The First Rap Song?
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
I had a dream about Frank Zappa the night before last. That led me to start listening to some of his music again.
"Trouble Every Day" is a personal favorite of mine. It appeared on FREAK OUT, the debut album by The Mothers of Invention, released in 1966. "Trouble" was a song Frank wrote in response to seeing the 1965 Los Angeles Watts Riots on television. The song isn't a typical Zappa song; it's a pretty straight forward blues based rock song with none of the elaborate instrumentation or arrangements of later recordings. What's different about it are the vocals. Frank was never a "singer" per se. But the lyrics in this song are delivered in a very fast, staccato style, in rapid fire succession. The lyrics deal with urban strife and racial conflict (sadly not sounding all that dated today) and also offer Frank's cynical observation of television news coverage. (Also still pretty timely.) In fact, the lyrical themes and the delivery have sometimes led people to conjecture if this might not be the first--or at least one of the earliest--rap songs. Of course Zappa's music didn't have a lot of appeal across racial lines, professional musicians excepted. So I doubt if many of the rap artists who pioneered the genre in the late 70s had ever heard the song, let alone been influenced by it. The music is certainly, clearly rock. Still, it's another case of where Frank was ahead of his time. And as the world continues to become increasingly absurd, I continue to miss Frank's observations some eighteen years after his passing.