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 30th, 2010 10:43 PM
Jason Penick Amazing writing again Ian. So much I didn't know about one of my all-time favorite albums, such as the names of the various classical pieces incorporated within it. Can't wait to give the unique mono mix a spin!

I don't think there's anything I can really add, other than my affirmation that this album is completely peerless for its time (or any time really). It's just *so far* outside the realm of what anybody else was doing in late 1966, and yet it hangs together perfectly. Frank really put the band through their paces, and I never get sick of listening to it.

So many favorite moments, a lot of them comedic: JCB's woeful "tv dinner by the pool"; the whole "America Drinks and Goes Home" monologue at the end; the "baby prune" Supremes parody; "he's been sick"... Oh man, it just doesn't get any better for me! And that's not even getting into the amazing instrumental work, particularly on the epic guitar/ soprano sax battle "Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin" or the intricately structured "Brown Shoes". 5 Stars all the way on this one.
December 1st, 2010 03:05 PM
Jason Penick This one's just for fun, but after hearing the original intro for "America Drinks" for the first time last night, I couldn't resist sequencing all three segments of the song into an "America Drinks Suite". The end result can be heard HERE if anyone would like to check it out!
December 1st, 2010 03:24 PM
halleluwah I'd never heard Absolutely Free in mono until last night. It is indeed a different experience; the sheer density of the instrumentation feels even thicker, but strangely, also less cluttered. It feels more like one single wall of noise, and a thick one at that.

The compositional brilliance of that album really has to be about as far-out in that direction as rock had gotten at that point. Really, I think that a lot of the parts are more metrically complex than the majority of the prog rock I've heard, and with a much more clearly-defined purpose as well. Finding out that most of the long tracks were played by the band all the way through without edits is kind of astonishing.

Was Absolutely Free the first album where Zappa collaborated with Cal Schenkel on the artwork? That's an interesting relationship between artist and musician that produced some completely unique results. In some ways, some of Schenkel's album covers were as radical and innovative as their musical contents.
December 1st, 2010 03:36 PM
Jon
Quote:
I'd never heard Absolutely Free in mono until last night. It is indeed a different experience; the sheer density of the instrumentation feels even thicker, but strangely, also less cluttered. It feels more like one single wall of noise, and a thick one at that.


WERD.

And more great writing from Ian, too. Fantastic read.
December 1st, 2010 05:25 PM
IanWagner Chronology 1966 Parts 9 & 10

