The Record Room / The Rubber Room / Archives / 07-08-2011 / Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned on Freak Out!

Topie: Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned on Freak Out! Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
November 19th, 2010 02:43 PM
Chris D.
Quote:
halleluwah wrote:
This is nowhere near as cool as Ian and Chris's posts, but here are just a few little vignettes from my own Zappa history....


I think the first Zappa I heard was "Directly From My Heart to You" on a Warners sampler called Alternatives my mom had...I remember wondering what all the fuss was about regarding him being so weird.

Then my dad got Sheik Yerbouti and Hot Rats on cassette at the same time (weird combination there). I was still just a kid; the instrumental stuff on Hot Rats didn't register much with me then (it's one of my favorite albums now, though), but the more overtly zany, "dirty" humor on Sheik made an impression on me. Why? I was 11 or 12. I don't even think Dad was aware of what kind of stuff was even on those two albums; he just knew that he remembered Zappa being cool when he was younger, and when he found that I was developing a bit of an interest in older music, he decided he'd introduce me to that. As far as I know, he just picked those two cassettes up randomly from the Zappa section. I remember this really funny moment when we were on a long car ride, and he decided to put on Sheik Yerbouti, starting to explain to me about how sophisticated Zappa was musically, and how brilliant he was with his social commentary and all. Then "Bobby Brown Goes Down" comes on, and he just sort of stares forward at the highway, clenching his jaw and trying not to let it register that he's embarrassed about listening to this song with an 11-year-old in the car.

Years later, I stole that cassette of Hot Rats and kept it in my first car for like three years, listening to it constantly. I think I've still got it.

As far as the first Zappa album I personally bought and became familiar with, I'm pretty sure it was Weasels Ripped My Flesh (my brother was in BMG, and they had that one on sale one month for like $1.99). I loved the way that it seemed to alternate between feeling like basically random noise and very meticulously arranged music. "Directly From My Heart to You" sounded much different on here; it made more and less sense to me simultaneously somehow. The whole record just felt like a sort of tapestry of ALL music, somehow. And just the fact that after all of this, the title track at the end just consists of 90 seconds of abrasive feedback noise, after which you hear Zappa politely say, "thank you for coming to our concert." That killed me. I don't know if Weasels features very highly on other people's Zappa lists or not, but it's always had a special place for me personally, because that's the moment when I sort of felt like it was something I could relate to on a musical level. I don't remember feeling the lyrics as much (there aren't many on the album anyway) except for "Oh No," which was really the first inkling I had that the Peace/Love generation I'd seen idealized in so many of the books and magazines I was already reading about 60s rock was not really all that it seemed. "And in your dreams you can see yourself as a prophet saving the world/The words from your lips; I just can't believe you are such a fool!" Then it segues immediately into a badass guitar solo track. That edit there is still one of my favorite Zappa moments.

I remember when I was 17, in Spanish class we had to create a video simulating about 10 minutes of a Spanish language TV news broadcast, complete with commercials. We did a fake tampon commercial in which some girls were pretending to play volleyball while talking about how free they felt in basic high school Spanish. I soundtracked it with "Toad of the Short Forest." (I think we also did a commercial for a Mexican restaurant, which I inexplicably soundtracked with the theme from SWAT, complete with breaking glass and screeching tire sound effects.) I didn't have many friends, needless to say.


Nice stuff! I kind of imagine your avatar reading this, especially that last sentence. Yeah, Weasels is great. It took a while to grow on me, but I love it, especially "Oh No."
November 19th, 2010 02:43 PM
halleluwah When I think of things I've taken from Zappa musically, I think it's less about trying to write music that sounds "Zappa-ey" to me, and more about general approach. Like, I think the fact that he found a way to blend all the different types of music he loved into his own work, while still sounding recognizably himself, is really inspiring. Some of his track-editing techniques. A few guitar licks of his I've swiped for use in my own playing. Stuff like that. But mainly, it's just the audacity to put a doo-wop song next to a marimba-led jazz instrumental next to a avant-garde musique concrete piece, and to not see any boundaries there; it's just all part of your music. That's not something I'd ever claim I've succeeded at yet in my own music, but it's at least something that I try for.
November 19th, 2010 02:52 PM
halleluwah
Quote:
Chris D. wrote:

I kind of imagine your avatar reading this, especially that last sentence.


