Freak Out! is the debut studio album by American rock band the Mothers of Invention, released on June 27, 1966, by Verve Records. Often cited as one of rock music’s first concept albums, it is a satirical expression of frontman Frank Zappa’s perception of American pop culture and the nascent freak scene of Los Angeles. It was also one of the earliest double albums in rock music, as well as the first two-record debut album. In the UK, the album was originally released as an edited single disc.
The album was produced by Tom Wilson, who signed the Mothers, formerly a bar band called the Soul Giants. Zappa said many years later that Wilson signed the band to a record deal under the impression that they were a white blues band. The album features Zappa on vocals and guitar, along with lead vocalist/tambourine player Ray Collins, bass player/vocalist Roy Estrada, drummer/vocalist Jimmy Carl Black and guitar player Elliot Ingber (later of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, performing there under the pseudonym “Winged Eel Fingerling”).
The band’s original repertoire consisted of rhythm and blues covers, but after Zappa joined the band, he encouraged them to play his own original material, and their name was changed to the Mothers. The musical content of Freak Out! ranges from rhythm and blues, doo-wop, and standard blues-influenced rock to orchestral arrangements and avant-garde sound collages. Although the album was initially poorly received in the United States, it was a success in Europe. It gained a cult following in America, where it continued to sell in substantial quantities until it was discontinued in the early 1970s.
In 1999, the album was honored with the Grammy Hall of Fame Award, and in 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it among the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. In 2006, The MOFO Project/Object, an audio documentary on the making of the album, was released in honor of its 40th anniversary.
No. Title Length
1. “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” 3:32
2. “I Ain’t Got No Heart” 2:34
3. “Who Are the Brain Police?” 3:25
4. “Go Cry on Somebody Else’s Shoulder” 3:43
5. “Motherly Love” 2:50
6. “How Could I Be Such a Fool” 2:16
No. Title Length
7. “Wowie Zowie” 2:55
8. “You Didn’t Try to Call Me” 3:21
9. “Any Way the Wind Blows” 2:55
10. “I’m Not Satisfied” 2:41
11. “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here” 3:41
No. Title Length
12. “Trouble Every Day” 5:53
13. “Help, I’m a Rock (Suite in Three Movements)
I. Okay to Tap Dance
II. In Memoriam, Edgard Varèse
III. It Can’t Happen Here”
No. Title Length
14. “The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet (Unfinished Ballet in Two Tableaux)
I. Ritual Dance of the Child-Killer
II. Nullis Pretii (No Commercial Potential)”
Total length: 60:55
AllMusic Review: One of the most ambitious debuts in rock history, Freak Out! was a seminal concept album that somehow foreshadowed both art rock and punk at the same time. Its four LP sides deconstruct rock conventions right and left, eventually pushing into territory inspired by avant-garde classical composers. Yet the album is sequenced in an accessibly logical progression; the first half is dedicated to catchy, satirical pop/rock songs that question assumptions about pop music, setting the tone for the radical new directions of the second half. Opening with the nonconformist call to arms “Hungry Freaks, Daddy,” Freak Out! quickly posits the Mothers of Invention as the antithesis of teen-idol bands, often with sneering mockeries of the teen-romance songs that had long been rock’s commercial stock-in-trade. Despite his genuine emotional alienation and dissatisfaction with pop conventions, though, Frank Zappa was actually a skilled pop composer; even with the raw performances and his stinging guitar work, there’s a subtle sophistication apparent in his unorthodox arrangements and tight, unpredictable melodicism. After returning to social criticism on the first song of the second half, the perceptive Watts riot protest “Trouble Every Day,” Zappa exchanges pop song structure for experiments with musique concrète, amelodic dissonance, shifting time signatures, and studio effects. It’s the first salvo in his career-long project of synthesizing popular and art music, high and low culture; while these pieces can meander, they virtually explode the limits of what can appear on a rock album, and effectively illustrate Freak Out!’s underlying principles: acceptance of differences and free individual expression. Zappa would spend much of his career developing and exploring ideas — both musical and conceptual — first put forth here; while his myriad directions often produced more sophisticated work, Freak Out! contains at least the rudiments of almost everything that followed, and few of Zappa’s records can match its excitement over its own sense of possibility. — Steve Huey
Schill Score: 9.5/10
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