[Review] The Mothers of Invention: Freak Out! (1966)

A freaking brilliant, sarcastic sendup of society and popular music in which all pretense to normalcy and decency is dropped.

Kronomyth 1.0: Meet the Mothers.

An America that nearly peed itself in anticipation of meeting The Beatles wasn’t ready to meet The Mothers. Frank Zappa’s debut double-album opus existed in its own musical universe. Cute was replaced with caustic. Catchy pop hooks were covered in the barbed wire and broken glass of Zappa’s asocial intellect. Instead of Beethoven rolling over in his grave, you got Edgar Varèse creeping out of his crypt to eat your brain. The Mothers of Invention weren’t trying to win over hearts but wake up minds too long accustomed to sleep.

Zappa more or less hijacked a working doowop band in creating The Mothers of Invention and much of their debut’s charm, if indeed it has any, is its strange duality of innocence and brilliance. The rest of The Mothers may have been in on the joke, but they weren’t into Igor Stravinsky and John Cage. As a result, you get songs like How Could I Be Such a Fool, Any Way the Wind Blows and You Didn’t Try to Call Me, which are delivered as breezy pop songs while Zappa stirs a musical tempest beneath the surface. The band wasn’t as musically sophisticated as later incarnations of The Mothers, to be sure, but Zappa did luck into a good singer (Ray Collins) and second guitarist (Elliot Ingber).

Freak Out! is divided into two very different halves. The first record features skewed pop songs that poke fun at everything from America’s post-war idealism (Hungry Freaks, Daddy) to the ‘60s counterculture (Wowie Zowie). The second record strikes an even more defiant stance as Zappa calls out American injustice (Trouble Comin’ Every Day) and goes completely off the radar for sound collages that mix dialogue, noise and what probably constitutes music of some kind.

Honestly, this album is a miracle of nature that never would have existed but for the visionary support of Tom Wilson. Most producers would have covered their ears. Wilson, instead, became Zappa’s champion, convincing MGM to give Zappa the latitude he needed to make the album he envisioned. Zappa rewarded that faith with unfiltered genius, the kind that occasioned Wilson to refer to Zappa as “without exception… the biggest talent I have ever come across.” Not Bob Dylan. Not The Velvet Underground. But Frank Zappa. How freaking awesome is that?

Original double elpee version

A1. Hungry Freaks, Daddy (3:27)
A2. I Ain’t Got No Heart (2:30)
A3. Who Are the Brain Police? (3:22)
A4. Go Cry on Somebody’s Else’s Shoulder (Frank Zappa/Ray Collins) (3:31)
A5. Motherly Love (2:45)
A6. How Could I Be Such a Fool (2:12)
B1. Wowie Zowie (2:45)
B2. You Didn’t Try to Call Me (3:17)
B3. Any Way the Wind Blows (2:52)
B4. I’m Not Satisfied (2:37)*
B5. You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here (3:37)
C1. Trouble Comin’ Every Day (6:16)
C2. Help, I’m a Rock (Suite in Three Movements) (8:07)
1st Movement: Okay to Tap Dance
2nd Movement: In Memoriam, Edgar Varese
3rd Movement: It Can’t Happen Here
D1. The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet (Unfinished Ballet in Two Tableaus) (12:12)
I. Ritual Dance of the Child Killers
II. Nullis Pretii (No Commercial Potential)

All songs written by Frank Zappa unless noted. Arranged and conducted by Frank Zappa.
*Some versions credit this as “I’m Satisfied” on the elpee label.

The Players

Jim Black (drums, also sings in some foreign language), Ray Collins (lead vocalist, harmonica, tambourine, finger cymbals, bobby pin & tweezers), Roy Estrada (bass & guitarron, boy soprano), Elliot Ingber (alternate lead & rhythm guitar with clear white light), Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals, musical director) with The Mothers Auxiliary: Gene Estes, Eugene Di Novi, Neil Le Vang, John Rotella, Kurt Reher, Raymond Kelley, Paul Bergstrom, Emmet Sargeant, Joseph Saxon, Edwin V. Beach, Arthur Maebe, George Price, John Johnson, Carol Kaye, Virgil Evans, David Wells, Kenneth Watson, Plas Johnson, Roy Caton, Carl Franzoni, Vito, Kim Fowley (featured on hypophone), Benjamin Barrett, David Anderle. Produced by Tom Wilson; director of engineering: Val Valentin.

The Plastic

Released on mono and stereo double elpee on June 27, 1966 in the US (Verve, V/V6/5005-2) with gatefold cover. Reached #130 on the US charts in 1967.

  1. Re-issued on 2LP in the US (Verve, V6-5005-2) [blue label “Manufactured by MGM Records, Inc.”] with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1995 in the US (Rykodisc).

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