Best Zappa Albums

Danielle Fletcher
• Wednesday, 09 December, 2020
• 8 min read

After playing drums in various bands as a teenager, Frank Zappa relocated to LA where he worked in advertising and ran a studio. Zappa continued to challenge his audience over the years, subverting their expectations at every turn, gleefully playing the role of square peg in a round-hole music industry he loathed throughout his career.

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There are no bad Zappa albums, but it doesn’t follow that just because you enjoy the fusion of Hot Rats you will necessarily want to wade through his complex and impenetrable syn clavier compositions which occupied his latter years. Zappa’s mid-70s masterpiece, the rebirth of the Mothers, with fine cameo appearances from Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and Captain Beef heart (credited for contractual reasons).

It’s almost a continuation of the work he started on Hot Rats ; largely instrumental, with a heavy emphasis on brass and Zappa’s flowing guitar, it’s as close as he ever came to creating a straight jazz-rock album. Foot Allures is a pretty stripped-down, straight-ahead rock album, flawed but with some amazing high points like the sensuous The Torture Never Stops and the guitar instrumentals Black Napkins and the title track.

There’s a lot of mediocre parody, like opener Wind Up Working In A Gas Station and the blast at the Travolta craze of the time, Disco Boy. Foot Allures certainly isn’t essential Zappa, but it is one of his most accessible for those from a rock background coming to his music for the first time.

This marvelous, albeit short, album is the first steps towards the accessibility of Apostrophe (’) and One Size Fits All, and again showcases the musical talent he assembled for Grand Wazoo and Aka/Jataka. Zappa’s first proper solo album, Hot Rats was a clean break from the cut-ups and sneering comedy of the Mothers.

Oddly, this was Zappa’s most commercially successful album (it was his first gold-selling disc), largely thanks to the freakish hit Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow. With guest appearances from fusion legend Jean Luck Pony and ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce, it’s a hard rock album that presents the listener with only a modicum of challenge, and includes some of his most memorable songs like the snaky and soulful Cosmic Debris and the comic-prog of St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast.

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It’s actually hard to separate one solo from another, and in the end the whole thing just sounds like two-and-a-half hours of somebody noodling away aimlessly. Zappa and The Mothers also made some excellent live albums, the best of which are Fillmore East June 1971, Just Another Band From LA and Broadway The Hard Way.

Zappa’s work in the 80s is best represented by 1982’s Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (which spawned his biggest-selling single, Valley Girl (and the already mentioned The Man From Utopia, his last really great ‘conventional’ rock studio album). Zappa may have despised the rock business, but he made some incredible hard rock, starting with the Satisfaction -like riff of Trouble Coming Every Day from Freak Out, and including the likes of the acidic blues jam Willy The Pimp from Hot Rats, and I’m The Slime from Overwrite Sensation.

The closest he came to an actual metal track was Wind Up Working In A Gas Station (on Foot Allures), although he did murder Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven on The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life. List of the best Frank Zappa albums, including pictures of the album covers when available.

To make it easy for you, we haven't included Frank Zappa singles, EPs, or compilations, so everything you see here should only be studio albums. If you think the greatest Frank Zappa album isn't high enough on the list, then be sure to vote for it, so it receives the credit it deserves.

He was many things, including complex, elusive and perhaps extra-terrestrial; if one had the impossible task of defining him with one word, it would be iconoclastic. This is precisely what he partly intended with some of his art: Zappa attempted to shake the docile human race from stagnation, who have for far too long, festered in the old dirty waters of society’s hypocrisies.

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In addition to deconstructing and collating these genres of music, he has also utilized this Burroughs-esque technique with Musique concrète, which is the term used for sampling recorded sounds as raw material. His albums are also very thematic and are a series of smaller concept pieces that add up to a greater picture.

I am not obsessed by poodles or blow jobs, however; these words (and others of equal insignificance), along with pictorial images and melodic themes, recur throughout the albums, interviews, films, videos (and this book) for no other reason than to unify the ‘collection’. Within little over a decade, Zappa created a signature sound and influenced all of rock ‘n’ roll forevermore.

