What To Get: The 2012 CD, which uses the dry vinyl mix.
The CD has two bonus tracks: "Big Leg Emma"
Don'tcha Do Me Right." All pre-2012 CDs use the same digital master
with gobs of added digital reverb; the 2012 UMe CD is a new digital
master without digital reverb, but with wear in spots.
We Need: A description of the Old Masters LP.
ESSENTIAL VERSIONS FOR COMPLETISTS: The 2012 stereo version
(it has some dropouts, but sounds much
better than all previous CDs), plus the mono mix. [completist's
- Original vinyl (Verve
V65013 in the US, May 26 1967; Verve SVLP 9174 in the UK (no gatefold
cover), October 1967) (also discovered on white Verve label -
presumably the very last pressing(s))
- Mono vinyl (Verve V 5013 in the US, May
26 1967; Verve VLP 9174 in the UK, October 1967)
- German vinyl (Verve 710006)
- French vinyl (Verve / Gravure Universelle 710006,
single sleeve, different back cover with live picture)
- British vinyl re-issue (Verve 71006)
- Japanese vinyl (Verve MV 1120, unique cover)
- Australian vinyl (Verve V
5013 in mono, V6 5013 in stereo, 1968)
- Cassettes (Verve 3113 066, D416-74212)
- Reel-to-Reel (Verve VVX 5013, US,
stereo, 4-track, 3.75-IPS)
- UK vinyl re-issue (Verve Polydor
Select 2317-035, June 1972, gatefold cover)
- UK cassette (Verve Polydor 3113-036)
- White MGM label re-issue (between
1972 and 1975)
- "Facsimile bootleg" copy of Verve
- The Old Masters vinyl
(Barking Pumpkin BPR 7777-2, April 1985)
- Original CD (Ryko RCD10093 in the US
(imported into Australia by Festival Records and re-stickered Ryko
D40733), Zappa CDZAP12 in the UK, January 1989; VACK 5022 in Japan)
- Russian picture CD (Grammy UL 98909)
- Zappa Records cassette (TZAPPA12)
- 1995 CD (Ryko RCD 10502, May 2 1995;
VACK 5111 in Japan, renumbered
5246 in 1998)
- 1995 cassette (Ryko RAC 10502, May 2 1995)
- Japanese paper-sleeve CD
(Ryko/VACK 1204, September 21 2001)
- UMe 2012 CD (Zappa Records ZR3835 July
And on the weird side, parts of this album seem to have been
issued in Poland as a set
of flexi-disc postcards.
Current Version Track-listing (links to Román's stupendous
Duke Of Prunes 2:13
Duke Regains His Chops 1:50
Any Vegetable 2:20
And Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin 7:00
Leg Emma 2:32 (non-LP bonus track)
Don'tcha Do Me Right? 2:37 (non-LP bonus track)
Back Baby 2:54
Bernie's Farm 2:11
Of Suzy Creamcheese 1:34
Shoes Don't Make It 7:30
Drinks & Goes Home 2:46
Biffy the Elephant Shrew's white-Verve-label copy has the typo
of Suzy Creamcheese".
Lou Ming has a little bit to say about a comparison between
the original Verve artwork and the Old Masters artwork:
...cover is slightly altered. The title is positioned higher
on one than the other on the front. Also the name on the back (the big
red letters with the white outline) has been re-drawn on the "Masters"
version and the slightly hidden "War means work for all" from the Verve
cover is missing from the "Masters" version. Of course the inside gate
fold has a huge red circle/slash "no" symbol where the mail offer for
the freak map/libretto.
This album is so old it was issued both in mono and stereo
versions, and of
course the mono version was a bit different. From someone who said
"don't quote me on this":
I used to own this record (maybe I still do. Perhaps I
should look). One notable difference (and this is from memory) is in
the "Do it again, and do it some more" segment of "Brown Shoes Don't
Make It". There is a percussion track in this section which is heard in
the left speaker and, after a short delay, in the right speaker -
or is it the other way around? Well, anyway, the mono version mixes in
this percussion track without the delayed track. Additionally, now that
I think about it, the VOCAL on that particular section is
slightly out-of-sync when compared to the stereo version. But don't
quote me on this (unless confirmed from another source).
