This double 180-gram LP version will include the original record mastered by Bernie Grundman cut directly from the original analog master tapes and a second disc with 20 minutes of rare and unreleased bonus material, including the “Why Don’tcha Do Me Right?”/“Big Leg Emma” single as well as vintage remixes, and radio ads from The Vault on side one and a laser etching of Zappa’s visage from the album cover on side two. The package features Zappa’s original layout and a reproduction of the rare, highly sought-after “libretto,” an 18-page booklet with a foreword by FZ and lyrics to all the compositions, that was offered only by mail order when originally released.
1. Plastic People
2. The Duke Of Prunes
3. Amnesia Vivace
4. The Duke Regains His Chops
5. Call Any Vegetable
6. Invocation And Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin
7. Soft-Sell Conclusion
1. America Drinks
2. Status Back Baby
3. Uncle Bernie’s Farm
4. Son Of Suzy Creamcheese
5. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It
6. America Drinks & Goes Home
1. Absolutely Free Radio Ad #1
2. Why Don’tcha Do Me Right
3. Big Leg Emma
4. Absolutely Free Radio Ad #2
5. “Glutton For Punishment…”
6. America Drinks—1969 Re-Mix
7. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It—1969 Re-Mix
8. America Drinks & Goes Home—1969 Re-Mix
LP2—Side 2 Laser Etching
NEW YORK—A radio promotion campaign by Merson Musical Products Corporation has met with thumping success, according to company officials.
The effort, in co-operation with stations WOR-FM, New York; WFIL, Philadelphia and WRKO, Boston, featured a one-minute commercial using the music of Verve Records' Mothers of Invention with a message from the group's leader, Frank Zappa. The message invited listeners to write the station for a full-size poster of the combo and information about the Hagstrom guitar line, which is used by the Mothers.
Post cards informed the listener that he could pick up his free poster at his nearest Hagstrom dealer, whose name and address were printed on the card.
To date, there have been some 15,000 responses, and dealers throughout the promotion program area say that many of these have become customers.
Merson vice-president Bernard Mersky said this program is the is the first in a series of Merson consumer-oriented promotion programs. The program was launched a few months ago and will run at least a few more months, Mersky said.
In addition to being a musician, [FZ] is also president of The Nifty Advertising Agency, which Unicord, Inc. employs to reach the vast, new—and golden—youth market.
"Frank is our new corporate image," said Mr. Mersky, beaming at the bearded Mother. "He's our own Betty Furness." Zappa politely got up from the floor to shake my hand, and said, "He means that I sold them an advertising campaign in which my photo appears in every ad." [...] "We had a very small radio campaign, only FM," said Mr. Mersky. "If the kids would send in for our catalogue, we'd send them a poster of Frank and The Mothers. We got fourteen thousand requests." Mr. Mersky sounded awed.
[...] I asked Zappa about his theories on advertising. "Most music companies," he said, "they hype the kids. Our ads are true. There's nothing wrong with advertising, only with liars." He paused. "I hate liars," he suddenly said, with whispered heat.
Roy Ralph Estrada, Bunk Gardner, Jim Black, FZ, Billy Mundi, Don Preston, Ray Collins
We had a fight with MGM's legal department. On the back of the album cover was a small little notice on a billboard in amongst a whole back cover montage, and it said, in very little letters, "War Means Work For All." And we had a battle with MGM because their legal department felt that there was something wroing in saying that. And they refused to let it out. So in the end it came down to where they agreed to let us use it if we printed it in half tones! So it came out grey instead of black.
sketch from [FZ's] very own teenage scrapbook
This album was recorded the week before Thanksgiving, November [24,] 1966 in Los Angeles at the Sunset-Highland Studios of T.T.G. Inc., in a series of 4 sessions (about 25 studio hours). It was edited and re-mixed in New York City at the MGM Studios in 5 sessions (about 35 studio hours) the following week.
11/15/66 (6-9PM & 9:30PM-12:30AM) T.T.G. Studios—Status Back Baby; Plastic People; Son Of Suzy Creamcheese; Garbage Eaters
11/16/66 (6-9PM & 9:30PM-12:30AM) T.T.G. Studios—Remember; No Regret; Call Any Vegetable; Send Santa Claus Back To The Rescue Mission
11/17/66 (1-4AM & 4:30-7:30AM) T.T.G. Studios—If You Like Chickens
11/18/66 (7-11:30PM) T.T.G. Studios—Brown Shoes Don't Make It
"Absolutely Free" was done on 8 track, the first 8 track machine that came out. Half inch tape. "Freak Out!" was done on 4 track, 'cause that's all there was. That was state of the arts recording. TTG Studios. We did "Absolutely Free" at TTG Studios as well, but they had gone to 8 track by that . . .