While also coming across with a strong point of view, the sounds that swirled out of the speakers were damn near revolutionary back in 1968. As well as being a spiraling must capable of subverting the purest sounds, surprisingly, there is a dewdrop side to him too, which he approaches in a slight tongue in cheek and sarcastic way, but still executes with honest sincerity.

This is Zappa at his satirical best, and one of his more accessible albums musically, but lyrically, very profane, and ruthlessly takes aim at the Republican Party. The music video for the title track was banned from MTV, as it portrayed Ronald Reagan in an electric chair.

They may have carved the path for many of the day’s acts to be performing with such creativity, but that didn’t mean they were necessarily afforded such acknowledgement. ‘Gold Mine’ is, without doubt, the standout moment on the album and deserves to revisit at every possible occasion.

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(Source: www.besteveralbums.com)

Brimming with creativity and with the hint of opportunity, there was something encapsulating about Zappa’s approach to music, and it was at this time that the musician arguably hit his peak. A composite of nostalgic dewdrop, and his signature sarcasm, this truly does sound like an alien dropped in and decided that he would write psychedelic inspired garage rock and maybe poke some fun at it and throw a few wrenches into the mix.

The Mothers of Invention were slowly gaining a reputation as the art house choice for rock ‘n’ roll, and this LP was proof. An insane amalgamation of different genres of rock fused with jazz, One Size Fits All is quite the trip.

The opening track, ‘Inca Roads’, is a space oddity of a song, charting a trip through the murky ink of the universe. Featuring Captain Beef heart and Johnny (Guitar) Watson, it’s a mid-70s rock masterpiece that positively burns with intensity.

Undoubtedly one of the best album titles we’ve ever heard, Sheik Djibouti is Zappa nearing his artistic peak. The record is also is Frank Zappa at his funniest, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t also his most sincere effort to chase commercial success.

It is an interesting intersection where avant-garde and free-form jazz meet the hard rock rhythms that were about to make Zappa a household name. This album may be his most honest composition; most of the tracks are instrumental, except ‘Willie the Pimp’, which yet again features Captain Beef heart, on vocals.

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The record marks the beginning of his exploration into jazz, a project that is meditative while also being wild and free. When you couple this with the rock ‘n’ roll ethos that had begun to permeate the country, Zappa was simply expressing the word of the youth culture.

With so much music to choose from, getting started on your journey through the world of Frank Zappa can no doubt be a daunting task. Regardless of this, the record was one of Zappa’s most popular and features one of the strongest gatherings of musicians ever assembled by Frank.

Featured on this album are the hits “Wind Up Working’ In A Gas Station,” “Disco Boy” and the fan favorite and live staple “The Torture Never Stops.” From the opening track, “Hungry Freaks, Father” to the Watts Riot-inspired “Trouble Every Day,” this debut record from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention is one of the biggest game-changing albums out there.

The music video of the title track was banned from MTV for depicting President Ronald Reagan strapped into an electric chair. The album touches on everything from religion (“The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing,” “Dumb All Over,” “Heavenly Bank Account”) to infidelity (“Harder Than Your Husband”) and even Deadheads (“Teenage Wind”), as well as the Halloween hit, “Goblin Girl.” This is some of the very best of eighties-era Zappa and exemplifies the lyrical and intellectual prowess of the late creative genius.

Hot Rats was Zappa’s second solo effort and proved to be one of his most celebrated musical works. The album is a jazz fusion masterpiece and features one of Zappa’s most well-renowned instrumentals, “Peaches en Regalia.” Hot Rats is jam-packed with horns, reeds, organ, bass, drums, percussion, flutes, saxophones, clarinets, tape speed manipulation, bizarre sound effects and extended guitar jams.

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(Source: www.rollingstone.com)

Captain Beef heart takes the lead vocal on “Willie The Pimp,” which also features Don “Sugarcane” Harris on violin. Songs such as “Who Needs The Peace Corps?”, “Concentration Moon”, “Absolutely Free” and “Flower Punk” unmercifully tear into what Frank saw as the shallow absurdities of the hippie counterculture.

