Official Release #2 'Absolutely Free' (Released 04/1967)
The difficult follow up. If 'Freak Out!' would've been Zappa's only release, he would've become a massive underground cult hit, as Ben Watson stated. I totally buy that.
For the second album, Zappa wrote a bunch of tracks, musically somewhat more difficult, mostly in terms of instrumentation. He finds a couple new mothers, mostly woodwind players, and they get to record their follow-up on a way too tight schedule, with a way too tight budget.
Zappa states that he couldn't get anything done the way he would've liked it, just because they didn't have the time.
The album itself is built like a two part suite, one side long each. A major difference with Freak Out is the fact that tap- along-songs and high-brow music are more woven into each other, a way of writing that I've always really admired. No more dividing fans in 'I like these songs, and dislike the others', with this album you're going to like all of it. Or not, 'cause it's a bit tricky to get into.
Another major breakthrough with this album is the enormous quantity of humor on it. Not only parodies of musical styles, but literally more jokes. Comedy rock was born. The album itself:
Officially called "Absolutely Free, 1 in a series of underground oratorios”.
Firstly the word Oratorios (the second half of the LP is called Oratories, but I'm guessing that's a typo on my pirated LP reissue). In classical music you speak of an Oratorio when there's secular lyrics in a big vocal-oriented piece. Apart from the secular lyrics, this is a pretty vocal oriented record. It really feels like a musical, in the most positive sense of that word.
Plastic People is a track that would become a Zappa classic. During his later tours this track would be the representative for the Old Days, albeit in a totally reworked version. Mainly a satire on the fake people of America in those days, when most of the time the actual fake ones would be the ones connecting the most with this song. Later in Zappa's career a comparable movement would occur when the ‘dumb American teenagers’ would be the ones laughing the hardest at the lyrics of Titties and Beer. Remarkable in the opening piece are the words 'I'm sure that love will never be a product of plasticity', a statement that’s too corny to be Zappa.
The Duke of Prunes is a special something too. According to the liner notes of the Mystery Disc, there was on old version in Run Home Slow, one of the movies where Zappa did the score for, back in the Studio Z, Cucamonga days. Add in the multiple Stravinsky references in Amnesia Vivace, the second part of the song, and the considerable lenght of the entire piece, The Duke of Prunes is one of the highlights of the album.
Call Any Vegetable (together with the next two tracks, which are really a solo section, and a closing section) is a great piece of weird lyrics too. Loaded with musical references to Zappa's classical heroes, and a rare guitar solo (rare on this album at least), this song is a great closer to the first side of the album.
The CD version has two tracks shoved in between side one and side two, Big Leg Emma, and Why Don'tcha Do Me Right, both harking back to the old days with the first being a classic R&B track, and the second a straight-on rocker. Two funny little tracks, but a bit out of place on this record.
"The M.O.I. American Pageant, 2 in a series of underground oratories"
The centerpiece on side two is Brown Shoes Don’t Make It. A strange piece, which is basically a musical of its own in seven-and-a-half minutes. This really set Zappa’s name as someone who wrote extreme lyrics. ‘Only thirteen and she knows how to nasty’ and we’re talking 1967 right here!
The songs on this record all segue, making this really one long piece. There are ups and downs, but mostly I think this is a very interesting piece, it really sounds like Zappa, but it doesn’t sound at all like Freak Out! You get both more extreme music (not counting Monster Magnet) and more funny, light stuff. And album of extremes all woven into each other. Essential Tracks:
(for those of you that don't have all the time in the world)
The Dukes of Prunes (track 2, 3 and 4)
Call Any Vegetable (track 5, 6 and 7)
Brown Shoes Don't Make It