Saturday, January 7, 2012

243. Freak Out! Being Frank about the world.

Album: Freak Out
Artist: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Year: 1966
Genre: Rock


  1. Hungry Freaks, Daddy
  2. I Ain't Got No Heart
  3. Who Are the Brain Police?
  4. Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder
  5. Motherly Love
  6. How Could I Be Such a Fool?
  7. Wowie Zowie
  8. You Didn't Try to Call Me
  9. Any Way the Wind Blows
  10. I'm Not Satisfied
  11. You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here
  12. Trouble Every Day
  13. Help, I'm a Rock
  14. It Can't Happen Here
  15. The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet

Any album that followed a live Grateful Dead release in the countdown was always going to suffer in comparison. Consider yourself lucky then that rather than crashing to the depths of another hip hop album or something by KISS, I get to land securely in the safety net that is Frank Zappa.

I love Frank. I don't love all his music (nobody does) but when he's good he's very good and when he's fantastic he's just flat out brilliant (insert rant about omission of Hot Rats in this list here). Freak Out is his debut album and so the first exposure the record buying public had to a man who would baffle and delight them constantly through the next three decades.

Much of the music on Freak Out looks backwards to do-wop, a musical form that Frank was inexplicably a huge fan of. Tracks like Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder, Motherly Love and You didn't try to call Me are all do-woppy and would appeal to people who love the genre (as long as they were prepared to put up with lyrics about "rocking" groupies till they "sweat and cry"). When he's doing wop, Frank is a bit left-field but accessible. The thing is he doesn't necessarily like to be accessed. He steps out way into left-field and then looks further to the left and says "That looks cool, lets go over there".

Help I'm a Rock, Who are the Brain Police and It Can't Happen Here are unlike anything anyone was doing up to that point. Outlandish, esoteric and frankly strange, they're all songs inspired by Frank's love of avante garde composers and radio wouldn't touch them with the sonic equivalent of a ten foot pole. Odd though they are, none of them could hold a weird flickery candle to Return of the Son of Monster Magnet, which features $12,000 of rented percussion equipment being played by "Freaks" who Frank brought into the studio more for their unique worldview than their musical talent. Monster Magnet lasts 12 minutes and has no structure that anyone would call an actual song.

Teetering precariously between the two musical styles is a song called Trouble Every Day in which Frank basically invents rap. Over a backing track made up of some blistering guitar heroics, Zappa flows words and rhymes at a breakneck pace. If it's not one of the earliest Hip Hop tracks then I'd like to know what genre it falls into. Zappa's choice of subject matter was the Watts Riots which tore apart California and were watched in horror on TV by millions of Americans. Frank's rapping takes in the terror caused by the riots, the underlying social causes and the hypocrisy of TV networks who condemned the riots while using it to boost their ratings.

If you need any evidence that Frank Zappa is a genuis and a unique talent then Trouble Every Day is your proof. Back in 1966 he had something to say, a unique way of saying it and a huge musical talent to back up his words. Freak Out is a great album and it's creator was a truly great man. We need him more than ever today and this list needs a lot more Zappa to give it more credibility. And you need to hear Freak Out if you haven't yet.

Highlight: Trouble every day
Lowlight: How could I be such a fool

Influenced by: Varese and Do Wop
Influenced: Paul McCartney (he credits this with inspiring Sgt Peppers)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Freak Out! is about a trillion, yes a trillion!, times better and original than anything produced by the biggest frauds in music history aka The Beatles. If we lived in a just world this would be on top of Rolling Stones Greatest Ever Album list."

-A trillion times? Really? That's a fairly big call.

So do you like to Freak Out or do you prefer to straight in? Let me know below

1 comment:

  1. I haven't heard a huge amount of Frank, but I saw him play music using a bicycle once and I thought that was pretty cool. His passion was contagious, even across time and distance (as it was an old TV recording.)