Frank Zappa: Instrumental Works (1973-1975-ish)

This Spotify playlist is a shortcut for anyone who wants to explore the immediate sequel to 1970/1972 instrumental Zappa (e.g., “Hot Rats,” “Waka/Jawaka,” “The Grand Wazoo”).

The seven albums Zappa released in 1973 through mid-1978 contained almost no instrumental compositions/performances. This was the period when his vocal music found chart success and established his permanent reputation as a joke song guy (dental floss, yellow snow, STDs, etc.). 

However, Zappa's longstanding instrumental ambition, reawakened in 1972 on two studio albums and tours with 20- and 10-piece live units, continued through 1973-1975 and is highly rewarding. Zappa wrote and recorded many new instrumental compositions and re-arranged his old and recent oeuvre for varied ensembles, including a proper orchestral approach in 1975. 

Some of this recorded backlog would come out belatedly and confusedly (and almost all at once) on “Studio Tan,” “Sleep Dirt,” and “Orchestral Favorites,” from September 1978 through May 1979. To confuse things further, the jokey album “Sheik Yerbouti” - made up of much more recent recordings – would come out in the middle this backlog release schedule. Eventually, archive releases clarified and filled out the early-mid-1970s instrumental story. All Zappa releases and recordings are well-documented on Wikipedia, should you want to delve more deeply into musicians, recording dates, circumstances, and release history. 

ANYWAY, here’s a large Spotify playlist that isolates (nearly all of?) the now-released instrumental material mostly recorded/overdubbed circa 1973-1975:

  • It leads with the instrumentals Zappa included on “Lather,” a proposed four-LP set he compiled in 1977, but which he began conceiving and sequencing several years earlier, around earlier instrumental recordings. It included nearly all the 1973-1975-ish recordings that would later be sliced (by the label) into “Studio Tan” and “Sleep Dirt,” plus a few pieces included on the more comprehensive “Orchestral Favorites.” (It also included later, live vocal tracks, omitted here.)
  • Next up are most of the tracks from a 1973 archival live release of a short-lived, live ensemble that featured Jean-Luc Ponty (“Road Tapes Venue #2”). Nearly the whole set played by this band was instrumental. Zappa complained that the tour was boring because the band wanted to play chess on the tour bus. Counterpoint: Great music, compellingly-executed, via fresh arrangements of classic compositions.
  • Following that are a couple of stray instrumentals from vocal albums of the era – a testament to how rare those tracks were for a half-decade of 1970s releases. Located where they are in the Spotify playlist, because playback volume is increasing. 
  • And lastly, I’ve compiled the instrumental (and nearly so) material from the giant Halloween ’73 and complete Roxy ’73 archival boxed sets. These are performed by the band that immediately followed the Ponty unit and significantly overlapped its membership. The instrumentals from these shows were often the same compositions, but not always, and there are some individual mind-blowers among the repeated tunes. Find your own gold.

Instrumental Zappa over these few years was wildly heterogeneous and greater for that. The composer and bandleader were occupying this space half the time. I have left everything in the order it appeared on the releases used for this mix, aside from shunting 1973 rehearsals and soundcheck recordings to the end - a fascinating but separate trip. This playlist is an ocean, not a take.


I have deferred to Zappa’s 1977 curation by limiting the 1975 orchestral recordings to those he put on the “Lather” track list two years later. The 1975 Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra was a great trip in its own right, now documented by an expanded release (studio/live) that is well worth your while, and that is as important to me as the material in the main Spotify playlist. But I consider it a distinct trip.