Frank takes aim at the parents and authority figures of sixties America on tracks like “Mom & Dad”, “Bow Tie Father”, and “What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?”. With brilliantly hilarious satire, expert musicianship, mind-bending arrangements and incredibly advanced recording techniques, We’re Only In It Forth Money is by far one of the most important albums of the late sixties.

This was also one of the greatest lineups that Frank has ever pulled together, live on stage, and if you close your eyes while listening, you’ll feel like you’re front and center. The young and extremely charismatic drummer Terry Ozzie delivers some of the albums most memorable moments.

Never to be outdone of course, is Frank’s face-melting guitar work on songs like “Cruising’ For Burgers” and “Pound For A Brown.” The explicitly hilarious, “Honey Don’t You Want A Man Like Me” was a live staple at the time and is one of the high points on the record as well. This was Zappa in his prime and features the exceedingly intricate fan favorite, “Inca Roads”, as well as the singles “San BER’Dino” and “Sofa No.1 & 2.” The band lineup includes some of the most prominent members of the Zappa alumni: George Duke (keyboards, vocals), Napoleon Murphy Brock (flute, tenor saxophone, vocals), Tim Fowler (bass) and Ruth Underwood (vibraphone, marimba, percussion).

“Pajama People,” “Florentine Po gen” and “Andy” also are highlights on this phenomenal record, and are among some of the greatest songs of the entire Zappa catalog. This highly-renowned rock classic offered up the first charting single of his career, “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow.” The song was in conjunction with the subsequent tracks, “Nanook Rubs It,” “St.

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(Source: www.rollingstone.com)

Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” and “Father O’Oblivion,” however the radio edit of “Yellow Snow” was the official single. Also in attendance is the well-known “Cosmic Debris” as well as the standout track, “Uncle Remus,” which sheds light upon racial tensions in America.

Recorded during the same sessions as Apostrophe, this progressive masterpiece was the launch of Zappa’s commercial years. With hits like “Camarillo Brillo,” “I’m The Slime,” “Dirty Love,” “Zomba Woof,” “Montana” and the obscenely sexually-charged fan-favorite, “Dinah-Moe-Humm,” this record is brimming with classics of the 1970s.

No doubt a controversial record, the subject predominantly focuses on themes of a sexual nature. Meanwhile, songs like “I’m The Slime” take aim at the addictive nature of television; “a tool of the government and industry” as Frank puts it.

“Echidna’s ARF (Of You)” and “Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing” are arguably two of the most elaborate instrumentals in rock history. Percussionist Ruth Underwood’s work on the xylophones, marimbas and vibraphones is some of the best you’ll ever hear, while the vocal styling of Napoleon Murphy Brock are some of the strongest of his career.

Other notable songs are the kinky “Penguin In Bondage” and the autobiographical anthem “Village Of The Sun.” Roxy & Elsewhere offers up the best of the best. From disco and cocaine (“Dancing’ Fool”) to sex and S&M (“Bobby Brown Goes Down”/“Broken Hearts Are For Assholes”), Zappa saw right through the trends of the 70s just as he did during the previous decade.

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Peter Brampton is mocked on the opening track “I Have Been In You” and even Bob Dylan takes a hit on the following song “Flakes.” It seems no one is safe. Whether it be the fiery performance of “Train’ To Grow A Chin,“ the politically incorrect hilarity of “Jewish Princess” or the silly and suggestive “Wild Love,” Sheik Djibouti gives the fans everything you’d want from a Zappa record.

The title track is one of Zappa’s most famous tunes, along with the popular fan-favorites “Catholic Girls,” “Crew Slut,” “Fem bot In A Wet T-Shirt,” “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee” and the guitar instrumental “Watermelon In Easter Hay,” which is famously known as one of Zappa’s greatest solos. From the musical diversity and density to the satirical humor and masterful guitar wizardry, Joe’s Garage Acts I, II & III showcases the very best of Frank Zappa.

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