Top 10 Frank Zappa Love Songs

Frank Zappa Love Songs

Herb Cohen Management [Public domain]

On Dec. 4, 1993, I remember hearing about Frank Zappa’s passing on a bunch of TV stations.  At the end of each coverage, the anchor would jokingly comment: “And he never wrote a love song.” Of course, Frank Zappa fanatics knew this was just some silly tagline the uniformed news robots had to say to appear witty. True, most of Frank Zappa’s songs are satirical in nature and often center on human stupidity and life’s absurdities.

His stance on love songs was more or less that they created an unrealistic, idealistic concept of love that one never can achieve in real life. They are preposterous and plentiful. He noted that there are more love songs written than anything else. If love song lyrics could genuinely make us do something, then we’d all love one another. In essence, he was not a big fan. Nonetheless, the following list contains songs of affection Frank Zappa wrote and recorded that can be considered “serious” love songs. For the most part, they are devoid of the usual Frank Zappa humor musically and lyrically.

10 – Let Me Take You To The Beach

As found on the 1979 album Studio Tan, this catchy, dead-on satire of 70’s Top 40 AM radio with its synthetic keyboards (indicative of the disco-era), features recording engineer Davey Moire singing in a voice that is a cross between The Bee Gees and Frankie Valli. The lyrics pertain to a bunch of early sixties clichés of cookouts, beaches, innocent hand-holding, sneaking out at night, and falling in love; (think one of those beach-bongo movies with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon from the early ’60s). Nonetheless, this tight, melodic upbeat song (bass and drum parts are killer) perfectly conveys a sense of stupid teenage affections and free-spirited fun. Who says that humor doesn’t belong in a love song?

9 – Anyway The Wind Blows

An early love song of resign written by Frank Zappa and first appearing on the Mothers Of Invention debut album. Freak Out (1966). A more plodding version can be heard on 1968’s Cruising With Ruben and The Jets album. (Of note: I had the privilege to do an arrangement of this song in 1998 for Frank’s sister Candy to sing. That version can be found on Nigey Lennon’s CD “Reinventing The Wheel Reinvented”).

8 – You Didn’t Try To Call Me

This pretty love song was first released on the Freak Out album and later on, Cruising With Ruben and The Jets. A 1980 performance of the tune became Frank Zappa’s first digital recording using a SONY 1580 PCM 2-channel system. That version can be heard on the 1988 CD You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1. The composition itself is complex in form and shares a similar chord progression found in The Beatles’ love song “Here There And Everywhere.”

7 – Love Of My Life

This is a straight-ahead 50’s love song pre-dating the Mothers Of Invention. “Serious” versions appear on the Freak Out album and Cruising Ruben And The Jets respectively. A snappy live version re-appeared on Frank Zappa’s 1981 release Tinsel Town Rebellion. That recording features an ultra-high falsetto note sung by vocalist Bob Harris that will tear your head off. In the straight-ahead context of the tune, the sustained note still cracks me up.

6 – Lucille Has Messed Up My Mind

A song of longing and heartbreak, with a memorable chorus. This straight-ahead love song was written by Frank Zappa for rock musician Jeff Simmons to use on his 1969 debut album. It was then revisited by Frank Zappa on his 1979 rock opera Joe’s Garage. It was sweetly crooned by vocalist Ike Willis over a spacey, reggae arrangement.

5 – Sharleena

Another straight-ahead love song with a strong melody, close harmonies, and its share of the “falling in love chord” (a Major 7th), as Frank Zappa was prone to call it. The lyrics are about the disappearance of Sharleena (whoever that may be) and her lover’s search for her. The song made its first appearance as the last track on 1970’s Chunga’s Revenge LP in a standard R&B arrangement. It later became a staple in many of Zappa’s 80’s live performances. One of the better-known versions is on 1984’s studio album Them Or Us. That version and all other post recordings of it substitute the R&B feel for something approximating reggae.

4 – Doreen

Without question, Zappa’s most rocking love song, “Doreen” first appeared in 1980 on the unreleased album Crush All Boxes and then saw its official release in 1981 (this time a tad sped up) on Frank Zappa’s double album You Are What You Is. Chord wise and lyrically it’s a basic love song that could have been a hit had it been issued as a single. Vocalist Ray White gives an amazingly soulful and passionate performance that words can’t really describe.

3 – How Can I Be Such A Fool?

“How Can I Be Such A Fool” is an early, memorable Frank Zappa love song in 3/4 time that speaks of betrayal. The simple lilting melody is perfectly set to mournful lyrics. The concept is pretty universal thus making it one of the most covered titles in his catalog.  A rhythmically straight version can be found on 1965’s Freak Out album and a more syncopated arrangement on 1968’s Cruising With Ruben And The Jets album.

2 – I’m So Happy I Could Cry

Probably the only time we get to hear Frank Zappa sing a love song properly. No goofing around here. The lyrics are sincere, “hallmark” even. They describe the love of a man to a girl he left behind as he ventured out to see this “great, big world.” The arrangement sounds somewhat early Beatles, including a cute “major 7th” chord that ends the piece. This recording is a 1965 Mothers Of Invention demo and can be found on the compilation CD Joe’s Corsage.

The song dates back to 1961 as a straight-ahead jazz instrumental found on the CD The Lost Episodes. Frank Zappa would later arrange the song as a “surfer” instrumental on 1967’s Lumpy Gravy LP.  He then set the tune to satirical lyrics, the end result being the most well-known version: “Take You Clothes Off When You Dance” found on 1968’s We’re Only In It For The Money LP.

1 – Solitude

This uncharacteristic tune (a personal Frank Zappa love song to his wife Gail) was according to virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai, rehearsed a few times during the 1980s but never performed live. A cassette of the rehearsal does exist but I’ve never seen it on the Internet. The most well-known version seems to have been recorded by Banned From Utopia a group made up of ex-Zappa alumni who toured in the early 90’s playing all Frank Zappa compositions.

Though the recording on Youtube gives the performer’s name as Ed Palermo I can assure you that is incorrect. However, Mr. Palermo and his Big Band did perform this piece at the now defunct Manhattan club, “The Bottom Line” in 2001. I along with Nigey Lennon and Candy Zappa sang the vocals. No recording of that gig (to my knowledge) exists. In case there are still doubts as to whether this is an actual Zappa composition, one needs to go no further than to listen to the track “Reeny Ra” from the CD Joe’s CorsageFrank Zappa and the band play snippets of the “Solitude” melody during that song.

Complied by John Tabacco

Updated February 13, 2023

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