Frank Zappa


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In late 1965, record producer Tom Wilson, who had been behind the board when Bob Dylan went electric on songs such as "Like a Rolling Stone," moved from Columbia Records to the Verve division of MGM, where he looked for new acts. In Los Angeles, he saw a band called the Mothers at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go performing a song called "Trouble Every Day," a wordy folk-rock tune in the style of "Like a Rolling Stone" that the group's leader, Frank Zappa, had written in the wake of the recent race riot in the Watts ghetto of L.A. Wilson signed the Mothers for an advance of $2,500. When the band assembled to record its debut album at T.T.G. Studios the following March, he found that he had a lot more on his hands than just another Dylan imitator. In fact, the Mothers (who were forced to change their name to the Mothers of Invention by the record company) were a combination of a doo wop group with Mexican antecedents and a rock & roll band, with a leader whose appreciation for contemporary classical music included the percussion experimentalist Edgard Varèse as a major influence. Not only was Wilson unfazed, he helped persuade the record company to let the band make a double-LP for its debut recording. That is some of the story of Freak Out! told in The MOFO Project/Object, aka "The Making of Freak Out! An FZ Audio Documentary", which is in effect a deluxe edition reissue of the album. Maybe "super deluxe" would be a better way to put it. The four-CD set quadruples the running time of the original album, which lasted about an hour. Producers Gail Zappa (Zappa's widow) and Joe Travers have gone into the vaults and come out with the usual goods: alternate takes, unreleased tracks, remixes, live performances, and interviews in which Zappa discusses Freak Out!

One of the most valuable aspects of the package is that it brings into the digital realm the original stereo mix of Freak Out!, which takes up the first disc. In 1987, when Zappa, who had acquired his masters from Verve/MGM, embarked on a CD reissue program, he extensively remixed the material and in some cases replaced original performances with new instrumental tracks. Anyone wishing to compare the original Freak Out! to the later CD can do so by turning to Tracks 15, 16, and 17 on the fourth disc, which present three of those altered versions, which were all that was available of Freak Out! on CD until now. Much of the second disc is taken up by basic tracks without vocals, and these selections accentuate the studio performances by the Mothers accompanied by a host of mostly unnamed session musicians (annotator David Fricke mentions guitarist Carol Kaye, for one). The third disc is, if anything, even more basic, presenting percussion tracks and audience sounds that were edited into the sidelong closing track, "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet." Interestingly, Zappa later reveals that that track, considered a Varèse-like sonic experiment, was never completed; he says Verve pulled the plug after he'd only gotten the rhythm track done.

A five-song live performance from the Fillmore Auditorium in 1966, introduced by Bill Graham, is a highlight, even if it cuts off suddenly, and the extensive interviews with Zappa are illuminating, even if he becomes increasingly negative and dismissive as those interviews extend into the 1980s and '90s. (Asked about how Freak Out! was received, he curtly answers, "Flop"; asked how critics responded, he replies, "They hated it.") Despite his protestations that Freak Out! was only intended to entertain and that it isn't likely to be of interest in the future, the existence of The MOFO Project/Object demonstrates that the album and its composer's career as a whole continue to fascinate later generations, and it more than justifies that fascination. [A two-CD version was originally released.]

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