Music / Absolutely Free

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Kill ugly radio!

Absolutely Free, released in 1967, is the second album by Frank Zappa and his group The Mothers of Invention. Following the debut album Freak Out!! from the previous year, Absolutely marked a more extravagant display of Zappa's innovation and boldness in seeking to debunk mores of hippies and straights alike. The original album consisted of a series of two "Underground Oratorios", the first side giving you "Absolutely Free" and the second side giving you "The M.O.I. American Pageant"; all later compact disc reissues include, sandwiched between the oratorios, the bonus tracks "Big Leg Emma" and "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right?" The contributing Mothers as credited on Absolutely Free had lost guitarist Eliott Ingber, and gained Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood, Bunk Gardner, and Billy Mundi. Early printed editions of the complete libretto, distributed separately from the album owing to Verve's doubt of lyrics such as "I'd like to make her do a nasty on the White House lawn" (from "Brown Shoes Don't Make It"), were bowdlerized.

The album is best remembered for "Plastic People", which became a freedom anthem in Czechoslovakia under the Iron Curtain as Czech President Vaclav Havél told Zappa in 1989, "Duke of Prunes", "Call Any Vegetable" and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It".

This album, and the suite which lends it its name on side one, should not be confused with the identically named song from We're Only in It for the Money, which is a completely different song. CD reissues of the album place a single from 1967 in between the first and second LP sides.

Tracklist

Side One (Absolutely Free)
  1. "Plastic People" (3:40)
  2. "The Duke of Prunes" (2:12)
  3. "Amnesia Vivace" (1:01)
  4. "The Duke Regains His Chops" (1:45)
  5. "Call Any Vegetable" (2:19)
  6. "Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin" (6:57)
  7. "Soft-Sell Conclusion" (1:40)

CD Bonus Tracks (taken from 1967 single)
  1. "Big Leg Emma" (2:31)
  2. "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right?" (2:37)

Side Two (The M.O.I. American Pageant)
  1. "America Drinks" (1:53)
  2. "Status Back Baby" (2:54)
  3. "Uncle Bernie's Farm" (2:11)
  4. "Son of Suzy Creamcheese" (1:34)
  5. "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" (7:30)
  6. "America Drinks and Goes Home" (2:46)

Personnel
  • Frank Zappa: vocals, guitar, composition
  • Ray Collins: vocals, tambourine
  • Jim Fielder: piano, guitar
  • Don Preston: keyboards
  • Bunk Gardner: woodwinds
  • Roy Estrada: vocals, bass
  • Jimmy Carl Black: vocals, guitar
  • Billy Mundi: drums, percussion

Trope Any Vegetable!:

