FRANK ZAPPA — Absolutely Free (The Mothers Of Invention)

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FRANK ZAPPA - Absolutely Free (The Mothers Of Invention) cover
4.17 | 30 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1967


A1.Plastic People (3:42)
A2.The Duke of Prunes (2:13)
A3.Amnesia Vivace (1:01)
A4.The Duke Regains His Chops (1:52)
A5.Call Any Vegetable (2:15)
A6.Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin (7:00)
A7.Soft-Cell Conclusion (1:40)
B1.America Drinks (1:52)
B2.Status Back Baby (2:54)
B3.Uncle Bernie's Farm (2:10)
B4.Son of Suzy Creamcheese (1:34)
B5.Brown Shoes Don't Make It (7:30)
B6.America Drinks and Goes Home (2:46)


Bass, Vocals – Roy Estrada
Drums, Percussion – Billy Mundi
Drums, Vocals – Jim Black
Guitar, Piano – Jim Fielder
Keyboards – Don Preston
Percussion – John Rotella
Saxophone – Bunk Gardner
Trumpet – Don Ellis (tracks: B5)
Vocals – Pamela Zarubica
Vocals, Tambourine, Performer [Prune] – Ray Collins

About this release

Verve Records ‎– V/V6-5013X (US)

Thanks to snobb for the addition


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siLLy puPPy
ABSOLUTELY FREE is absolutely just that. Freer than any bird that a certain American Southern rock band would later sing about or even come close to sounding like. I have to always go back and look at the year on the CD when I listen to this. Really? 1967? Uh, wait a minute wasn't that the year of the Summer Of Love and all the other psychedelic and hippie love gracing the musical world? Well, yeah but obviously nobody told Mr. Zappa and the Mothers. They had their own jaded agenda and much more grounded in reality it was. While many were dropping out, Mr Zappa and the Mothers were dropping biting critiques taking pokes at politics and society in general. To this day this remains some of the most intelligently designed musical expressions ever laid down on tape.

After a great start with their debut this is the album where all those wonderful and crazy ideas really came to roost. You know the kind. The kind music that forces you to recalibrate your musical attitude to get it and either fall in love with it like I did or reject it in total dismay because it's just too scary! Mommy help me! Whether you hate it or love it, it forces you to react and you either dive in for repeated listens or you run away in total shock and horror accusing them of blasphemy and being possessed by demons who are out to destroy the status quo. This was not my first Zappa album but it has become one of my top 50! It helps that they dropped the overabundance of doowop and dared to fly their freak flags ever higher. I am inclined to think that the Mothers Of Invention were one of the most significant bands to catalyze what we now call progressive music. Nothing was even close to this style of madness back in 1967 and precious few acts have achieved it since.

This album which has been described as a condensed 2-hour musical was one of the first overtly complex albums that excelled at political and social satire. On this album Bunk Gardner was added on saxophone which created an even richer sound and consists of 2 side long suites that take music in directions never thought possible. Although this is unlike anything else one can still hear the Stravinsky and Varese influences if you're familiar with their music and of course the Mothers were pioneering the unthinkable act of creating jazz-fusion.

This must have been a total slap in the face to any listener when this came out. Between the over-the-top criticism and intelligently delivered lyrics mixed with a musical collage of ideas that rotate like a sampling guide it just plain boggles the mind! This is one of the best albums Mr Zappa and the Mothers ever came up with. It is brilliant from the very first track “Plastic People” to the closing “America Drinks And Goes Home.” Although bonus tracks are extremely hit and miss on Zappa albums, the two tracks “Big Leg Emma” and “Why Don't You Do Me Right” fit in perfectly on my Rykodisc version of this musical masterpiece.
I've been going through many 1967 albums as a research to an article I'm doing for my website. And it's very nice to see some of the bands development. Frank Zappa, back on this Absolutely Free (1967) was still with The Mothers Of Ivention, his band. Nobody need to say, really, that Frank Zappa was a visionary, a sound revolutionary. Back in his first album Freak Out! (1966) we knew it already!

But with this album Zappa was, like the name suggests, free. Free from what, you might ask, well, free from everything. He could actually do whatever he felt like, and he did!

Of course the political statement that Zappa always had was there, the album is indeed a display of political and social satire with a complex (to that time) music.

Absolutely Free (1967) focus on mini suites, each side of the original LP is one mini suite indeed. And, again, Zappa's classical side was there, in his first moments with citations from Igor Stravinsky all around.

Not my favorite side of Zappa (he has so many), I prefer his 70's homour period (Just Another Band From L.A., Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe), but this one can't let you down really!
Zappa's live debut with the Mothers of Invention "Absolutely Free" was an extravaganza to be heralded by many over the years. The live Zappa was always a different beast than the studio version. It begins with the announcement, "'Ladies and gentleman, the president of the United States". Then it goes chaotic with Plastic People, as weird as it gets lyrically and featuring some excellent guitar licks and a fractured time sig. Zappa states we are "a product of plasticity, blah blah blah blah, cabbage is a vegetable, you dream about your feet, you are pebbles, purple prancing". It is very strange as usual and is focused on Nazis.

