The Mothers of Invention, their achievement and last albums

By Miles

International Times, April 9-24, 1970

MANY PEOPLE SAY THEY DON'T LIKE THE MOTHERS but when pressed usually it turns out that they haven't listened to them for three years or so. Those people should read this totally biased review with an open mind: When Zappa disbanded The Mothers he issued the following press release (bits in italics are my annotations and not part of Zappa's text - Miles):

"The Mothers of Invention infamous & repulsive rocking teen combo, is not doing concerts any more. Jimmy Carl Black (the Indian of the group) has formed another ensemble which he calls Geronimo Black (named after his youngest child). Don (Dom De Wild) Preston is collaborating with avant garde dancer Meredith Monk in performances of electronic music. Ian Robertson Underwood is preparing material for a solo album. Roy Estrada, Bunk Gardner, Buzz Gardner & Art Tripp are doing studio work in Hollywood. Motorhead (James Euclid) Sherwood is working on his bike and preparing for a featured role in a film with Captain Beefheart. Frank Zappa is producing various artists for his record companies. Bizarre & Straight (which he co-owns with Herb Cohen), working on film and television projects and is currently rewriting arrangements tor a new album by French jazz violinist Jean Luc Ponty. This Ponty album, to be released on World Pacific, will mark the first attempt by any other artist to record a whole album's worth of Zappa's writing, exclusive of the Mothers of Invention interpretations.

Zappa has not only written the arrangements - he has cut the master tapes to pieces and backed bits of tape from one number against bits from another number to create new tunes and themes. The results are fantastic.

"It is possible that at a later date, when audiences have properly assimilated the recorded work of the group, a re-formation might take place. The following is a brief summary of The Mothers' first five years of musical experimentation and development:

"In 1965 a group was formed called The Mothers. In 1966 they made a record which began a musical revolution. The Mothers invented Underground Music. They also invented the double-fold rock album and the concept of making a rock album a total piece of music. The Mothers showed the way to dozens of other groups (including the Beatles & The Stones) with their researches & experimentation in a wide range of musical styles and mediums.

The Beatles were certainly aware of The Mothers' Freak-Out album when they were planning Sgt. Pepper.

"The Mothers set new standards for performance. In terms of pure musicianship, theatrical presentation, formal concept and sheer absurdity, this one ugly band demonstrated to the music industry that it was indeed possible to make the performance of electric music a valid artistic expression.

"The Mothers were the first big electric band. They pioneered the use of amplified and/or electronically modified woodwind instruments . . . everything from piccolo to bassoon. They were the first to use the wah-wah pedal on a guitar (it's true) as well as horns and electric keyboard instruments. They laid some of the theoretical groundwork which influenced the design of many commercially manufactured electro-musical devices.

"The Mothers managed to perform in alien time signatures and bizarre harmonic climates with a subtle ease that led many to believe it was all happening in 4-4 with a teenage back-beat. Through their use of procedures normally associated with contemporary 'serious music' (unusual percussion techniques, electronic music, the use of sound in blocks and strands and sheets and vapours ), The Mothers were able to direct the attention of a large number of young people to the work of many contemporary composers.

"In 1968 Ruben Sano lifted his immense white-gloved hand, made his fingers go 'snat!' and instantly NEO-GREASER ROCK was born. A single was released from Ruben's boss and tough album (remember 'Crusin' with Ruben & The Jets'?) called 'Deseri'. It was played on many AM stations (actually rising to 39 on the Top Forty at KIOA in Des Moines, Iowa) until programmers discovered Ruben & The Jets was really the Mothers in disguise.

"In 1967 (April through August), The Garrick Theatre on Bleeker Street in New York was devasted by cherry bombs, mouldering vegetables, whipped cream, stuffed giraffes and depraved plastic frogs . . . the whole range of expressive Americana . . . all of it neatly organised into what people today would probably call a 'Love-Rock Long-Hair Tribal Musical'. The Mothers called it 'Pigs and Repugnant: Absolutely Free' (an off-Broadway musical).

Meanwhile, the so-called Underground FM stations could boast (because they were so cool and far out) that THEY actually went so far as to play The Mothers of Invention albums on their stations. Yes. Boldly they'd whip a few cuts from 'Freak-Out' on their listeners between the steady stream of important blues numbers.

"And then of course, there was 'Uncle Meat' recorded back to back with 'Ruben & The Jets' (a somewhat unusual production procedure). In spite of the musical merit of the album, the only thing that drew any attention was the fact that several words, in common usage, were included in candid dialogue sections.