From David G.:
No extended tracks that I can hear. And the "Brown Shoes
Don't Make It" issue: the delayed percussion track IS there,
just very quiet, but ye gods, is the vocal out of sync! Just for this
section, too; it sounds like it's about half a beat late for the entire
section. Probably a mistake.
From Paul E Curtis:
On "Status Back Baby", just before the Stravinsky guitar
solo, the ref's whistle is heard at a slightly different point than on
the stereo pressings. To my ears, side one of Absolutely Free
sounds like a reduction of the stereo mix, as does "America Drinks
& Goes Home"; however, the remainder of side two sounds like a
proper mono mix (albeit one which is very similar to the stereo
Vinyl Release Intrigue
From Record Collector magazine #93, May 1987 (quoted
The US version of Absolutely Free was due to be
released in January 1967. Zappa had wanted the album to include a
libretto/lyric insert, but MGM attempted to censor some of the songs
and, following a four-month delay, Absolutely Free appeared
without the libretto. Another hold-up occurred when MGM's legal
department tried to remove the phrase "War means work for all"
from the back cover montage. A compromise of sorts was eventually
reached and the phrase was printed very faintly in grey!
The sleeve itself was a deluxe gatefold affair which opened
vertically. The famous front cover photo of Frank was by Alice Ochs,
although Zappa himself was responsible for most of the sleeve artwork.
Following MGM's decision to axe the libretto, Zappa made it available
separately via his publishing company. It was advertised on the sleeve
of Absolutely Free together with the "freak map" which was
originally planned to accompany Freak Out!.
And, from the same source, about the UK version:
This original UK pressing was issued in a non fold-out
laminated sleeve with the cover photo turned through 90 degrees (as
opposed to the US gatefold sleeve which opened vertically).
(This non-gatefold cover appears to have had an unknown poem
on the back cover, which
I'd like to read some day.)
From Collecting Frank Zappa
in Australia - Part
1: The Early Years, an article by Stuart Penny in it - The
Collectors Magazine, Issue #14 June-July-August 1995 (provided by Henry
Griggs, Sydney, Australia):
The next Australian release (and the first Zappa/Mothers of
Invention LP to appear in this country) was Absolutely Free
(Verve V/V6 5013). Again, no exact release date is known, but the album
was probably issued in early 1968 (compared to April 1967 for US
issues, or October 1967 in the UK). Like the original UK Verve/EMI
release, the Oz version appeared in a non fold-out sleeve with
truncated artwork. But there the similarity ends, for whereas the UK
original utilised the entire front cover artwork (as per the US
sleeve), together with DJ Mike Raven's deeply embarrassing poem on the
reverse, the Aussie version used almost all of the US gate-fold sleeve
artwork, compressed to fit on the (laminated) front cover only. The
reverse is an adaptation of the MOI group shot from the left-hand
inside cover of the US LP, with very few changes (still with me?).
Issued in both mono and stero, original Oz pressings of Absolutely
Free featured rear cover flaps together with the long-winded sleeve
credit "Made and Distributed in Australia by PHONOGRAM RECORDINGS PTY.
LIMITED Distributors of Philips, Mercury, Fontana, Deutsche Grammophon
Gesellschaft, Polydor, Archiv, Caedmon, Heliodor, Zodiac, MGM and
Verve". Later issues arrived minus flaps with the simpler credit
"Manufactured and Distributed in Australia under License". In common
with most Australian LPs from this era, separate mono and stereo
sleeves were not printed: early copies simply listed both numbers,
while later pressings carried only mono numbers with silver 'stereo'
stickers applied to the front cover, as required. Although not common
by European standards, Absolutely Free appears to have been in
production well into the '70s and is probably the easiest of the Aussie
MOI Verve LPs to find. Apart from the somewhat flimsy cardboard used
for the sleeve (a recurring problem with Australian LPs for many years)
and the fact that, for reasons unknown, all Oz album covers were, until
relatively recently, a good 15mm smaller all round than the US or UK
releases, this is an interesting oddity of reasonable quality and early
mono examples with cover flaps should sell for around $50.
