Friday, January 1, 2010

The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out! (2xLP, CD, 1966)

When I said "get ready for the Mothers," I hope you didn't take that lightly. Because we're about to spend the next three weeks with them. Not on any Zappa solo stuff, mind you. Just the Mothers. By the end of it you will either be convinced that they were one of the most important bands of the 20th century (my unflinching opinion), or you'll be completely sick of them. Eh, what do I care? This ain't required reading.

For the uninitiated, here's the deal. The Mothers of Invention (later just The Mothers) were Frank Zappa's first real (by that I mean well-known/successful) band, a group that he led from roughly 1964-1975. There were various incarnations of The Mothers, with Zappa always leading the way. The Wikipedia article on them isn't great, but it can give you a quick backstory if you're interested. If you really want to nerd out on the different eras of the Mothers, check this out.

So, it all begins here, with one of the most monumental debuts in rock history. I've heard that this is the first double-LP ever, or the first gatefold ever, but I'm not sure if either of those claims are true. It was definitely one of the first of both of those, but there had to be two-record sets that preceded this one. It's definitely notable for being a 2-LP debut album, of which there can't be many.

I started listening to Zappa towards the end of high school, and was quickly converted to a fan. RYKO had just begun to release all of Zappa's music on CD, and I think it was around 1995 that I scooped this bad boy up. It wouldn't be until years later (maybe around 2000?) that I shelled out the dough for an original copy of the double album, and even then I bought the stereo version (as opposed to the much rarer - and more expensive - mono release). The copy I have is in insanely good shape, though, so I don't regret the purchase. I'd still like to get a mono copy, or even a copy that has the original "Freak Out! Hot Spots" ad on the inside, which denotes a very early pressing. But check out what they go for on eBay. Might be a while.

Anyway, the music. It's unreal. Explaining The Mothers' sound would take pages, but at this point it was basically a mix of upended psych-rock and snarky doo-wop. Songs like "Who Are the Brain Police?" and "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" are right next to seemingly sincere tunes like "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder" and "How Could I Be Such a Fool?," making this record initially confusing, but once you "get it," there's nothing better. I still can't believe this thing came out in 1966. I still can't believe a record label put it out. I still can't believe I've been listening to it since I was 19 and I haven't grown out of it or tired of it.

After shuffling through wonderfully produced poppish numbers for the first 3/4's of the record, the album wraps up with three huge tracks that make up the entire second LP. "Trouble Every Day" is possibly the most sincere social commentary Zappa would ever make, a blues-based number about the Watts riots. A great, great song. And one of the few songs on the album where he takes care of the lead vocal by himself (Ray Collins handles a good amount of the vocals on this album).

At 8:40, "Help, I'm a Rock" is the second-longest track on the album, behind the track that follows it, the 12:22 "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet." Both are impossible to put into words, but they're highly experimental and incredibly awesome. Again, I can't believe that a label released this in 1966. But man, I'm glad they did.

Want to get into The Mothers? Start here. If you don't find anything in this one, you might want to just move on with your life. But then again, the next ones are great, too...

"Hungry Freaks, Daddy"

1 comment:

Biff Pocaroba said...

Wow, I have been patiently waiting (I can't believe for 2 years) to hear you get all nerdy on Zappa. While I am not familiar with every album I do have a decent knowledge of the basic ones. I am pretty sure that I prefer The Mothers to Zappa's solo stuff, but that is an argument based on a limited number of albums. That being said, I love "Freak Out." I agree that the mix of odd tunes and doo-wop is sometimes startling and yet it oddly makes sense. I too can not believe that this thing came out in 1966. I mean people blow The Beatles for beginning a song with 2 seconds of feedback in '65 and in '66 Zappa puts out a double album with pretty much the entire second album being a mish-mash of noise, spoken word and all-around looniness. That's not a slam on The Beatles but simply a comment on how much this record blows my mind. I love the trifecta of the Mothers' first three albums and although this one is not my favorite it is close. Tunes like "Hungry Freaks, Daddy," "Wowie Zowie," and "Anyway The Wind Blows" are undeniably awesome.

When I was 15, my girlfriend's dad gave me a dubbed copy of this on cassette. I would listen to it often but never quite fully gave myself to it. When I finally did, it was well worth it.

Oh, and "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" is an awesome song.