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Thread: Frank and the Mothers: The sixties albums.

  1. #1
    Member StevegSr's Avatar
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    Frank and the Mothers: The sixties albums+Burnt Weeny and Weasels.

    Well, if the Zappa lyrics debate is past, how about talking about the original Mothers of Invention 1960's albums starting with the iconic Freakout! from 1966, Absolutely Free (1967), We're Only In It For the Money (1968), Cruising with Ruben and The Jets (1968), Uncle Meat (1969), along with seventies albums Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh as both were recorded in the sixties. (Far out!)

    The Mother's fans on PE are incredibly insightful regarding this Mach 1 phase of the Mother's and I would love hear thier take on these albums, and why Zappa broke up the original Mothers. (I.E., the real story.)
    Last edited by StevegSr; 04-26-2016 at 04:39 PM.
    To be or not to be? That is the point. - Harry Nilsson.

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    I posted this in the other thread, but everything then went into a discussion of FZ's lyrics and it received no replies. But I think it's a point worth giving another chance to:

    Concerning the musicianship of the early Mothers, I've thought for a while that the combination of that particular band being almost Frank's sole musical outlet at the time, and the musicians' own limitations meant that -
    - He played even his "difficult" music as Mothers material, rather than writing for classical ensembles.
    - It could never get too "difficult", or Roy and Jimmy wouldn't be able to play it at all.

    So the music from that period, even oddball stuff like "Dog Breath" or "Brown Shoes Don't Make It", almost always had a recognizable tune, or some type of groove that a couple of blue-collar bar-band guys could latch on to and follow by ear. Black and Estrada had probably learned some very basic counting and reading abilities from working with FZ for years - but they were still mostly "ear players", and the music had to make sense to them or they couldn't get their heads around it and couldn't play it. And that necessary compromise was what gave Frank's music from that period a lot of its charm. The writing could get fairly sophisticated, but the playing and actual performances tended toward the rough, raw, and primitive (at least compared to some of his later work). Furthermore, while Zappa was an outlier in many ways, his music at the time still had a great deal of Sixties rock in it, and the early Mothers had a certain kinship with even the crudest of garage bands.

    As to why he broke up the band: He said at the time that they simply couldn't make a living as a touring entity. That was probably true. Whether it was the only or main reason, I don't know. He certainly seems to have found some of the players' musical limitations and personalities a bit frustrating to work with.

  3. #3
    It was interesting to read in Pauline Butcher Bird's book that as early as 1967 Zappa was frustrated with the band and thought about breaking it up.

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    Member Steve F.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pb2015 View Post
    It was interesting to read in Pauline Butcher Bird's book that as early as 1967 Zappa was frustrated with the band and thought about breaking it up.
    I thought Pauline's book rang very true on many levels. As someone who mostly thinks the 1966-69 MOI produced FZ'sbest music, I'm really glad I read it and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in that period.
    Steve F.

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    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baribrotzer View Post
    So the music from that period, even oddball stuff like "Dog Breath" or "Brown Shoes Don't Make It", almost always had a recognizable tune, or some type of groove that a couple of blue-collar bar-band guys could latch on to and follow by ear. Black and Estrada had probably learned some very basic counting and reading abilities from working with FZ for years - but they were still mostly "ear players", and the music had to make sense to them or they couldn't get their heads around it and couldn't play it.
    Once FZ brought Art Tripp into the band, Jimmy Carl Black's role as drummer was lessened--he started spending a lot of time playing trumpet or just goofing off. Zappa then had a core of academically trained musicians with serious avant-garde and/or jazz credentials (Underwood, Gardner, Tripp, Preston) alongside the "bar band" guys. You can see the split dramatized in the Royal Festival Hall performance, where the "talented members of the Mothers of Invention" play the serious scored parts with the orchestra while Black, Estrada, and Motorhead engage in costumed buffoonery. Having the ear players in the band was no impediment in the studio, as can be heard on Uncle Meat and the following albums, where Zappa just had the reading guys do multiple overdubs to realize his chamber music ideas.

