Frank Zappa the Incredible Boss Mother
By Don Paulsen
Hit Parader, June 1967
The most amazing, outrageous and ambitious rock & roll group anywhere in the universe is The Mothers. Their music, best appreciated in-person, combines today's pop sounds with symphonic music, satire, the primitive rock & roll songs of the 1950's and social commentary, and you can even dance to it.
The Mothers were organized by Frank Zappa, an ex-advertising man who had been writing songs since he was fourteen and had experimented with abstract music. Using motivational research principles, Frank created a group unlike anything the world had ever seen. For one thing, they weren't seeking a "hit" record.
"Our aim is to kill Top 40 radio," explains Frank. "Certain concessions must be made before a record is playable on the air. I am not in the business to compete with the makers of 'Hanky Panky.' That record can be played because it won't hurt anybody. It won't move them, either. I'm not writing music like that.
"I'm a' composer and nobody wanted to hear my , music, so I organized the Mothers and did the Freak Out! album. Now people are listening. Sometimes they wonder what they're hearing and why it sounds like that, but sometimes they like it.
"Top 40 radio is unethical, unmusical and it stinks. Classical music stations aren't much better. They all have very rigid, limited programming.
"The Mothers were created to fill most of the gap that exists between so-called serious music and the mass public. Really good music with advanced tendencies has been kept from the public at large. This includes classical and popular music. A filtering system of little old ladies selects the music played by symphony orchestras and on radio stations.
"Once some people get to the position where they own a nightclub or control the goings-on in a concert hall, they become critics and tastemakers.
"Usually they hate music. They love business and just want to make money. Whenever I have to deal with this kind of people, I always tell them that I hate music and I'm only doing this for the money. They slap me on the back and we get along fine. I tell them I wish I could drive a cab instead, but I can't get a license.
"The public knows nothing of what's really going on in the outer limits of music. There 'are kids writing music who think they've just made up the most fantastic things. They don't know that the best they can write today was already written and performed in 1912.
"A piece like Ameriques by Edgar Varèse, written in 1912, would scare the average teenager to death. Really scare him. Varèse lived and died in New York. The average American doesn't even know he existed, yet what he wrote has virtually changed the shape of all the music of the other composers who have heard it."
One of the composers it affected was Frank Zappa. After convincing some rhythm & blues musicians he knew to become The Mothers and embark on a new musical venture, Frank and his friends starved for ten months. But gradually people came to see the weird new group that insulted the audience and did songs no one had ever heard before.
While playing at the Whisky A Go-Go in Hollywood, The Mothers caught the ear of MGM record producer, Tom Wilson. He heard them do their "Watts Riot Song," told them he'd record it, and left five minutes later, thinking they were just another rhythm and blues group.
At their first recording session, Tom found out what else The Mothers had in their repertoire and decided to do an album. Frank came up with some arrangements, and a 17-piece orchestra was added to the 5-main Mothers.
Most rock and roll albums cost around five thousand dollars to record. Freak Out! cost $21,000. It was released as a two record-set-selling-for-the-price-of-one. The word spread through the underground and the album turned up on the best-seller charts.
Not many groups can have a hit album without getting a hit single first. But Frank put his knowledge of motivational research into the album cover.
"The Freak Out! album was distilled and packaged very purposefully to sell on sight. Like, when in the history of teenage music has an unknown group come out with a two-record package that looked like that?" asks Frank.
"The packaging was designed to say, HEY! LOOK AT THIS FREAKY PIECE OF TRASH! TWO RECORDS FOR ONLY $3.12!!
"The Suzy Creamcheese line was a carefully planned hype. It has little or no meaning on any level. People can make it as bland or as nasty as they like. Girls come up to us and say 'I'm Suzy Creamcheese' and I say 'I know you are. ' But really, it doesn't mean anything."
The success of Freak Out! enabled Frank to carry out the next step in his carefully plotted musical master-plan.
"Our second album called Absolutely Free is not exactly rock & roll. It's an oratorio. Each member of the group sings a character part. There are about eight songs edited together in a continuous piece of music presenting a panorama of life in America today. A complete libretto is enclosed.
"There's a section about ten minutes long about a man in a city hall who has a fetish about 13-year-old girls covered in chocolate syrup. The result of this is that he makes bad laws. There's also a song about vegetables. People don't talk to vegetables enough," Frank says.
"The packaging is more tasteful. It's closer to what the music is really like. The cover resembles a movie sound track album, sort of."
What can Frank Zappa do for an encore? He told us he wants to stage a Broadway musical science fiction horror story based on the Lenny Bruce trials. He'd also like to conduct an 84-piece rock & roll orchestra on the stage of Carnegie Hall and hypnotize the audience with his music.
If anyone can do all those things, it's Frank Zappa.