So, this album I’m reviewing here isn’t new. It came out in 1966. And the reissue I’m reviewing isn’t even really new. It came out in 2013.
But, lets do a show of hands out there in the studio audience: how many of you even knew about Frank Zappa’s Freak Out album being reissued? Yeah, I figured those few of you hardcore fans in the back row did.
However, as far as I have been able to tell most people didn’t know much about it (even in my informal poll of three fairly hard-core Zappa fans who are also journalists and PR people).
Thus this review (of sorts).
Really, its more of a “listicle” flavored review because I think that format will serve this purpose better… and I know that some of you, Dear Readers, like to read that sort of visual entertainment.
So here we go with “10 Reasons Why You Need To Freak Out Again” :
1) Frank Zappa’s Freak Out is an important slice of counter-culture pop history on many levels. Its one of the first two LP set in rock music (released nearly neck-and-neck with Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde). It also is among the first pop records outside of Dylan and the folk music movement to offer lyrics that directly question authority and societal moves around us, from racism and media manipulation to corporate greed.
2) The stereo mix has recently been reissued on high quality, 180-gram vinyl pressed at Pallas in Germany, mastered from the best available sources (the 1987 digital transfer done by Frank Zappa himself off the deteriorating analog master tape). The vinyl is dead quiet and perfectly centered. This version sounds much better than the prior vinyl edition available in the Old Masters box set issued in the mid-1980s.
3) This original vinyl stereo mix was previously only available on CD in the MOFO sets (two- and four-CD versions).
4) Freak Out really was designed for the LP medium, so it works best — my personal opinion as a nearly life-long Zappa fan — as a two disc listening experience (as opposed to a CD or a download). The first album is made up of shorter tracks, rock songs mostly featuring Zappa’s distinctive pop songwriting and stinging guitar work. The second LP features just three tracks including one taking up the entirety of Side Four, the experimental “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet.”
5) The album art on the new edition of Freak Out is revelatory (yes, revelatory!). For the first time you can really see Zappa’s face on the photo on the inner gatefold (original pressings were always too dark, probably due to oversaturated, overly contrasted printing). Additionally there are different pictures there not on the original pressings. For collectors, this occurrence is a blessing and a curse: completists will want to own the new one for the new art and yet will be needing to hold on to at least one of their original pressings for the original layout.
6) The FREAK OUT MAP is included! Yes, kids, you read that right. The elusive and once-impossible to find “Freak Out Map” — which fans could obtain by writing to Zappa’s record label in 1966 at an address that was on early pressings of the album — has been reproduced as a fold out poster (it is approximately the size of double LP gatefold sleeve). Previously, the only other place you could get this map was in the deluxe edition four CD box set MOFO edition of Freak Out (but even that had been folded up small to fit into the format of the CD-sized box set packaging). So this is simply a really neat thing to have, finally!
7) For those who care about this sort of detail with regards to Freak Out, according to the Wikipedia: “In 1999, the album was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award, and in 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it among the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
8) For those who have never heard Freak Out, understand that in 1966, music like this had not really been heard before from a popular artist — or even from an artist who was seeking an audience to become popular, which is what happened in the case of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention after releasing this album. They developed a strong cult following and it grew from there…
The rest is history, as they say…
]]>So when you play the album, you’ll hear deft parodies of music of the day (the core bluesy riff central to “Hungry Freaks” could have been done by The Animals whom, by the way, Zappa produced around this same period on their album “Animalism” ) and even old doo-wop music from the still-fresh-in-the-public’s-memory 1950s (“Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder”). There were teeny-bopper pop send ups (“Wowie Zowie”) and even a ripping-rocking long form electric blues rant in “Trouble Every Day” (a scathing response to the Watts riots, racism and sensationalist journalism that was happening even back then). And then there are simply some great pop songs that are distinctly Zappa-flavored and which still sound timeless (“How Could I Be Such a Fool?,” “Anyway The Wind Blows,” “You Didn’t Try To Call Me,” “Ain’t Got No Heart”)
“Who Are The Brain Police?” sounds like nothing before or since… an eerie three minute nightmare vision which even Zappa knew was scary, writing in the liner notes “At five o’clock in the morning someone kept singing this in my mind and made me write it down. I will admit to being frightened when I finally played it out loud and sang the words.”
On the second disc you’ll hear wonderfully mad avante-garde pastiche pieces such as “Help I’m a Rock” and “It Can’t Happen Here.”
Freak Out is a wild ride, start to finish. Nothing sounds like this record, really.
9) Another reason why you need this version of Freak Out is simply facing up to the hard fact that clean original pressings are still fairly hard to find. You can find minty-looking reissues from the 1970s but they don’t sound all that good — around that time MGM/Verve was acquired by Polygram so the reissues weren’t super accurate (black labels instead of blue, none of the original inserts, thinner noisier vinyl, etc.).
Frankly, it was precisely those mid 70s reissue pressings of Zappa’s albums which led me to become a collector of old original pressings back in the day just as I was digging into his catalog for the first time. The early-to- mid 70s was generally a lousy period for vinyl — especially when the oil crisis was on — so, depending on the label, pressings could often sound noisy and were sometimes even poorly pressed. Records were a big commodity product by then and the demand was strong, so there was a lot of garbage being churned out. Certain labels were generally pretty good (Warner Brothers, Columbia, A&M, Capitol) but others no so much (MGM, United Artists, RCA, Motown/Tamla).
Finding original 1960s pressings of Freak Out in pristine condition or even “VG” condition is a challenge and when you do they are usually fairly pricey collectors pieces. So, for about $25, with this new reissue from Universal Music Group and the Zappa Family Trust, you get the whole original stereo mix and fair approximation of what the original album cover looked like.
Its not perfect and its not analog, that we know. But all things considered it doesn’t sound that bad and it certainly sounds better than some earlier reissues I’ve heard — that said, this reissue is as fine a place to start as any for newly minted Zappa fan or for older folks on the bus who just want to hear their favorite album in its original vinyl format without any clicks and pops.
10) Oh, and did I mention that the FREAK OUT MAP is included???!!
Now, the much bigger question remains: when will we get a vinyl reissue of the original MONO mix? That edition has been my “go to” listen of Freak Out for most of my life — I got my copy in perfect shape used in the mid-70s when I was getting in to Zappa, for a measly $2.50. I still have that record and it sounds great, arguably better than the stereo mix…
So, yes, be forewarned that if you are getting into Freak Out, you will need it in both Mono and Stereo.
Wowie Zowie, indeed!