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Lost Live Zappa Album “Whisky A Go Go 1968” Captures Original Mothers Of Invention At Early Peak

Mark Smotroff explores the new 1968 live album by The Mothers Of Invention



By Mark Smotroff

It was supposed to be a live album and ended up being so much more. The newly released 3CD set by Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention — Whisky A Go Go 1968 — is a document of a time, a place, a scene and a movement.  Arguably an apex of the then still somewhat shocking and wild freak scene in Los Angeles, this 1968 live performance finds Frank Zappa and his band of merry Mothers at an early peak.

Thankfully, due to the efforts of Joe Travers, longstanding “Vaultmeister” of the Frank Zappa archives, as well as Ahmet Zappa, and the good folks at Universal Music, we get to hear finally all the recordings which were made on that storied night in July of 1968. 

From the official press materials, we learn some of the essence of this event came together, particularly from a “hand-scrawled ad” invitation which ran in the L.A. Free Press, reading: “The Mothers of Invention cordially invite you to join them on Tuesday, July 23, 1968, when they will be taking over the Whisky a Go Go for 5 full hours of unprecedented merriment, which will be secretly recorded for an upcoming record album. Dress optional. Starting sometime in the evening. R.S.V.D.T.” 

Indeed, Zappa recorded the entire event but the album never came to fruition (for any number of reasons why which we may never know). There is a great deal of additional information and backstory about the show in the official press release posted on the Frank Zappa website, which I encourage you to read (by clicking here). 

That said, I’m admittedly a bit giddy about the final album that is Whisky A Go Go 1968. First off, the recordings sound really great, presenting us with a vivid, high fidelity snapshot of the “classic” original Mothers of Invention playing on their home turf.  Amazingly enough, Zappa was able to procure then cutting-edge new eight track multi-channel recording gear to document this performance at a time when remote recording was not really super commonplace.

Whisky A Go Go 1968 focuses largely on material from Zappa’s first two groundbreaking albums with the Mothers: Freak Out and Absolutely Free.   Zappa also treated the fans to other amazing new music some of which would eventually appear on 1969’s masterpiece, Uncle Meat including the proto jazz-rock-fusion epic “King Kong.”  

Whisky A Go Go 1968 notably includes the first ever live performance of Zappa’s 1967 Absolutely Free classic “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It,” which is followed by a extended jam on the song’s shuffle groove (cleverly titled “Brown Shoes Shuffle”). The Freak Out songs also fare well, including a great version of  “Help, I’m a Rock.”  

During this recording we get to hear the sumptuous (if a bit off mic) vocalizations of none other than The GTO’s (a.k.a. Girls Together Outrageously, an assemblage of adoring freak scene groupies whom Zappa befriended and helped transform into a performing entity,  eventually recording and producing their 1969 release Permanent Damage). Liner notes for Whisky A Go Go 1968 are provided by head GTO and iconic groupie supremo Pamela Des Barres as well as Vaultmeister and driving force behind these archive projects, Joe Travers.

Its worth noting that because Whisky A Go Go 1968 is such a good quality recording and newly mixed from original multi-track sources, we get to hear all the instruments very clearly. Most early live Zappa recordings I’ve heard tend to keep the drums in the background but this mix presents the percussion in an almost more contemporary manner. Don’t get me wrong: this still sounds like 1968 live recordings, but we can fully hear the dual assault of drummers Jimmy Carl Black and Art Tripp interlocking and grooving in fairly rock solid fashion. Its a reminder of just how great the original Mothers were.

I did an aural double take at one point when the band broke into a comic twist on The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back” — the group suddenly sounded very similar to the early 1970s incarnation of The Mothers when “Flo and Eddie” (aka Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles) were the group’s lead vocalists. Its a reminder that the sound of The Mothers Of Invention was very much a reflection of Zappa’s intention regardless of who the players were. Curiously, members of The Turtles were in the audience that very night, so perhaps they later brought with them a pretty good sense of the precise sound Frank wanted for his next Mothers when they eventually joined the band. 

Overall, I’m very pleased with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention’s new release Whisky A Go Go 1968. I very much look forward to hearing this on the upcoming five LP edition which I’ll be reviewing once it arrives. From the official press materials, it sounds like it should be extra special given its inherent environmental friendliness:

“On July 12th, Whisky a Go Go, 1968 will be released as a 5LP box set, containing nine sides of music and a silkscreen printed image on the 10th side plus a custom turntable mat. A 2LP Highlights edition will also be available, spotlighting highlights from all three sets. All vinyl was cut from hi-res digital file by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering in 2023 and is being pressed at Optimal: Media in Germany on BioVinyl, a new environment-friendly formulation and sustainable product made from bio-based PVC (polyvinyl chloride). The petroleum previously required for PVC production is replaced by recycling used cooking oil or industrial waste gases. Through the use of renewable energies and recycled raw materials, CO2 emissions are significantly reduced.”

But for, now if you want to hear the original Mothers in all their 1968 mad-brilliant glory, you should grab a copy of Whisky A Go Go 1968 as soon as you can either from the zappa.com website or from the links to Amazon I’ve embedded in the album titles throughout this review. 

[Mark Smotroff has been reviewing music at AudiophileReview for many years but can also be found at AnalogPlanet.com. In the past he has written for Sound & Vision, DISCoveries, EQ, Mix and many more.  An avid vinyl collector and music enthusiast who has also worked in marketing communications for decades you can learn  more about his background at LinkedIn.]

3CD – SUPER DELUXE

CD 1

  1. Whisky Improvisation: Episode I
  2. America Drinks & Goes Home
  3. Help, I’m A Rock / Transylvania Boogie
  4. My Boyfriend’s Back
  5. Bust His Head
  6. Tiny Sick Tears Jam
  7. “The Purpose Of This Evening…”
  8. Whisky Improvisation: Episode II
  9. Status Back Baby
  10. Memories Of El Monte
  11. Oh, In The Sky
  12. Valerie

CD 2

  1. “Fun & Merriment”
  2. Hungry Freaks, Daddy
  3. King Kong – Part 1
  4. King Kong – Part 2
  5. Octandre
  6. Whisky Improvisation: Episode III
  7. Meow
  8. God Bless America
  9. Presentation Of Wings
  10. Plastic People
  11. Della’s Preamble
  12. The Duke – Take 1
  13. The Duke – Take 2
  14. Khaki Sack

CD 3

  1. The Whip
  2. Whisky Chouflée
  3. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It
  4. Brown Shoes Shuffle
  5. Bonus Vintage Mixes
  6. The Whip (FZ Mix)
  7. Hungry Freaks, Daddy (FZ Mono Mix)

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