I remember that we recorded Absolutely Free at TTG Studios on a four-track, I'm pretty sure that's what it was. I certainly remember that it took an unbelievable amount of takes—every eight bars we would do about 28 takes, because there would always be something wrong. Sure, the whole band was playing live and since about half the band couldn't read music and we were playing from memory, there would be a lot of mistakes made. We would just keep going over and over stuff. Since you only have four tracks, you have to kind of play it live.
The first two albums were done four track.
We were back in TTG working on a new 8-track machine because they had the first one in Hollywood. [...]
Although Tom Wilson was listed as producer on everything that we put out on Verve, he wasn't there most of the time. I think he and Frank had made some sort of deal so Frank could be left in charge of production and Tom would be off doing his own thing.
Absolutely Free featured Jim Fielder on guitar, while Bunk Gardner's friend, John Balkin, played acoustic bass on a few songs. [...] Don Ellis played trumpet on "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," one of two songs, the other being "Call Any Vegetable," which were written in Hawaii just before Freak Out! came out.
"After Freak Out was released," he explains, "it sold terribly. In the first year, it didn't do shit. It cost so much money—$20,000—an unheard-of amount of money for that day and age. An album in those days cost $8,000 and this was a double album!" Naturally, MGM went after Wilson, who Zappa admits really did produce Freak Out and "pretty much was producer on Absolutely Free. So when it came time to record Absolutely Free in 1966, MGM got tight with bucks, giving Wilson and the Mothers $11,000 and, according to Zappa, "one day with 15 minutes per tune to do all the vocals on that album. That's right. It's called 'sing or get off the pot.'"
Freak Out cost $20,000—which was preposterous in that day and age. People were shocked. The average rock 'n' roll album then cost $8,000, mainly because it was a collection of all your hit singles with a couple of Chuck Berry tunes thrown in on the side. When Freak Out was released it didn't sell. The first year it didn't do shit, so the company was very upset and when it came time to do the second album they spent a grand total of $11,000. We had one day with 15 minutes per song to do the vocals.
C: About the lyrics to Absolutely was there any censorship at all?
Z: Yes. They wouldn't let me print the lyrics on the cover, that's why I put a note on the inside of the album saying that you could write away and get the words . . .
C: Are you still getting requests for those?
Z: Yes. I'm not the one that's mailing them out, I know we have them. We had many thousands of them printed up.
Right around this time "Absolutely Free" was released and Frank had started designing some ads for it, but he was too busy and he decided that I should do them. For a few ads I used the art from the cover (which was done by Frank), and then I got some more bizarre ideas and produced the three ads that I illustrate here.
The Mothers released a single—"Big Leg Emma" and I had to rush an ad for Billboard—"Pigs Order Now—before they shut off the gas." Hurby [Cohen] drove me all over town in the Bizarre van trying to find a stat-house that was open on Saturday so I could get the thing finished.
The insincere assholes who run almost everybody's country are plastic people. References to Sunset Boulevard, Pandora's Box, CIA, and Laurel Canyon, all relate to the first youth riots in Los Angeles last year.
(I hear the sound of marching feet . . . down Sunset Blvd. to Crescent Heights, and there, at Pandora's Box, we are confronted with . . . a vast quantity of PLASTIC PEOPLE.)
There was a misbegotten property sale and a plan to build a 14-mile Laurel Canyon Freeway (Route 170) through the area. The plan never saw the light of the day, but still prompted LA County Supervisor Ernest E. Debs to take draconian measures agains the Strip's nightlife. [...]
With a convenient 10pm curfew to enforce, police brutality instigated youth picketing, which in turn led to mass arrests and a major riot on Saturday, November 12th 1966. [...] In the months that followed, clubs such as the Trip and Pandora's Box were torn down, and the teen nightlife boom quickly faded.
