ON THIS DATE (31 YEARS AGO)
May 11, 1981 – Frank Zappa: Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4.5/5
# allmusic 4/5
Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, a project consisting of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More and Return of the Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, is a series of albums by Frank Zappa. Released separately on this date in May, 1981 on Barking Pumpkin Records, it was subsequently reissued as a triple album box set in 1982.
As the title implies, the album consists solely of instrumentals and improvised solos, largely performed on electric guitar. The album series was conceived after Zappa shelved a proposed live album, Warts and All, and two tracks intended for that album appear on this series.
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.
SHUT UP ‘N PLAY YER GUITAR
by Sean Westergaard
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. Take, for example, the three versions of “Shut Up.” These tracks were simply the guitar solos from “Inca Roads,” but thanks to Zappa’s ability for “instant composition,” each version has its own complete story to tell, without ever being redundant. Other highlights are the reggae-tinged “Treacherous Cretins” and the beautiful “Pink Napkins.” In addition to the electric guitar mangling contained on Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, there are a couple of rare tracks that feature Zappa on acoustic guitar in a trio with Warren Cuccurullo on acoustic rhythm guitar and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. In fact, special mention goes to Colaiuta for his polyrhythmic daring all over this album. All bandmembers play great throughout, but Colaiuta’s playing is mind blowing. The album closes with another oddity: a gorgeous duet between Zappa on electric bouzouki and Jean-Luc Ponty on baritone violin. This is an album that should be heard by anyone who’s into guitar playing. Highly recommended.
SHUT UP ‘N PLAY YER GUITAR SOME MORE
by Lindsay Planer, allmusic
As the title implies, this disc continues the instrumental-centric madness that Frank Zappa began on its predecessor, 1981’s Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, and would continue on the third and final installment released the same year, Return of the Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar. The original LP pressings were among the first on the artist’s in-house Barking Pumpkin Records label and, prior to being offered as a box set, the albums were considered as separate entities within the context of the larger series. Admittedly, it takes a fairly specialized audience to absorb over 30 wall-to-wall minutes of Zappa’s wholly unique fretwork. However, evidence of why these titles are uniformly indispensable listening is directly correlated to the remarkable diversity within each solo. Recorded primarily in live performances — with studio overdubs thrown in — during 1979 and 1980, Zappa is aided by rhythm guitarists Warren Cuccurullo, Denny Walley, Ike Willis, Ray White, and Steve Vai; keyboardists Tommy Mars, Peter Wolf, and Bob Harris; bassist Arthur Barrow; percussionist Ed Mann; and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. There are two notable exceptions, one of which is the 1976 lineup with keyboardist Andre Lewis, bassist Roy Estrada, and drummer Terry Bozzio on “Ship Ahoy.” The other is the short-lived incarnation circa 1977 with White, Bozzio, keyboardist Eddie Jobson, and bassist Patrick O’Hearn — as heard on the definitive rendition of “Pink Napkins.” In the same deeply penetrating and emotive vein is quite possibly the finest rendering of “The Deathless Horsie.” If not, it is certainly a wonderful place for interested parties to commence their discovery of the (dare say) many moods Zappa imbued in carefully constructed yet thoroughly improvised compositions such as the seven found here.
RETURN OF THE SON OF SHUT UP ‘N PLAY YER GUITAR
by Lindsay Planer, allmusic
Frank Zappa saved some of his best offerings for 1981’s Return of the Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar. Like its predecessors, the final installment in the three-LP anthology primarily consisted of guitar solos that had been extracted from live concert performances. Of course, there are no absolutes and the concluding two entries prove that. “Stucco Homes” and “Canard du Jour” are studio creations, with the latter standing out for its fascinating duet between Zappa on the bouzouki — a three-stringed instrument of Greek derivation — and Jean-Luc Ponty on baritone violin. As one might anticipate, the results sound like nothing else in Zappa’s prolific catalog. The lion’s share of the contents were documented circa 1979 and 1980. During this period, Zappa was augmented by rhythm guitarists Warren Cuccurullo, Denny Walley, Ike Willis, Ray White, and Steve Vai; keyboardists Tommy Mars, Peter Wolf, and Bob Harris; bassist Arthur Barrow; percussionist Ed Mann; and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. There is a palpable sense of tension and release as the ensemble presents the guitarist with hearty, complex, and — at the very least — interesting textures and sonic hues. Zappa pours his expansive ideas onto the soundscape with a certainty and purpose that is simply unmatched in terms of passion and inspiration. The sinuous title track perfectly exemplifies where skill intersects with Zappa’s singular muse. A few additional standouts are the comparatively funky “Pinocchio’s Furniture,” the poignant urgency of “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” and the previously mentioned “Canard du Jour.” In between the songs are interludes of spoken “conceptual continuity” by Davey Moire, Terry Bozzio, and Patrick O’Hearn. Parties familiar with Zappa’s recordings during this period will note similar non-musical segues throughout Sheik Yerbouti (1979), Tinseltown Rebellion (1981), the Baby Snakes soundtrack recording (1979), and most prominently on the posthumous masterwork Läther (1996).
All songs written and composed by Frank Zappa except “Canard Du Jour” which was improvised by Zappa and Jean-Luc Ponty.
Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar
1. “five-five-FIVE” 2:35
2. “Hog Heaven” 2:46
3. “Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar” 5:35
4. “While You Were Out” 6:09
5. “Treacherous Cretins” 5:29
6. “Heavy Duty Judy” 4:39
7. “Soup ‘n Old Clothes” 7:53
Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More
1. “Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression” 3:56
2. “Gee, I Like Your Pants” 2:32
3. “Canarsie” 6:06
4. “Ship Ahoy” 5:26
5. “The Deathless Horsie” 6:18
6. “Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More” 6:52
7. “Pink Napkins” 4:41
Return of the Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar
1. “Beat It With Your Fist” 1:39
2. “Return of the Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar” 8:45
3. “Pinocchio’s Furniture” 2:04
4. “Why Johnny Can’t Read” 4:04
5. “Stucco Homes” 8:56
6. “Canard Du Jour” 10:12