Frank Zappa Discography Thread: Absolutely Free (1967)

Mosh

Winner of the 2020 Dumbest Comment Ever Award
Staff member
Welcome all to the Frank Zappa discography discussion! Poodles are welcome and don't forget your Zircon Encrusted Tweezers.

I expect most people participating will be familiar with most of Zappa's work, but hopefully some newbies decide to join in too. For that reason, I'll be listing the genres explored on each album so potential lurkers might find something they're interested in.

With that bit of house keeping out of the way, here is our first album:

Freak Out! (1966)
Doo Wop, Rhythm and Blues, Experimental Rock

Frank Zappa - Guitar/Vocals
Jimmy Carl Black - Drums
Ray Collins - Vocals
Roy Estrada - Bass
Elliot Ingber - Alternate guitar


On a personal level, Freaking Out is a process whereby an individual casts off outmoded and restricting standards of thinking, dress, and social etiquette in order to express CREATIVELY his relationship to his immediate environment and the social structure as a whole. Less perceptive individuals have referred to us who have chosen this way of thinking and FEELING as “Freaks,” hence the term: Freaking Out.


On a collective level, when any number of “Freaks” gather and express themselves creatively through music or dance, for example, it is generally referred to as a FREAK OUT. The participants, already emancipated from our national social slavery, dressed in their most inspired apparel, realize as a group whatever potential they possess for free expression.

We would like to encourage everyone who HEARS this music to join us…become a member of The United Mutations…FREAK OUT!


- Freak Out liner notes

The first official Frank Zappa album was released under the band name The Mothers of Invention. The original group was meant to be called The Mothers, short for Motherfuckers, but the label wouldn't allow this and they became The Mothers of Invention.

Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland and moved at the age of 14 to Lancaster, California. There he began discovering rhythm and blues music as well as 20th Century Classical. His musical idol was the avant-garde composer Edgard Varese. Every single Frank Zappa album contains the following Varese quote: "The present day composer refuses to die!" Zappa was also influenced by Stravinsky, Webern, Johnny Guitar Watson, and Lightnin' Slim. This eclectic taste would help sculpt the Zappa sound and is apparent on the very first album.

While Freak Out is the first album, Zappa was a busy musician for quite some time before that. He began his career playing bicycle on the Steve Allen show and went on to write and produce songs for local acts with future Mother Ray Collins. In 1964 he took over a studio he dubbed Studio Z, where he recorded, jammed with other bands, and made movies with his high school friend Don Van Vliet (who would go on to become the legendary Captain Beefheart). Some of this pre-Freak Out work is available through various compilations and bootlegs.

Unfortunately, he was eventually the target of a setup staged by the local police. He was offered $100 to record a sexually suggestive tape by an undercover cop and was thrown in jail for "conspiracy to commit pornography". Much of his recordings were confiscated and destroyed by the police because of this and his studio was torn down shortly after.

Later on he was invited to join his old friend Ray Collins' band and after a change of personnel and Zappa taking over as leader, The Mothers were born.

Freak Out! is a strange blend of Doo Wop, rhythm and blues, and Varese inspired experimental music. A highly satirical album, it pokes fun at the tropes of the Doo Wop genre and the social norms of the time. It is also one of the first Rock double albums.

The bulk of the first three sides is made up of catchy rock tunes with a heavy dose of doo wop, such as Hungry Freaks, Daddy, Any Way the Wind Blows, and Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder. There's also the blues rap Trouble Every Day and the bizarre Who Are the Brain Police? It's an album with a lot of variety that keeps the listener guessing. Most of the songs are pretty basic for Zappa standards, not much in the way of complex harmony and odd time signatures. We also don't get a lot of Zappa's guitar playing, although there's a ripping solo on Hungry Freaks, Daddy. The one thing on this album that would go on to be a mainstay in Zappa's music is the biting satire and social commentaries.