Absolutely Free was indeed issued on reel-to-reel on
Verve in America. I was extremely delighted recently when I managed to
buy it for 50 cents at a garage sale, in excellent shape. I was highly
entertained by thoughts of transferring a clean tape of the original LP
to CD. I was horrified when I took it home and discovered that it had
been ERASED, and replaced by Barry Manilow. I sold it as a
collectable a short while later on eBay.
Some info from James Neher:
I grew up with the "Absolutely Free" reel-to-reel
tape. "America Drinks and Goes Home" had the radical
left-to-right stereo imaging. Overall the sound on the 3-3/4 ips
tape was very dull and crummy - any mediocre vinyl copy, carefully
cleaned up with a de-clicker etc., would sound much better.
UK Vinyl Re-Issue
From Record Collector magazine #93, May 1987 (quoted
Issued in Britain with its intended fold-out sleeve for the
first time, this re-issue is almost identical to the US release except
that here the album title is set somewhat higher on the front cover,
the catalogue number is not shown on the outer sleeve and the white
edging on the back cover title is much thinner than on the American
White MGM Label Vinyl Re-Issue
From Ryan Davenport:
One of my copies of Freak Out!
has a white label with the MGM logo (with the lion) on the left side
and the Verve logo on the right side. I don't think it has the original
cover, so I can't say for sure what country the release comes from. The
lion looks to be a more recent, stylized guy than the ones I remember
seeing on singles from mid/late '60s. For what it's worth, the
MGM/Verve release has an extra catalog number and extra matrix number
in the vinyl (MGS 296). I haven't checked yet to see if the recording
is different in any way.
According to Neal Umphred's "Goldmine Price Guide to
Collectible Albums" (4th edition), this variation on the Verve label
was used from 1972-1975. I've only seen one example of this variation
myself - a copy of Absolutely Free with the album title and
contents filling out the top and bottom regions of the label in simple
thin, black lettering, and the lower wraparound MGM address being the
same Sunset Blvd-Hollywood address used on their 1970's releases.
From Biffy the Elephant Shrew:
There are white label copies of Absolutely Free
around, which have a suspicious typo on the label ("SONG of Suzy
Creamcheese"). I've always wondered whether this wasn't some kind of
bootleg, though this seems unlikely.
"Facsimile Bootleg" Copy of Verve
From Román García Albertos:
Well, I call 'em "facsimile bootlegs", because they
reproduce the cover and the label and the vinyl of the original
releases. But they aren't. They don't sound very good (well, they sound
good, but they're at least second generation), and the covers seem to
be xerocopies of the originals. When the original releases were
impossible to find and the CD era hadn't come yet, I think this was the
only way to hear the records.
From Kristian Kier:
The main differences between the counterfeit and the
original are the covers and the matrix numbers. The covers show some
damages which weren't caused by handling, they were copied (xeroxed
might be the wrong terme, since they seem to be printed professionally)
due to photo transfer. Best examples: We're Only
In It for the Money and Zappa in New York.
The matrix numbers on the counterfeits are all hand-written.
Original records by Verve/Polydor don't have hand-written numbers!
That's the easiest way to check wether it's a fake, or not!
The "hand-written rule" is valid only for European
Verve/Polydor pressings, not for Verve US pressings. So if the record
you are interested in has a V(6)/5045 number, it should have
hand-written matrix numbers.
Another clue: Most of these counterfeits do not have track
separation between the songs.
