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The Frank Zappa Documentary Part II: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack On CD


In part one of my review series we explored the new Blu-ray edition of the Alex Winter’s terrific new documentary about Frank Zappa which is simply titled Zappa. If you missed that story, please click here to jump to it. 

For those of you who like soundtracks, rejoice knowing that there is one available for this fine new movie named after its namesake. Zappa has been streaming for a while on all the popular services including Qobuz and Tidal. You can click here for my review of it based on the streams and you should read it as it does go into a bunch of detail on things you can expect to hear.  

For those of you who prefer “physical media” — and who might want to buy the album to help support future archive releases (that is how this process typically works, folks) — now you can get the album on a three compact disc collection. 

I have found the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack quite handy and intriguing as a listening experience in its own right. It is particularly useful as it now allows me to hear the music on different devices beyond my computer including my car– yes I still have a CD player in my car! It sounds great as CDs go and sounds particularly good in the car, must say. 

One of the details I have come to recognize and appreciate about this release is that it is genuinely an “original soundtrack” and usually that means it includes incidental music from the film. This is an important distinction for the hardcore Zappa fan to come to grips with as this is not really intended as purely another “Vault” release even though it is created from materials in the Vault.  

Got that?

So, this set includes a significant amount of incidental music created not by Frank Zappa. The album includes 26 original score cues newly composed by John Frizzell to support the connecting dramatic intercut scenes which helped tell the story.

Initially, I will admit that I was a little bit miffed about this as a Zappa fan most of my adult life. But as I got deeper into listening to the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack via this new physical album — I began to appreciate Frizzell’s work for what it is and how it helps achieve the intent of the film: to use Zappa’s archival footage to tell a narrative story about his personal life as a composer. 

Prior to writing this I watched the documentary for a third time including and could see and hear how these musical cues are essential ingredients towards the film’s success.

Stepping  outside my Zappa “fan boy’ mindset, I stopped to consider why they didn’t “just” use Frank’s own music for this purpose. Well, first, it would have been a Herculean — if not impossible — task to find appropriate music from Zappa’s vast catalog to fit the vibe of each scene in just that right way. It probably could have been done, no doubt, but it probably would’ve added three or more years onto the project I would suspect.  

That notion aside, having this sort of Eno-esque, ambient under-scoring for the storytelling scenes helps to lift Zappa beyond the typical rock documentaries that I’ve seen. Hearing this other non-Zappa music actually gives your mind a breather to focus your attention on the underlying story. Accordingly, the soundtrack pieces have very specific titles such as “Frank’s Library,” “Greeting Cards” and “Frank Goes To Jail.”

Zappa (the film) has a very clear intention to tell the story about what Frank’s life was about from Frank’s perspective, not necessarily rehashing many of the stories that have already been told elsewhere. It is important for people who have never heard Zappa before to understand this broader perspective. 

As Gail Zappa says in the film: ‘he’s a composer.’

Ok, so there’s only one more element left this in this rollout of the Zappa Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: the upcoming five LP vinyl box set of the as well as two-disc incarnations. As soon as we get our hands on a copy of that we’ll sure to give you an update!

So stay tuned Zappa fans as there’s more fun to come regarding this wonderful documentary experience.

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