Thursday, February 21, 2008

94. FRANK ZAPPA: Freak Out! (1966)

A detailed analysis of the above work.
Freak Out! (1966)
Rykodisc RCD 10501
(Vinyl): 2 LPs: The Old Masters, Box 1 (Barking Pumpkin BPR-7777-1)
Frank Zappa. Release Number One. The Beginning.

An appropriate place to check out how FZ maneuvers from what we call The Altered Pop Song (altered by satiric or ironic context, goofy vocal delivery, etc.) to Serious Freak-Out Music in one hour.

Tedious Freak-Out Music -- at times. As brilliant a producer as FZ would become, this release shows that such talent would come to him in much greater measure in due time.

Nevertheless, this release is a tightly-knit conception which unwinds with supreme confidence. A perusal of the cover art (LPs were large things compared to today's CDs. You could see things. Highly fetishable.) and liner notes reveals a plotting mind, busily connecting the dots for his 1966 target audience:

  • FRONT COVER. Strong and vivid color inversions serve to make the strange even stranger, and the first of four cartoon balloons (effective graphic creating a "subreality") -- this one coming from FZ, states the release title.
  • UPPER LEFT LINER. "What Is 'Freaking Out'" -- a serious essay by FZ which "more perceptive individuals" were able to meld together with the funny/goofy/sneering attitude into the correct two-word solution: BE YOURSELF!
  • UPPER LEFT LINER. Directly below #2 is a rectangular photograph of FZ, his honker just lighting up the whole shot, holding a drum stick, with the second cartoon balloon proclaiming the release title in mirror image. Some posturing about his "repellent personality" is set off in a white box on the right side of the photo.
  • LOWER LEFT LINER (LEFT). The third cartoon balloon introduces us to "The Mothers Of Invention" and "The Mothers' Auxiliary."
  • LOWER LEFT LINER (CENTER). "Biographical Trivia" -- though heavily sarcastic ("I am a self-taught musician, composer, blah, blah, blah" etc.) is occasionally offset with a quick dose of real feeling ("OWE OUR EXISTENCE," "unbelievably tolerant," etc.).
  • LOWER LEFT LINER (RIGHT). "Relevant Quotes" and "More Relevant Quotes" -- nine of 'em: i) famous Varèse quote; ii) ironic Turtles quote; iii) a quote from A VERY IMPORTANT MAN AT COLUMBIA RECORDS, which later became the title of the first major FZ book, as well as a recent greatest hits compilation; iv) intellectual analysis; v) a cryptic "I told you so" from Billy James; vi) a less cryptic "Straight Ahead!" from Tom Wilson; vii) "What the h--- you gonna do with all those drums at 1:00 in the morning?"; viii) humorous repossession notice; and ix) a disturbing message from December 1965.
  • UPPER RIGHT LINER. "These People Have Contributed Materially in Many Ways to Make Our Music What it is. Please Do Not Hold it Against them" Thirteen of the 179 people on this list are 20th century composers who greatly influenced FZ. This list is an important resource, as FZ graciously lets us in on his passions from the start! Among the lesser known names on the list is Turkish composer Bülent Arel (see "Nasal Retentive Calliope Music" from We're Only In It For The Money).
  • LEFT AND RIGHT SIDE OF RIGHT LINER. Note the way the photos are cropped and cut at strange angles! No FZ in any of these photos...
  • MIDDLE OF RIGHT LINER. NOTES ON THE COMPOSITIONS INCLUDED HEREIN. Sardonic and witty comments about these great compositions. Note that FZ uses the word "compositions" from the very beginning, thereby empowering us to follow suit. A song is a composition, but not all compositions are songs. Sing your songs by the campfire, but enjoy the "compositions" of Frank Zappa!
  • RIGHT SIDE OF RIGHT LINER. A small box pops all the cartoon balloons and asks the young consumer directly: "PLANNING ON VISITING L.A. THIS SUMMER? Send for your copy of the special map we have prepared for you: 'FREAK-OUT HOT-SPOTS'." The map is partially reproduced in the booklet to "The Old Masters, Box I," and more fully reproduced in the booklet to "Beat The Boots #2."
  • TOP BACK COVER. Suzy's "letter" is a great touch -- the 60's equivalent of putting a Lyric Advisory sticker on the CD!
  • BOTTOM BACK COVER. The color inversions are less severe (except for FZ who remains outlined in Electric Cranberry!). Note the "clear white light" rising above Elliot's head.

    1. Hungry Freaks, Daddy (3:27)
    2. I Ain't Got No Heart (2:33)
    3. Who Are The Brain Police? (3:33)
    4. Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder (3:39)
    5. Motherly Love (2:43)
    6. How Could I Be Such A Fool (2:11)
    7. Wowie Zowie (2:51)
    8. You Didn't Try To Call Me (3:16)
    9. Any Way The Wind Blows (2:54)
    10. I'm Not Satisfied (2:38)
    11. You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here (3:38)
    12. Trouble Every Day (5:49)
    13. Help, I'm A Rock (4:43)
    14. It Can't Happen Here (3:55)
    15. The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet (12:16)

    Next album

    livingtime said...

    I was wondering if you knew where I could find the list of influences from "Freak Out!". They're not on the cd. Zappa bad-mouthed jazz quite a bit during his lifetime, but I vaguely remember there were several jazz musicians on his list.

    livingtime said...

    Never mind. I found it. It was right where I found your name.