sound that just feels good on the ears. All the instruments and vocals are masterfully arranged and recorded so that you can hear (and fetish) every little vibrational morsel.

This book also offers a glimpse into the way Frank musically stacked his elements to create tapestries of rich, harmonic sounds. Not to mention, you get all the lyrics to ponder: " 'Arf,' she said."

At music school, we were taught how difficult — and sometimes how wrong — it is to use chord structures and moving harmonies in the lower end of the bass clef because it can sound like a mess. But Frank used this register quite a bit on One Size Fits All, and he made it work superbly.

Check out the harmonies on the word "vehicle" in "Inca Roads." And "Florentine Pogen" is a perfect example of Frank's bold use of distorted guitar, vocals, electric bass, saxophone, synthesizers and robust percussion in low-register counterpoint harmonies. Hearing it is like being engulfed in cushy, resonating textures that emanate like the intoning of an electrified "Om."

(What the heck is a Florentine Pogen, anyhow? I used to think, Perhaps an Italian prince? But I didn't find out until one fateful trip back in the mid-1980s, when a flight attendant handed me a small package with two cookies in it. Printed on the plastic covering was "Florentine Pogen." No way, I thought. He didn't.)

For the most part, "Can't Afford No Shoes" was performed on a fretless guitar. It's almost impossible to play a fretless guitar and retain good intonation, but Frank gallops through the piece with spot-on precision. The final guitar cadenza of the piece sounds like a storm of bullet rain.

It takes a devil-may-care attitude to write a song about "Po-Jama People" and the "little trap-door back aroun' 'em." When my wife was 13 years old and living in Connecticut, this was the first Zappa song she heard. There was a DJ in Connecticut that heavily played Frank's music on the radio and as a result, whenever Frank performed in that territory, the audiences were at least twice as big as in most other places.

(It's likely that would have been the case in any other part of the world if Frank's music had gotten more radio airplay. It makes you wonder just how many more lives it would have changed.)

Like many in her area, my wife became helplessly hooked on Frank's music as a young teenager after hearing "Po-Jama People" on the radio. I enjoy listening to her describe what it was like: the striking contrast it had to other contemporary music played before or after it, the ripping and extended guitar solo, and the fact that other people were hearing it at the same time and very well could have been feeling the same way she did.

And then there was Frank's deep, rich voice singing about something that no one else would dare to sing about but that touched something inside you and put "some cozy little footies" on your mind. I knew how she felt. Hearing each "Hoi" that Frank renders on that song would keep me warm at night.

From the arrangement, to the lyrics, to the production, "Inca Roads" is simply an unprecedented masterpiece. How can I even attempt to write of its beauty? "Did a booger-bear/Come from somewhere out there?" — sung in Munchkin vocals in a steamy 11/8 time signature — gave me a new reason to live.

As a teenager, I would meditate on the guitar solo of this track. Frank's enchanted stream-of-consciousness, expressed through his prowess on the instrument, make this performance a six-string milestone. His use of dynamics is simply stunning.

The liner notes say that the "Inca Roads" solo was recorded at a live concert in Helsinki, Finland. That means there was a live performance of the solo that was cut into a studio performance of the rest of the track. That edit sounds seamless and natural. Back in the day, I would marvel endlessly at all of this.

To me, Helsinki, Finland was a mysterious, faraway place that Frank Zappa sanctified with that solo. Years later, I requested that my agent book me in the same hall where Frank had played. On that night, I fulfilled the fantasy of standing on the same stage that the "Inca Roads" solo was recorded on and performed that solo note for note — the best I could, that is.

And now… with this book… you can perform it too!

Though Frank's guitar solo in "Inca Roads" stands immortal in the world of memorable guitar solos, the melody section that segues out of the solo (for this writer, at least) is the closest thing to the voice of God that has ever been put to music.

Finding myself in front of Frank with a guitar in my hand at barely 20 years of age seemed surreal, to say the least. But when I was handed a copy of the music for "Andy" in prep for the 1980 Zappa tour, it was hard to believe that I was actually seeing Frank's handwritten, musical-note calligraphy of the powerful melodies that only a few years before had exploded the colors of my world.

I remember clutching that manuscript in astonishment and saying to Frank, "I can't believe I am holding this in my hand." He said, "Well, it had to be written somehow." And then the next thing I knew, I was playing that song on his stage.

But perhaps the pinnacle of live performance came for me when I had the honor bestowed upon me to perform the spellbinding melody to "Sofa" on a screaming guitar. It put me into an ecstatic state of melodic nirvana, and I highly recommend that you experience it for yourself through this book.

For all lovers of Frank's music, including myself, One Size Fits All becomes more precious as time goes by.

Like each brilliant brush stroke of a masterwork by Monet or Van Gogh, every element of One Size Fits All is sublime. Filled with exquisite melodic exultation, the album holds its own special place in Frank's massive catalog of awe-inspiring, unclassifiable music.

As you sit with this book and attempt to learn the music, it's good to keep in mind what Frank once said when asked what advice he would give a young musician just starting out:

"There are only two things to remember. Number one, don't stop, and number two, keep going."

Three decades later, I keep those words taped to my computer. Not only do they reflect Frank's bulletproof work ethic, they're also inspirational ideals to live by.

So now it's up to you to savor the delights of One Size Fits All.

But just one more thing…

Bobby, if you're reading this, we're still sorry you got a head like a potato.

Steve Vai
July 31, 2011
1:16 a.m.
Los Angeles, California