"I don't give a fuck if they remember me at all."-Frank Zappa, July 1, 1983
Frank Zappa was the Mozart of the 20th Century, and consistently pushed musical, intellectual, and philosophical boundaries over the span of his thirty-year professional career in a way that no other popular musician ever has. A genuine artist who approached his work with the same enthusiasm, dedication, and deep understanding of his field as the great masters, Zappa was in a constant state of reinvention and renewal, and redefined what was possible in modern music. His unique ability to break a style or genre down to its component parts and reassemble them in his own distinct fashion was the hallmark of a musical project that spanned more than sixty albums in his lifetime and many more since his death. More than any of his contemporaries, Zappa understood the nature of music, and used it to deliver messages larger and more complex that the simple mantras of love and happiness (and/or societal disenchantment) that dominated his era. He was also a staunch advocate of freedom and liberty, a shrewd businessman who by the time of his death owned every note that he had ever recorded, and a vocal defender of individual rights. In short, he was the leading intellectual force in popular music during his lifetime, and his legacy will only continue to grow with time.
Zappa's sixty-two albums are not standalone works. Instead, they are linked by what Zappa called "conceptual continuity" and collectively makeup the "Project/Object" - the singular overarching artistic project that dominated his life. Musical and philosophical motifs consistently reappear throughout the catalog, painting a portrait of a man who would have been just as distinctive and committed to his art if he were born three hundred years earlier. Zappa had music in his soul, and was defined by his work in a way that only the greats can be. And yet while he is today appreciated by many music aficionados, his work is often overlooked by not only mainstream audiences, but also by self-professed music lovers who find themselves unable to penetrate Zappa's admittedly dense and eclectic body of work.
Frank Zappa's name deserves to be spoken in the same breath as the masters of years past. Over the next several months, I will endeavor to explain why as I review and analyze in release order the more-than-sixty albums that comprise the main Zappa catalog, beginning with 1966's Freak Out! and concluding with 1995's Civilization Phase III, the final project Zappa completed before his death. This will be a long and exhaustive project, but I hope that by the time I am finished, you too will see Zappa for what he is: the single greatest composer America has ever produced.