Friday, December 23, 2011

Frank Zappa 1: Freak Out!

Something to consider about Frank Zappa’s first album is how much of his eventual career can be traced to it. It’s all here: influences from classical and avant-garde to doo-wop, extended guitar solos, “shocking” subject matter, and contempt for his audience, based on the assumption that they only care about commercial fluff and teenage heartbreak. Freak Out! was an incredibly bold debut for its time, as double albums were not common in 1966, even for established artists, and certainly not for a rock band’s debut.
The spine may have credited the album to The Mothers Of Invention, but a glance at the credits make it all too clear that Frank was in charge, especially from his “helpful” liner notes. “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” should have been proof that this wasn’t your average band, even when followed by the kiss-off in “I Ain’t Got No Heart”. “Who Are The Brain Police?” ushers in the weird, questioning authority and fixating on plastic and chrome. “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder” is greasy doo-wop, and “How Could I Be Such A Fool” less so. “Motherly Love” is a more catchy come-on from the band.
“Wowie Zowie” goes out of its way to be dumb, complete with xylophone. Another trio of “safe songs” attempts to appeal to the masses: “You Didn't Try To Call Me”, “Any Way The Wind Blows” and “I’m Not Satisfied” would have easily made it on radio. But “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here” deflates it all with a smirk.
The first two sides on their own straddled the way-in and the way-out, but the second disc in the set makes a solid left turn. “Trouble Every Day” is his first major political work, as well as a chance to stretch on the guitar. Then he calls in the rest of the band to get crazy for “Help, I’m A Rock” (and its virtual coda, “It Can’t Happen Here”). The craziness continues for the entirety of side four with a free jam (which Frank always maintained was unfinished) called “Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet”.
Zappa freaks may not agree on everything, but they probably like Freak Out!. It’s generally everyone’s introduction, whether they bought it in 1966 or came across it later. And since Frank was so concerned with continuity and historical context, it’s still a good place to start.
The album’s importance to his estate (a rather controlling outfit called the Zappa Family Trust, or ZFT) was underscored by the release of an archival entity called The MOFO Project/Object, “MOFO” being a handy acronym for “Making Of Freak Out”. Typical of the ZFT, it was available in two configurations, both featuring music not heard on the other, forcing fans to buy both (or procure them by nefarious means). Both featured the “original stereo vinyl mix” of the album on disc one, and filled the balance of space with a variety of basic tracks and vocal takes that illuminate some elements of the instruments and utterances hidden after the original fades. His ability with an Xacto knife shows in the various mixes and edits of “Help I’m A Rock” and “Monster Magnet”, but the outtake “Groupie Bang Bang” would never have passed muster back then; besides being a fairly pedestrian Bo Diddley homage, the lyrics are a little too pointed, but for conceptual continuity purposes, they point the way to both the Flo & Eddie era and one of the subplots of Joe’s Garage. Interview snippets and later mixes fulfill the promise of being an “audio documentary”, while segments of a live performance at the Fillmore Auditorium the week the album came out prove that despite the use of studio musicians, including Carol Kaye on 12-string and various horns and strings on the album proper, the Mothers were actually a decent R&B combo.

The Mothers Of Invention Freak Out! (1966)—4

2 comments:

  1. What's with these comments? I KNOW I wrote one. Did you not approve it yet?

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is the first one I've seen. What'd I miss?

    ReplyDelete