Friday, December 26, 2008

Freak Out!

Sometimes I wonder if even some Zappa fans get it.

Clearly, someone in the record industry believed that a new band called The Mothers had potential. And indeed, that person was correct. But right from the beginning with Zappa’s release of “Freak Out!” it became clear he was not entirely in control of the message.

For starters, the record company insisted on the band changing its name to The Mothers of Invention. Although it may be viewed as minor in the long run, it was nonetheless a significant request at the time. And then there were the efforts by members of the Mothers to oust Zappa from the group, all because he didn’t do drugs! But as chance would have it, Frank and the Mothers had found someone who would give them a chance, that man being Tom Wilson. Wilson, in fact, went on to produce Zappa’s next two releases as well: “Absolutely Free” and “We’re Only in it For the Money.” These three releases, in my view, represent Zappa’s finest work until “Over-nite Sensation.”

But what is truly amazing about this double album (in his autobiography, Zappa suggests that “Freak Out!” was the first rock double album ever released, an assertion supported to some extent by the album’s Wikipedia entry; however, ample evidence suggests that it was not) is the irony present not only in its content, but in the history surrounding the album’s production and post-production.

In terms of its content, “Freak Out!” describes a messed-up America in which people find solace and meaning in meaningless things. The country’s youth is rebelling against this, spawning the hippie culture. Yet, Zappa clearly portrays the hippies as being just as shallow and self-centered as the adult society they are rebelling against. Much of this was lost not only on listeners, but on the music industry as well, as evidenced by the album’s review by Pete Johnson, which Zappa quotes in his autobiography. This theme of deriding the hippie counterculture was carried on with intensity for the next two releases: “Absolutely Free” and “We’re Only In It For The Money.”

Even more incredible is the fact that after “Freak Out!” was released, the band members tried to oust Zappa from the band because he didn’t do drugs. As he explains in “The Real Frank Zappa Book”:

“Listeners at the time were convinced that I was up to my eyebrows in chemical refreshment. No way. As a matter of fact, I had several arguments with the guys in the band who were into ‘consciousness-altering entertainment products.’ The whole thing blew up at a band meeting when Herb Cohen wanted to get rid of Mark Cheka… ‘Well, as long as we’re cleaning house here,’ some of the guys thought, ‘let’s get rid of that Zappa asshole too.’ Yes, folks, some of the members of the band wanted me to go away and leave them alone because (don’t’ laugh) I wasn’t using drugs.”

Musically, “Freak Out!” is as diverse as anything Zappa has recorded; it includes everything from pop to blues to extraordinarily bizarre avant-garde. Concert favorites like “I Ain’t Got No Heart” debuted on this album, but one tune that has shown amazing staying power is “Trouble Every Day,” which is actually the song the band was performing when Tom Wilson heard them and became interested. Virtually every pop gimmick was brought out on this album and played with loving sarcasm, like the bright and melodic “Any Way the Wind Blows,” and the slightly Beatles-like “I’m Not Satisfied.”

The more experimental pieces are at the end of the album, leading with “Help I’m a Rock,” a really infectious song despite its repetitive rhythmic structure. The song is really a collage of material that includes “It Can’t Happen Here” despite the fact that on the CD release, the songs appear as separate, which is why “Help I’m a Rock” is listed on the album release as being 8:37 rather than the 4:42 on the CD.

The last track, the truly experimental "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" (Unfinished Ballet in Two Tableaux), has me wondering if it provided any creative stimulus to groups like Sonic Youth.

Check out Chris Goes Rock, an interesting music blog that includes entries about Zappa, including this page regarding “Freak Out!” Also on this blog, I found an entry to a 1968 psycehedelic group called Brain Police. The group didn't officially release a recording, but the album "San Diego's Only Psychedelic Cops" is pretty good despite being a bit dirty (the recording that is, not the content). Finding this item had me wondering if the name came from Zappa's song on "Freak Out," "Who Are The Brain Police."

I rate this recording four out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

New content was added to this entry on Jan. 3, 2009.

Album release date: June 27, 1966, Verve/MGM records.

Track listings:

Double-album release:
Side one
"Hungry Freaks, Daddy" – 3:32
"I Ain't Got No Heart" – 2:34
"Who Are the Brain Police?" – 3:25
"Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder" – 3:43
"Motherly Love" – 2:50
"How Could I Be Such a Fool?" – 2:16

Side two
"Wowie Zowie" – 2:55
"You Didn't Try to Call Me" – 3:21
"Any Way the Wind Blows" – 2:55
"I'm Not Satisfied" – 2:41
"You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" – 3:41

Side three
"Trouble Every Day" – 5:53
"Help I'm a Rock" – 8:37
Okay To Tap Dance
In Memoriam, Edgar Varèse
It Can't Happen Here

Side four
"The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" (Unfinished Ballet in Two Tableaux) – 12:22
Ritual Dance of the Child-Killer
Nullis Pretii (No commercial potential)

CD release:
"Hungry Freaks, Daddy" – 3:32
"I Ain't Got No Heart" – 2:34
"Who Are the Brain Police?" – 3:25
"Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder" – 3:43
"Motherly Love" – 2:50
"How Could I Be Such a Fool?" – 2:16
"Wowie Zowie" – 2:55
"You Didn't Try to Call Me" – 3:21
"Any Way the Wind Blows" – 2:55
"I'm Not Satisfied" – 2:41
"You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" – 3:41
"Trouble Every Day" – 5:53
"Help, I'm a Rock" – 4:42
"It Can't Happen Here" - 3:59
"The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" – 12:22


Frank Zappa – guitar, conductor, vocals
Jimmy Carl Black – percussion, drums, vocals
Ray Collins – harmonica, cymbals, sound effects, tambourine, vocals, finger cymbals
Elliot Ingber – Alternate lead & rhythm guitar
Roy Estrada – bass, vocals, guitarron, soprano vocals
Gene Estes – percussion
Eugene Di Novi – piano
Neil Le Vang – guitar
John Rotella – clarinet, sax
Kurt Reher – cello
Raymond Kelley – cello
Paul Bergstrom – cello
Emmet Sargeant – cello
Joseph Saxon – cello
Edwin V. Beach – cello
Arthur Maebe – French horn, tuba
George Price – French horn
John Johnson – tuba
Carol Kaye – 12-string guitar
Virgil Evans – trumpet
David Wells – trombone
Kenneth Watson – percussion
Plas Johnson – sax, flute
Roy Caton – copyist
Carl Franzoni – freak
Vito – freak
Kim Fowley – (featured on hypophone)
Benjamin Barrett – contractor
David Anderle
Motorhead Sherwood – noises
Mac Rebennack – piano
Paul Butterfield
Les McCann – piano
Jeannie Vassoir – (the voice of Cheese)

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