"Awaiting release is a collection of 12 complete albums of Mothers' music; (one of them, Burnt Weenie Sandwich, is reviewed later in this article) a retrospective exhibition of the group's most interesting work, covering a span from 2 years prior to the actual formation of .the ensemble through August 1969. Included in the collection is documentary material from first rehearsals, tracing the development of the group through its most recent live performances in the US and Europe, some of which have become almost legendary. To those people who cared at all about The Mothers' musical explorations (and also those who didn't care and who wish to be merely entertained), this collection will prove of great interest."

In the above release, Zappa showed his disappointment at having to fold the band; he shows his sadness that his old slogan 'no commercial potential' proved true at last; and his anger at the total lack of public support for experimentation in music (the term 'underground music' now being just a sales hype for trivia produced by trashy groups who can do a 12-bar blues) Zappa's right: no really underground group has yet made it big, has had public support and encouragement on anywhere near a large scale, or had a sympathetic record company. Witness the Fugs, the Vanilla Fudge, The United States of America, Captain Beefheart, The Soft Machine, etc . . . Even the Jefferson Airplane have (reportedly) terrible troubles with RCA Victor.

The Mothers have gone. It is extremely unlikely that they will reform and Frank knows it. Even if they did, the rigours of rehearsal and the amount of time needed to get them back into shape would make it impossible to reach the old standard of craftsmanship. People just grow apart. And now they are apart, the financial burden of an 8-piece group plus equipment handlers being far too great for their income (gigs & record sales). However, the tapes exist and they are wonderful tapes. Stored in his basement studio Frank has tapes of himself with Captain Beefheart recorded in 1964 (singing dirty songs and doing Rolling Stones-esque numbers, but weird). He has amazing live tapes from the Whisky-A-Go- Go including the one of the night they were 'discovered' by Herb Cohen (that's something!). Tapes from concerts in Florida where a groupie got on stage with them and had a dancing contest with Motorhead for a 20 dollar prize, tapes from all over Europe, not only in concert but dialogues in changing rooms, recording on the road, in coaches, airport waiting rooms, rehearsals, etc etc . . . some really fantastic stuff. Much of it in fact Zappa can't in fact use unless Warner Bros & MGM did a deal or joint release because The Mothers contract with MGM specified exclusivity of material, meaning that Zappa can't release other versions of songs which are on MGM albums, on Warner Bros albums. Thus some of the amazing live versions of 'Brown Shoes Don't Make It' are unlikely to reach your ears, (unless the fans write many many letters to Warner Bros.)

Some of the tapes have been assembled into a magnificent pristine album just released called 'BURNT WEENIE SANDWICH'. The album spans the whole gamut of Zappa's musical genius and is the most complex collage of tape ever issued, Zappa having spent hundreds of hours editing together the bits of tape (fades, overdubs, backingup of two different performances, etc . . .) to create two very long works and some shorter ones, literally sandwiched between two 1950's hits. The music of the 50's still represents to Zappa the ultimate in dynamite glandular music and we begin here with a version of WPLJ and end with a rocking teen-combo number first done by Jackie & the Starlites, called 'Valerie' (many visitors to my house have heard the original of this classic on the Fury label!) Frank leaves off the sobs.

After this shot of Ruben we get our teeth through the bread into the burnt weenie itself, and it proves to be something else indeed . . .

Beginning with 'Igor's Boogie' (after Stravinsky, musically, you understand) . and into 'Overture to a Holiday in Berlin'. This piece catches something of your heart, the finer senses of beauty and subtly changing nuances of mood. Keep on thru, 'Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown' which it is, no musical idea left unexplored, no vapourous strand of melody unexamined and not polished for our ears. 'Theme from Burnt Weenie Sandwich', 'Igor's Boogie, Phase 2' through to 'Aybe Sea' and endlessly changing kaleidoscopic vision of colours, time references, moods, emotions, nuances. . . I have heard these sections in many different orders and this is JUST RIGHT, the result of so many hours work that the final result was an almost alchemical blending of the fragments to make the whole something much greater than the original trimmed pieces. I was present at TT & G when Ian Underwood dubbed his sax piece on the 16 track for 'Overture to a Holiday in Berlin'. Playing facing the wall, the sound was caught by the mikes as it rebounded off the wall. "That's how they got that greasy feeling' - Zappa. Playing deliberately out of tune to get that fifties feeling. All through this album the sheer brilliance of the musicianship should turn you on, even if (for some strange reason) you don't like the music.

'A Little House I Used to Live In', an epic masterpiece showcase of time changes & alien time signatures. A testimony of the greatness of this band. Playing music which began and represented and was the best example of 'underground music'.

If you only buy one album this year, this should be it. It will hold up under hundreds of playings and each time you will hear some new thing you hadn't noticed before. I guarantee it! Once you've heard this you'll turn all your blues albums into ash-trays.

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)