Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Mothers Of Invention - 1967 - Absolutely Free

The Mothers Of Invention 
Absolutely Free

01. Plastic People (3:42)
02. The Duke of Prunes (2:13)
03. Amnesia Vivace (1:01)
04. The Duke regains his chops (1:50)
05. Call any vegatable (2:20)
06. Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin (7:00)
07. Soft-Sell conclusion (1:40)
08. (Big leg Emma) (2:32)
09. (Why don'tcha do me right?) (2:37)
10. America drinks (1:53)
11. Status back baby (2:54)
12. Uncle Bernie's Farm (2:11)
13. Son of Suzy Creamcheese (1:34)
14. Brown shoes don't make it (7:30)
15. America drinks & goes home (2:46)

- Frank Zappa / guitar, vocals
- Ray Collins / vocals
- Roy Estrada / bass
- Don Preston / keyboards
- Bunk Gardner / saxophone
- Jimmy Carl Black / drums
- Bill Mundi /drums

Tracks 8 & 9 bonus cd tracks, not on originl LP either mono or stereo versions

In the summer of 1966, Uncle Frank had released the iconic debut known as "Freak Out!" which showed that America had some heavy musical hitters of their own competing with the Brits. He had also settled into Laurel Canyon near LA where he would live the rest of his life save for a short time in New York. Still in 1966 he assembled the material that would become "Absolutely Free" and recorded it in just four days in November 1966. There had been some line-up changes, with Billy Mundi, Don Preston, Jim Felder, Jim Sherwood, and Bunk Gardner joining the fold. Mother Elliot Ingber was fired from the band for smoking too much weed, something Frank would not tolerate. Ray Collins remembered one night Elliot was so baked he was trying to tune his guitar while his amp wasn't turned on. Frank noticed, looked at Elliot, looked at the amp, then gave Collins a look which made clear Elliot's days of Motherhood were done.

The album was not released until summer 1967. The Mothers had moved to NY for gigs, Gail was pregnant with Moon, and the band were preparing for a European tour. Frank hastily married Gail just prior to Moon's birth to appease their Catholic parents, not something he was thrilled about. In late 1966 he told an interviewer that if he ever married again "I'd prefer a sterile deaf mute who likes to wash dishes. There are so many American women who fit that description philosophically I might as well own one." Calling his wedding with Gail "cheezy" and still sleeping around on the side, he took off for London just prior to Moon's birth when he could easily have juggled things to be there. Always the romantic. Anyway, it was against this crazy backdrop that Zappa and the Mothers were ready to give London a taste of absolute freedom.

 What a shift we have here. "Absolutely Free" is the perfect bridge-album between the semi-safe sounding songs of "Freak Out!" and the completely intense freak-show cabaret of "We're Only In It For The Money". Although the last 3 tracks on "Freak Out!" were far from safe sounding, "Absolutely Free" completely steamrolls these tracks. The album is an intense concept, which is driven by Frank's cynical lyrics that are mostly aimed to criticize the government and politics of the time. This albums a complete blender of genres, including some rhythm and blues and teenage pop spoofs all culminating into the mock cabaret lounge finale. The album is divided into two parts, with tracks 1-7 being the "Absolutely Free" section (A side on vinyl) and tracks 10-15 being the "The Mothers Of Invention American Pageant", B side on vinyl. On the CD re- master, the gaps is filled with the single "Big Leg Emma" and its B side, "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right?".

The "Absolutely Free" part is one of the most musically challenging pieces Frank has ever written, and it still stands the test of time today as the most eclectic piece on the market. "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is a brilliantly disturbed track that is considered by many to be his first magnum opus of sorts. The two back-to-back suites are things of absolute beauty. "The Duke Of Prunes/Amnesia Vivace/The Duke Regains His Chops" is a comical, under 5 minute long suite which is a near-classical piece about, you guessed it, The Duke of Prunes. The next three songs form the un-officially titled "Vegetable Suite", with this suite being comprised of "Call Any Vegetable/Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin/Soft-Cell Conclusion". "Call Any Vegetable" is the very first song that the Mothers really use their fusion style on, and "Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin" is the first instrumental track where they finally find their rhythm and start to groove and jam in harmony, with their full repertoire working simultaneously. The first track on this part is really the only track that isn't part of a suite. "Plastic People" is an excellent track nonetheless, although it is dated because of its lyrics that talk about 'American womanhood', and that is no longer an issue today.

"The Mothers of Invention American Pageant" is not quite as good as "Absolutely Free", but it still has its strong points. "America Drinks" starts this side of the album and it is a really shoddy spoof of an American cabaret lounge that is really a complete lack of substance, although I do enjoy the drumming by Jimmy Carl Black. "Uncle Bernie's Farm" is the second song, and it is a very refreshing, short song that has no apparent subject but still sounds fresh every time you listen. "Son Of Suzy Creamcheese" is another very short song, and as you may have guessed it is the same character that appeared in "The Return Of The Sun Of Monster Magnet" on "Freak Out!", although this song also lacks a little bit of substance. The next song is not only the stand out track of this side, it also the best on the album itself. "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is a brilliantly disturbed track that is considered by many to be Frank's first magnum opus of sorts. "America Drinks & Goes Home" is the closer of the album, and it is really just the same song as "America Drinks", except this is a little better because it features some funny spoken word by Frank.