Frank had this very beautiful tune called "And Very True," and when we went in to record it, being a little crazy at the time, after all these years still, I just ad-libbed on the spot. The original lyrics I think were "Moonbeam through the night," something very loving, although Frank doesn't like love songs, and I said, "Moonbeam through the prune, in June, I can see your tits." And, so anyway I just made it up on the spot. So later, after we recorded it—you can hear Frank cracking up on the record—it's a lot of fun; it was fun—in fact, that's my favorite Mothers album, the ABSOLUTELY FREE album—so later, after we recorded it, I told Frank, "Well, you know, I just made up those lyrics, as we went along, so if not money," although I didn't say "Don't pay me" "so if not money I should at least get album credit for it." So he says,"Well, just tell me what you want to put on the album." And so a couple days later, I said, "Well, just put 'Prune: Ray Collins.'" And he put the "Side 3" part. That was out of his own mind.
"The Duke Of Prunes" is a surrealistic love song. Euphemistic sexual imagery popular in country blues tunes, with which many of you might already be familiar, is transmuted in this particular piece from the basic "[fuck] me, suck me, till my eyes roll back baby" to "prune me, cheese me, go-kart . . . " or something like that. This song is very strange.
"Call Any Vegetable" was written two weeks after we finished Freak Out!, when we were in Hawaii, and it took a year to learn how to play it.
The subject matter of that song deals with the concept of apathy between a member of the audience and any form of inert material.
The melody which starts at 1:20 into Call Any Vegetable is identical to the piano intro to Don & Dewey's "Little Sally Walker". Could be a coincidence, of course, but it sounds more than coincidental to me.
How important is sound? I participated in a conversation recently with Herbie Cohen (our manager) about rumors of a government research project. The project, it seems, has been going on for several years. What does sound do to plants? According to Herbie, a field of corn increased its yield—the individual ears even got bigger—because the research team set up loudspeakers in the field and pumped in some music. According to Herbie, the next step is to find out what kind of music the vegetables like the best.
The best clue to this song might lie in the fact that people who are inactive in a society . . . people who do not live up to their responsibilities are vegetables. I feel that these people, even if they are inactive, apathetic or unconcerend at this point, can be motivated toward a more useful sort of existence. I believe that if you call any vegtable that it will respond to you.
Van Dyke [Parks] and I were partial to salads. Strange as it may seem, salads were relatively unknown to Brian [Wilson]. He spent a lot of time with us in our apartment, and then of course we lived with them for a time. I made salads . . . Brian took to vegetables.
Van Dyke had worked briefly with Frank Zappa—one freak out was enough for us—and Frank was also writing a song about vegetables. We took Brian to meet Frank. That was a fun moment.
By the way, did you know that "Big Leg Emma" was released as a single? I can't understand why that didn't get on the radio. That's just as, that's just as imbecilic as "Yummy Yummy Yummy." Well, I think the size of the woman's leg had something to do with it. A large stomach— that's one thing. Big legs— I don't know . . .
On this side of the album there are two versions of this set of lyrics. This version which opens side two is in effect an abstraction (in advance of) the set of lyrics which close side two. The opening lines of "One, two, buckle my shoe" and "doopie, doopie' are derived from a tune called "My Little Red Book."
I noticed on the entry for "America Drinks" (Absolutely Free) that there are some unidentified quotations. I'm pretty sure one of them is the first theme from the overture to Rimsky-Korsakov's Tsar's Bride. It starts right around 1:22 (right after the Fucík quotation) and it's played by (I think) an electric piano.
"Status Back Baby" is a song about young acne America and their daily trials and tribulations. It is unfortunate that many young Americans really do worry about losing status at their high school. De Molay is a religious youth organisation in the United States. A Pom Pom Girl is a young lady who cuts strips of crepe paper all week long after school to make an object known as a pom pom, which is a puffy ball composed of strips of crepe paper. After she has manufactured her own pom pom, she will go to the football game and jump high in the air with her pom pom in her hand shouting, as she does so, these immortal words: "We've got a team that's on the beam, that's relly hep to the jive. Come on tigers, let's skin 'em alive." Or, "Push 'em back, push 'em back. We like it, sissboombah." Then they drink beer and get pregnant in the back of somebody's car.
A look into the background of a song on the album, "Status Back Baby," suggests how fervently Zappa sought to introduce listeners not just to his brand of satire, but to twentieth-century concert music. Besides borrowing from the first tableau of Stravinsky's Petrushka (compare rehearsal numbers 2 through 5 with "Status Back Baby," 1:27-2:07), it features a paraphrase of the opening measures of Claude Debussy's "La fille au cheveux de lin" (Préludes, book 1) in the triplet countermelody played on the soprano saxophone (albeit transposed from G[flat] to G Major).