  • All Men Are Perverts: "Brown Shoes Don't Make It"
    A world of secret hungers
    Perverting the men who make your laws
    Every desire is hidden away
    In a drawer... in a desk
    By a naugahyde chair
    On a rug where they walk and drool
    Past the girls in the office
  • Anti-Love Song:
    • "The Duke Regains His Chops":
    And I know/my love for you will never end (well maybe...)
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: "Uncle Bernie's Farm"
    There's a bomb to blow your mommy up
    A bomb for your daddy too!
    There's a hungry plastic troll
    To scarf your buddy's arm
    Don't you know that murder and destruction
    Scream the toys in ev'ry store
  • Bar Brawl: Several at the same time in "America Drinks and Goes Home". It also closes the album.
  • Bawdy Song: "Brown Shoes Don't Make It", where a politician has sex with an underage girl.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: "Big Leg Emma", who put on weight.
  • Big Handsome Man: Co-drummer Billy Mundi and bassist Roy Estrada, arguably.
  • Book Ends: On the LP version side 2 starts off with "America Drinks" and concludes with "America Drinks and Goes Home".
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: "Plastic People"
    Then go home and check yourself. You think we're singing 'bout someone else?
  • Call-Back: "America Drinks and Goes Home" picks up the melody of "America Drinks", a few tracks previous, only played much more coherently.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: The album attacks consumerism, amongst other aspects of American society that Zappa finds conformist.
  • Chubby Chaser: Averted in "Big Leg Emma", as the narrator finds his erstwhile love interest no longer interesting
    She was my steady date
    Until she put on weight, mhmm
  • Concept Album: The first half is mostly about vegetable imagery. The second half is a criticism of American politics, consumerism and society.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Plastic and especially plastic people already appeared during "Who Are the Brain Police?" on Freak Out! (1966) and are revisited again on Absolutely Free.
    • Biting someone's neck was referenced earlier during "Motherly Love" on Freak Out! (1966) and is mentioned twice on Absolutely Free, namely during "Duke of Prunes" and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It".
    • The song "Son of Suzy Chreamcheese" is a callback to "It Can't Happen Here" and "The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" from Freak Out.
    • "TV dinner by the swimming pool" in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" was referenced earlier during "It Can't Happen Here" on Freak Out! (1966). The "teenage queen rocking and rolling and acting obscene" is similar to Magdalena in "Magdalena" from Just Another Band from L.A. (1972). While the one in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" would be "smothered in chocolate syrup", the one in "Magdalena" will be covered in mayonaise.
    • "I wanna hear 'Caravan' with a drum solo", a line from "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" from Freak Out! (1966) can be heard again during "America Drinks and Goes Home".
  • One of the advertisements on the back cover of Absolutely Free shows a dog collar with the slogan "Buy a 'Fydo' fits swell". Zappa would references dogs and collars frequently in his lyrics, including Fido the poodle in Apostrophe (') (1974) and Roxy And Elsewhere (1974).
    • Vegetable imagery would return on the album cover of We're Only in It for the Money (1968) and during "Mr. Green Genes" from Uncle Meat (1969).
    • In "Suzy Creamcheese" on Absolutely Free we are informed that Suzy "blew her mind on too much Kool-Aid". In The Story of Uncle Meat inside the sleeve of Uncle Meat (1969), Uncle Meat drugs rock 'n' roll musicians with Kool-Aid.
    • The song "Call Any Vegetable" would be played live and in a different arrangement on Just Another Band from L.A. (1972). "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" would be announced, but not played on Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1969), while receiving a full live version on Tinseltown Rebellion (1981).
    • "Duke of Prunes" would be rearranged as "The Duke of Orchestral Prunes" on Music/Orchestral Favorites (1979) and Lšther (intended for release in 1977, actually released in 1996).
  • Corpsing: Zappa starts laughing when he mentions "there's a doll that looks like mummy" in "Uncle Bernie's Farm". He does it again in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" when singing "o-only thirteen and she knows how to nasty."
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: the "creep who makes the toys", ugly, violent, even murderous toys, in "Uncle Bernie's Farm"
  • Covert Pervert: The man who "runs the world from City Hall" in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It", nails or dreams of nailing young teen tarts one minute, goes home to meet the wife and neighbors the next.
  • Crapsack World: As articulated in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It"
    Be a jerk
    And go to work
    Do your job and do it right
    Life's a ball
    TV tonight!
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover was designed by Alice Ochs.
  • Dreaming of a White Christmas: The opening line "I'm dreaming" in "Uncle Bernie's Farm" is a shout-out to Bing Crosby's White Christmas.
  • Epic Rocking: Each album side consists of a lengthy suite that lasts around nineteen minutes, subdivided into shorter tracks (though some of these still qualify, with "Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin" being seven minutes and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" being seven and a half).
  • Face on the Cover: Zappa's face covers almost the entire album cover. It's shot in black-and-white.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Apart from the LP side gaps and the two songs added to CD reissues, the entire album is continuous.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The toys in "Uncle Bernie's Farm".
  • Fille Fatale: The "teenage queen" in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It", possibly.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In "America Drinks" the line "you came..." is followed by someone snickering over the sexual innuendo.
    • A politician having sex with a thirteen year old girl in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It".
  • Granola Girl: In the interval between Freak Out! and Absolutely Free's "Son of Suzy Creamcheese", Suzy Creamcheese has dropped out and become one.
  • High School Rejects: A hollow popularity contest revolving around the cult of school spirit, as suggested in "Status Back Baby."
  • Iconic Song Request: Frank Zappa once heard someone request "Caravan" by Duke Ellington, but with a drum solo. He referenced this bizarre request before in "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" on Freak Out! and did it again on this album, during "America Drinks and Goes Home".
