Great Rock Albums of 1981: Frank Zappa- You Are What You Is


It was little secret that Frank Zappa was capable of putting out several albums in a year. Earlier in 1981, he had put out “Tinseltown Rebellion” and then a series of albums called “Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar.” Then later in the year he put out this album “You Are What You Is,” which is probably his best known album for this year. Like with many of Zappa’s albums, the songs are all bound together but not in the way like “Joe’s Garage” as there is no visible story line in the songs.

As expected with any great Zappa album, there is that perfect blend of humour and fantastic musicianship. The album begins with “Teenage Wind” which is a parody about teenage hang ups and right on the heels of that is “Harder Than Your Husband.” This song, with it’s country music sound is definitely a good hoot. The first song that real portrays the quality musicianship of Frank and his band is “Doreen.” While stalwart Ray White proves his underrated vocal ability Zappa backs him up with some great guitar work. I’ve always thought that his guitar talents have gone unnoticed. But it’s not just Frank smoking the fingerboard on this album. Accompanying him is some guitar player known as Steve Vai. You might have heard of him.

The title track was also the first video he ever made and like sometimes with his music, it landed him in some trouble. I guess the portrayal of then president Ronald Regan as the president from hell might have had something to do with it. I just wonder why some people are so devoid of a sense of humour. Following the track “Mudd Club” are two tracks that I really like. “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” and “Dumb All Over” are both mega swipes at religion and both songs are done with that tongue in cheek Zappa sense of humour. The remainder of the album continues with funny songs until the closer “Drafted Again” which is remake of a song from the early days “I Don’t Want to Get Drafted.”

Track Listing:

1. Teenage Wind

2. Harder Than Your Husband

3. Doreen

4. Goblin Girl

5. Theme From the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear

6. Society Pages

7. I’m a Beautiful Guy

8. Beauty Knows No Pair

9. Charlie’s Enormous Mouth

10. Any Downers

11. Conehead

12. You Are What You Is

13. Mudd Club

14. The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing

15. Dumb All Over

16. Heavenly Bank Account

17. Suicide Chump

18. Jumbo Go Away

19. If Only She Woulda

20. Drafted Again

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa- vocals, guitar, composer

Arthur Barrow- bass

Jimmy Carl Black- vocals

Bobby Harris- trumpet

David Longeman- drums

Ed Mann- -percussion

Tommy Mars- keyboards, vocals

David Ocker- clarinet

Mark Pinske- vocals

Motorhead Sherwood- tenor sax, vocals

Craig Twister Stewart- harmonica

Steve Vai- guitars

Ray White- rhythm guitar, vocals

Ike Willis- rhythm guitar, vocals

Ahmet Zappa- vocals

Dweezil Zappa- vocals

Moon Zappa- vocals

With so many albums under his belt, it was very hard to keep track of everything Frank Zappa produced. Fortunately, for me, “You Are What You Is” wasn’t one of them. This is a very good Zappa album in the tradition of Frank Zappa. Definitely his best in 1981.

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10 Responses to “Great Rock Albums of 1981: Frank Zappa- You Are What You Is”

  1. Not heard this one, I’ve got more of his 60s output. He’s a bit bewildering, there are gens everywhere in everything he did. Great, great guitarist too.


    • Don’w worry about the mispost, it happens. I take it you heard more of his stuff when he was with the Mothers of Invention. I have a lot of his 70s stuff and this one is a really good album and I totally agree with you about his guitar skills.


  2. I do worry that I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t like Unleashed in the East – I only really get on board from Breaking The Law onwards.


  3. One of those albums that needed a whole weekend of playing until I realized just how good it was.


  4. Daddydinorawk Says:

    Interesting thread thru the 3 albums he released in ’81 were mostly music he recorded live in 79-80 with overdubs. Of course Shut Up and Tinseltown recorded Spring ’79 thru Fall ’80, with basically the same band with YAWYI recorded with the band he toured with Spring ’80 but with a different drummer. Vinnie Colaiuta toured with FZ from Fall ’78 to Spring ’79 and again in the Fall of ’80. The Spring ’80 band had the same core of musicians but David Logeman on drums. FZ managed to tie it all in together somehow, I guess he just had some ideas for music and was able to kind of find some common thread of material. He had 2 whole other releases set aside from the same material; Crush All Boxes and Warts and All and an entirely different set of material from these tours and into 1981 with a completely new band called Chalk Pie. Some material from this one ended up on his next couple of releases in ’82 ad ’83.


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