http://www.sendspace.com/file/ebagky


For the stereo mix of Absolutely Free, Frank Zappa and Tom Wilson made the understandable choice of placing the vocals high in the soundstage. Unfortunately, this had the effect of making the stacked-with-instrumentation backing tracks sound even more cluttered and distant-sounding.
The only real stereo effect utilised was some panning on Ray Collins' vocal on America Drinks And Goes Home.
Free was the only Mothers MGM album that Zappa did not remix for CD release, but a certain amount of digital echo was added in the EQ stage. Therefore, presented here is a needledrop of an original stereo LP.
Zappa again had plans for a very elaborate gatefold design for the Free cover. For the poster-styled front cover, an ornate Mothers logo sat at the top, with the words "Of Invention..." in much smaller type below.
A striking black-and-white photo by Alice Ochs of Frank with his new squeeze Gail behind him was the main focus of the top half. Below this was a collage of black-and-white photos of the other Mothers.
The bottom of the design was an impressionistic, nearly nightmarish cartoon design of a cityscape crowded by cars, billboards and advertising slogans. Hidden among the latter was the legend "You must buy this album now Top 40 ratio will never ever play it".
On the right hand side of the inner gatefold, the picture of Zappa and Gail was repeated, overlaid with the slogan KILL UGLY RADIO. Over Gail's face, the words My Pumpkin were added.
By the time the sleeve was finished, Jim Fielder was out of the group, so Zappa removed all reference to him from the sleeve. Interestingly, listed instead as a member, though in smaller type underneath the others, was Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood. This is curious as he would not be a full Mothers member until the fall of 1967.
The major bone of contention between Zappa and MGM on the Free package was that he intended a libretto to be included, with full lyrics and pictures. MGM declared this far too expensive. Zappa held his ground on the issue for months, but eventually had to give in.
Instead, the left half of the gatefold featured an offer for buyers to "SEND MONEY, as much as you can get $1 minimum" to receive the libretto. Accompanying this was another black-and-white picture, with Frank standing and revealing his stomach, with the rest of the group lying in a heap at his feet. Inset within the picture were the words "CLEAN AMERICAN VERSION".
Ray Collins was given special credit as Prune, and the Varese quote and thank-you to the TTG engineers were pasted in from the Freak Out sleeve.
Even though it lacked the libretto, the Absolutely Free package was still quite distinctive and striking. Unfortunately, the disagreement between Frank and MGM would delay the album's release until late June of 1967.
For the last two weeks of 1966, The Mothers were hired for a residency at New York City's Balloon Farm venue, ironically the former performing home of The Velvet Underground earlier in the year.
During this engagement, Frank gave one of his earliest extensive interviews, with Hit Parader magazine, on the 22nd of December.
Though Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone usually get all the credit for raising the level of rock journalism past that of the teenybopper magazines, Parader also deserves some note as well. Besides their 16-styled star profiles and printed song lyrics, the magazine conducted some of the earliest in-depth, serious rock-star interviews, as well as featuring above-average record reviews.
On the subject of Zappa's interviews (and radio appearances), particularly the ones that have survived the years in audio form, two important aspects are of note:
One is that Zappa was one of the finest interview subjects in the world of modern music, always lucid, always telling the truth, or at least his own version of it. The best of the interviews are sometimes the only source for key pieces of the Zappa puzzle. Sometimes, the same story, when retold over several interviews, would gain interesting detail not present in earlier tellings. Also, Zappa's unique point-of-view, given a platform in his music, at times found an even greater outlet in the interviews.
Second of all, in one of these interviews, Zappa stated that not only were all of his albums part of a larger, overall work, but this also included all of his public performances, and even beyond that, every interview he gave as well. All of these forms of "performance" were art in their own way, all reflecting back upon each other, informing each isolated piece of the puzzle.
Listening to these interviews bears out Zappa's point. One gains a much greater understanding of his music through hearing his "spoken word" material, and beyond that, Zappa is simply an extremely entertaining person to listen to. At times, listening to him talk is even more enlightening than the records he released.
In this spirit, Zappa's extant interview/radio/"spoken word" recordings will be included in this history. They come very highly recommended.
The roughly 90-minute Parader interview was luckily recorded and preserved by the writer, Don Paulsen. The full tape has made it into collectors' circles.
The following subjects are extensively discussed:
The history of The Mothers and the personnel changes to that point.
The values of insulting the audience at performances.
The problems with MGM.
Edgard Varese.
The story of Freak Out.
His plan to destroy Top 40 radio.
His childhood and early musical influences.
The upcoming Absolutely Free LP.
His dream instrumental lineup for The Mothers.
Zappa's stage conducting of the group.
Lenny Bruce.
The honesty and value of 50's R&B.
Subversion through advertising.
The troubles in Los Angeles between the teenagers and police.
Zappa's advice to readers on what records to buy.
Bad reviews.
His desired audience.
The phoniness of white blues/psychedelic bands.
The experience of working with The Animals.
Commercial music.
Suzy Creamcheese.

This interview is the equal of any of the more vaunted Bob Dylan and Peter Townshend interviews of that era, a long, entertaining, sometimes inflammatory oratory that is the best non-musical example of Zappa's unique persona and opinions in the 1960's, and a time when he still seemed to hold out some hope for the counterculture's power to change society. For anyone interested in his career, it is a must-listen.

The Balloon Farm engagement garnered many new fans for The Mothers on the East Coast, and offers for longer residencies in New York were offered to the group's manager Herb Cohen. One of those offers would be taken up by Zappa to the extent of moving his entire operation to New York in the spring of 1967.
But before that, another of Zappa's most important and brilliant studio projects would be undertaken.
December 1st, 2010 05:27 PM
IanWagner
Quote:
Jason Penick wrote:
This one's just for fun, but after hearing the original intro for "America Drinks" for the first time last night, I couldn't resist sequencing all three segments of the song into an "America Drinks Suite". The end result can be heard HERE if anyone would like to check it out!