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    Freak Out! immediately sets out the stall with the barbed social commentary of 'Hungry Freaks Daddy'. But it was conventional compared to some of the more warped songs on here like 'Who Are The Brain Police'. 'It Can't Happen Here', '...Son Of Monster Magnet' etc. 'Trouble Every Day' is maybe the album's most famous track, not least because it's in a somewhat Dylan-esque 'protest song' style so is more immediately accessible, but Zappa himself returned to it in later years. Was Freak Out! the first double album debut by a rock act? Indeed, double albums by rock acts in general were a rarity at that time, Blonde On Blonde being the only other I can think of. Certainly in the UK, this was taken into account, as it was only released as a single album here on its initial release...you'd be surprised what they cut!

    https://www.discogs.com/The-Mothers-...elease/2370491

    Absolutely Free took the social commentary angle further, as the titles make abundantly clear- 'Plastic People', 'America Drinks And Goes Home' etc. It also upped the ante on a musical level; witness the mock-operatic 'Duke Of Prunes' suite, and some highly adventurous writing on things like the 'Invocation...' within 'Call Any Vegetable'. I'm really not sure about Zappa's decision to shove an unrelated (and not that great) non-album single in the middle of the CD, but then he wasn't known for having too much respect for the original form of his work!

    I think We're Only In It For The Money is the definitive album of this period. Lyrically it is focussed on one particular strand- 'Flower Punk', 'Absolutely Free', 'Who Needs The Peace Corps', 'Concentration Moon' etc. all basically have the same target- so this makes it more cohesive overall. It also contains his most avant-garde excursion yet with 'The Chrome Plated Megaphone Of Destiny'! This one had some of its juicier lyrics (and indeed the planned cover) messed about with...has there been a release containing all of the censored lyrics?

    Lumpy Gravy is one wild ride, its musical interludes going from trad jazz to frantic R&B workouts to surf instrumentals to highly arranged avant-rock! I've always really enjoyed this album, finding a lot of strange humour in the spoken interludes.

    Uncle Meat is a smorgasbord of an album, almost like an end-of-term-assessment covering what they'd done so far- there's the doo wop pastiches, the avant-garde, the mock-opera- but with 'King Kong', a prediction of what was to come with Hot Rats (something 'Mr Green Genes' does even more directly). It's hardly original to complain about the irrelevant 'penalty tracks' dumped onto the CD version but I'll never miss an opportunity to do so.

  7. #7
    Member Jay.Dee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StevegSr View Post
    Why Zappa broke up the original Mothers. (I.E., the real story.)
    As time has passed since the publication of The Real Frank Zappa Book, and more interviews of original band members have emerged whose individual recollections contradict was had been written (and often taken as factual history) — it further sheds light on the complexity of this band, and the need for an ongoing, objective, and scholarly view of the Mother’s history from those who were actually there (well beyond the usual pop culture biographies and rock critic hokum), the musicians themselves.

    Don Preston: There were a number of reasons why the Mothers disbanded. One of them was that Zappa was paying us all a salary. Now this kinda sounds stupid to me. He couldn’t afford the (Mother’s) salary, but he kept hiring more and more musicians. So anyhow, when he had to pay nine people in the band, it’s gonna cost a lot of money. [...]

    The other thing was that he used to get very angry when people would respond to the solos more than his compositions. So that was one of the things that was making him angry at the time. The other thing was that we sometimes during a concert would only play 3 or 4 songs. The rest would all be improvisation. That’s the way the band was working. And working real well that way. We could handle that responsibility and people loved it. It wasn’t just jazz but like all kinds of weird time changes, experimental types of music. So I think he wanted more kinds of control on the music.

    Jim Pons: I had known Frank previous to my joining his band, so there was no formal audition. [...] He never discussed with me his ideas about his “new” group or what he was trying to do. He just offered me a job. I had plenty of reservations. I enjoyed and had always appreciated his music before, but it was extremely difficult and complicated stuff compared to what I was used to…. a lot to ask of someone who had taught himself to play just a few years before. It was very intimidating. And more so because my parts were always written out for me and I couldn’t read music. I had to take it to Ian Underwood who would play it for me on the piano until I learned it. [...]

    He expected you to do your part as he wrote it..... unless you improvised something that made him laugh. If you could make him laugh he'd let you go as long as you wanted. In fact, that's what fueled Mark and Howard. Frank really, REALLY seemed to enjoy that part of it. But if you changed something he had written -- into something that didn't work -- it was NOT funny. And he could make you feel real bad about it. [...] It was very rare that he ever showed any sign of uncertainty about what he wanted. I was completely in awe and respectful of Frank's musical inspiration and vision, and I don't remember ever thinking that I could (or should) suggest anything that might dilute that vision.