:D

"I didn't have many friends, needless to say,
There'll be whiskey and heartache till my dyin' day,
Her breath was soft and her eyes were sad,
Puttin' "Toad of the Short Forest" in a tampon ad."

-TVZ, Reeds Spring High, '99
November 19th, 2010 03:56 PM
Chris D.
Quote:
halleluwah wrote:
When I think of things I've taken from Zappa musically, I think it's less about trying to write music that sounds "Zappa-ey" to me, and more about general approach. Like, I think the fact that he found a way to blend all the different types of music he loved into his own work, while still sounding recognizably himself, is really inspiring. Some of his track-editing techniques. A few guitar licks of his I've swiped for use in my own playing. Stuff like that. But mainly, it's just the audacity to put a doo-wop song next to a marimba-led jazz instrumental next to a avant-garde musique concrete piece, and to not see any boundaries there; it's just all part of your music. That's not something I'd ever claim I've succeeded at yet in my own music, but it's at least something that I try for.


As far as pure artistry is concerned, I think that really is his legacy. You take the bits and pieces of your life and put yourself into another form. The junk drawer Ian mentioned earlier. That's one thing that was great about Brian's music too, the cool edits and the constant reworking of ideas. I think it's this sense of a life being captured that lends a lot of the pathos to his music. For example a track like this:

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I find his r&b to be moving in and of itself, probably because it meant so much to him that he gave it spiritual strength and whittled it down to the absolute essentials. And the vocal quality here is indescribable, smoky and smooth. Within that expected framework you get the parts the don't fit: lyrics about getting high and stealing hubcaps; the woman's vocals; the cute pitchshifted vocals; and the free jazz ending. It's a collage of passions, moving and relatable in ways you have a hard time even beginning to understand. The whole thing works even though it's so disparate and you can only wonder how he heard this in his head. And it's no accident. Uncle Meat is full of this stuff, "Electric Aunt Jemima" for example. Plus, by setting up a whole world of connotations in "Dog Breath," he can unleash "Dog Breath Variations" on you, taking you further into the forest (especially when you consider that it hearkens back to Money, a seemingly unrelated piece. That's why the cover of Uncle Meat is such a great illustration of his music: a collage of the mouthpiece.
November 19th, 2010 04:46 PM
Jon
Quote:
S Giacomelli wrote:


I dunno, I got a couple albums of material and a band outta the Uncle Frankie Show!

edit: also, Weird Al's Genius in France is...well, genius. But definitely slanted towards the 70's material.


I totally have never heard that Al song -- hot damn. I love it.
November 19th, 2010 04:47 PM
Jon Good points all about influence. Let me put it this way: I haven't used my Zappa influence YET. It's in the future. I'm working my way towards it. I still have to paint apples that look like apples before I can paint apples that don't. You know?
November 19th, 2010 06:54 PM
Andy B I first heard Zappa when i was 15. A friend of mine was some kind of amazingly brilliant guitarist (he still is) and was heavily into all the big name guitarists such as Satriani, Malsteem and Steve Vai. So the Zappa connection came from Vai. We used to go down to the local library which had a pretty well stocked music section and booked out a few Zappa albums. Strangely i don't think Vai featured on any of the albums we listened to, but the two i heard that got my attention the most was Hot Rats and Absolutely Free. Hot Rats was at the time THE album simply because of the guitar work. We poured over that album recognising that Zappa himself was a genius guitarist. And Peaches En Regalia seemed like cartoon music in a really sophisticated and beautiful way completley unlike anything i'd heard.

Absolutely Free on the other hand was a different kettle of fish. It was ugly and angry, it felt alien - hearing Zappa sing and speak like he does on Plastic People with words like Sunset Boulevard sounding so un-english to me - it felt like an album that was at once completely foreign. As for Brown Shoes - well i don't think i bought a pair of brown shoes for years as a result of that song.To be honest my 15 year old brain wasn't really prepared for hearing it, and it would be fair to say that i didn't understand most of it. But i think that is where half the appeal came from. I think it was the first time my musical sensibilities had been properly shocked and startled. And that was probably one of the best things that could have ever happened to me.

