“This is Radio 1, and this is Frank Zappa, and this is the best radio show you’ve ever heard in your life.” — Frank Zappa.
The ultimate musical agitator, Frank Zappa’s penchant for experimental music may not make him the first choice to take a guest spot on BBC Radio 1, but back in 1980, as part of their Star Special show, Zappa selected 30 of his favourite songs to play for the audience at home. It makes for a stellar playlist and a stark reminder that, beneath it all, Frank Zappa was a music lover, plain and simple.
It must be said that Zappa’s favourite song list is likely as long as eternity would allow it to be. The mercurial music man has always kept the evolution of creativity close to his heart. Hence, the idea of him ever settling on a definitive list of his favourite songs is more than unlikely. However, this glimpse into the musician’s working mind should provide a fair few clues.
Despite his image, Zappa has never been afraid to take over the role of disc jockey. As well as sometimes MCing for certain gigs, Zappa has had many roles in the DJ booth at clubs. He remembers when linking to Plastics song ‘Robot’: “When I was in New York I went to this, er, club, called The Mudd Club, and I was a disc jockey there for a night and I brought in a bunch of records and tried them out on the clientele at this particular establishment. One toon that got their buttocks pumping up and down in quite a frenzied manner was this next number, erm, by The Plastics. Its called ‘Robot’.”
The entire programme, which you can hear below as one singular stream, offers more insight into the life and times of Frank Zappa. As well as sharing some of the musical tidbits form his life he also offers reflections of a simpler time, a time when music was championed above everything else and had the real potential to change society selecting a track from the Fab Four.
When The Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’ fades out, Zappa reflects on a creatively charged moment in history: “Now wasn’t that wonderful? Just sitting here today, so sophisticated as we all are, in this modern age that we call The Eighties, and to be able to hear something like that with thousands of people in the background on that record saying ‘everybody smoke pot’. It makes you want to tighten your headband and stick a flower in the end of somebody’s gun.”
Also included in the list of Zappa’s favourites are The Beatles perennial rivals The Rolling Stones and their track ‘Paint It Black’, which Zappa claims is one of the best moment in British rock and roll. “You know what’s really good about that record? Is the way the bass part is there ‘n’ then where he’s going ‘wooom, wooom’ like that, that’s really exhilarating, its probably the, one of the finest things that’s ever happened in British Rock. Don’t you think?”
The rest of the list reads like a who’s who of stunning musical talent. From Black Sabbath (‘I don’t care what you say – I still like Black Sabbath!’) to ZZ Top, Zappa isn’t afraid to pick the music that moves him, despite likely being an extremely unpopular run of choices in 1980.
Frank Zappa won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. His music alone is designed to deliberately agitate you. But one thing you cannot argue with is that he is authentic in his love of music. Judging by this list of incredible songs, it’s fair to say he had some pretty good taste too.
Below, you can listen to the full episode of his radio programme to prove it and find a playlist to take away with you.
Frank Zappa’s 30 favourite songs:
- ‘I’m In The Music Business’ – Jeff Simmons
- ‘Straight Lines’ – New Musik
- ‘The Closer You Are’ – The Channels
- ‘Hyperprism’ – Edgard Varese
- ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’ – ZZ Top
- ‘Golden Birdies’ – Captain Beefheart
- ‘I Live In A Car’ – UK Subs
- ‘Soul Motion’ – Don Harris
- ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ – The Velvet Underground
- ‘Royal March’ – Igor Stravinsky
- ‘Iron Man’ – Black Sabbath
- ‘Lucky Number’ – Lena Lovitch
- ‘Eureka Springs Garbage Lady’ – GTO’s
- ‘Killer Queen’ – Queen
- ‘Mannish Boy’ – Muddy Waters & Johnny Winter
- ‘Jerry and the Holograms’ – Jerry and the Holograms
- ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- ‘Robot’ – Plastics
- ‘Desiree’ – The Charts
- ‘I Am The Walrus’ – The Beatles
- ‘Soldier Soldier’ – Spizz Energy
- ‘Heaven Is In Your Mind’ – Traffic
- ‘I’m Working For The Federal Bureau Of Narcotics’ – Wild Man Fischer
- ‘Paint It Black’ – The Rolling Stones
- ‘Caravan Man’ – Lew Lewis
- ‘Psycle Sluts’ – John Cooper Clarke
- ‘I Asked Her For Water And She Brought Me Gasoline’ – Howlin’ Wolf
- ‘Summertime Blues’ – The Flying Lizards
- ‘My White Bicycle’ – Tomorrow
- ‘Grease’ – Franki Valli