Drowning Witch (Frank Zappa)

A 1982 Frank Zappa album mostly composed of inconsequential novelty songs had as its sprawling centrepiece a burbling odyssey into oddity that ranks among the strangest, wildest, most complicated tracks he ever produced. ‘Drowning Witch’ represented the work of its creator quite well – throw-away humour collides with baffling musical complexity, as high-art quotations from Stravinsky jostle for position with extracts ripped from the Dragnet theme.

What starts out as a jaunty and, for Zappa, conventional rock song observing the fate of the titular sinking hag accelerates into 10 minutes plus of demented classical interlude evoking her plight. If there was an award given for Most Sinister-Sounding Use Of Marimba In A Rock Record 1982, it would’ve been scandalous if this didn’t win it. Perilous marimba-clatter makes way for the aquatic splutter of Zappa’s guitar*, which sounds as much like a flailing witch fighting to keep above water as a guitar solo ever can do.

By way of an additional indulgence/Zappa showcase, here’s a completely different solo taken from a live show in the same year – it’s a manic, wailing, yet somehow quite stately piece lamenting the fate of our stricken harridan. And in our overactive man-child imagination at least, is translated into a strange slow-motion mental music video of Zappa sternly watching from the prow of a naval vessel as it ploughs towards the thrashing witch, but getting there too late to save anything except her hat.

*strangely, an instrument built from the remnants of a Fender Stratocaster played then torched onstage by Jimi Hendrix at the ’68 Miami Pop Festival