November 20th, 2010 12:43 PM
the captain Another “C” Word

Earlier I wrote about context’s importance with Zappa. Reading some of these other posts—Jon’s and Ian’s, among others—reminds me of the importance of another “c” word. And not just cock or cum or cunt, although each of those would be pretty important in the grand scheme of Zappa’s work, too.

Actually, he may not have ever said cunt. At least not that I recall. Strange. You’d think he would have.

But it’s complexity that I’m getting at. Jon talked about not “doing Zappa” in his own music, and I think I can totally relate to that, despite Zappa’s position as one of the most important half-dozen musicians in my personal history. There are very few albums I’ve heard as often as Freak Out!, We’re Only In It…, The Grand Wazoo, Roxy, or Make A Jazz Noise…, among another, oh, dozen or so. Zappa made complex work all along. To paraphrase another deep influence when he talked about why he liked Phil Spector, I’ll just say that with Frank I liked the way he sang, the way he talked, the way he played, the way he looked … I just liked him. Very deeply and seriously. (Not seriously meaning humorlessly, mind you.)

What I’m getting at is that Frank is one of those musicians to me. He’s not the important character in music history whom I know is to be studied. He is and has long been loved. Really, loved. But you can go through dozens of songs I’ve recorded and probably never guess it. Five years from now, or 10, it will be the same. Because Frank is too complex.

Don’t take that the wrong way. Frank is complex musically, yes. The rhythms, the melody lines, the juxtapositions, and the edits (even when they weren’t tape-spliced, but painstakingly rehearsed and performed) were real challenges. But that’s not it, not at all. My own horn toots in the background when I say I can do that. I can write, practice, and play difficult music, as can many of you. The complexity of the music isn’t the complex part of Frank Zappa, if you catch my meaning.

What’s complex is the singularity of whole. To “show your Zappa influence” would probably be a lot like playing minor- and major-ninth chords, in inversions, and putting a wood block, sleigh bells, and vocal harmonies over them. Or droning a viola atop gradually speeding-up electric guitars and a sing-speak voice. Oh, you like the Beach Boys? You like Velvet Underground? No shit…

That’s the Zappa influence. You can always find where he was getting what he did, but it’s still his. However, I don’t know how I would consciously use what he did and make it mine. I’m not good enough to do that with Zappa. This just might not surprise you: Zappa’s so much better than me, it isn’t even funny. (Maybe it is. It might be to him. You can almost hear the song.) But that’s complexity—the unique recombination of knowable and copyable (if I can coin the term) influences in an immediately knowable but uncopyable (unless you’re a blatant thief) way.

(Intermission. “Muffins, pumpkins, wax paper...” I’m listening to Absolutely Free while I type this, and I literally laughed out loud. It remains funny. It always will be funny. Then he almost does a Howlin’ Wolf, just moments later. “What a pumpkin.” Blink the lights. Second act begins.)

The second way I want to talk about complexity relates to Ian’s post, and specifically the part about people’s favorite era. Zappa is one of those musical forces with whom there are not only “eras,” but there are eras worth hearing, worth talking about, worth thinking about, and eventually easy to argue for and difficult to argue against.

Most of the bands I loved when I was 12 had their own eras, too. It will not surprise you to know that I do not consider them in this category. When, say, Poison, Skid Row, or Warrant dirties up their image because Nirvana has fucked up the whole game for their previous incarnations, this does not quality. Neither does it qualify when they return 20 years later, original “classic” lineups squeezed into presumably larger-sized spandex, to delight their suburban-parents-now-gainfully-employed on the State Fair circuit. Those aren’t eras, they’re business decisions. (Nothing against a business decision, either. It’s just not this post.)

Zappa had eras in the sense that a real thinker, player, and writer has eras. And amazingly, as it’s so rare, at least several of them were amazing. And they were all really Zappa. That’s fucking remarkable—a unified body of work, always recognizable as the man in question, but somehow almost entirely disparate from one another. Even some of those albums I listed earlier as deeply influential to me, each of those five albums represents something very different than the others. And those barely even touch on other types Frank’s work includes: orchestral or chamber work; Synclavier work; the Flo and Eddie comedy rock, the late ‘70s combos.

