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Frank Zappa

Strictly Commercial

Review by Gary Hill

A compilation of some of the “best” of Frank Zappa’s music, this is a good disc, if you ignore the question of what is really “best.” There is a lot of great music here, but the real fans will already have it all. Still, this plays quite well as a single unit – and that is not always the case with compilations. It would also be a good introduction to Zappa’s music for those who have yet to discover him. As  usual, where I've reviewed these tracks before I've used (or modified) that  version for the sake of consistency.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Peaches en Regalia

This melodic instrumental is playful and fun. It also has a lot in common with Emerson Lake and Palmer and is certainly one that most prog purists won’t have a problem lumping into the “prog rock” genre. It still has plenty of Zappaisms and weirdness, though. There are definitely some musical passages that would feel at home on an ELP album. It also has a few sections that are nearly pure jazz.

Don't Eat the Yellow Snow

Starting with the sounds of arctic winds, this is a bouncy sort of track with a quirky musical and vocal pattern. With a title like that who would have thought it would be a hit, but it was. This is humorous and quite cool. Elements of jazz are brought to the table as are other sounds.

Dancin' Fool

One of Zappa’s most well-known numbers, this pokes fun at the whole disco scene. It’s a cool tune that still holds up well, even with the dated lyrics.

San Ber'dino

Here they bring the blues, at least on the intro, complete with harmonica. It shifts out into an off-kilter, rapidly shifting Zappa jam. This is another great tune. If you don’t like where this piece is, just wait. It changes so rapidly, it’s sure to keep you on your toes. They even throw some serious arena rock at us here and there.

Dirty Love

A celebration of lustful desires, this is one of the most “normal” songs from Zappa (musically anyway). It’s got some extremely “dirty” lyrics that at times describe some acts that are illegal in many parts of the world.

My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama

Here we get a powerhouse jam that’s got a vintage rock and roll meet soul feeling to it. It’s a good track, but perhaps not up to the level of some of the rest of this stuff. When they bring in a series of rapid fire changes (one little snippet quickly replacing another) mid-track it elevates it. We also get quite a tasty guitar solo on the outro.

Cosmik Debris

This has a very tasty groove to it. The lyrics and music both on this one are just plain killer. It’s always been a favorite of mine. It’s got a number of varying sections and off-kilter musical excursions.

Trouble Every Day

“Trouble Every Day” is a killer bluesy rocker. This isn’t extremely off the wall or odd. That said, it’s just plain great.

Disco Boy

If you want weirdness here it is. The music is pretty straightforward through much of this, but the vocal arrangement is quite weird. The track, though, is quite cool.

Fine Girl

Here’s a bouncy little number with an exaggerated vocal arrangement. This is cool, but perhaps one of the weaker cuts on show here. It’s got some interesting changes and alterations nonetheless.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

This is a live recording and a tasty jam. This instrumental runs along the lines of fusion and prog rock quite nicely and it’s one of the stronger pieces on the set.

Let's Make the Water Turn Black

Having read a Zappa autobiography I know the source of this track. Having that knowledge makes this both gross and more interesting. Even without that knowledge, though, this is an odd little gem. It’s bouncy and most of the vocals have a weird processed effect making them sound cartoon-like. There are some interesting musical motifs at time.

I'm the Slime

This is a classic Zappa tune. A swirling guitar god solo opens this. Then they launch out through a prog rock instrumental section. It drops back to a stripped down movement for the cool vocals. They bring back more prog elements later. This one extols the evils of television and its effect on the population. It’s a killer piece of music and always been one of my favorites.

Joe's Garage

Sort of a 1950’s styled balladic approach makes up the early portions here. It takes on a more soulful sound later. This one works through a number of changes in an arrangement that is classic Zappa weirdness.

Tell Me You Love Me

Fast paced, hard edged and funky this is a killer tune. It’s fairly straightforward and includes some smoking guitar work.

Montana

The lyrical tale here is weird and surreal. The music in some ways matches it. Parts of this are straightforward. Yet, the track has a quirky nature with elements of jazz and classical merging with this classic rock feel. It’s one of my favorite Zappa tunes and a highlight of the disc. It’s also a great way to end things and features some killer FZ guitar work.

Valley Girl

What can you say about this one? Another of Zappa’s biggest hits, this has a rubbery bass line driving it. We get the “vall” spoken monologue from Moon Unit Zappa. This is a great tune. Like “Dancin’ Fool” this still holds up despite the dated lyrics.

Be in My Video

Bouncy and fun, much of this is a 1950’s Doo Wop number.

Muffin Man

Here we get a weird little spoken story (complete with blemishes). This is odd, but also humorous and cool. Just before the minute and a half mark this gives way to a cool soulful jam that’s trademark Zappa. We get some more smoking guitar soloing from the man. This live tune is a great way to close this off.

 
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