Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Rating: **** 1/2
1966 marked the middle of the decade. For the first half of the 1960’s, the British Invasion had certainly taken over the world of rock music. As far as American rock bands went, there weren’t really any until the late 1960’s. One of the first bands to do so was a band called the Mothers of Invention. The band, led by guitarist Frank Zappa, released their debut album on June 27, 1966. The album, Freak Out!, was released as a double album. At that time in rock music, it was rare for a band to release a double album (let alone a double album as their debut album). 45 years after its release, Freak Out! is an album that’s still relevant today. Not only was it the debut album for the Mothers of Invention but it was also the world’s introduction to the music of Frank Zappa.
Frank Zappa was born on December 21, 1940 in Baltimore, Maryland. Zappa grew up listening to early rock music as well as classical music. One of Zappa’s influences was an avant garde composer named Edgar Varsee. Zappa’s family moved quite often, which would explain why Zappa attended six different high schools. In 1956, the Zappa family had moved to California. When Zappa attended Antelope Valley High School around that time, he started writing and composing music. It was also at Antelope where he met Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart. Zappa graduated from high school in 1958. He tried community college but left after one semester. He even got married at the age of 20 to Kay Sherman but they weren’t together for very long. In 1964, Zappa joined a band called the Soul Giants. Zappa quickly took the role as leader in the band and managed to get the band a manager in Herb Cohen in early 1965. The band also changed their name to the Mothers that same year. The line-up at that point was Zappa, singer Ray Collins, bassist Roy Estrada, and drummer/percussionist Jimmy Carl Black. The band did have a few line-up changes before recording the debut album. Still, these four people stayed together aside from the short time Collins left the band. When Collins rejoined, the band hired guitarist Elliot Ingber as the new fifth member. By this point, the band was signed to Verve Records. The band was asked to change their name. According to Zappa years later, the record label didn’t like the name: if someone was a good musician, they were a “motherfucker”. The Mothers sounded like “a clan of motherfuckers”. With that, the band’s name was changed to the Mothers of Invention. The band began work on Freak Out! on March 9, 1966 at Sunset-Highland Studios and finished just three days later.
“Hungry Freaks, Daddy” opens the album with a psychedelic roar. It sounds like a song that the average rock band at that point would release except better. The lyrics points fingers at America: “Mister America walk on by/Your schools that do not teach/Mister America walk on by/The minds that won’t be reached”. The sound of the guitar solo is raw, which I really like. In some way, this song could still be relevant. “I Ain’t Got No Heart” is what one would probably call soul or R&B. “Who Are The Brain Police”, however, is another stand out track off this album. The song is very psychedelic and also very dark. There’s that part when the music completely changes into this bizarre mash-up of noises before going back into the first part. The Mothers also showcase their love for doo-wop music on this album. “Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder” is a fantastic and quite hilarious song. It tells a tale of teenage woe, with line like “I gave you my promise ring at the root beer stand”. “Motherly Love” probably goes in the same league as “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” in which it sounds like something anyone could’ve put out at that time. The band gets a bit serious when it comes to song such as “How Could I Be Such A Fool”, the melodic “You Didn’t Try To Call Me”, and the soulful “I’m Not Satisfied”. The band also gets silly in “Wowie Zowie”, in which the singer doesn’t care if his girlfriend has bad hygiene or if her dad’s “the heat”. My favorite song off the album (and probably a lot of others would agree) is “Trouble Every Day”. The song is written very honestly about the country at that time. There was a war going on and events such as the Watts riots happening. The content in this song is heavy. The verse about the news channels reporting things fast is still relevant. “Hey you know something people?” says one man. “I’m not black but there’s a whole lots of times I wish I could say I’m not white”. As humorous as that may sound, there’s something dark in that statement. The album ends weird with three songs. First, there’s “Help, I’m A Rock” which is a very strange song with basically cries of the song’s title. “It Can’t Happen Here” is another weird song which has no instruments except the drumming in the middle. Zappa leads the band in verses like “Who could imagine that they would freak out in…?”. Listeners are also introduced to the character of Suzy Creamcheese in the last two songs. The album’s finale, “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet”, is a twelve minute avant garde piece that may leave you wondering “Suzy Creamcheese, what’s got into you?”
When Freak Out! was released in June 1966, it was not a success. The album charted at #130 and barely anything was said about the album. The album did however have a cult following, as did all the other albums that Frank Zappa made with and without the Mothers of Invention. Today, the album gets much more recognition than it did in 1966. Music critics alike say that Freak Out! is one of the best rock albums ever made. 45 years after its release, Freak Out! is still great.