FRANK ZAPPA – Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar (1981, 2012 Universal/Zappa remaster)
This is the first time I’ve ever seriously tried to write a Frank Zappa review; a daunting task indeed. I rely heavily on the excellent booklet inside the 2012 Universal/Zappa Record reissue of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar. For example, an advertisement for the album tells me that it was originally issued (in 1981) as three mail order records. You could buy them at once or separately, and they were individually titled Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More, and Return of The Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar. Then they were later re-released as a 3 LP box set.
I also like how the spines of this series of remasters are all numbered, so you can easily file them in chronological order. That’s how I file my albums (alphabetically by artist, then chronologically by album). These three records were 31, 32, 33. For shits and giggles, I separated the tracks from this 2 CD release into the original 3 LP running order. My logic was, this gave the listener (me) a more “original” listening experience, as I took coffee breaks between “records” to collect my thoughts.
The whole Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar set is a collection of instrumental guitar solos. Many of these are taken from live performances of other songs, but presented on their own, sometimes with humorous dialogue sprinkled in between. All solos are by Frank, although giants such as Steve Vai and Warren Cuccurullo are behind him on rhythm guitar. Frank’s playing is diverse (it better be if your album is an hour and three-quarters long) and interesting at all times. I’m not a guitar head, I can’t sit here and tell you, “Oh right now he’s playing the such-and-such mode in the key of whatever.” I can just tell you when my jaw hits the floor (frequently).
Rhythmically, “five-five-FIVE” (the opener) is one of my favourite tracks. The internets tell me that the time signature is a repeated sequence of 5/8 + 5/8 + 5/4. On top of that are some exotic and mindblowing Zappa tones. I was hooked on the first time. The next one, “Hog Heaven” is slower, a respite. Zappa remains the architect of electric guitar sounds you just don’t get to hear every day. I also love the aptly named “Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression” which does indeed have a vaguely Santana vibe.
Other highlights included “Ship Ahoy” which I’m not even sure how to describe so I won’t. “Pink Napkins” is a jazzy jam session with Eddie Jobson on keyboards that hits just the right notes. The 10 minute closer “Canard Du Jour” is remarkably by being sparse, without wasting precious playing time by being boring. It is aided and abetted by Jean-Luc Ponty on violin, a treat indeed.
I think I’ve said enough. I paid nine freakin’ bucks (Sunrise) for almost two hours of Frank Zappa playing guitar. How is that not one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made?