    Jimmy Carl Black: First of all; Frank was the BOSS. We didn't question any of his motives or decisions at the time. I, personally, didn't think about whether (the parody) would backfire or not. [...] I think that the old Mothers started that trend of rehearsing long hours. We went as long as the later bands did except we didn't get paid for it like they did. We did it because we thought we were the best band in the world. Maybe we weren't as popular as other bands, but certainly, musically, we were the best and most experimental band in the world. (Exception is Capt. Beefheart and the Magic Band). [...] [Frank] was not open to anything that was not from his head. There were no arguments about music because if you did, he would show you where the door was. Period. [...]

    We all just got a phone call from him stating that he had decided to break up the band and your salary has ended as of last week. That is pretty cold in my opinion. The rest of the guys in the band were very pissed off as can be expected as we had just finished a very successful tour. I think that Frank should have made an announcement to the press about stopping the band and done a last farewell tour and then broke up the band. Anyway, that´s the way I would have done it after all the loyalty we had given him through the years of starving for his music.

    Ed Seeman: I spent almost two years with Frank and the original Mothers of Invention. All that time Frank would say he never wanted only one band with one sound. He believed in having what he called a "repertory company" of different musicians that would evolve musically as he would always changing. He never even liked performing his hits because to him that was not progress. So it’s not because he couldn’t afford to pay nine musicians. He hired 15 members of the London Philharmonic to play one piece in Albert hall just to prove a point. To Zappa changing musicians was like changing creative tools to an artist.
    http://www.killuglyradio.com/2009/06...ted-histories/
    Last edited by Jay.Dee; 04-23-2016 at 06:39 PM.

  8. #8
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    And Frank Zappa himself in Melody Maker (October 25, 1969):

    I don't like to say that we're breaking up – we're just not performing any more. We're not getting across, and if we'd continued to progress at the rate we've been doing for the last year and a half, we wouldn't have any audience left at all.

    We were heading towards concert music – electronic chamber music. We performed it several times in America and had horrible reviews and an unpleasant audience response. The reviews we got were so simplistic, and I don't want to go on having to put up with all that bullshit.

    We played my bassoon concerto at the Fillmore East, and one critic described it as an 'oboe concerto.' He also said that he'd paid his money to hear rock and roll and he didn't see why he should put up with all that classical garbage. People have a great need to put music into little boxes, and they've never been able to do that with us.

    Am I discouraged? Sure I'm discouraged. But I don't want to make it sound as if we quit just because we got a bad press. If we'd done that, we'd only have lasted six months. It looked as though we weren't going to be able to achieve the goals we'd set for the group. There was too much resistance from all quarters, so we decided to cool it.

    Maybe in two or three years people will be able to look back and assess what the Mothers accomplished; maybe they'll be able to catch up with the music. And who knows, it's possible that sometime in the future we may even put the band back together again.


    http://www.afka.net/mags/melody_maker.htm

  9. #9
    If I recall right, Pauline's book claims Zappa announced the breakup to the band collectively in person, not over the phone as the JCB quote above says.

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    I definitely echo the recommendation on Pauline Butcher's book. May I also recommend the book "Necessity is: the early years of the Mothers of Invention". As the name suggests, it is focused on the early Mothers phase, but from the standpoint of the members in the band at that time. Lots of input from Bunk Gardner, Don Preston and others. I must read it again (been ten years or so), but I remember enjoying it.

  11. #11
    Necessity Is was a good book, yes. There is also Jimmy Carl Black's book, which I haven't read yet.

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    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pb2015 View Post
    There is also Jimmy Carl Black's book, which I haven't read yet.
    JCB's book is great! You can't always rely on his memory about the sequence of events or what specific year something happened, but he's very candid (quite open, for example, about his and Roy's drug use) and tells a lot of juicy stories.

    Pauline Butcher's book is, out of all the Zappa books out there--and I've read almost all of them--the one that rings the most true, most accurate, and written without any kind of agenda or axe to grind. Too bad she was in FZ's circle for only a short time.

  13. #13
    I love Absolutely Free but Zappa went out of his way to make the vocals so ugly. So its a bit of a mixed bag for me. Even more so are We're Only In It and Uncle Meat, both of which have moments of brilliance wrapped around a bunch of other stuff that I don't care for. My favorite Mothers album by far is Burnt Weeny Sandwich.

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    I think We're Only in it for the Money, Lumpy Gravy and Uncle Meat are really impossible to separate - three sides of a coin as Lewis Carroll might say - and as a unit they are a towering masterpiece.

    If I could only have one-third, it would be Uncle Meat, but if I have to choose I'll choose, I'll choose the lot.

    Does it matter that this waste of time is what makes a life for you?

  15. #15
    Uncle Meat is, in every way, a perfect album.

