ON THIS DATE (45 YEARS AGO)
May 25, 1967 – The Mothers of Invention: Absolutely Free is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4.5/5
# Allmusic 4.5/5 stars
Absolutely Free is the second album by The Mothers of Invention, led by Frank Zappa, released on this date in May 1967. In the book Necessity Is…, former Mothers of Invention band member Ray Collins claimed that Absolutely Free is probably his favorite of the classic Mothers albums.
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 saxophone player Bunk Gardner, keyboardist Don Preston, 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”.
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 that something was up when the fastidiously dressed President Lyndon B. Johnson committed the fashion faux pas of wearing brown shoes with a gray suit. LBJ flew to Vietnam for an unannounced 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).
“Plastic People” 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”.
by Steve Huey, allmusic
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.
All songs written and composed by Frank Zappa.
Side one: Suite No. 1: “Absolutely Free” (1st in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
1. “Plastic People” – 3:42
2. “The Duke of Prunes” – 2:13
3. “Amnesia Vivace” – 1:01
4. “The Duke Regains His Chops” – 1:52
5. “Call Any Vegetables” – 2:15
6. “Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” – 7:00
7. “Soft-Sell Conclusion” – 1:40
Side two: Suite No. 2: “The M.O.I. American Pageant” (2nd in a Series of Underground Oratorios)
1. “America Drinks” – 1:52
2. “Status Back Baby” – 2:54
3. “Uncle Bernie’s Farm” – 2:10
4. “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” – 1:34
5. “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” – 7:30
6. “America Drinks and Goes Home” – 2:46
1967 Mothers of Invention single, bonus tracks for the 1995 Rykodisc CD reissue:
“Big Leg Emma” – 2:31
“Why Don’tcha Do Me Right?” – 2:37