No. 43: Freak Out!

mothers of invention freak_out albumIt’s 1966. Psychedelia is in the air and just beginning to infect popular culture. LSD is still legal. Nehru jackets rule.

Judging the album by the cover, the first Mothers of Invention record is right in tune with the chemically charged zeitgeist. “Freak Out!” the cover screamed, atop a solarized and colorized picture of the band, which looks suitably hairy and dazed.

On the back cover, Suzy Creamcheese, a band muse of some sort, warns listeners that “these Mothers is crazy. … One guy wears beads and they all smell bad.” Hello, Frank Zappa.

Fledgling hippies expecting the new psychedelic sounds out of California were instead greeted with a bunch of greasy pop songs and doo-wop.

Psychedelic? Meh. Strange? Definitely.

Update: Entire Zappa catalog rereleased by UMG.

mothers1966_275Bandleader Zappa uses the liner notes to abuse his listeners, pearls before consumer swine: “None of you are perceptive enough. Why are you reading this?

“If your children ever find out how lame you are, they’ll murder you in your sleep.”

Speaking of lame, “Freak Out!” wastes most of its running time on crap. Boldly bad novelty numbers, with kazoo. Spoofs of radio music from the 1950s, wasted on the youth of the mid-60s. “Louie Louie” ripoffs. (Zappa fans have a fondness for these numbers, which at least have nostalgia going for them these days. Kids like “Wowie Zowie.”)

The lyrics are borderline demented. Zappa’s targets are easy: dumb teenagers, squares, cops and racist haters. (Zappa would get around to the hippies soon enough, two albums later, in the satirical masterpiece “We’re Only in It for the Money.)

Zappa would later claim that “each tune had a function within an overall satirical concept.”

So why does this nonsense make our list of the Top Psychedelic Albums?

“Hungry Freaks, Daddy” and “Who Are the Brain Police” are the oddly colored appetizers on Side 1, but Zappa and company finally get down to business as the mindfuck begins deep into the double-album.

“Trouble Coming Every Day” finds Zappa playing it straight, railing in a Dylan-esque stream against the madness of the Watts Riots — the song was written as they were occurring, “the fire in the street.” A fuzzed-up guitar dances over hypnotic drumming. At the break, Zappa finally shows off his significant guitar chops, riffing off “Eight Miles High.” The ending features a freak out, finally, as the song collapses on top of itself.

Then it’s on to the psychedelic wonders of the 9-minute “Help, I’m a Rock”/”It Can’t Happen Here.” Zappa took no drugs, but this is the headphone masterpiece that launched zillions of acid trips. “Help, I’m a Rock” ranks No. 28 on Psychedelic Sight’s list of the top 100 psychedelic songs.

Zappa’s multitracking lays on screams, duck calls, alien-like beeps and chatter, a female orgasm, all in the service of the drone “Help I’m a Rock.”

Then this: “Who can imagine, that they would freak out in Kansas …” prefaces a Sun Ra-inspired detour into free jazz. (“Note the interesting formal structure,” Zappa deadpans in the liner notes.)

It ends with a parting shot from Suzy Creamcheese, apparently not into Mother fucking.

“The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet” clocks in at 12 minutes. “This is what freaks sound like when turned loose in a recording studio with $500 worth of percussion equipment,” Zappa says in trying to explain the resulting clamor. Freak out, indeed.

Zappa would go on to refine all of his moves on this album, both as an important avant garde composer and as a novelty song satirist. “Freak Out!” eventually was included on the Grammy Hall of Fame album list and Zappa would later release an “audio documentary” CD set about its making.

Zappa immediately set about making much better albums, but this record’s final 20 minutes remains prime psychedelia, with a twist.

The Zappa/Mothers store

(Primo picks from Amazon’s stash)


  1. Race Baker says:

    One of my all time favorites. Still blows my mind. The first time I heard it I felt like I was hit by a truck.

  2. Matthew Lowe says:

    Did sac ever play the filmore east or west ?

  3. Tyler Modock says:

    This is an interesting album to listen to. If you know how things were back in the 60s, and really listen to the messages Zappa tells through his crazy tunes, you’re sure to crack a smile. Zappa loved making fun of people so the victims in his clever lyrics, I imagine, would have had a “Freak Out” after a listen. See what I did there?

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