  • Incest Subtext: The politician in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" says, "If she was my daughter I'd...", then, after hesitating a bit, lists a number of obscene sexual acts. For added creepiness, it's implied that the voice asking "What would you do, daddy?" is in fact the politician's daughter. The whole song is weapons-grade Nightmare Fuel.
  • Intercourse with You:
    • The end of "Soft-Sell Conclusion" features a "pumpkin breathing hard".
    • The teenage queen in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is "rocking and rolling and acting obscene".
  • Lightmare Fuel: "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is a textbook example of this trope with the implied Parental Incest and paedophilia being played for dark humour.
  • Lounge Lizard: "America Drinks and Goes Home"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The song "America Drinks and Goes Home" is a very cheesy number about someone with a broken heart who doesn't regret it. Despite this hopeful message you can hear a bar fight going on in the background.
    • "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," an amazingly catchy song about political corruption, sex scandals and implied Parental Incest.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Especially in "America Drinks", "America Drinks and Goes Home" and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The dimwitted southern President who begins "Plastic People" with an abortive attempt at a speech goes nameless.
  • Non-Appearing Title: The phrase "Absolutely Free" is never said once on the album, yet there is a track with that title on We're Only in It for the Money. Confusing matters further is the fact that one of the compositions on this album is also named "Absolutely Free" and has nothing to do with the shorter song of the same name on the later album.
  • Progressive Rock: One of the major cornerstones of the genre. Unbuilt Trope applies to a certain extent here.
  • Properly Paranoid: The line "there's a guy from the C.I.A. and he's creeping around Laurel Canyon" in "Plastic People".
  • Protest Song: "Plastic People", "Status Back Baby", "Brown Shoes Don't Make It".
  • Reference Overdosed/Rock Me, Amadeus!: This was the first Zappa album where clear recognizable musical quotes from other composers and artists could be heard.
    • "Plastic People" and "Son of Suzy Creamcheese" pay homage to the tune "Louie Louie" by Richard Berry.
    • "Call Any Vegetable" references Charles Ives near the end. As Zappa explained in his autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book:
    One of the things that Ives is noted for is his use of multiple colliding themes — the musical illusion of several marching bands marching through each other. In our low-rent version, the band splits into three parts, playing "The Star-Spangled Banner," "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful" all at the same time, yielding an amateur version of an Ives collision. Unless listeners pay attention in that one spot, there are only a few bars of it, they might think it was a "mistake".
    • "Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin" borrows a melody from Gustav Holst's "Jupiter" from his work The Planets.
    • "Amnesia Vivace" includes quotes from The Rite of Spring and The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky and "Duke of Earl" by Gene Chandler.
    • "The Duke Regains His Chops" includes brief quotes from The Supremes' "Baby Love".
    • "Soft-Sell Conclusion" musically quotes "God Bless America" by Irving Berlin, "America the Beautiful", "Marine's Hymn", and "A Soldier's Tale" by Igor Stravinsky.
    • "America Drinks" quotes the nursery rhyme "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" and Julius Fucik's "Entry of The Gladiators".
    • The doowop band The Coasters are mentioned in "Status Back Baby". On the same track Igor Stravinsky's "Petrouchka" is musically quoted.
    • "Uncle Bernie's Farm" briefly quotes the opening of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" in the beginning ("I'm dreaming...")
    • "Plastic People" quotes "Little Deuce Coupe" by The Beach Boys.
  • Santa Claus: Mentioned in "Uncle Bernie's Farm".
  • Shout-Out: Mostly direct musical quotes to Igor Stravinsky.
  • Shown Their Work: As one might expect from a virtuoso so interested in orchestral works, Zappa in describing each side as an "Underground Oratorio" was quite correct, clearly understanding what makes an "oratorio" and correctly applying the term. In the album, much vibrato is used in some vocal parts, and rubato passages occur, such as the uneven rhythms in the tune for "Plastic People". Instances of parts typical in an oratorio occur throughout the album:
    • Overture — Beginning a side of the record with musical themes that recur. For instance, part of the tune for "Plastic People" occurs sped up in "Suzy Creamcheese". also the vocals suggest a 17th century Prologue to a work, allegorical characters singing about overarching themes. A nation mainly of dimwits for side one, blathering at the end of "Plastic People", and much the same in "Status Back Baby"
    • Aria — solo vocal bits sung by Collins, Zappa, and Black; "No one will know if you don't want to let them know", etc., in "Call Any Vegetable"; "His wife's attending an orchid show", etc. in "Brown Shoes"; various other bits.
    • Recitative — more spoken than sung, to advance the plot. The President in "Plastic People" and his illness alluded to, and the blathering at the end; the Duke talking in the parking lot in "Amnesia Vivace"; parts in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" such as "TV dinner by the pool", etc
    • Choruses — grandiose bits by several vocalists, with lush instrumentation
  • Siamese Twin Songs: Basically every song transition on the original album.
  • Silly Love Songs: Parodied in the whole "Duke of Prunes" arc.
    And I know
    The love I have for you
    Will grow and grow and grow
    I think
    And so my love
    I have for you
    A love that is strong
    A PRUNE THAT IS TRUE!''
  • Spoken Word in Music: The track "America Drinks" is sung in a technique known as "Sprechstimme", where the vocalist sings his lyrics by speaking.
  • Strawman Political: In an ironic tone, it is noted that Suzy Creamcheese "protest marches styrofoam".
  • Sucky School: And yet appealing to shallow people as in "Status Back Baby".
  • Take That!:
    • Advertising and consumerism on the entire album, including the cover art.
    • School in "Status Back Baby" and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It".
    • Politics and materialistic living in "Brown Shoes Don't Make It".
    • Radio stations on the album cover, with the slogan: "Kill ugly radio!"
  • Unusual Euphemism: The word "vegetable" on this album stands for people who don't conform to the world of "plastic people", who in itself are a euphemism for the general (conformist) public.

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