    The limitations to which Baribrotzer has alluded work perfectly.

    I like when FZ lets his band and himself show off and solo and rock out.

    I like it more when FZ the composer lets his charts show off.
    I want to dynamite your mind with love tonight.

  16. #16
    Uncle Meat is my only regular listen from Frank's Sixties albums, though I admire them all. Freak Out, in particular, is a remarkable accomplishment given the times and Frank's circumstances.

    I do think it unfortunate that his perfectionist tendencies later got rid of the greasy garage band charm of those years. He celebrated that sound in the lyrics to the song "Joe's Garage" years later, but he could never bring himself to allow any of that messiness back into his music.

    It's also interesting that Frank's lyrics largely went from broader social issues down to a more personal level (often about life on the road) after the MOI disbanded. That's probably why so many conventional rock critics discount his post-Sixties work.

  17. #17
    These are a fascinating journey (Not counting Ruben & the Jets, which I still haven’t heard, and am not sure I really need). Freak Out is awfully crude by Zappa’s later standards, especially the “avant-garde” stuff, everyone’s limitations running up against a wall versus their ability to execute them. Each successive album became more and more sophisticated until you get to Uncle Meat, which is an utter masterpiece. For the record, I really love Absolutely Free and WOIIFTM. Freak Out I reach for rarely these days, though; it was good for its day, but the next couple of albums execute what Zappa was aiming for far better.
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    I like 60s Zappa stuff so much.
    Freak Out! is the first progressive rock album ever - nuff said.

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    The very first time I heard 'Weasels' was in college on a weekend night at the fraternity house. I was getting into Zappa but really didn't know the early Mothers stuff at all (I think the earliest track I heard was "Peaches" - not a Mothers tune technically)....anyway....we had some rips off the tower of power (Graffix) , some disgustingly cheap beer, probably a few shots of Jameson as well - and the subsequent journey just blew my mind. The same sort of thing happened upon hearing 'Roxy', 'Joe's Garage', and 'YCDOSTA Vol. 4' for the first time too. I remember thinking during "Eric Dolphy" that FZ was the greatest musician/composer that ever existed and that my search was finally over I dunno, its hard to convey in words, but those moments are like amazingly important historical events for me personally that are etched in stone in my feeble little mind, and will never be able to be recreated in those exact circumstances ever again. Been a HUGE fan of that album ever since and I have always felt that it is the cousin album to 'Meat'. I also adore the *sound* of that album as well, its just pleasant on the ear. "Oh No/Orange County" is still one of the most beautiful things he ever wrote imo.

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    Let me say this: You may know that the Vinnie era was certainly my favorite era for FZ's playing, but even way back then he had already carved out a very original niche with brilliant guitar solos with unique tones, rhythmic approach, extended form, etc....It seems to me that this might a slightly overlooked aspect of the Mothers, but to my ears he was as good as any rock player of the time. Certainly my preference.

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    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chalkpie View Post
    even way back then he had already carved out a very original niche with brilliant guitar solos with unique tones, rhythmic approach, extended form, etc....It seems to me that this might a slightly overlooked aspect of the Mothers, but to my ears he was as good as any rock player of the time.
    The first one that really caught my ear was the gorgeous end solo in "Holiday in Berlin (Full Blown)." Then there was "Willie the Pimp"!

  22. #22
    Member StevegSr's Avatar
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    Thanks to all for your insightful posts, as this is exactly the kind of info I was searching for on the MoI. I've never read Butcher Bird's book "Freakout! My Life with Frank Zappa.", but now it seem like an essential form a MoI fan! Thanks again.
    To be or not to be? That is the point. - Harry Nilsson.

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    Nice to see 'Weasels' mentioned here. It's a good representation of the Mothers as a band, both live and in the studio.
    Of the records mentioned in the OP, I think 'Freak Out' and. 'Absolutely Free' are the Mothers at heart. They're not my favorites, but the performances of all of the songs are evenly distributed among the band members, making the most of their skills and idiosyncrasies, if you will.
    With 'Money,' we start getting the benefit of Frank knocking around the recording studio, and less from the group overall (seems to me).
    'Ruben' appears to have been recorded within the time span during which 'Uncle Meat' was being recorded. I'm fond of both of those.

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by señormoment View Post
    With 'Money,' we start getting the benefit of Frank knocking around the recording studio, and less from the group overall (seems to me).
    This may be true. Zappa said once that aside from Roy and Ian, nearly everyone in the band quit at least once around the time of that album.

  25. #25
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