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Tom Cole

For the past year, NPR has been taking a deep look at American anthems and all the forms they can take. These are the songs that unite us, inspire us or say something about what it means to be an American — songs as traditional as Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," or as defiant as Public Enemy's "Fight the Power."

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN ABERCROMBIE'S "BACKWARD GLANCE")

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Thirty years ago this week, an unknown filmmaker walked into a club in Washington, D.C., with a videotape in his hand. It was one of those nights when anyone could screen their work ... but this was the first public screening of a short documentary that's gone on to become the very definition of a cult classic.

Musician and composer Frank Zappa was a lot of things: biting satirist, ferocious critic of societal norms, outspoken defender of free speech. He saw himself as not only an entertainer, but also a serious composer. And he saw no contradiction in being all of these things at once, to the consternation and confusion of the many journalists who interviewed him.

"I consider the guitar as this sort of multi-faceted instrument," says Janet Feder, "that can make and do all of these other things."

Chime like a bell, or gong, buzz like a locust, or rattle and hum.

It seemed as if he'd go on forever — and B.B. King was working right up until the end. It's what he loved to do: playing music, and fishing. Even late in life, living with diabetes, he spent about half the year on the road. King died Thursday night at home in Las Vegas. He was 89 years old.

This year saw the reissue of two vintage albums by Fleetwood Mac: the hugely popular Rumours,and the last album to feature the band's founder, Peter Green, called Then Play On.

"I think it's one of the most beautiful records and exciting records ever made," Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke says. He wrote the liner notes for the reissue.