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Absolutely Free Frank Zappa Review

“A prune isn't really a vegetable. Cabbage is a vegetable.”

    Following the moderate success of their first album, Freak Out, The Mothers of Invention started recording their second album, Absolutely Free, the following fall, 1967. This album marks a high point in Zappa’s and the early Mother’s careers, and is one of my favourite Zappa albums.

    The album opens with a sarcastic impression of the President of the United States and the First Lady, followed by what sounds like “Louie, Louie”. It is, in fact, “Plastic People”, a song first written in 1965 as a parody to “Louie, Louie”. This song also has the first reference to vegetables and prunes.

    The first suite, “Duke of Prunes”, starts out with the title track, “The Duke of Prunes”. The melody is directly taken from his soundtrack to the movie Run Home Slow. It then transitions to the freaky “Amnesia Vivace”, which quotes Igor Stravinsky, the famous classical composer, several times. The Suite concludes with “The Duke Regains His Chops”, another version of the original “Duke of Prunes” melody. It builds up near the end and transitions to the other suite on the album.

    The “Call Any Vegetable” suite starts out with Frank Zappa telling us that vegetables “keep you regular” and are “real good for you.” The suite features Bunk Gardner on soprano saxophone, demonstrated by the main riff and the great sax solo on “Invocation And Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin”, the pumpkin being a reference to Frank’s wife Gail Zappa, which was his nickname for her. During the sax solo, there is also a guitar solo going on in the other audio channel. The three part suite ends with “Soft-Sell Conclusion”, which is the conclusion for the first side of the album.

    On the CD releases of this album, they added two tracks that were originally on a single, “Big Leg Emma” and “Why Don’tcha Do Me Right”. They were intended to be dumb songs to appeal to dumb teenagers, and that shows. They’re really not anything that special, and not really worth talking about; I usually just skip them. They don’t detract points from the album, but they don’t really add anything.

    Side two, AKA "The M.O.I. American Pageant" starts with some silly humming on “America Drinks”, then a bass playing to a singer. It’s a funny start to the second half.

    The medley between the two versions of “America Drinks” starts with “Status Back Baby”. It’s lyrics are a satire on high school drama and social status, and is a good start to the suite. This transitions to “Uncle Bernie’s Farm”, a political song that quotes “White Christmas” and is a critique on consumerism and capitalism. This goes into “Son of Suzy Creamcheese”, a character first seen on the “Help, I’m A Rock” suite. It is the first of many Zappa songs with odd time signatures, as the chorus alternates between 8/8 and 9/8.

    “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” is widely considered to be Frank Zappa’s first masterpiece. The lyrics tell a story of a pedophillic politician and his “teenage queen”. The musical style constantly changes and it works really well. We go from a pop song, to a psychedelic song, to some avant garde, to doo-wop, to lounge music and more. Suzy Creamcheese makes an appearance here, played by Lisa Cohen, a verified child (at the time). It is a perfect mish-mash of excellently crafted lewd lyrics and genius composing, and I personally consider it to be one of Zappa’s three best songs. It’s also one of the first rock operas, coming out a mere 6 months after The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away”. This wasn’t his last rock opera either, he went on to make Uncle Meat & Cruising With Ruben And The Jets, the “Mud Shark” suite, “Billy The Mountain” & “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary”, the “Don’t You Eat That Yellow Snow” suite, “Titties & Beer”, Thing Fish, and of course, Joe’s Garage.

    The album concludes with “America Drinks & Goes Home”, a version of “America Drinks” made to be more lounge-like, to compliment the masterpiece we just witnessed.

    Absolutely Free is absolutely one of the best albums in the Mother’s catalogue, and stands out with it’s amazing melodies and lyrics in the sea of Zappa albums. “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” is reason enough to get this album, but with songs like “Duke of Prunes” and “Call Any Vegetable”, this song is a must buy for any prog rock or jazz fusion fans.

    I rate this album an 8.5/10.
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