They played some records by the Coasters
"Uncle Bernie's Farm" is a song about ugly toys and the people who make them. Implied here is the possiblitiy that the people who buy the ugly toys might be as ugly as the toys themselves.
"Son Of Suzy Creamcheese" is a stirring saga of a young groupie. Her actions are all motivated by a desire to be "in" at all times. Hence the drug abuse (blowing her mind on too much Kool-aid: acid . . . Stealing her boyfriends's stash: a hidden supply of drugs . . . and leaving Los Angeles for a protest march in Berkeley).
Heard The Heat knows where you are
Vito says she split for Berkeley
A signed contract between Frank Zappa and manager Herb Cohen and Imperator Films (believed to be a division of MGM) regarding a Zappa-created film treatment entitled "The Rise and Fall of Suzy Creamcheese." Dated December 1967, Zappa and Cohen grant the film company the right to develop and produce a film based on the character that Zappa had created and sang about.
"Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is a song about the people who run the government, the people who make the laws that keep you from living the kind of life you know you should lead. These unfortunate people manufacture inequitable laws and ordinances, perhaps unaware of the fact that the restrictions they place on the young people in a society are a result of their own hidden sexual frustrations. Dirty old men have no business running your country.
Years ago, I was taped by Frank Zappa, and a lot of ideas on a lot of his records started out with me. Like Susie Cream Cheese, What's Got into You?, and Brown Shoes Don't Make It.
The MOTHERS OF INVENTION play all their own musical backgrounds. The only exception on this disc is BROWN SHOES DON'T MAKE IT where they have added 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 'cello, 1 trumpet and 1 contra-bass clarinet.
According to Zappalog, the trumpet is Don Ellis, the clarinet is John Rotella, and two of the string players are Jim Getzoff and Kurt Reher. Dunno how reliable this information is. I mean, Don Ellis???
11/18/66 (7-11:30PM) T.T.G. Studios, Hollywood, CA—Brown Shoes Don't Make It
MUSICIANS: FZ, Benjamin Barrett (OM), Raymond Collins (mallets), Donald Preston (piano), Roy Estrada (bass), John Gardner (sax), James Fielder (piano), Tony Schnasse (aka Billy Mundi; drums), Jimmy Black (drums), James Getzoff (violin), Marshall Sosson (violin), Alvin Dinkin (viola), Armond Kaproff (cello), Donald Ellis (trumpet), Johnny Rotella (sax), Bob Hartley (copyist), Bill Hughes (copyist)
Don Ellis was brought in to play trumpet on "Brown Shoes Don't Make It." He was the first trumpet player I saw who had a pick-up on his horn and he played it through a Fender amplifier.
In the song "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" most people hear only the words. They don't realize that there is, in the middle of that song, a completely academic and rigorous 12-tone string quartet going on in the background.
TV dinner by the pool
Only thirteen and she knows how to nasty . . .
It was rumored that the song "She's only 13 and she knows how to nasty" was written about a girl a year younger than me called Patty Keenen who was a dead ringer for Bridget Bardot and looked old enough to buy beer for the boys [...]. And the song "Brown shoes dont make it" was the was it was in our school . . brown shoes just weren't cool.
She's a dirty young mind
Well she's thirteen today
And I hear she gets loaded
One of the most exciting things that ever happened in the world of 'white-person music' was when the Beach Boys used the progression V-II on "Little Deuce Coupe." An important step forward by going backward.
I used to listen to Frank Zappa, but I—You know, it's been so long that I can't remember what kind of music he made but, it was pretty modern, you know, kind of, crazy modern kind of music.
What would you do daddy?
Photos taken during the recording of Brown Shoes Don't Make It, T.T.G. Studios, Hollywood, November 1966. The girl who said "What would you do, Daddy?" is Herb's daughter Lisa.
SUZY CREAMCHEESE: WHAT WOULD YOU DO DADDY?