People can (and do) debate Blood on the Tracks versus Blonde on Blonde not only as Dylan’s best work, but the best albums of all time. Each of these very different albums, born of the same author, presents something unmatched. You can do that with Frank Zappa without being out of line. He wasn’t going from this to that because future sales dictated the change. And I won’t say the muse moved him, either, not much of a believer in magic. But the man was tireless, a depth of creativity, curiosity, and work ethic up the (grand) wazoo. So much so that the resulting work eventually connected with a broad, if not enormous, base of personalities, many of whom saw the others as inferior.

Don’t fuck with the formula, if you will.

When will Frank cut out the crap and do another [album of choice, selected from a dozen or so legitimately great choices]?

Complex, even without the guitarist pointing his weenie skyward as he noodles.
November 20th, 2010 03:40 PM
IanWagner
November 20th, 2010 04:06 PM
IanWagner Nice stuff there, Captain!

Jason Penick should be up soon with his own take on The Mothers' first two years. I will also be covering this material in my next seven entries, but Jason will present a one-disc, Mothers-centric, non-Freak Out collection of material from 1965 and 1966, as well as his own notes.
November 20th, 2010 08:27 PM
Andy B This really is too much. I don't know what else to say but thanks.

I wish i could have more to add. Zappa has been and always will be a constant in my life. But your writing has given me total new perspective on his work. It's like most days i spend looking at my slippers and the floorboards but now i'm looking up again. That sounds like shit but it's true.

Sometimes i think Zappa is like some kind of super hero, but then there are glipmses into his mortal soul. Like on the MOFO outtake where he has just been recording some stuff for Monster Magnet and the session has just expired, so he pleads to everyone to leave straight away and to leave all the studio equipment behind because everything is being paid for and he can't afford for things to go missing. It is a moment where artistic endeavour collides head on with realism. Where our hero meets his futilistic enemy but comes out on top because he quips "we're only a low budget rock n roll band". To me that moment is perfect simply because it shows Zappa to be perfectly human as well as being the craziest fucker making music in the world. That is why we all love him so much. Because he cared.
November 20th, 2010 09:00 PM
IanWagner More to add? Man, your posts are two of the best on the thread!
November 20th, 2010 11:33 PM
Leo K Yeah Andy, keep going, your thoughts are so wonderful.

Luther...sincere thanks for your essays. A joy to read!

Ian, I'm very happy each day to read your installments. I'm learning and processing Frank even before hearing a note, which will be soon when the busy weekend dies down. Aces man. Aces.

November 20th, 2010 11:45 PM
IanWagner Cool, Todd! BTW, Frank has a track called Charles Ives.
November 21st, 2010 06:08 PM
Jason Penick Motherly Love: Hollywood and Elsewhere; 1965-66

This thread has been a lot of fun for me so far. I'm not what you'd call a Zappa completest by any stretch, but I used to like to think that I had a good understanding of the man's music and its overall place in the pantheon. So it's a trip reading all of Ian's collective writings in this thread, which make it clear in my mind how little I really knew about Frank, particularly in his pre-fame period.

Nevertheless, I am fascinated by what most people now refer to as the "classic" line-up of the Mothers of Invention; both in a musical and larger sociological sense. Freak Out! was the first Zappa album I ever bought or heard all the way through, and I did not think to even purchase it until I was in my twenties. Previous to that, I had heard some tapes on a nineties' box set project known as Beat the Boots that my dad was involved with the packaging design. Rhino shipped him a few copies of the completed set, and I took the tapes down to my bedroom, listened to a couple, decided Zappa just wasn't for me and that was that. I think I was put off by the combination of the poor audio and by music that I alternately just found too complex and in-jokey to fully absorb at the time.

What an amazing experience then, emerging from Best Buy with my CD copy of Freak Out!, putting it in the car's disc player, and driving home listening to "Hungry Freaks Daddy". This was Frank Zappa? This song was tight and efficient, lyrically brilliant (words both humorous and completely on-point), and featured both a nasty guitar lead and a vibraphone part! What was not to like? I wound up sitting in the parking lot of my building in the cold Chicago winter, listening to the entire album before I could even go back inside. It was like being let into a secret world or something... It would be hard returning to "regular music" after hearing this.

And so a buying spree ensued, where I attempted to work my way through Frank's entire catalog chronologically. I think I made it as far as One Size Fits All before I ran out of cash. Clearly all of this music had its merit, but the soft spot in my heart was clearly for what some (many?) consider the "classic" Mothers line-up, who turned out three of my all-time top albums: Freak Out!, Absolutely Free and We're Only in It for the Money. This is the band I'll be discussing today.

Okay, so if you've gotten this far into the thread, you're more than likely aware that the crux of the early MOI (or Mothers/ Muthers as they were known prior to their deal with MGM/ Verve) was Frank Zappa on guitar and vocals, Ray Collins on lead vocals, Roy Estrada on bass and harmonies and Jimmy Carl Black-- "The Indian of the Group"-- on drums. Here is the earliest promo pic I could find of the group, probably from spring of 1966:



The weird looking dude (well, they're all sorta weird looking, ain't they?) second to left is Elliot Ingber. More on him later.

What gets me about this picture is that these people are more or less the types society likes to label as "freaks", regardless of era. If you saw this lot hanging out in front of your local bagel shop or delicatessen, chances are you might decide to pick a different spot to eat lunch today. But now let us consider what was considered a normative band look of this exact era:







Clearly you can imagine that the original Mothers stood out a bit from the rest of the pack! Anyway, this is what got me started on this audio trip you're about to hear. Having no real knowledge of Frank's earlier sundry studio efforts, and not having access to the brilliant writings of Ian Wagner, I attempted to piece-by-piece my way back in time to find out how this talented group of world class freaks actually found a way to work the system enough to get a record deal and a double album released in the days of matching suits and Sebring hair.

What you are about to hear here is the results of my investigation. Every audio scrap, lost session and concert recording of the original Mothers of Invention, which I oh-so-cleverly titled The Underage Mothers. (Click to download.)

-------------

The saga picks up in 1965, shortly after Frank's release from the county lock-up in San Berdoo. We start off with the first known recording of the Mothers of Invention-- four tracks recorded live at the Broadside in Pamona that are essential to understanding where these guys came from. The line-up here is Frank, Ray, Roy and Jimmy. They are playing funky and loose, with what you might call a jammy/ boogie vibe. Not the Canned Heat type of boogie either, though both bands would share a talented lead guitarist.

"Louisana Blues" aka "Whisky Gone Behind" is a rocking take on a Muddy Waters chestnut with some very nice lead guitar work from Frank. "My Babe" sounds like some of the chitlin circuit stuff I've heard on early Hendrix compilations by artists such as Buddy & Stacy. Roy and Frank get their vocal duet down cold here-- very soulful, and again a nice guitar lead from Mr. Zappa. "Wedding Dress Song"/ "Handsome Cabin Boy" is a jazzy thing the band would return to later. The set closes with Ray doing his best Marvin on a funky cover of "Hitch Hike".

If you were a Canadian tourist stranded at a shithole in Pamona California known as the Broadside back in early 1965, you would probably say upon hearing these guys, "that's some good stuff there, eh?!" You would also have no idea that something like "Who Are the Brain Police?" was coming right around the corner from this lot. What we have here is exactly what producer Tom Wilson was after when he signed the band a year later: A good white American blues band that could conceivably give the Rolling Stones a run for their money. See also: The Rising Sons, Canned Heat, The Preachers, The Magic Band, Paul Butterfield, Siegel/Schwall, The Blues Project, The Steve Miller Blues Band and hundreds of lesser known and lesser regarded acts. If anything was setting the Mothers apart at the time, it would have to be their image, although I have never seen a photo of the 1965 incarnation, so I'm not entirely sure how scruffy they were at this point.

The Mothers' coming out party was on the scene at a shoot being used in conjunction with the classic Hollywood exploito flick, Mondo Hollywood. The two minutes of frenzied jamming that remains from this is hot shit in the best possible sense. It's based around a basic blues groove, but as played by crystal meth freaks (which they were not, of course.) Random screams and outbursts
accompany this insane jamming, as wild guitar licks cut through the swath like razors. If I am to guess, it sounds more like the playing of Henry Sunflower Vestine then Frank. Sunflower would briefly join up with the Mothers in November of '65 before going on to greater notoriety with the influential and much loved (by me) blues/ boogie band Canned Heat.

Throughout these recordings, you will hear overdubs of Frank from his later years, where he summarizes their historical importance and the early days of the band in his patented snarky manner. I find these overdubs hilarious and very informative, but your mileage may vary.

The middle section of this compilation is dedicated to a series of studio sessions the band put together to get a demo reel going.

The first sessions still feature Sunflower on lead guitar and include a tepid early version of "Motherly Love" (certainly a crowd favorite?) that transitions directly into "Louie Louie", only wait a sec, it's actually "Plastic People"-- as sung to the tune of "Louie Louie"! I can't describe how amazing it was for me to first hear this early take of one of my favorite numbers off my all time favorite MOI album, Absolutely Free, and thinking about the stylistic progression Frank and the boys went through in the span of less then two years.

Early run-throughs of "Anyway the Wind Blows" and "I Ain't Got No Heart" complete this particular session. "Wind" harkens back to Frank and Ray's doo-wop days, while "Heart" kicks off with a straight forward bluesy intro before settling into the song we all know. The lyrics just great, absent any of that doe-y wide-eyed sense of awe at love that dominated popular music at the time.

We are next treated to two rare recordings from L.A.'s Seward Street Studios, recorded in early 1966. We start with an impromptu bit of studio banter known as affectionately as "The Cheese Song", followed by a stunning, early and stripped-down take of "How Could I Be Such a Fool". Unfortunately this particular take breaks down before the song's conclusion.

The final studio session showcases early goes at the hits we all know and love: "I'm So Happy I Could Cry"; "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder"; another pass at "How Could I Be Such a Fool" and a sadly incomplete recording of "The Watts Riot Song". Sunflower was long gone by this point and the Mothers were back to the original core four. They were signed to MGM/ Verve by their producer Tom Wilson after Wilson caught them playing "The Watts Riot Song" during a stint at the Whisky in November '65. As previously stated, Wilson (an Ivy League educated African American record producer with a considerable track record of great recordings) thought he had himself a white blues band, and these early recordings still fall within that realm. It would not be until the sessions for Freak Out! proper started that Wilson, and by proxy the rest of Hip America, would be treated to what the highly creative and visionary mind of Frank Zappa really had in store for them.

A brief note: The Freak Out! sessions are represented here by the one song left off the album, "Groupie Bang Bang". A cursory listen reveals why this song was most likely not included. Surely the Beatles, and particularly their manager Brian Epstein, would not have been pleased to hear this number. Also, at this point, Elliot Ingber (ex-Spector sideman) joined the Mothers as their lead guitarist, and the band's name was changed at the behest of the label to the Mothers of Invention.

Therein summarizes the pre-Freak Out! era, where the Mothers developed from a heavy blues/ r'n'b outfit into one of the most mind-blowing and creative musical units of all time. The final thirty-five minutes of this CD, then, are devoted to the two June 24, 1966 shows the Mothers played at the Fillmore, opening and closing for the great Lenny Bruce. Details of these shows are sketchy at best. Wolfgang's Vault, for example, has only four of the tracks available. However, by compiling bits and pieces off of sundry sources, I have compiled what I believe to be the most complete version of these shows assembled anywhere.



We start with Ray's brief intro for the band, followed by a word from Bill Graham who announces the Mothers will both open and close for Bruce, and the band wastes no time launching into the "Louie" version of "Plastic People" before an abrupt detour into the frenzied John Cage bit "¿" and into an early prototype of "Toads of the Short Forest". This segues into their new song "I'm Not Satisfied", then into a ten minute jam on "Handsome Cabin Boy".

The second set plays like a Freak Out! highlight reel, with "Motherly Love", "You Didn't Try to Call Me", "I'm Not Satisfied", a rare "Hungry Freaks, Daddy", and "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder". Frank's pachuco raps on "Call Me" and "Shoulder" have to be heard to be believed. Clearly there was some editing/ censorship going on with the studio versions!

The final song from these concerts is the previously unheard "Downtown Talent Scout". This is a prime piece of L.A. street paranoia that fits perfectly alongside other such bizarro period classics as "Between Clark and Hilldale", "Where's My Daddy" or anything off the Mothers' own Absolutely Free.

Anyway, so there you go. I'm sure Ian can offer way more insight into these individual performances then I am capable of, but I hope you enjoy my little presentation, and more so this compilation of early Mothers material. If it helps to spark discussion and groovy listening experiences for you all, then the time spent putting it together was totally worth it!



(Edited by Jason Penick)
November 21st, 2010 06:23 PM
the captain Great, Jason.
November 21st, 2010 06:33 PM
IanWagner Delicious, Jason!!!!! Great writing, great compilation, and thanks for the compliments.
I would encourage those reading to NOT wait for my own versions of this material before downloading this Penick special, as it is likely a more re-listenable collection than the completist efforts I will provide. This Mothers-specific compilation is an excellent, wholly valid effort.
November 22nd, 2010 05:51 AM
cubist I second that, I downloaded Penick's disc a few months back when he first wrote about it on here. It makes a fine companion to the official releases "Mystery Disc" & "Lost Episodes"
November 22nd, 2010 10:09 AM
Chris D. Thank you, Penick, you magnificent bastard! Great writing, there. I can definitely relate to the need to track the albums down like that. Can't wait to listen!
November 22nd, 2010 11:14 AM
Chris D. Since you mentioned "Louie, Louie"...I never caught that he hid the melody of "Louie, Louie" in "Return of the Son of Monster Magnet."
November 22nd, 2010 12:09 PM
Jason Penick Thanks, guys! I'm finally getting a chance to read the entire thread and am just blown away by what you guys are writing... Ian, Jason, Andy, Luther, Chris and anyone else I forgot to mention, amazing stuff! This thread is a keeper for sure!

Here's a couple of pictures of Frank from the Mondo Hollywood shoot. Does anyone have a still of the entire band from this movie? I would love to see one.



November 22nd, 2010 03:34 PM
Leo K I listened to Freak Out! for the first time last night. I'm still assimulating what I heard. My experience reminds me of Luther's essay on this album. I felt like I was at a far distance from the music, and couldn't get very close. In this case, I believe this is because I'm a nostalgic, sentimental-romantic listener who never understood sarcasm that well. In the modern European music world, this is why I gravitate to Alban Berg over Edgar Varese. Different strokes and all that.

This is going to take another listen or a hundred (!) to get into. I look forward to going to another Zappa album soon. Perhaps Uncle Meat. I just to find a door I can walk through. Then I may get it.
November 22nd, 2010 03:36 PM
Jon Try starting with Hot Rats. Trust me!
November 22nd, 2010 03:42 PM
Leo K
Quote:
Jon wrote:
Try starting with Hot Rats. Trust me!


Thanks! I'll try that next.
November 22nd, 2010 04:06 PM
Chris D.
Quote:
Leo K wrote:
I listened to Freak Out! for the first time last night. I'm still assimulating what I heard. My experience reminds me of Luther's essay on this album. I felt like I was at a far distance from the music, and couldn't get very close. In this case, I believe this is because I'm a nostalgic, sentimental-romantic listener who never understood sarcasm that well. In the modern European music world, this is why I gravitate to Alban Berg over Edgar Varese. Different strokes and all that.

This is going to take another listen or a hundred (!) to get into. I look forward to going to another Zappa album soon. Perhaps Uncle Meat. I just to find a door I can walk through. Then I may get it.



Jon's right. Hot Rats is a good one to get into first. I had the same experience with Freak Out!, which I want to write about soon, since everyone seems to be converging on that album in the chronology of our discussion. It sounds funny to say, but it took me a long time to really get. I'm probably still nowhere near fully understanding it.

Hot Rats was definitely the first Zappa I really fell for.
November 22nd, 2010 04:31 PM
Leo K Thanks Chris, I was hesitant to admit I didn't get it, 'cause I thought I should have!

Is there a preferred CD version of Hot Rats? I see that Zappa remixed this album at some point. Is the original mix available anywhere? (I can't search on my work computer here)
November 22nd, 2010 04:43 PM
Jon I'm with Chris -- took me a while to get Freak Out, not sure if I fully still do, probably will at some point. But Hot Rats is the kind of album you can just put on and dig RIGHT AWAY. It's the man as a MUSICIAN rather than a commenter.
November 22nd, 2010 04:50 PM
Chris D.
Quote:
Leo K wrote:
Thanks Chris, I was hesitant to admit I didn't get it, 'cause I thought I should have!

Is there a preferred CD version of Hot Rats? I see that Zappa remixed this album at some point. Is the original mix available anywhere? (I can't search on my work computer here)


The original mix is not on CD. Hopefully they do an anniversary box. I haven't heard the original mix, so I can't compare, but I do like the remixed CD.