And then comes side 4. Here the weirdness takes over, no more satirical love songs or harmless blues to be found. Help I'm a Rock kicks things off with the repeating beat and background chattering going into an explosion of noise before finally launching into the first verse, which is more of a chant than a melody. From there it just gets increasingly weird, with the demented doo wop of It Can't Happen Here mixed with tape loops and sound effects.

The centerpiece here is The Return Of the Son of Monster Magnet, which is easily the longest song on the album clocking in at 12 minutes. It is a bizarre collage of tape loops, musique concrete, screams, and various noises. It is also actually unfinished. In fact the full title is The Return Of the Son of Monster Magnet (Unfinished Ballet in Two Tableaux). Zappa claimed that the version on the album is merely a rhythm track and due to lack of time and budget, it was never completed. Can you imagine what he was planning on adding if this was just a "rhythm track"? Unfortunately, it was never revisited and we will never know.

To record this song, Zappa persuaded the label (Verve) to rent out thousands of dollars worth of orchestral equipment and invited the "freaks" of LA to the studio to record.

I really enjoy Freak Out! It has a lot of fun catchy songs that take enough twists and turns to stay interesting. Even though it mainly sticks to one style, it never feels monotonous or as if it's the same song over and over again. I particularly like Hungry Freaks, Any Way the Wind Blows, Help I'm a Rock, Who Are the Brain Police, Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder, and You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here. While The Mothers would go on to do a lot more interesting stuff, this is still a special album.

Side 4 can be a bit overbearing and as a result I have to be in the right mood to enjoy it. Luckily I'm in the right mood for it as I write this and I'm really digging it. It's interesting hearing Zappa experiment. With the power of computers now it's very easy to replicate the sounds he's making here, but back in the 60's that took a certain level of experimentation and trial/error. So I have to give him credit for that. Later on he'd refine the noise experiments by integrating it better with other types of music, in fact it only took him a couple years for him to really figure that out. It's an interesting slab of audio.
 

Niall Kielt

Pulled Her At The Bottle Top
Zappa.

So my background, a friend heard Freddie White do Pojama People in a bar, solo acoustic, about 15 people there, special gig he says, and so after the gig he researched Zappa. This led to me hearing Zappas Best Of cd. My opinion then (12ish years ago) has not changed.

I love Zappa. I cant stand Zappa.

I love Dirty Love, Muffin Man, I am The Slime, Camirillo Brillo, Willie the Pimp, Hot Rats etc and more but when he gets too mad I just get a sore head (digging Trouble Every Day right now for the 1st time by the way, very Van Morrison). I love his more basic, standard stuff and his genius is not in question here BUT...

I know this must make me seem like a Zappa Teeny Bopper but thats all I can handle. I believe humour does belong in music but Frank at his most experimental is just too much for me. Thats fine, Im sure you are used to that as a Zappa fan but heres my question...

The guys I know who are proper Zappa fans are Zealots, complete Zappa tyrants when it comes to picking tunes at parties and if you dont like a song then they say that you just 'dont get it'. They stick on an obscure tune and rock out in the corner with their eyes closed (which I do with Maiden, to be fair). THEN! Then, just when everyone crys 'enough fuckin Zappa!' They play a mind blowing 'normal/acceptable' song. Is this standard behaviour for the Zappa Fan?

To conclude, Frank blows my mind and wrecks my head.

Thank you for your time. Up Frank. Fuck Frank. Frank.
 

Mosh

Winner of the 2020 Dumbest Comment Ever Award
Staff member
The guys I know who are proper Zappa fans are Zealots, complete Zappa tyrants when it comes to picking tunes at parties and if you dont like a song then they say that you just 'dont get it'. They stick on an obscure tune and rock out in the corner with their eyes closed (which I do with Maiden, to be fair). THEN! Then, just when everyone crys 'enough fuckin Zappa!' They play a mind blowing 'normal/acceptable' song. Is this standard behaviour for the Zappa Fan?
Personally I hate the "don't get it" thing. Just because it's not someone's cup of tea doesn't mean they don't get it, some of Zappa's work can be more challenging but that doesn't mean anyone who doesn't enjoy it is musically inept or something. I do hope people at least give it a fair try before writing it off.

