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On Invention: Frank Zappa vs. Baby Boomer Favorites

Posted by Charles Reece, November 13, 2011 10:16am | Post a Comment
frank zappa mojo classic cover

Mojo's collector's edition dedicated to Frank Zappa is a year old, but I chanced across it the other day at my local newsstand. Having found myself in more than one geeky debate over whether Zappa has tended to receive short shrift in evaluations of pop innovation and importance relative to The Beatles (e.g.: "In June 1968, Newsweek declared him second only to John Lennon as pop's 'leading creative talent.'" -- p. 27) or The Beach Boys (Leonard Bernstein called Brian Wilson one of the 20th century's greatest composers) or even The Grateful Dead (recall the days of coverage of Jerry Garcia's death versus the brief blurb accorded to Zappa's), this bit from British writer Miles' remembrance ("Inside Dr. Zircon's Secret Lab") proved satisfying:  

At the London press launch of Absolutely Free Frank told me he wanted to meet The Beatles to get their permission to parody the Sgt. Pepper ... sleeve on his next album, We're Only In It For The Money. I had been seeing a lot of Paul McCartney who was involved with IT [International Times, a British underground magazine that Miles co-founded] and my bookshop, Indica, so I went to a back room and called him. Paul liked Freak Out! very much, and in fact, just before The Beatles began recording Sgt. Pepper ... he told me, "we're going to do our own Freak Out!, but not like Zappa's of course." -- p. 40-1

Regarding Absolutely Free's sound collages, critic Mark Paytress ("Hungry Freaks") has it right:

Light years ahead of The Beatles' Revolver and The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, only the inscrutable complexity and rich textures of The Beach Boys' autumn hit, Good Vibrations, could compare. But, born of Zappa's gnarly nature and recorded in the immediate aftermath of the teenage riots on Sunset Strip, Absolutely Free was the antithesis of Brian Wilson's sun-kissed bliss. -- p. 25-6

But, just to keep it all in perspective, former Mother keyboardist Don Preston sums up Zappa's musical legacy:

Frank's a strange phenomenon. Some people regard him as one of the new, innovative classical composers, but I think his work suffers in comparison to, say, Xenakis or Takemitsu. -- p. 29

And while the British Invasion was listening to American Blues, here's a shot of Zappa's high school-era band:

frank zappa blackouts mojo

It's a good issue, so check it out if you can still find a copy.

Relevant Tags

Mark Paytress (1), Don Preston (1), The Beach Boys (13), The Beatles (52), Frank Zappa (13), Mojo (1), Miles (3)