Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of one of the most spectacular talents to grace the world of music in the 20th century: the one and only Frank Zappa. Still, for all that Zappa’s talents for writing and performing were without peer, perhaps the most memorable thing about him was his inimitable sense of humor — his songs were often as laugh-out-loud funny as they were musically intimidating, a distinctive combination that made listening to his records a strange and wonderful experience. As such, celebrating the great man’s funniest songs seems an appropriate way to pay tribute to his legacy — so here’s our choices for the funniest of the lot.
“Titties and Beer”
True story: your correspondent once played the devil in a rendition of this song for a friend’s final performance at music college. It earned a) a standing ovation and b) a resounding fail grade for the friend in question. So it goes.
“We’re Turning Again”
In which Frank skewers the hippie generation to hilarious effect. Feel free to listen to this whenever the tiresome boomer in your life starts blathering about how music’s never been the same since Jimi/Janis/etc. died, and how Woodstock was the apotheosis of the counterculture, and how the acid was better back then, and zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Moon Unit’s star turn. Gag me with a spoon!
Our hero wasn’t discriminating in who he offended, mind you. This song satirizes Jewish-American stereotypes to hilarious effect.
“Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk”
Christianity (and, indeed, religion in general) often also ended up on the Zappa lyrical chopping block. The spectacularly cynical “Dumb All Over” was perhaps Zappa’s greatest indictment of religious idiocy, but for pure comedy value, this hilarious satire of ’80s televangelists is hard to best: “Robertson says that he’s the one/ Oh sure he is, if Armageddon is your idea of family fun!”
“Stick It Out”
On a similar note, this track from Joe’s Garage — a strong contender for the coveted title of Zappa’s Funniest Album — takes the Zappa satirical chainsaw to L Ron Hubbard and Scientology. The song needs some explanation, since Joe’s Garage is a three-part rock opera with an, um, interesting narrative: the record recasts Scientology’s use of e-meters and other contraptions as being symptoms of a “Latent Appliance Fetish,” and this fetish sees “L. Ron Hoover” suggesting the titular Joe learn German and visit a club called The Closet in order to hit on “a cross between an industrial vacuum cleaner and a chrome piggy bank with marital aids stuck all over its body.” This song catalogs the results — and yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.
“Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”
Sage words, kids.
“Broken Hears Are for Assholes”
In its own special way, this song contains a rather profound truth — wallowing in misery ultimately gets you nowhere, no matter how comforting or easy doing so might be. (Zappa being Zappa, it also contains one of the more, um, idiosyncratic descriptions of anal sex that the rock ‘n’ roll canon has to offer.)
“Variations on the Secret Carlos Santana Chord Progression”
Can an instrumental be hilarious? I say yes!
“Bobby Brown Goes Down”
The great man’s greatest achievement, at least as far as comedy value goes: the tale of a ghastly college bro who gets more than he bargains for when he hooks up with a lesbian. Lyrical gems abound, although it’s hard to beat this as far as memorable couplets go: “Oh God I am the American dream/ With a spindle up my butt ’til it makes me scream.”