Rock.
December 1st, 2010 05:29 PM
IanWagner
Quote:
halleluwah wrote:
Was Absolutely Free the first album where Zappa collaborated with Cal Schenkel on the artwork?


Nope, that was Money. Zappa did the Free layout himself. I'll definitely be talking more about Cal soon.
December 1st, 2010 05:33 PM
S Giacomelli It's pretty bogus there's not a whole book devoted to Cal.
December 1st, 2010 05:40 PM
IanWagner
Quote:
S Giacomelli wrote:
It's pretty bogus there's not a whole book devoted to Cal.


Or Bruce Bickford.
December 1st, 2010 05:42 PM
S Giacomelli Bruce got that doc, though. "Monster Road." That was pretty awesome.
December 2nd, 2010 11:16 AM
MoogDroog Wow, i just listened to Absolutely Free - loved it. I read the essay first, then went from start to finish. Gonna need a few hundred more plays. Brown Shoes Don't Make It is furious and amazingly subversive / provocative. Did it cause a stir at the time? I wonder if the use of so many different styles of music from different eras is meant to suggest that this story has happened throughout the ages?

(it goes without saying how good your writing is, Ian, but reading it first while waiting to listen was killing me, the excitement you conjured up was so great!)
December 2nd, 2010 11:21 AM
Jon Is that the first time you've heard that album?
December 2nd, 2010 11:23 AM
MoogDroog Yup. Mind blown all over the place. The only other Mothers i've heard is Freak Out, about ten years ago. Not much Zappa either. I don't tend to do things chronologically so i'm just gonna skip all over this thread
December 2nd, 2010 11:27 AM
IanWagner
Quote:
MoogDroog wrote:
Wow, i just listened to Absolutely Free - loved it. I read the essay first, then went from start to finish. Gonna need a few hundred more plays. Brown Shoes Don't Make It is furious and amazingly subversive / provocative. Did it cause a stir at the time? I wonder if the use of so many different styles of music from different eras is meant to suggest that this story has happened throughout the ages?

(it goes without saying how good your writing is, Ian, but reading it first while waiting to listen was killing me, the excitement you conjured up was so great!)


:tura:
December 2nd, 2010 11:34 AM
Jon Well, KEEP READING and KEEP LISTENING, then, it gets even better from here!!
December 2nd, 2010 12:06 PM
S Giacomelli Can't wait for the collective jawdrop of "How Did That Get in Here?"
December 2nd, 2010 04:14 PM
S Giacomelli Heading over to Reno to see/hear/feel the ZPZ band play the Apostrophe album. A "tribute" band, maybe, but I've gotta get my fix for some Zappa-approved moving molecule sculptures.
December 2nd, 2010 05:10 PM
IanWagner Chronology 1967 Part 1