The Duke of Prunes continues the madcap humour, with Zappa rhyming 'prune' with anything else he can think of such as 'June'. I see your lovely beans, I bite your neck, the love I have for you my dear is very new, chunka chunka chunka." It is difficult to describe but imagine the music spinning wildly out of the box and you may be close. Later we get into a song about vegetables "they keep you regular". The free form jazz is great and Zappa keeps interjecting with weird anecdotes that are part of the concert experience. He even yodels, and says "a prune is not really a vegetable, a cabbage is a vegetable".

The saxophone sounds of Underwood are always a treat, as well as the crazy guitar breaks and they shine on the lengthy Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin. The instrumental section is a definitive psychedelic freak out with Zappa and the Mothers in all their glory in full flight. This is where Zappa has cemented his indelible reputation as a guitar giant. Underwood is a force to be reckoned with blazing brilliantly on sax. This is one of the all time great instrumental improvisations.

Soft Cell Conclusion breaks this up admirably with more bizarreness about "green things in general". Big Leg Emma is a 50s throwback and they seem to be on all Zappa albums and I am no fan but this is what makes Zappa so brilliantly infuriating.

Why Dontcha Do Me Right? Has a driving rhythm and some zany vocals, the deep raspy type that Zappa loves to lock into. The riff is bluesy and grinds along on a straight time sig, but the lead guitar break is a highlight.

"One two buckle my shoe" begins America Drinks and the drunken candour of the band is rather humorous. The music sounds as drunken as Zappa stopping and starting without remaining on a time sig figure. The saxophone breaks out suddenly and laughs along to the pounding bassline.

Status Back Baby has an annoying melody driven 50s throwback rhythm but it is quite funny as a part of nonsense sounding like Syd Barrett on acid. The sax solo ranges from beautiful melancholy to angry emotions, perhaps like the high school student's emotional rollercoaster.

Uncle Bernie's Farm is really quirky, a cool bassline and jangly guitar groove out the highly strange time sig. The lyrics are nonsense and quite funny, even Zappa laughs at the silliness; "There's a man who runs the country and they are all made out of plastic". He seems to be making up the words as he goes and the musicians seem to be improvising.

Son of Suzy Creamcheese "oh mama, what's got into you?" is a Zappa favourite and has appeared on other live albums. The song has an infectious melody and works well on the live stage.

Brown Shoes Don't Make It is another of the lengthy tracks with some incredibly cynical vocals; "be a jerk go to work, do your job and do it right, do you love it do you hate it." The high vocalisations remind me of Magma and this one features some weird effects and fractured time sigs. It is perhaps a more inventive approach similar to "Freak Out!" The violins are creepy along with Zappa's off kilter vocals. Underwood plays a low sax tone and there are violin embellishments. The lyrics get cruder and even sillier as it progresses; "he's rocking and rolling and acting obscene, baby baby baby, and he loves, loves it and he curls up his toes, she bites his fat neck and it lights up his nose, she's nasty she's nasty she does it in bed." The style changes to a weird 40s style and then moves into several other time sigs and styles like songs within songs. It is quite a rodeo and along the way we hear spacey effects, children's voices "what would you do daddy?" to which he answers "smother my daughter in chocolate syrup, and boogie till the cows come home." This song could be enough to turn the average music listener off Zappa for life but this is what he is all about. Does humour belong in music? Zappa seems to think so.

America Drinks and Goes Home moves from ear to ear, left and right, which is maddening but it ends the album well. The orgiastic screaming and caterwauling at the end sounds like a party I was never invited to. For 1967 this album is a bold move and there was nothing like it at the time so Zappa shoved it up the musical authorities and had fun doing it. There's no harm in that though this is a very difficult album to get into initially, unless you are a Zappaholic.
Consisting of two side-long suites (with contemporary single Big Leg Emma/Why Don'cha Do Me Right? acting as a sort of interlude on most CD versions), Absolutely Free takes the two halves of Freak Out! - skewed pop/rock numbers and avant-garde experimental tracks - and mashes them together until the two ingredients are inextricably bound. Take the first suite, Absolutely Free, which after it sputters into life with the still angry, still politicised Plastic People takes the listener on a journey through a world of vegetable-themed romance which slips Stravinsky lines and free jazz noodlings in as it ricochets from frenetic experimental chaos to Supremes-inspired Wall of Sound pop heaven.

The second suite, the MOI American Pageant, follows up the epic Brown Shoes Don't Make It - arguably one of the first rock operas, along with the Who's A Quick One (While He's Away) - with America Drinks and Goes Home, whose "last orders at the bar" feel would be mimic by the Rolling Stones in the closing track of Between the Buttons.

The sheer, crazed energy evidenced on the album is incredible; it's been a favourite of mine for years and years, and I still haven't unpacked all its secrets, and yet at the same time I also think it's one of the most accessible albums of Zappa's early career - don't get me wrong, it's not simplistic like Freak Out! or Cruising With Ruben and the Jets, but it is less daunting than the likes of, say, Lumpy Gravy or Weasels Ripped My Flesh. New listeners to Zappa could do worse than starting with this one, or the equally classic We're Only In It For The Money - you've got all Zappa's perchant for bizarre experimentation in a nice, digestible package. Eat your vegetables, they're good for you.

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