Frank Zappa - Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar (1981)

CD 1 - Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar
five-five-FIVE 2:35
Hog Heaven 2:49
Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar 5:38
While You Were Out 6:00
Treacherous Cretins 5:35
Heavy Duty Judy 4:42
Soup 'n Old Clothes 7:35
CD 2 - Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar Some More
Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression 3:58
Gee, I Like Your Pants 2:35
Canarsie 6:05
Ship Ahoy 5:20
The Deathless Horsie 6:20
Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar Some More 6:53
Pink Napkins 4:38
CD 3 - Return of the Son of Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar
Beat it With Your Fist 1:58
Return of the Son of Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar 8:30
Pinocchio's Furniture 2:05
Why Johnny Can't Read 4:15
Stucco Homes 9:08
Canard du Jour 9:56
Total Time:
1 hour, 46 min, 53 sec

This is an album of Zappa guitar solos. Nothing but. Actually, three albums of Zappa guitar solos. And actually there is more than just guitar - the backing tracks laid down by the live bands are often as interesting to listen to as the guitar solo going on over top of them.

Somehow I was initially under the impression that the first volume (the one just titled Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar) was released individually as a mail order item, and that the overwhelmingly successful sales of that album lead to the creation of the two follow-ups, Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar Some More and Return of the Son of Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar. This idea was firmly planted in my brain as a fact, and written up in the first version of this review as such. But then I got emails from a few people who insisted that the three volumes had always been sold together as a single mail-order package. I did some research on the web and couldn't find anything that said that the second two were sequels to the first, and furthermore the release dates for all three are the same. So I guess I was completely wrong about that. Oh well.

At any rate, the album(s) were so popular as a mail-order item that when the Zappa catalog was reissued on CD in the late 80s, all three volumes were released in stores as a 2-CD package. For some reason Ryko decided in '95 to split the whole thing back into the original three album format and put it out as a three CD boxed set, even though each individual disc is only 35-40 minutes long. Although it costs a little more, I think I prefer it this way because a half an hour's worth of guitar solos is much easier to digest than 70+ minutes.

As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I'm not the world's biggest fan of Frank's "guitar hero" side. I don't mind the occasional long solo in the middle of a live song, but taken out of context and compiled into two hours worth of soloing - it's a bit too much for me. Still, there are some tracks that I really like. And the solo-after-solo-after-solo effect is broken up a bit by little sound clips between tracks. These mostly include bandmembers talking (there's even a little bit of the dialog recorded for Lumpy Gravy), and in some cases (such as Beat it With Your Fist) the converstion gives the related solo a title.

From the first disc, five-five-FIVE is a good, high-energy rocker (I've become particularly fond of that song after seeing the Zappa tribute band Project/Object open a few shows with it). Heavy Duty Judy is pretty catchy, and was even made into a song of its own (it appears on one of the live albums from the 1988 band). Treacherous Cretins has likewise made the jump from being a guitar solo to being a full-fledged song in the Zappa catalog.

Disc two is my favorite from the set, as I really like the sample-and-hold, heavy reverb effect on Ship Ahoy, The Deathless Horsie is an interesting, grungy track that reminds me of Filthy Habits, and Pink Napkins is a beautiful, laid-back atmospheric piece. In general, disc three doesn't do much for me, although I do like the final track Canard du Jour, which is a duet between Jean-Luc Ponty on violin and Zappa on bouzouki (!).

If you really like guitar playing, or are a guitarist yourself, then these discs are right up your alley. And if I had to choose between this set and the Guitar album, I'd take these CDs. But otherwise, I'd say that this is an album to put off until near the end of your Zappa collecting. It's not one that I get the urge to pull out and listen to very often.

Album Cover

Image of the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar album cover