http://www.sendspace.com/file/65t5l8


As 1967 began and The Mothers' stint at New York' Balloon Farm ended, the group then moved on to the frozen winter of Montreal, playing two weeks at the New Penelope club.
While there, they were asked to provide a background score for a 10-minute documentary on a Canadian motorbike racer, entitled Race For Your Life. Zappa agreed to this, and recorded some group improvisations for the film, roughly four minutes of which were heard in the final edit.
Another short documentary film with limited Mothers involvement was televised around this time on ABC television. This was an "expose" on changing sexual mores entitled Sex In Today's World. Why a Mothers show was captured for this film is anybody's guess. Only around 30 seconds of Mother footage, seemingly from the autumn of 1966, was used in the final edit, which was later released by Something Weird video as a part of their Sex Hygiene Scare Films Volume 2 compilation.
Yet a third documentary from this era with Zappa involvement is the legendary CBS special Inside Pop, hosted by Leonard Bernstein, most famous for its footage of Brian Wilson singing the Smile classic Surf's Up alone at the piano.
The surprisingly well-researched and well-collated film featured interviews with several of pop/rock's leading lights, and the choice of Zappa was an apt one on the part of the producers. Frank is seen three times in the special, speaking about the youth counterculture and his own feelings against drug use.
Inside Pop was televised on April 26th, and is now unfortunately rarely seen.
Returning to Los Angeles and the cottage he shared with main "pumpkin" Gail in Laurel Canyon (though they would soon relocate to the Tropicana Motel), Zappa had an exciting new assignment to fulfill.
Capitol producer/A&R man Nick Venet had been very impressed by Freak Out, and was eager to get Zappa's work onto Capitol in some form. Meeting with Frank to discuss this, Venet was assured that Zappa was exclusively contracted to MGM as a performer only, and that he could compose a work for any company, as long as he did not actually perform on the recording. It can be assumed that Frank actually believed this, and the project went ahead.
With a limited time to compose a long-form instrumental work, which of course was Zappa's main goal all along, this project went through a few entirely different phases of conception.
The original idea was for the piece to be recorded by a relatively small group of musicians, angling towards the jazz/loungey side of the musical spectrum, with some elements of rock, avant-classical and free jazz. Zappa's initial draft of the work contained several themes used in earlier works, such as Oh No (which was titled Sunday at this point) and The World's Greatest Sinner score cues.
On February 13th, a session took place at Capitol's tower studios, nominally produced by Venet (similar to what had happened on the first two albums by The Beach Boys).
A small crew of session players had been assembled, most notably including John Guerin on drums.
Zappa provided them with charts that included spaces for free improvisation and solos, conducting them through several distinct movements and sections, to be edited together later. Though he could not be credited on the AFM sheets for musical participation, he is clearly responsible for the lead guitar heard in certain sections.
A full version of the suite was indeed compiled and mixed, at this stage entitled How Did That Get In Here? This was later released, in its entirety, on The Lumpy Money Project Object collection four decades later.
Hearing it, one can tell why Zappa ended up dissatisfied, as the short time leading up to the one day recording session had not provided enough time for the proper development of the piece, and there were not enough musicians on hand to fulfill Zappa's own musical goals.
Nevertheless, HDTGIH is a truly remarkable work on its own terms, perhaps the most valuable piece of archival material that had been aired from Zappa's work of 1967.
A crazed work of obvious musical genius, the piece has much more in common with later Zappa works such as Hot Rats and 1972's Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo. It is also, in some ways, similar to Michael Nesmith's studio experiment of the same era, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.
HDTGIH would have made for an extremely worthy release just as it was, far ahead of where the contemporary music world was located in early 1967. But Zappa's perfectionism led him to persuade Venet to pry more money from Capitol, turning the project into a much more lavish affair. This was agreed upon, and sessions were scheduled for mid-March, giving Zappa a month's time to compose.
Certain small sections of the February work were utilised in the final form of the suite, most importantly the main theme for Lumpy Gravy.
Just after the first Capitol session, The Mothers traveled to San Francisco for another few nights at The Fillmore. These shows were notable as the last to include Jim Fielder in the lineup. He would hereafter switch to bass guitar, temporaily becoming a member of Buffalo Springfield before finally finding fame and wealth as a part of Blood Sweat & Tears.
Zappa was again the sole guitarist in The Mothers, and would remain so until the end of 1968.
On March 6th, another project was undertaken, the recording of some relatively accessible material specifically for single release, again at TTG Studios.
A song originally recorded at Pal Studios in 1963, the bluesy groove Why Don'tcha Do Me Right, was resurrected for this purpose, resulting in a delightful, crunching, stomping garage-fuzz track. Zappa's ultra-low vocal work, which would be a major feature of his more popular 70's recordings, found a perfect context on this song. He also played a lightning-fast, intense guitar solo on the track, the gritty mode of which was subtly undercut by the usage of Don Preston's cheery-sounding harpsichord.
