Category: Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa – We’re Only in It for the Money

ARTIST: Frank Zappa / The Mothers of Invention          220px-Zappamoney1

TITLE:  We’re Only in It for the Money

YEAR RELEASED: 1966

CHART ACTION: #30 US, #31 UK

SINGLES: Lonely Little Girl

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Let’s Make the Water Turn Black, Take Off Your Clothes When You Dance, What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?

LINEUP: Frank Zappa, Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada, Billy Mundi, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner, Ian Underwood, Motorhead Sherwood. Eric Clapton speaks a couple of sentences. No, really, he does.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A tour-de-force put down of the hippie culture from a cynical social commentator. The music is the first hint of Zappa’s advanced sense of composition.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Musically, this is an incredible record – especially given the limited technology in 1968. The pastiches of voices, sounds, and instruments, along with the sophisticated arrangements of tracks like “Mom & Dad”, show Zappa as an innovator on par with the Beatles and Brian Wilson.260px-Zappamoney2

The tracks take direct aim at the hippie and liberal culture of the 60’s, and in retrospect most of it is spot on criticism of the movement. It was one of the first albums that featured curse words in the lyrics and spoken word parts, and Verve Records was not having it. They asked Frank to change some lyrics, and then censored the album after it was delivered (and even more on subsequent pressings). This enraged Zappa, and he never let a company do that again. Thankfully, you can find the uncensored versions out there now.

There are a few really weird noise tracks using the studio as an abstract art canvas. This was probably off-putting to very casual fans, but by now most people who bought the record expected weirdness like “The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny”

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Zappa and his band were filming a movie (not finished until 1987) and worked on recordings for an large-scale project that spun off four albums.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. 

GRADE: A+: It’s a shame that Verve decided to censor this in 1968 – even then it was known as a master work of satire.

Frank Zappa – Lumpy Gravy

ARTIST: Frank Zappa                     220px-Verve_Lumpy_Gravy

TITLE:  Lumpy Gravy

YEAR RELEASED: 1967 / 1968

CHART ACTION: #159

SINGLES: No

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Session orchestra and musicians conducted by Zappa, plus various voices

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Hard-to-explain work featuring orchestral passages, musique concrete snippets, and voices from ‘the piano’.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Even in his early days, Frank Zappa had a conceptual continuity around certain pieces of his work, where they would all come together as a whole when released and reveal the total piece over time. This was the first released in 1967 but had to be pulled. Then Zappa re-edited the music and added the voices as part of his four album suite released in 1968.

As for the piece itself, themes of music flow throughout his later work, and the music itself is complicated, complex and imaginative. 220px-Capitol_Lumpy_Gravy

It’s hard to describe in words, and it’s also hard for casual listeners since you need to be invested in the piece to really gather it all in. It is brilliant, though.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He released this on Capitol, and MGM sued because of the contract Zappa had with that company. The album was pulled, and then Zappa re-edited it and released it on MGM.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A-: It’s not something I’d listen to every day, but it is a piece of art that only a few souls could pull off

The Mothers of Invention – Absolutely Free

ARTIST: The Mothers of Invention 220px-FrankZappa-AbsolutelyFree

TITLE:  Absolutely Free

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION: #41

SINGLES: Son of Suzy Creamcheese

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Duke of Prunes, Call Any Vegetable, Brown Shoes Don’t Make It, America Drinks and Goes Home

LINEUP: Frank Zappa, Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl Black, Ray Collins, Billy Mundi, Don Preston, Jim Fielder, Bunk Gardner

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An album with two thematic suites – one about politics, society and playing in front of drunks. The other is about prunes and vegetables.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Verve Records weren’t going to let Zappa and the Mothers record another double album; that much is certain. They probably had totally forgotten that they signed the Mothers to be a blues band, and this album shows the creativity and focus that Zappa had early on. It also shows how well the band coalesced around his ideas.

The first side deals mainly with vegetables and prunes. Ray Collins’ vocals, oh so serious when singing about the Duke of Prunes, adds that perfect touch. Side two features Zappa’s early takes on sexual politics and hypocrisy, something he’d return to quite a bit.

There are a lots of things going on musically here, with Gardner’s woodwinds adding color and counter melody everywhere. The musicians swirl everything around in this aural stew, and it works. The lyrics are snarky, of course, but as satire they packed a punch back then. The only drawback is that the suites’ long vamps make it a bit tiring at times.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Fielder left the band right after this was recorded, and wasn’t credited. Motorhead Sherwood joined the band right after this was recorded and was credited in error.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Ryko added sides of a rare stand-alone single in the middle of the CD. It kind of breaks the flow up.

GRADE: A-: The Mothers’ were now solidly in the avant-garde royalty.

The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!

ARTIST: The Mothers of Invention 220px-FreakOut!
TITLE: Freak Out!
YEAR RELEASED: 1966
CHART ACTION: #130 US
SINGLES: How Could I Be Such a Fool, Trouble Comin’ Every Day
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Well, um, it’s Zappa. Radio play? HAHAHAH!
LINEUP: Frank Zappa, Jimmy Carl Black, Ray Collins, Roy Estrada, Elliot Ingber + some session help
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Freaks make freaky double album after the A/R guy mistakenly thought they were a blues band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It was weird in 1966. It’s still weird. Zappa’s satirical concept piece about rock and roll and / or America in 1966, or sometimes both in the same song.

Some of the cuts are rather straight forward, like doo-wop tributes or protest songs. Some are kind of twisted but still recognizable as rock. Then there’s the really off the wall ones that to this day leave those not used to non-mainstream sounds scratching their heads.

Still, with all the weirdness, it’s a rare debut double album (actually the first ever) and while some cuts aren’t up to the lofty status of the best ones, there’s not really any filler. It all fits the satirical concept.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The final cut on the album, “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet”, which is the ultimate in weird, was unfinished, according to Zappa. The record company refused to spend any more money.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. But the CD splits “Help I’m a Rock” into two sections.

GRADE: A-: A few cuts fall flat to me (just not a doo-wop fan) but I don’t think they’re filler. It’s weird, freaky and weird.