Official Release #1 'Freak Out!'(Released 06/1966)
The first thing you need to know about Freak Out! is that it wasn't at all Zappa's first work in the music industry. He had a studio in Cucamonga (check out the demo's of that if you're interested in surf music with a doo-wop twist), in which he made both movies and the scores to those movies (amongst other things, I'll have to be incomplete, otherwise all these 100 albums would deserve a complete book). It wouldn't be a Zappa project if there weren't any troubles, so in come the local PD, arrest Zappa for making 'pornografic music', and shut down the studio.
Zappa's first big encounter with the law aside, the entire project didn't really bring what Zappa hoped for.
We skip a bit, and let Ray Collins enter the story. In my opinion he and Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) were two of the most important characters in Zappa's early musical life.
After Collins had a fight with the guitar player in his band (The Soul Giants) Zappa filled in. One thing led to another, they started to play Zappa's own music, and The Soul Giants became...The Mothers
They got a steady gig at The Sunset Strip in LA, where they got a record deal at Verve Records. (note that they got the deal based on just one song: 'Trouble Every Day' which, well, isn't really your typical Zappa song, but more on that later) The record label got ahead right away (again, based on one song and a giant reputation locally) and offered them a budget for a double album. This would make it the first double debut album in history. The album itself:
The album starts off in a special way. There are some that link the opening riff of 'Hungry Freaks, Daddy' to '(I can't get no) Satisfaction', but whether that was intentional or not, the fact of the matter is that it's a pretty rockin' riff. The following tracks make very clear that we're not listening to a normal record here, and that this record is not by a normal artist. Just as the studio engineer back then was shocked when he heard this music (he heard there was a white blues band coming, and the second track they recorded was 'Who Are The Brain Police', I would've loved to hear his phone call to the office asking what the hell he should do with this kind of music), I still listen to this record in awe. 'Go Cry', 'Motherly Love' and 'How Could I Be' are three tracks that express both Zappa's love for R&B and Doo- Wop, as well as his love for 'weird music'. Just listen to the kazoo-like breaks in Motherly Love. 'Who Are The Brain Police', however, is in a league of its own on the first side of the album. The lyrics are really strong, the middle bit and mostly the way it jumps back into the song are out of this world. Listening to this I always forget that this was the second song this group recorded. It's a song that showed the bands (and Zappa's) potential. In 'A Complete Guide To Frank Zappa' it says 'if this was Zappa's only release it would've been a big underground hit, and would maybe even still be, but no, way more happened'....
Whereas side one was a mixture of styles portraying everything the band could do, I've always felt that side two was 'just' an entertaining collection of songs. Lyrically there are some good moments (I've always loved 'you're probably wondering why I'm here and so am I'), but musically nothing really stands out. The only tiny thing to be noted is again the kazoo like melody right after the aforementioned lyrics, which is rhythmically quite challenging, and doubled by percussion, which will happen quite a lot more later in the discography.
Aah yes, here we go. Zappa's main political satire on this record is Trouble Every Day. One of the most important tracks, stylistically however, is Help I'm A Rock. So here it gets interesting. Zappa's big youth hero, I don't think he would ever use those words, but still, was Edgard Varese, a classical composer. Zappa getting into his music is one of the best anekdotes surrounding Zappa. When he was very young he read in a newspaper that a local record salesman was such a good talker that he even could make you buy Varese's Ionisation, a record just full of noise and other ugly sounds, in fact the ugliest music the reporter had ever heard. Zappa's first
reaction was 'I gotta find that record'. So he saved up, finally found the record, bought it, and was delighted by its harsh percussive type sound. It had a very big impact on him as a music lover, and later on as a composer. The first time in his music carreer that it gets apparent is during Help I'm A Rock. Trouble Every Day was the groups ticket to a record contract. It's about the Watts riots, and very much about racism.
Zappa's take on Revolution #9, as it's been called, however it's really closer to a Stockhausen piece than to The Beatles' sidelong piece of experimentation. It's his first major tape experiment, and we'll see a couple more of those in the future. There are a lot of things going on, including the Suzy Creamcheese introduction. If you see this weird piece of music more as a statement that as a song, you'll be more likely to enjoy it, although it's one of the most 'freak out' things Zappa has ever done (and yes, that's saying something)
All in all not the easiest Zappa record to get into, but one that got me from liking Zappa's music to admiring his work. Essential Tracks:
(for those of you that don't have all the time in the world)
Trouble Every Day
Who Are The Brain Police
Help I'm A Rock