The Mothers of Invention, led by Frank Zappa. Absolutely Free is, again, a display of complex musical composition with political and social satire. The band had been augmented since Freak Out! by the addition of woodwinds player Bunk Gardner, keyboardist Don Preston, rhythm guitarist Jim Fielder and drummer Billy Mundi. Fielder quit the group before the album was released and his name was removed from the album credits.
This album's emphasis is on interconnected movements, as each side of
the original vinyl LP comprises a mini-suite. It also features one of
the most famous songs of Zappa's early career, "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," a track which has been described as a "condensed two-hour musical".
In the book Necessity Is..., former Mothers of Invention band member Ray Collins said that Absolutely Free is probably his favorite of the classic Mothers albums. This is Official Release #2.
The title of "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" was inspired by an event covered by Time reporter Hugh Sidey
in 1966. The reporter correctly guessed something was up when the
fastidiously dressed President Lyndon B. Johnson made the fashion faux
pas of wearing brown shoes with a gray suit. LBJ flew to Vietnam for a
surprise public relations visit later that day.
In the songs "America Drinks and Goes Home" and "America Drinks",
Zappa combines a silly tune with nightclub sound effects to parody his
experiences playing with drunken bar bands during the early 1960s. Other
songs recorded soon after that used the same kinds of ideas include "On with the Show" by The Rolling Stones (released in 1967), "My Friend" by Jimi Hendrix (recorded in 1968, released in 1971) and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" by The Beatles (recorded in 1967 and 1969, released in 1970).
begins with a mock introduction of the President of the United States,
who (along with his wife) can only recite the opening notes to "Louie, Louie". "Louie, Louie" is often interpolated in Zappa's compositions (other examples appear in the Uncle Meat and Yellow Shark
albums, among others), and when Zappa first began performing "Plastic
People" around 1965, the words were set to the tune of "Louie, Louie".
It is not unusual to find melodies or scores from other composers within the music of Frank Zappa. Absolutely Free is full of musical references to other compositions and artists, including Igor Stravinsky.
For example, "Amnesia Vivace" begins with a collage of quotations from Stravinsky ballets: first, the band plays the "Ritual Action of the Ancestors" from The Rite of Spring,
Part II; then harpsichord and chattering voices evoke the pounding
Dance of the Adolescents in Part I, over which sax and Zappa's voice
start quoting the bassoon melody at the very opening of the Rite and
continue into the lyrical Berceuse (also for bassoon) at the end of Stravinsky's The Firebird. The opening sequence of Petrouchka
is quoted in the middle section of "Status Back Baby". "Soft-Sell
Conclusion" ends with a version of the trombone melody that opens
Stravinsky's "Marche Royale" from A Soldier's Tale.
The "Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin", in the
beginning of the saxophone solo (first cadence) quotes the trio directly
from the fourth movement of Gustav Holst's The Planets, Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.
The melody to "The Duke of Prunes" is the love theme from Zappa's own film score to Run Home Slow.
Frank Zappa's liner notes for Freak Out!
name-checked an enormous breadth of musical and intellectual
influences, and he seemingly attempts to cover them all on the second Mothers of Invention album, Absolutely Free.
Leaping from style to style without warning, the album has a
freewheeling, almost schizophrenic quality, encompassing everything from
complex mutations of "Louie, Louie" to jazz improvisations and quotes
from Stravinsky's Petrushka. It's made possible not only by expanded instrumentation, but also Zappa's
experiments with tape manipulation and abrupt editing, culminating in
an orchestrated mini-rock opera ("Brown Shoes Don't Make It") whose
musical style shifts every few lines, often in accordance with the
lyrical content. In general, the lyrics here are more given over to
absurdity and non sequiturs, with the sense that they're often part of
some private framework of satirical symbols. But elsewhere, Zappa's
satire also grows more explicitly social, ranting against commercial
consumer culture and related themes of artificiality and conformity. By
turns hilarious, inscrutable, and virtuosically complex, Absolutely Free is more difficult to make sense of than Freak Out!, partly because it lacks that album's careful pacing and conceptual focus. But even if it isn't quite fully realized, Absolutely Free is still a fabulously inventive record, bursting at the seams with ideas that would coalesce into a masterpiece with Zappa's next project.
When following up a great debut, a band has to take in consideration to
not make a rehash of the previous album. They also need to make a record
that is capable of bettering the debut, which for most groups, is a
difficult feat. For The Mothers of Invention, the latter was not a
problem at all. In 1967, the magnificent follow-up to “Freak Out!” was
released. Known as “Absolutely Free”, this record takes all the elements
from “Freak Out!” and expands on it, but in a more condensed form.
With the improvements present on “Absolutely Free”, it would be
incorporated into two suites, “Absolutely Free” and “The M.O.I. American
Pageant”, both movements in “Underground Oratorios”. The first side, a
zany suite consisting of songs dealing with the “Duke of Prunes”,
showcasing Zappa’s composing skills, makes for an entertaining listen,
and from the first listen, is highly accessible. Side two is practically
The Mothers playing in a bar, which from the start you can see a visual
of sitting in a dimly-lit bar, fogged up with cigarette smoke while
watching the bar band play their music for a few bucks.
The use of nightclub sound effects in the suite would be highly
influential and would be used over the years by artists such as Jimi
Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles. Also in the suite is one
of Zappa’s well-known tunes, “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It”. The track
begins with an attack on the media and American society, later
transitioning to a bizarre tale of a city official fantasizing about
sexual intercourse with a minor. “America Drinks & Goes Home” ends
the album perfectly: in absolute chaos. And for posterity, “Big Leg
Emma” and “Why Don’tcha Do Me Right?”, both extras on the reissue and
originally a single, are both decent, but have no place on “Absolutely
Free”. It’s unfortunate they were never released on an official album
despite it called “a dumb attempt to make dumb music to appeal to dumb
So, when searching for a first Zappa/Mothers record to listen to, check
out “Absolutely Free”, it’ll be sure to get a laugh or two out of you
and keep you entertained for the next forty minutes. It’s Absolutely
01. Plastic People (3:40)
02. The Duke Of Prunes (2:12)
03. Amnesia Vivace (1:01)
04. The Duke Regains His Chops (1:45)
05. Call Any Vegetable (2:19)
06. Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin (6:57)
07. Soft-Sell Conclusion & Ending Of Side #1 (1:40)
08. Big Leg Emma (2:32)
09. Why Don'tcha Do Me Right? (2:37)
10. America Drinks (1:52)
11. Status Back Baby (2:52)
12. Uncle Bernie's Farm (2:09)
13. Son Of Suzy Creamcheese (1:33)
14. Brown Shoes Don't Make It (7:26)
15. America Drinks & Goes Home (2:43)
Line-up / Musicians
- Frank Zappa / guitar, vocals, conductor, arranger & co-producer
- Ray Collins / vocals, tambourine
- Roy Estrada / bass, vocals
- Don Preston / keyboards
- Jim Fielder / guitar, piano
- Bunk Gardner / saxophone
- Jim Black / drums, vocals
- Bill Mundi / drums, percussion
- Suzy Creamcheese (Lisa Cohen) / vocals (14)
- John Balkin / bass (6,10)
- Jim Getzoff / violin (14)
- Marshall Sosson / violin (14)
- Alvin Dinkin / viola (14)
- Armand Kaproff / cello (14)
- Don Ellis / trumpet (14)
- John Rotella / contrabass clarinet (14)
- Herb Cohen / cash register machine sounds (15)
- Terry Gilliam, girlfriend and others / voices (15)