By Don Simpson | June 1, 2010
Sorry Suzy Creamcheese but I am really not a huge fan of Frank Zappa – although I do admit that I admire and respect his talent. However, I do make one specific exception for Zappa’s 1966 debut (with the Mothers of Invention) Freak Out! which is one of my favorite albums of that seminal year in music history that also witnessed the release of…
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
The Beatles – Revolver
James Brown – (too many albums to list)
Tim Buckley – Tim Buckley
Miles Davis – Miles Smiles
Donovan – Sunshine Superman
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
Tim Hardin – 1
The Incredible String Band – The Incredible String Band
The Kinks – Face to Face
Love – Love
The Monkees – The Monkees
The Monks – Black Monk Time
Otis Redding – The Soul Album
The Rolling Stones – Aftermath
Nancy Sinatra – Boots
The Seeds – The Seeds
Small Faces – Small Faces
The Sonics – Boom
The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators
The Troggs – From Nowhere… The Troggs
The Walker Brothers – Portrait
The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – Volume One
The Who – A Quick One
Produced by Waco, Texas’ very own Tom Wilson – the producer of Sun Ra’s debut Jazz By Sun Ra (now known as Sun Song); Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’, Another Side of Bob Dylan, and Bringing It All Back Home; Simon & Garfunkel’s debut Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.; Nico’s Chelsea Girl; and The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat – and released on Verve, Freak Out! belongs to no one single genre. It bounces fluidly from blues to doo-wop to jazz to rock to psychedelic to avant-garde to prog rock.
Some shrug it off as an obscure concept album, but I hear Freak Out! as album on which Zappa is wearing many of his musical influences on his sleeves. And this brings me along to the infamous Freak Out! list – a wide-ranging and comprehensive list of important musical influences that Zappa included within the packaging of Freak Out! And this is what the documentary Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List is all about. Quite heady and intellectual, Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List combines archival footage of Zappa and his influences with interviews with The Mother of Invention’s Ian Underwood, Don Preston and George Duke; Zappa biographers Ben Watson and Greg Russo; experimental music historian Professor David Nicholls; soul and R&B expert Robert Pruter.
I’m a fan for waxing philosophically about music history and theory, but I’m just not sure if Zappa really intended for the Freak Out! list to be the Rosetta Stone for his music – which is how the list is interpreted by Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List. Personally, I always thought that Zappa was just trying to turn his fans on to the music that he liked. In other words, if you like Freak Out! you might also like…
Then, rather than being a more comprehensive review of the list, Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List chooses to expand its focus beyond Zappa’s debut record going into a fairly extensive discussion on Zappa’s first jazz-rock hybrid album – Hot Rats. This is where the documentary looses me…especially when people start comparing Hot Rats with Miles Davis’ masterful In a Silent Way. Again, I recognize Zappa’s talent within Hot Rats, but I just don’t see how it can be compared to an album like In a Silent Way.
Just the archival footage and high-brow discussions on some key (and unknown) figures in pre-1966 music history makes Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List a worthwhile viewing…even for non-Zappa aficionados. But if you are an unabashed admirer of Zappa, then there should be nothing stopping you from checking this (unauthorized) documentary out.
Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List is currently available on DVD via MVD visual.