Zappa had a great tendency for mixing it up. There are very few albums where he stays on one feel for the whole thing. There are plenty of moments where the music gets more and more bizarre and experimental then all of a sudden he throws a 12 bar blues at you. Or the other way around: He'll be sticking to something really simple and out of nowhere it gets weird (lots of that on Freak Out).
 

JudasMyGuide

The very model of a modern Major-General
The guys I know who are proper Zappa fans are Zealots, complete Zappa tyrants when it comes to picking tunes at parties and if you dont like a song then they say that you just 'dont get it'.

Hate this approach. Zappa was very intelligent and very musically talented, however he threw out some prime sh*t too... and as the time goes by, I am more and more convinced that the piedestal he's been put on by many people is just too damn high. Lumpy Gravy is enjoyable, honestly, but people who point to it saying it's the best music ever and nothing even compares are just weird and seem kinda poseurish to me. George Starostin put it wonderfully in one of his older reviews (it was about Beefheart, but it fits all the same) - "I definitely would not recommend Beefheart to the kind of potentially snub-nosed population who's always looking for 'sensations' in order to look particularly elitist and pretend that loving and 'understanding' this kind of music distinguishes them from the rest. That kind of population can go to hell as long as I care. Music is a value in itself, and when somebody starts using music as a means of self-distinction or self-elevation he's actually just confirming his idiocy; unfortunately, many Beefheart fans who claim that they have "outgrown" everything else have in reality outgrown common sense. The existence of Beefheart is in no way more important than the existence of the Hollies or the Beach Boys; not any less important, probably, but that's another part of the story."

Will come back later to comment some more on Freak Out!
 
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Niall Kielt

Pulled Her At The Bottle Top
You guys talk sense and Starostin sums up one particular friend of mine perfectly.

I will continue to love what I love about Zappa and gradually delve into what isnt my cup of tea for curiosity sake.
 

Mosh

Winner of the 2020 Dumbest Comment Ever Award
Staff member
Hopefully you find some new things you like. The Mothers stuff can be challenging but there are lots of simple tunes mixed in with the weird stuff.
 

Mosh

Winner of the 2020 Dumbest Comment Ever Award
Staff member
Got the 4 disc version of this in the mail today: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_MOFO_Project/Object

Since it's relevant for this thread (and realistically I don't see us getting this far :p) I'll talk about it a little here.

I'm just playing the first disc tonight, which is the original mono mix of Freak Out. I wasn't expecting a huge difference from the remix by Zappa for CD, but I was very wrong. This version is a bit more "flat", more raw, less polished. It does the material really well I think. Definitely check out if you want a different take on Freak Out and you've only ever heard the album on CD (every pressing is the same).
 

Shadow

Deluxe Edition
Staff member
Never heard the original mix, thanks for the recommendation.

As for the snobbery of certain Zappa fans, I feel that putting Zappa's work on a high culture pedestal misses the point. Zappa was about breaking down the walls between the "high" and the "low", always trying to surprise and disorient the listener by combining "wrong" elements (one of my favourite moments in the discography is the segue between "The Black Page" and "Big Leg Emma" on Zappa in New York). Take the parody songs on Freak Out! - the tone may be mocking, but it's also affectionate. It's clear that Zappa delighted in the silliness of pop music, just like he did with low-budget monster movies and absurd consumer products.

But some wear pyjamas, if only they knew it...
 