So if you really think about it, the first 3 Mothers albums could, in theory, be combined to form an amazing masterpiece of music. "Absolutely Free" has the most important role of the 3, as it is the bridge between the safe and easy majority of "Freak Out!" and the freaky and intensely acidic "We're Only In It For The Money", and this album really does its job. It brings you into it slowly, introducing the true fusion of the band on "The Vegetable Suite" and then going all out on "Brown Shoes Don't Make It". The only down points of the album are the two "America Drinks" songs, which really lack any sort of substance but are still quite comedic, and the "Big Leg Emma" single in the CD re-master.

Different Issues of Absolutely Free:
Original vinyl (Verve V65013 in the US, May 26 1967; Verve SVLP 9174 in the UK (no gatefold cover), October 1967) (also discovered on white Verve label - presumably the very last pressing(s))
Mono vinyl (Verve V 5013 in the US, May 26 1967; Verve VLP 9174 in the UK, October 1967)
German vinyl (Verve 710006)
French vinyl (Verve / Gravure Universelle 710006, single sleeve, different back cover with live picture)
British vinyl re-issue (Verve 71006)
Japanese vinyl (Verve MV 1120, unique cover)
Australian vinyl (Verve V 5013 in mono, V6 5013 in stereo, 1968)
Cassettes (Verve 3113 066, D416-74212)
Reel-to-Reel (Verve VVX 5013, US, stereo, 4-track, 3.75-IPS)
UK vinyl re-issue (Verve Polydor Select 2317-035, June 1972, gatefold cover)
UK cassette (Verve Polydor 3113-036)
White MGM label re-issue (between 1972 and 1975)
"Facsimile bootleg" copy of Verve 2317 035
The Old Masters vinyl (Barking Pumpkin BPR 7777-2, April 1985)
Original CD (Ryko RCD10093 in the US (imported into Australia by Festival Records and re-stickered Ryko D40733), Zappa CDZAP12 in the UK, January 1989; VACK 5022 in Japan)
Russian picture CD (Grammy UL 98909)
Zappa Records cassette (TZAPPA12)
1995 CD (Ryko RCD 10502, May 2 1995; VACK 5111 in Japan, renumbered 5246 in 1998)
1995 cassette (Ryko RAC 10502, May 2 1995)
Japanese paper-sleeve CD (Ryko/VACK 1204, September 21 2001)
UMe 2012 CD (Zappa Records ZR3835 July 31, 2012)

But what do you really need to have the full aural experience

Original Stereo LP... because... it is the original version (Duh!) and because the 2012 issue on CD that re instates the original LP version to CD has a drop out here and there.

Original Mono LP (or needledrop of it), the mono version was a bit different. I used to own this record (maybe I still do. Perhaps I should look). One notable difference (and this is from memory) is in the "Do it again, and do it some more" segment of "Brown Shoes Don't Make It". There is a percussion track in this section which is heard in the left speaker and, after a short delay, in the right speaker - or is it the other way around? Well, anyway, the mono version mixes in this percussion track without the delayed track. Additionally, now that I think about it, the VOCAL on that particular section is slightly out-of-sync when compared to the stereo version. No extended tracks that I can hear. And the "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" issue: the delayed percussion track IS there, just very quiet, but ye gods, is the vocal out of sync! Just for this section, too; it sounds like it's about half a beat late for the entire section. Probably a mistake. On "Status Back Baby", just before the Stravinsky guitar solo, the ref's whistle is heard at a slightly different point than on the stereo pressings. To my ears, side one of Absolutely Free sounds like a reduction of the stereo mix, as does "America Drinks & Goes Home"; however, the remainder of side two sounds like a proper mono mix (albeit one which is very similar to the stereo version).

Original CD, mostly identical to the LP in terms of content, but has added digital reverb. The CD has two bonus tracks: "Big Leg Emma" and "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right". The mix is the same as on the vinyl, but digital reverb has been added.There were also some differences in cover/booklet artwork, but the 1995 CD restored the full original artwork.The CD version of "America Drinks & Goes Home"] has a different stereo image with the voice going radically from left to right to left, and the cash machine is only on the left channel. In the original vinyl version, the voice tends to stay around the middle, and the cash machine can be heard on both channels.

1995 CD, Official Ryko statement: "New master. New timing sheet. Restored artwork." [full statement] Our statement: seems to be the same as the old disc, but with much better packaging.

2012 UMe CD: Revised artwork. New digital master (by Doug Sax), removing the digital reverb applied to earlier CDs, and restoring the equalization of the original vinyl. Essential. Reviewers have reported some problems (a drop-out on Plastic People, tape problems on "America Drinks"), but this is the best we are going to get, probably. The two bonus tracks are in mono instead of fake stereo.

(Also, you can easily edit the intro of "Plastic People" on from the Mothermania web-download version, which doesn't have the glitch, if you are digitally inclined)

So I would go for Needle Drop of Mono version, Ryko CD for completeness sake, and the 2012 remaster coz it's the closest e are ever gonna get to the original stereo LP version.


  1. Mono Needledrop, Riko & 2012:


  2. very nice, thank you

  3. Zen, This is an excellent analysis of one of my favorite recording by the maestro. Thank you. I've had this record for over 35 years. Been listening to vinyl rips lately. Never heard the mono. I downloaded yours and listened for a couple of weeks trying to determine the differences. It didn't sound different, but maybe that's how mono sounded. Then I purchased a mono copy V-5013. After comparing my own, there is quite a difference sound wise between the stereo and mono versions. The instruments on Invocation are separated on yours, not on the mono. I'm not good at uploading, but I would be happy to mail you a vinyl rip to compare for yourself. Thank you again.

    1. I would really appreciate a copy of that!