The second track recorded was the demented novelty cut Big Leg Emma (under the working title Dilemma). Sung by a vocal trio consisting of Zappa, Ray Collins and drummer Jimmy Carl Black, this undeniably catchy piece of lovable trash featured fine clarinet work from Bunk Gardner.
Also reportedly recorded at this session were two other tracks, including Fillmore (likely to be an early version of Who Needs The Peace Corps) and Electric Banana (an early version of Absolutely Free), though these have not publically surfaced.
This would be the last Zappa project involving Tom Wilson, who would leave MGM before the end of the year. Unfairly a rare mention in discussions of Zappa's work, Wilson and his very important role as facilitator between the difficult and ambitious composer, and the corporate behemoth of MGM, was an invaluable element in the Mothers story.
The new single pairing Right and Emma would be released one month later, and from later interviews, Zappa seems to have actually harbored some hopes and expectations that it would get the group onto the radio and pop charts.
Of course, this was never going to happen. For one thing, the record simply isn't as dumb-accessible as Zappa thought it was. Second, the stated hatred for the Top 40 format that Zappa had publically stated couldn't have helped.
The Mothers were not a big enough act to inspire any changes in the mainstream radio world, and "underground" FM radio was simply too young yet to break a record commercially.
The Emma/Right single, a failure in terms of its stated commercial aims but another artistic success for the group, would enter obscurity so immediate and total that most Mothers fans were unaware of its existence.
Presented here are the original mono 45 mixes, and the stereo mixes created for later reissues, most popular of which being the Absolutely Free CD, where the tracks were inadvisedly slotted in between the two original album sides.
The expanded sessions at Capitol for Zappa's revamped instrumental work took place on March 14th though the 16th, again at Capitol and nominally produced by Venet.
A stunning number of musicians, 51 in total, were employed over the three days of session. The session of the 14th featured a relatively smaller emsemble similar to that utilised at the February session. The other two days featured a mammoth gathering of musicians, a longtime Zappa dream finally come true, contracted and nominally conducted by violinist Sid Sharp.
Some of the more familiar names for musical students present for these sessions included guitarists Tommy Tedesco and Al Viola, bassists Lyle Ritz and Check Berghofer, trombonist Lew McCreary, percussionists Gene Estes (previously utilised on Freak Out), Emil Richards and Victor Feldman, and West Coast jazz drummer legend Shelly Manne. Bunk Gardner was also a part of the sessions.
The revamped composition Zappa had prepared was one that he considered a form of mutant ballet music, though it would have had to have been one freaky dance troupe to have accompanied this score.
Certain of the themes from the February session were again included here, but the overall sound, scope and musical focus were very different. This work leaned towards the modern classical side of Zappa's musical leanings. At some points, the results were reminscent of Zappa's earlier film score work (especially as themes from those scores can be heard), though a lot freer.
For recording purposes, the specific movements of the piece were given utilitarian unit numbers and tackled separately.
Four examples (the first three recorded at the session of the 14th) of this process were later released on The Lumpy Money Project, including Take 3 of Unit 3A, Take 9 of Unit 2, Take 22 of Section 8 (an early version of the Mothers standard King Kong), and Unit 9. In these, we hear Venet in the control booth, as Zappa is on the studio floor with the musicians. The sessions seem to be very well organised, and exceedingly professional.
Zappa was satisfied (or as much as he could ever be), with the results, and set about editing together an album from the three days' work. As he was just about to leave for the East Coast, some of this work was likely to have been done at a New York studio.
Two forms of the resulting suite, now titled Lumpy Gravy, have made it to the ears of Zappa fans. The first surfaced in collectors' circles, dubbed off of a work acetate.
For fans of the eventually released form of Lumpy Gravy, hearing the original Capitol version is quite a revelation indeed. A lot of the same music is present, and a similar usage of jarring, cut-up editing techniques. But the final album release would be as notable for the "non-musical", spoken word, and archival insertions it would include, as for the material recorded as the Capitol sessions.
Hearing these pieces in a more straightforward form is quite an experience, one that speaks of Zappa's own peculiar genius. It seems mad that when he would eventually gain a release for this material, that he would not then simply put it out as it was, not rejiggering and reediting it yet again till it was nearly unrecognisable from its previous form.
As with How Did This Get In There?, this Lumpy Gravy, a major compositional achievement, could have been a Zappa release for the ages, and would have if not for the future machinations of MGM. But simply, it just was not meant to be such a straightforwardly musical project, in the greater scheme of things.
Each of the sections was given a whimsical Zappa title, and two of these, Gypsy Airs and Sink Trap, were even given unique edits for single release. These edits are heard here from an acetate source made available to hardcore collectors.
But yet another version of this material is available, this time on an official release.
December 2nd, 2010 08:41 PM
Jon Lumpy Gravy is, I think, my favorite Zappa thing. Hearing the Capitol thing a few years back was indeed a revelation.

