Frank Zappa: Rock's Greatest Genius, Joker, Or Both?

By Rebeka Knott
Frank Zappa photographed in Amsterdam, Netherlands on September 17 1972 (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention band was one of the most important and challenging rock acts of the '60s, and as a solo artist Zappa continued to push the envelope with experimental music and controversial subject matter. Zappa, who died in 1993 at the age of 52, was a provocateur, a comedian, a free-speech advocate, and a naturally gifted and self-taught musician. With the Mothers Of Invention, Frank Zappa recorded 11 studio albums and numerous live albums; as a solo artist or with other collaborators Zappa recorded dozens more, bringing the total number of releases during his lifetime to over 60.

With no formal training, Zappa grew up listening to anything and everything he could get his hands on, a trait that shows up in his music. He studied classical music, jazz, and blues, and also listened to doo-wop and rock. When he began recording with The Mothers Of Invention in the 1960s, he was already questioning what does or doesn't belong on a rock record. At times, his music was catchy and lyrically coherent -- Zappa could write a pop song, if he wanted. But he was just as interested in instrumentals, soundscapes, and flat-out noise.