Mosh

Winner of the 2020 Dumbest Comment Ever Award
Staff member

Absolutely Free
(1967)
Frank Zappa – guitar, conductor, vocals
Jimmy Carl Black – drums, vocals
Ray Collins – vocals, tambourine, PRUNE
Roy Estrada – bass, vocals
Billy Mundi – drums, percussion
Don Preston – keyboards
Jim Fielder – guitar, piano
Bunk Gardner – woodwinds

Almost exactly a year after the release of Freak Out!, the Mothers returned with a more low budget, even less commercial followup. In lieu of the short and catchy (albeit slightly demented) pop songs found on the debut, Absolutely Free contains two side long suites of dissonance and excessive Stravinsky homage. The songs are more experimental and complex here. Right off the bat, we get a dissonant rendition of Louie, Louie to indicate this is going to be something different.

As Freak Out was a bit of a flop commercially, the label only allowed a budget of $11,000 for the followup, compared to the "seemingly unlimited" budget of the first album. As a result, this album has more of a "raw" sound to it. While production may have been compromised on this album, the music was not. I find this to be a much stronger album overall than Freak Out. There's a bit more of that Zappa zaniness with a nice blend of "normal" songs and more experimental things. There are also more instrumental showcases, such as the Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin jam. There are also a ton of Stravinsky references littered throughout the album. I feel like I find a new one every time I hear the album.

Even though this isn't a double album, it has the feel of one. Each side is its own contained entity, even more so than the different sides on Freak Out. On side 1 we have "Absolutely Free" and on side 2 we have "The MOI American Pageant". Personally I prefer side 2, as it has a bit more variety. On the other hand, side 1 feels much more like a single piece. They both have their highlights and together form a very strong album. This one is also Ray Collins' favorite. I can see why, of all the Mothers albums this one probably features his vocals the most. This one also really captures the wackiness of the live Mothers a bit more than the other studio albums. However it's also very tightly composed and relies less heavily on jamming and improv than some of the other albums.

Of course the centerpiece here is Brown Shoes Don't Make It. There are so many twists and turns in this song, it's like a mini-musical. This is arguably the highlight of the Mothers' studio work. Also a predecessor for later extended Zappa works, mainly from the Flo & Eddie era such as Billy the Mountain.

The song America Drinks and Goes Home has some extra significance for me as I got to perform it in high school with a group that included my 9th grade literature teacher on piano, who is also a Zappa nut. Here's a recording of it: https://animalsoup.bandcamp.com/track/america-drinks-and-goes-home

Overall, this album is definitely a step up from Freak Out. It is shorter, but still manages to contain more depth and variety in both the music and lyrics. This album is also an anomaly in that none of it was really improved on live. There are some good live versions of Call Any Vegetable out there and a pretty neat version of Brown Shoes on Tinseltown Rebellion, but the originals of both songs are still the best IMO. Zappa's studio work is usually better replicated live, but that wasn't really the case with Absolutely Free, which makes this an album you can go back to frequently.

There are also a few different versions floating around, but from my understanding the most recent 2012 remaster is the one to go for. It is sourced from the original master and the reverb found on some CD versions isn't present. Very good sounding disc. The CD versions also have two bonus tracks, cleverly placed in between the two sides. The songs are taken from a single that was released around the same time: Big Leg Emma/Why Dontcha Do Me Right. Both good songs and work really well as a breather between the two suites.
 
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Mosh

Winner of the 2020 Dumbest Comment Ever Award
Staff member
The family drama going on lately is disappointing. Everybody is giving completely different stories and there's no way of knowing who is telling the truth. I appreciate Dweezil keeping his father's legacy alive by continuing to perform his music, but I've also been loving the post humous releases from the ZFT.

I will say that with Ahmet in control of the ZFT, Frank's music has gotten increasingly more easily obtainable recently. Just last month there were 4(!) new releases made available at a reasonable price on Amazon. Back when Gail was running things, the albums were hard to find in stores, not available on Amazon, and had to be purchased at ridiculous prices (plus insane shipping) on the ZFT website. If you preordered anything before it was released, there was no guarantee that it actually would be released. It seems like both brothers are interested in spreading Zappa's music to new listeners, not sure why they can't work together there.

The Cease and Desist Tour is a very Frank Zappa esque title though.
 
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