I'd like to make her do a nasty on the White House lawn
We had problems at Verve because it was a subsidiary of MGM and some lawyer or top exec at MGM in New York was a personal friend of Lyndon Johnson. When we did "Brown Shoes" with the line, "I want to make her do a nasty on the White House lawn," he went ape shit. They were afraid, given the climate of the times—the whole war syndrome—that whatever leverage a company of that size might have with certain friends in Washington might be compromised by having artists on their record label that those friends wouldn't agree with.
AMERICA DRINKS & GOES HOME was written in 1964 . . .
"America Drinks & Goes Home" is an unsubtle parody of adult conduct in neighbourhood cocktail lounges in America. The humour is aimed at (1) the type of music your parents like to listen to, (2) the manner in which they like to have it performed (the insincerity of the night-club crooner in his closing address to the alcoholics at the bar), (3) the manner in which the audience persists in talking above the level of the music while it is being performed (which belies their disrespect as an art and for anyone involved in the performance of music).
The one thing that I think is really good about our music is that the settings for the lyrics are so carefully designed. Supposing you had to listen to America Drinks and Goes Home for a million times—it would drive you crazy, for one thing. But eventually, if you're the average stupid layman who hates music anyway, you might realize how perfect that setting is. Those words, man. Those things are so carefully constructed that it breaks my heart when people don't dig into them and see all the levels that I put into them. [...]
Because it was written based on the same subconscious formula that all those pukers use. You know, II-V-I chord progressions, modulating all the way around. They modulate normally in a regular song in a circle of fifths. But this changes key and modulates and it gets weird. There is something happening in all those changes. And the melody, if you just were to play the melody as a straight thing, it's an interesting tune. But those stupid, stupid words, and in that setting with the cash registers and all that—we spent hours putting that together. Herbie [Cohen] was playing the cash register. We rehearsed the crowd noises. The talk track itself, which is underplayed in there, is funny, because they're saying things like, "I got a new Mustang" [Laughter], and like the girls are saying, "Sally, will you go with me to the bathroom?" [...]
But that's not all that's happening—technology is not up to reproducing that one song. I'll tell you what's in it. You've got the song itself. And the tune, which is a parody of all the changes. You've got the lyrics, which is a parody of all the lyrics. You've got the vocal performance of the lyrics, which is a parody of that. You've got the improvised dialogue, which is a parody of everybody's closing bullshit. [...]
You've got the sound of the setting, of the glasses and the cash register, which is right in there. You've got the crowd mumble, which was carefully programmed, like choreographed. Then on top of that, which you can't even hear, there's a fight going on. We had the crowds separated in two rooms. In the main studio we had ten people sitting around the microphone, doing these lines on cue, with the cash register over here and the glass on one microphone. Then in a vocal booth off to the side we had Ray and Jim [Black] and Roy [Estrada] going through this number. We had Bunk [Gardner] trying to pick up two girls. You know, "What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?" All that stuff. And then Jim's an Okie wanting to beat up a Mexican, who is Ray. They started out as good buddies and they're drinking beer together, and find out . . . the Indian accuses the Mexican of going out with his wife and they punch it out. And meanwhile, the chicks tell this other guy to fuck off because he's coming on too strong, you know, "What kind of girls do you think we are?" And it's all happening in there, but you can't listen to it all. You've got to have it on ten tracks so you can walk around the room and see where it's all coming from.
I actually knew Frank [Zappa] before I came to England. Me and my then girlfriend appear on one of the early Mothers of Invention albums. It's some sort of crowd effect and we were dragged into the studio to make noises like drunks in a bar.
According to the 1995 edition of Record Collector, the voice of Terry Gilliam—and of his girlfriend at the time—can be heard amidst the noise of the patrons of a bar that appears in the background of the song "America Drinks (and Goes Home)", included in the album Absolutely Free, by Frank Zappa & The Mothers.
Terry Gilliam, Gilliamesque, 2015, p. 103
For some reason Glenys [Roberts] and I turned up at the studio round the corner from Sunset Boulevard just as Frank and his Mothers needed some extra voices for a party sequence, so we ended up being on Freak Out! and Absolutely Free.
While defacing a couple of books and a poster to me, [Terry Gilliam] confirmed that he'd been a part of the crowd noises on 'America Drinks and Goes Home'—('I used to live just up the road from Frank')—and expressed sadness at the premature death of 'one of the greats'.
CARAVAN (with a drum sola)? Right. Yeah . . . we'll do that.
Additional informants: Javier Marcote, Bill Lantz, Charles UlrichResearch, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos