The catalog is massive. You can throw a dart at it and end up with a variety of eclectic selections, just as he loves to throw darts at a wide ranging vocabulary of music: blues, classical, doowop, funk and prog rock lathered up with jazz & filtered through some of the best musicians around. The man with the mustache knew how to pick 'em. Be it percussive (Bozzio, Colauita, Wackerman), guitar (Steve Vai, Adrian Belew), keys (Tommy Mars), saxophone (Napoleon Murphy Brock), xylophone, etc.. The list goes on. As does the several lineup changes. But for Zappa one thing was undeniable: one size fits all. Whether they sang backup vocals to Cosmik Debris or donning a mask for one of his unpredictable improvs, all were integral to the whole-- with Frank as the mad genius conductor. Whose own guitar licks can make most players today weep.
His musical vocabulary doesn't just end there.
Try spinning Apostrophe or Zappa In New York & try not to cackle with howling laughter. His song titles alone are worth the price of admission on this carousel of carefully orchestrated anarchy.
Roxy & Elsewhere is my favorite live album. The lineup is superb.
-Napoleon Murphy Brock – flute, tenor saxophone, vocals
-George Duke – synthesizer, keyboards, vocals
-Bruce Fowler – trombone, dancer
-Tom Fowler – bass guitar
-Walt Fowler – trumpet, bass trumpet
-Ralph Humphrey – drums
-Don Preston – synthesizer
-Jeff Simmons – rhythm guitar, vocals
-Chester Thompson – drums
-Ruth Underwood – percussion (ladies & gentlemen, watch Ruth!)
It's a good live album to start with. A perfect mix between his insane avant-garde classical/jazz-fusion stuff and his demented pop stylings.
Regarding studio output, the majority would point to Over-nite Sensation & Apostrophe because it's a compression of everything Frank represented in 2 discs. A starter kit if you will.
Then you have some of his heavier offerings. Heavy in terms of content and presentation. Joe's Garage to me is a giant 2- disc smorgasboard where the Central Scrutinizer himself takes aim at the government, sex toys, groupies & Catholic girls. It certainly amounts to the musician's view on the creative freedom of music.
I haven't even touched upon his 60's work with the Mothers of Invention. Nor his 80's & 90's output, but you get the point.
I'm always finding myself returning to Joe's garage to discover old tools useful for expanding a musical vocabulary. As Frank himself would say: without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.