Deep Music Criticism #19 – Frank Zappa – Dirty Love

Sorry to keep returning to the fertile spring that is Frank Zappa’s song collection, but I know of no other rock composer with such a massive and popular output. By which I mean: an output that is massive and popular together, in similar ratios. Not that he’s the most popular rock composer…err actually I think he is. WHATEVER!

Dirty Love is on track of his I that actually didn’t hear until this year! Crazy I know, but its inevitable with a guy as prolific as Frank that one of his greatest hits eludes me, who after all am only a moderate fan. Half the songs favorited by those mildly annoyed commenters on my Top 10 Frank Zappa Songs post were also ones I’d never heard of.

Dirty Love is a special song in that the following three ways:

1) Its super simple structurally

The groove, riff upon which it is based is quite simple. Every important chord in the progression is rooted in the pentatonic blues scale, as are the vocal melodies in both verse and chorus. There are no funny meters or asymmetrical rhythmic ideas. Simple simple – as a good groove should be.

2) Its subtly complex harmonically and texturally

There are smatterings of harmonic spice in the introduction, for instance. The flippant little blues riff, doubled between bass and clavinet (a unique and striking pairing) that begins the song is followed up in the second half of each bar with a trill performed by instruments of contrasting timbre (guitar and electric piano), and panned to the hard right in the stereo field (a true compositional effect, though some would argue this is “just mixing”).

The over-processed background vocals during the verses that echo Frank’s words with a sexual “oh-oh-ooooohh” are also composed of a tightly packed set of notes, dissonant in the same manner as the guitar/piano combo.

3) In the end, its about the riff – and this riff is deadly

When Zappa grooves, he does it like a boss. Even without all the meaningful and studied artistic flourishes that always mark a Frank Zappa rock composition, he and his band just have the basics of rock and funk groove down pat, so that they don’t even have to think about it.

Just listen to the bass line slither around that opening riff during Frank’s guitar solo. Hearing that bass, together with the drums mercilessly going “tick-tock” on the ride cymbal bell and off-beat kick drum accents – make my nuts tingle in an evil way.

Parting Comment

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