Anyone know why there was no anniversary box for Absolutely Free?
November 22nd, 2010 05:03 PM
Jason Penick
Quote:
Leo K wrote:
I listened to Freak Out! for the first time last night. I'm still assimulating what I heard. My experience reminds me of Luther's essay on this album. I felt like I was at a far distance from the music, and couldn't get very close. In this case, I believe this is because I'm a nostalgic, sentimental-romantic listener who never understood sarcasm that well. In the modern European music world, this is why I gravitate to Alban Berg over Edgar Varese. Different strokes and all that.

This is going to take another listen or a hundred (!) to get into. I look forward to going to another Zappa album soon. Perhaps Uncle Meat. I just to find a door I can walk through. Then I may get it.



Well if nostalgic/ sentimental-romantic music is what turns you on, look no further than Cruising with Reuben and the Jets. While there a few cheap yucks found within its grooves, on the whole it's probably one of the most honest records Frank ever cut. It's clear just by listening to it how deep Frank's (and Ray Collins') appreciation for classic r'n'b runs. I think you'll dig it Todd.

But really the best approach (IMO), would be to give Freak Out! a few more spins and then give Absolutely Free a whirl. One thing you'll notice about the former when you've had enough time to digest it, is that is really is a sort of summation of where rock music was at and where it was headed by 1966. In other words, it's almost inconceivable that a group that could record something as primal and dumb (and fun) as "Wowie Zowie" would also be capable of a such a sublime slice of melancholy orchestral pop as "How Could I Be Such a Fool?", and that these same people would put forth a track like "Who Are the Brain Police?" that sounds futuristic even by today's standards. In many ways it's a very schizoid release. There's a great quote from Frank that explains it:

"If you were to graphically analyze the different types of directions of all the songs in the Freak Out! album, there's a little something in there for everybody. At least one piece of material is slanted for every type of social orientation within our consumer group, which happens to be six to eighty. Because we got people that like what we do, from kids six years old screaming on us to play "Wowie Zowie." Like I meet executives doing this and that, and they say, 'My kid's got the record, and 'Wowie Zowie's their favorite song."

Absolutely Free continues this divergent approach, but by now the band is really approaching something close to gestalt. The instrumental line-up is now expanded to eight musicians, and while they sound just fine banging out "Suzie Creamcheese" (a leftover from their early days), Zappa The Serious Composer is really beginning to emerge on tracks like "Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin"; while "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" may be his ultimate combination of the cerebral and the inane. Each side of the record is a suite unto itself, and to me at least Absolutely Free is really their finest hour as a self-contained band.

But hey, there's no wrong way to get into Frank! Hot Rats is a great starting point too... or Apostrophe, or One Size Fits All or maybe even Uncle Meat. Just steer clear of stuff like Thing-Fish or Francesco Zappa until you're well and truly hooked.

Oh one more thing: Since Frank's entire catalog is so daunting, it's good to have a useful online guide that summarizes and rates all the records for you. I found Mark Prindle's Zappa reviews to be both (mainly) on the money and laugh out loud funny at times.

http://www.markprindle.com/zappa.htm
November 22nd, 2010 05:05 PM
halleluwah
Quote:
Leo K wrote:
Thanks Chris, I was hesitant to admit I didn't get it, 'cause I thought I should have!

Is there a preferred CD version of Hot Rats? I see that Zappa remixed this album at some point. Is the original mix available anywhere? (I can't search on my work computer here)


I'm sure there are some places on the net where you can find needledrops of the original vinyl mix. It's very, very different from the CD version. That said, I actually kind of PREFER the remixed CD version, especially on Willie the Pimp and the Gumbo Variations (the latter of which is literally five minutes shorter on the original album, by the way). At any rate, if you like the album as much as I suspect you will, you'll want to find both mixes at some point, but as far as I'm concerned, the remix is actually better to start with than the original anyway. Either should do the job, though.

I'm in agreement with Jon and Chris about this; Hot Rats is a perfect easy first step into Zappa's more purely musical side, balancing the meticulous composition, pioneering recording techniques, completely out-there arranging ideas, and lengthy improvisational guitar passages pretty much perfectly. Only one song has any words, and that's really only for the first couple of minutes, after which it's around eight or so minutes of one of the greatest studio rock jams ever recorded. It's hard to imagine a hardcore music fan not being able to get into Hot Rats, especially one who is as much into instrumental music as you are.

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