By now I think at least a few of you know that I’m a big — and pretty much lifetime — fan of legendary guitarist, composer, icon and iconoclast Frank Zappa. Many of you also know that I’m a big collector of pre-recorded music on formats ranging from tinny Monaural 78 RPM shellac to Surround Sound Blu-ray Discs. I even own a handful of picture discs, two of which actually sound pretty solid despite the common (and oft-deserved) perception to the contrary. The Record Store Day edition of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World (with its rare German cover design) was a big surprise, actually sounding great and overall pretty quiet (click here for that review). It was certainly a very listenable picture disc, something I can’t usually say about most LPs of this ilk.
Well, now there are two picture discs in my collection which sound good! Universal Music and the Frank Zappa Estate were kind enough to send me an advance copy of the very limited Record Store Day picture disc (!) edition coming out this week, celebrating The Mothers of Invention’s 1968 classic We’re Only In It For The Money. This special release marks the first time since 1968 that the Mono mix of this seminal album has been available as long playing vinyl record – it was, as far as I know, only issued as a rare promotional edition for radio and commercially released in the UK back in the 1960s. From the Record Store Day website it says that 4000 copies of this have been made for the US (so I assume that would break out to 1000 copies of each version with different images from the album photo session on the disc, but don’t hold me to that).
Now, most serious Zappa fans know that there are already a multitude of variants to consider when it comes to We’re Only In It For The Money due to censorship edits that happened back in the day. To that, while I haven’t had time for a deep dive analysis on this new version I suspect it will be similar to the version on the Lumpy Money CD set from 2008, so its fairly censored (no “bad” language, no Velvet Underground comment, etc.). You can read more about the many variants on the Mono edition by clicking here — and also look over here for info on the album overall on this site, one of several useful, super obsessive fan-driven Zappa reference resources out on the Interwebs).
Anyhow, since this is Audiophile Review those of you who are still with me reading about this fun and surprisingly / happily fine limited edition Monaural Zappa Picture Disc may wonder how it actually sounds. Well, first off, the new edition sounds better than the aforementioned Lumpy Money CD, fuller and richer than that 16-bit edition (which sounded good as CDs go but it was a bit on the crispy side, which happens with some compact discs). Again, the Zappa Estate has given this album handle-with-care status so the vinyl was cut by legendary mastering engineer Bernie Grundman.
I don’t know for certain what source material was used but it stands to reason that they would have used the original quarter-inch analog master (as had been done for Lumpy Money) or perhaps a high resolution digital transfer. Either way, this picture disc sounds pretty wonderful, is mostly quiet and the pressing is fairly tight sounding. This dedicated Mono mix — it is not a fold down — was done by Zappa with Dick Kunc back in 1968 so it is a different listening experience than the Stereo. In the Mono mix, different details pop out at the listener than you might be used to hearing in the traditional Stereo edition (vocal harmonies, guitar bits, etc.). Now, for those of you not familiar with the album, please do set your expectations accordingly as this album was never an amazing audiophile listen to begin with — but that is not saying it isn’t an amazing listening experience/.. it is!! But those are important distinctions to make and consider…
Of course some of you may be wondering if a traditional black vinyl edition will be coming out. I reached out to Zappa Vaultmeister Joe Travers who indicated that while none were planned at present, he didn’t rule out that option for the future. So… we’ll have to wait and see. If you are just looking for a good Stereo edition, there is a fine reissue out which I reviewed last year (click here to read that).
But for now, I suspect that some of you audiophile-oriented Zappa fans know that in your heart of hearts you probably really want to get one of these picture discs. And if you are a completist, you’ll want all five versions! So it is time to start networking with your friends abroad to make sure you get a UK edition and also share info with your friends around the country to try and get all the different versions.
Going back to the 1968 advertisement which Zappa created and ran in comic books to sell We’re Only In It For The Money directly to fans via mail order, some of his campy slogans there are a nice way to end this review:
“Thrilling L.P.s I’m sure you’ll want to own, boys and girls.”
“Cleans You. Thrills You. Cleans & Thrills You. Fun. Expensive”
“You must buy all these products now!”
“Thrilling Clean Fun!”
Happy Record Store Day!