SHUT UP 'N PLAY YER GUITAR puts the musical spotlight on Frank Zappa's solo guitar improvisations.
Although many think of Frank Zappa first and foremost as a supreme composer and satirist, many seem to overlook the fact that he was one of the greatest rock guitarists that ever lived. After all, such latter-day guitar heroes as Joe Satriani and Steve Vai (the latter was a member of Zappa's backing band in the early '80s) revered him, often listing select Zappa albums as "the best guitar albums of all time." But since he refused to play commercially acceptable music, many young guitarists are unaware of Zappa's guitar prowess.
To correct this, Zappa issued the double-disc set SHUT UP N' PLAY YER GUITAR in 1986. Instead of just compiling already-released tracks that prominently featured his guitar chops, Zappa searched through tapes of concerts from his 1979 and 1980 tours, and edited together his very best solos. Although this may be a monotonous listen for a non-guitar player or a newcomer to Zappa's work, guitar enthusiasts and hardcore fans will consider it a godsend. It's hard to pick just a few highlights, since each disc is meant to be listened to in it's entirety, but you can't go wrong with "Hog Heaven," "Five-Five-Five," and "The Deathless Horsie," to name but a few.
While most of the discussions of Frank Zappa have to do with his satirical and off-color lyrics, the fact remains that he was one of the finest and most underappreciated guitarists around. This collection places the spotlight squarely on Zappa's mastery of the guitar. Recorded for the most part in 1979 and 1980 (with a few tracks dating as far back as 1977), Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar is simply a collection of guitar solos. Even though most of the tracks were just edited out of their original song context, they fare well as stand-alone pieces, as Zappa was an ever-inventive player.
Mastered by Bob Ludwig, Gateway Mastering, 2012. Vaultmeisterment & Analog Transfers by Joe Travers, March 2012, UMRK. 1981 Analog Master, remastered by Bob Ludwig from the original tapes. Reverts to two CDs (mimicking the approach taken on the pre-1995 CDs), and eliminates the 1995-era segue between "Why Johnny Can't Read" and "Stucco Homes." Reports on sound quality are very positive. Who would ever want to hear half an hour of wall-to-wall guitar instrumentals? When the soloist in question is Frank Zappa, the answer is anyone who should ever require proof that Zappa was one of the most gifted electric (and occasionally acoustic) guitarists of the rock & roll era.
Official Release #52. In his contract with Ryko, Frank Zappa had to put together 12 CDs worth of live material for the series You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore. The fact that he decided to devote two of them (all of Vol. 2) to a Helsinki concert from 1974 illustrates how good and representative he thought it was – and he was right. This two-CD set features the 1973-1974 band (Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, Chester Thompson) near the end of their tour, in a concert in faraway Finland on September 22, 1974 (there were actually two concerts performed that day and, as usual, Zappa edited the best moments together).
Official Release #51. While most of the other volumes in the You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore series would be compiled around loose themes (whether topical or historical), this first volume contained a little of everything for everyone. The material spans most of Frank Zappa's career, from 1969 live recordings by the original Mothers of Invention (the medley "Let's Make the Water Turn Black/Harry, You're a Beast/The Orange County Lumber Truck" constitutes a highlight) up to the 1984 tour, with about every incarnation of his group in-between.
Official Release #50. Released in 1988, Guitar may be the most important and ironically one of the least-known entries in Frank Zappa's voluminous discography – which spans over seven-dozen LPs as of this writing. His proficiencies as a composer and instrumentalist have long been lauded. However, anthologies of this nature provide an outlet for the remarkable breadth and depth of Zappa's manual dexterity and improvisational scope, which can now be enjoyed on a myriad of levels. The casual enthusiast can revel in the seemingly endless personas and sounds summoned from the soloist and band alike.
This is chamber music written by an 18th century Italian composer who may or may not have been an ancestor of Frank Zappa. The younger Zappa discovered the music at the music library at the University of California at Berkeley and programmed it into his Synclavier. The result is pleasant-enough European classical music with an electronic twinge – in the same category as Switched-On Bach.
Released in October 1984, Them or Us is Frank Zappa's last studio rock album (unless one counts Thing-Fish). It contains a little of everything for everyone, but most of all it has that cold and dry early-'80s feel that made this and other albums like The Man From Utopia and Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention sound dated pretty quickly. The record begins and ends with covers. "The Closer You Are" is one of those '50s R&B tunes the man loved so much.
Official Release #53. The first live album compiled from various performances on Frank Zappa's 1988 world tour (his final outing), Broadway the Hard Way is composed mostly of new, vocal-oriented material. The tone throughout is highly political, with Zappa taking potshots at such targets as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Pat Robertson and other televangelists, Jesse Jackson, C. Everett Koop, and so on.