About seven years ago I wrote a review about a revelatory archival release from the estate of Frank Zappa celebrating an unfairly mis-represented era of his band, The Mothers of Invention. This release was a recording made by Zappa of their concert at Carnegie Hall in 1971 went a long way to correct the general perception that his incarnation of the band was just a comedy act. This perception was likely due to to the immensely popular single album recording at the Fillmore East in that year which focused largely on the comic tidbits peppered throughout the shows of the period. It is a fun record. It was also a fave for newbies who just wanted to hear the weird antics and not the serious music. You can read my review of Carnegie Hall 1971 by clicking here.
That they went on to do another live album (Just Another Band From LA) that was equally wonderful but more or less comedy-centric didn’t help matters. The fact is, this band — which marked the debut of George Duke in the Zappa lineage and also included Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan of The Turtles (aka Flo & Eddie, on lead vocals), drumming wonder Aynsley Dunbar, original Mother Ian Underwood and young bassist Jeff Simmons (who sang the original version of “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” which later appeared on Joe’s Garage) — was every bit as musically adept and stunning as later and prior incarnations of the group.
So its taken seven years, but this month Zappa fans are yet again being treated to a wonderful new boxed set focusing on this first incarnation of the band from 1970. Called simply The Mothers 1970, this collection goes the extra miles even beyond the Carnegie Hall show to present a vivid snapshot of what this group was about.
The boxed set opens with a first disc full of previously unreleased studio outtakes including some tracks engineered by future hit-making wizard Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, The Cars, etc.). And then there are three discs packed with amazing live soundboard and radio broadcast recordings as well as “audience” tapes made by Zappa on his portable Uher reel to reel (probably captured near the “sweet spot” in the concert hall where the soundboard was located).
And what I have heard here is just jaw dropping.
Your mileage may vary, as they say.
Flo & Eddie are in full flower… Zappa is firing with all cylinders on… Aynsley Dunbar is rocking the house like its nobody’s business … and George Duke spars with the band on all manner of keyboards and early synthesizers.
On The Mothers 1970 you’ll hear you’ll hear a healthy dose of live renditions of songs from my personal favorite Zappa album, Uncle Meat, including doo wop dramas like “The Air” plus “Dog Breath, “A Pound For A Brown On The Bus,” “Sleeping In A Jar” and of course epic versions of “King Kong.”
There are wonderful renditions of songs from We’re Only In It For The Money and Freak Out on The Mothers 1970 which both pay homage to the original versions yet in some ways expand upon them thanks to Flo & Eddie’s spot-on vocal harmonies — these guys were (and are!) unparalleled singers who went on to do many back up vocal hit recording sessions including no less than Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” T-Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” and even music for The Care Bears TV show (for real!).
And then there are the jams across multiple soaring versions of “King Kong” and new things like “Portugese Fenders,” and “Turn It Down.”
There is so much more…
Watch for Part 2 of this review next week where I’ll dig down deeper into this set…