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As nasty as he wants to sing -- Frank Zappa at his best (worst?)

Frank Zappa

Strictly Commercial (Rykodisc 1995)

Have I Offended Someone? (Rykodisc 1997)

By Joel Rosenberg
Staff Reporter

Everyone has heard of Frank Zappa, but most students don't know about his work. Zappa, who ranks with Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt as a first amendment "pioneer," was a musical genius. In his over 50 albums, he conquered classic rock and roll, jazz, country, funk, folk, and modern classical. A masterful guitar player, incredible composer, and truly creative lyricist and story teller, his section at the record store gives the impression that every musical thought he ever had was recorded and released.

Perhaps only Hitler has facial hair as distinguishing as Zappa, and a classic shot of his mug graces the cover of Strictly Commercial. Considered to be a collection of his more "mainstream" songs, they only scratch the surface of his work. Take "Joe's Garage," for example. It's a mellow tune which tells the story of a small garage band who became a local one-hit wonder before breaking up. The song came from a three-act play about musical censorship in the future, but loses its context on the compilation cd.

Other tracks on the album are "Peaches En Regalia," perhaps his most famous instrumental, and "Cosmik Debris," which is indicative of his more subtle humor. It rags on astrologists, fortune-tellers, and other assorted "scientists" and has lines like "Now is that a real poncho or is that a Sears poncho?"

Before Howard Stern, there was Frank Zappa. Track one, "Bobby Brown Goes Down," is from Sheik Yerbouti, Zappa's best world wide selling album. In large part this can be traced to this song and its tremendous European appeal. In the first verse, he's raping cheerleaders, in the second verse, a liberated lesbian castrates him, in the third verse, he's gay, into sadomasochism, and being pissed on. A great opening to a great collection of tunes.

"Jewish Princess," also on Sheik Yerbouti, created quite a stir when it came out. The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith asked the Federal Communications Commission to ban it from radio play and demanded an apology. Zappa's response: " unlike The Unicorn, such creatures do exist and deserve to be commemorated with their own special opus." The controversial material begins with "I want a hairy little Jewish Princess/With a brand new nose" and gets worse. No apology was ever made.

Sure this stuff is in poor taste. And sure, some people will be offended by it. But if you accept it as satirical, funny, and just damn good music, you'll quickly find a musical genius in Frank Zappa. As Edward Sanders points out in the Offended liner notes: "Because of Zappa, it's going to be more difficult for the guys with the ray guns to erase the controversial tapes, CDs, Web sites and song modes of the future. That's why we need a few Frank Zappas each generation to stand up for freedom against the torches." Doesn't hurt to remember and pay homage to the Frank Zappas who have come before.