Time to freak out: Zappa albums back

mothers of invention leader Frank ZappaThe first dozen Frank Zappa albums have been unleashed under a new deal between the late musician’s family and Universal Music Group.

The rereleased CDs include the Mothers of Invention works most closely identified with psychedelic music: “Freak Out!” (1966), “Absolutely Free” (1967) and “We’re Only in It For the Money” (1968).

“It is a win-win for all of us, but mostly for Frank Zappa,” his widow Gail said. “Long may his baton wave.”

The exclusive catalog deal replaces the turbulent distribution pact the estate made with Rykodisc in 1993. The Zappa family and Rykodisc battled over the catalog for years. Rykodisc was a respected indie at the time, but is now owned by UMG rival Warner Music Group.

Rykodisc, a pioneer in CD audio, used the latest Frank Zappa-approved mixes of the time, which included some rerecorded instruments. Some of those mixes remain controversial, especially the one for “Hot Rats.” The new CD uses a highly praised 2008 remix done for vinyl.

Gail Zappa had this to say about the new versions: “None of the new releases are ‘sourced’ from the Ryko releases and although many represent the digital masters mostly as you have come to understand them, many do not! Each package will identify the actual source (of the mix).”

Universal Music Enterprises, UMG’s catalog label, saluted Zappa as “one of the most important and influential artists in music history.”

UMe chief Bruce Resnikoff says Zappa’s works won’t be sullied: “We intend to honor him and bring high-quality releases, digital and physical, for his new and longtime fans.”

Many of the original analog masters have been reworked for the official Zappa releases, which number at least 60. The plan is to release a dozen Zappa albums each month through the end of the year.

Other Zappa/Mothers albums rereleased in the first wave include “Lumpy Gravy” (1968), “Uncle Meat” (1969), “Hot Rats” (1969), “Chunga’s Revenge” (1970) and “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” (1970).

“Freak Out!” contains a couple of borderline psychedelic songs, “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” and “Who Are the Brain Police.” The extended free-form piece “Help, I’m a Rock” delivers on the promise of the album’s title, though. “Rock” and Zappa’s protest song “Trouble Every Day” are the key tracks. The rest of “Freak Out!” is devoted to bad doo-wop and novelty numbers, with kazoo.

“Absolutely Free” captures the Mothers of Invention in the process of becoming a great band. The album offers a scramble of ace musicianship, sonic collages and underground comedy. Fans know by heart the songs “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It,” “Plastic People,” “Call Any Vegetable” and “America Drinks.” Source for the new CD: original 1967 analog master.

“We’re Only in It For the Money” — brilliant and cohesive — was Zappa’s parody of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The Mothers donned dresses for the fold-out photo (instead of the Fabs’ marching band uniforms). Zappa’s main target, though, was hippie culture. “For the Money” both spoofs and embraces the “concept album” trend of the day, The liner notes indicate Zappa felt this was one of his three “composer masterworks” (along with “Lumpy Gravy” and “Civilization Phaze III”). Source for the new CD: 1993 digital master.

“Hot Rats,” one of Zappa’s finest solo albums, includes the famed instrumental “Peaches En Regalia” and the raucous “Willie the Pimp,” both songs signaling the directions Zappa would take for the rest of his career. The remastering was done by Bernie Grundman in 2008 with the original 1969 analog master as the source. (Grundman remastered a handful of Zappa albums in ’08 for vinyl release.)

The Rykodisc CDs had become minor collector’s items, while higher-quality Japanese imports of Zappa’s works did brisk business.

The musician, songwriter and composer Frank Zappa died in 1993. Lou Reed gave the speech when Zappa posthumously entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: “I think the induction of Frank Zappa distinguishes the Hall as well as the inductee.”

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