S'funny -- my parents had a Colliers Encyclopedia set, and every year they'd get a yearbook. I remember reading the pop music section for 1969, which summarized 1968, and they actually talked about the transition between psychedelic music and sort of "back to basics" albums. They named what they felt were the main proponents of each genre -- "Sgt. Pepper," "Their Satanic Majesties" and "Lumpy Gravy," oddly, for the former, and "White Album," "Beggar's Banquet" and "Cruising With Ruben" for the latter. It was the first notion I had that Zappa was probably just as important as the Beatles, at least for serious music listeners.

GREAT writing. Love Lumpy Gravy.
December 2nd, 2010 10:02 PM
IanWagner Groovy! I will be writing much, much, much more about Lumpy Gravy soon. I think it is his greatest work as well, as did he.
December 3rd, 2010 08:31 AM
Chris D.
Quote:
Jon wrote:
It was the first notion I had that Zappa was probably just as important as the Beatles, at least for serious music listeners.



More important! Most people just don't want to learn that and, for some reason, ignore his works.
December 3rd, 2010 10:10 AM
Jon
Quote:
Chris D. wrote:


More important! Most people just don't want to learn that and, for some reason, ignore his works.


Well -- it's inaccessible to yr. average listener, and by "average" I mean "really average," because Zappa really isn't as inaccessible as he's made out to be.

December 3rd, 2010 10:55 AM
Jon PS: Finally downloading the chronology stuff. I have lots of it, but none of it here at work -- and I love how you've put it all together. Scrambling to find some cover art for it all for those of us in iTunes.

There aren't a lot of digital images of the Capitol Lumpy Gravy sleeve, but here's the best one I could find, slightly color-corrected. But of course with tons of awful artifacting. I'll do my best with the rest as I download 'em.



edit: I can do better than that. I'm a damn designer. Let me see if I can fix that up some.
December 3rd, 2010 11:15 AM
Jon Indeed I can.

December 3rd, 2010 11:46 AM
Jon And here's a nice, clean Absolutely Free mono cover, minus the yellowing, but with the correct Verve stuff in the upper right. Better repro than the Ryko or Zappa issues!


December 3rd, 2010 11:58 AM
IanWagner Those look great!
December 3rd, 2010 12:07 PM
Jon Here's a mono Freak Out with the correct Verve logo and serial number placement! Yes, I'm anal!


December 3rd, 2010 12:10 PM
Jon
Quote:
IanWagner wrote:
Those look great!


Sharp images to go along with your sharp compilations!! I'll keep doing 'em so people can use 'em if they have iTunes or some other player that has album cover views. I'm nuts about that -- I go to great lengths to find the best album covers for iTunes, and will make 'em if I can't find 'em. If they're inaccurate it actually bugs me. That is how nuts I am.
December 3rd, 2010 12:59 PM
Jon This one was SUPER tough. The reissue moves around the elements a lot, has a lousy repro of the picture, and changes "Francis Vincent" to "Frank Vincent" for some unknowable reason. I had to lovingly restore someone's worn vinyl scan.


December 3rd, 2010 01:06 PM
Beckner Zappa found out in the mid Eighties that his birth certificate read "Frank" and not "Francis" like his father, so he changed it for the reissue.

(Look at me, acting smart, after reading a Wiki.)
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