I do have the fakes of Freak Out!,
Absolutely Free, We're Only In It
for the Money, Cruising with Ruben & the
Jets, Lumpy Gravy and Zappa in New York (with "Punky's Whips"),
all coming from Italy. I remember having seen Roxy
& Elsewhere, too.
The original CD is mostly identical to the LP in terms of
content, but has added digital reverb. Reverb-less versions of some of
these tracks can be found on Mothermania,
recently reissued as a digital download.
From Neil in the UK:
The CD has two bonus tracks: "Big Leg Emma" and "Why
Don'tcha Do Me Right". The mix is the same as on the vinyl, but digital
reverb has been added.
There were also some differences in cover/booklet artwork, but
CD restored the full original artwork.
From Román García Albertos:
[The CD version of "America Drinks & Goes Home"] has a
different stereo image with the voice going radically from left to
right to left, and the cash machine is only on the left channel. In the
original vinyl version, the voice tends to stay around the middle, and
the cash machine can be heard on both channels.
From David G.:
Note: At least some copies of the original Ryko release
index "Call Any Vegetable" a bit early, so that it begins with "Cheesy,
cheesy" from The Duke Regains His Chops.
I listened to both my vinyl Absolutely Free and the
CD, and they sounded the same on "America Drinks & Goes
Home" ... perhaps the fact that the vinyl is more compressed near
the end of the side was confusing the other listener? (it sounds
like the vocal is more centered, but I think that's due to
compression). [Webmaster note: We never satisfactorily resolved this
issue. Does anybody else know of this alleged alternate mix?]
Official Ryko statement: "New master. New timing sheet.
Restored artwork." [full statement]
Our statement: seems to be the same as the old disc, but with much
David G. writes:
Having finally tracked down a decent (i.e. not scratched to
all hell) first pressing of this title, I must say: the record sounds a
good bit better than the CD. It's the same sort of comparison as with
Uncle Meat: the CD sounds like it has a slight layer of
noise-reduction, with some digital reverb applied. That said, if the
tape is gone by this point, this might be the best we're gonna get.
Japanese Paper-Sleeve Version
Starting in 2001, Video Arts Music released a limited-edition
copies each) of Zappa CDs in
paper sleeves - miniature LP sleeves. There was nothing special about
series other than the covers, which were very well done - inserts
"bonuses" were reproduced, the albums that originally had gatefold
covers got little miniature gatefolds, and cover track lists were
exactly as on the corresponding LPs, even in cases where the CD has
bonus tracks or a different track order. Included in this series were
some entries that never had "proper" LP issues, i.e. Läther.
Additionally, some rarities--like the "green/gold" cover of Chunga's
Revenge--were reproduced as special items in this run.
We need to stress that the sound quality of these discs
matches the US Ryko issues, which they are clearly derived from.
These are collectors items, not new remastered editions.
LATE-2005-UPDATE: Ryko USA has apparently been
importing the overstock of these releases to sell as domestic "special
editions," causing the speculators who paid top dollar for the entire
collection to hari-kari themselves. This includes some of the discs
that, as of August 2005, were pretty hard to find ("Money" and others).
2012 UMe CD
Revised artwork. New digital master
(by Doug Sax), removing the digital reverb applied to earlier CDs, and
restoring the equalization of the original vinyl. Essential. Reviewers have reported
some problems (a drop-out on Plastic People, tape problems on "America
Drinks"), but this is the best we are
going to get, probably. The two bonus tracks are in mono instead
of fake stereo.
(Also, you can easily edit the intro of "Plastic People" on from the
Mothermania web-download version, which doesn't have the glitch, if you
are digitally inclined)
- Are the mono and stereo versions otherwise different?
- Any details on cassette releases?
- Any details on 8-track releases?
- What's the deal with the Old Masters version, mama?
- How does the 1995 master compare to the original CD
master? (Seriously, folks!)
- Any details about the Russian CD?
- Juha Sarkkinen
- Mikael Agardsson
- Victor Dubiler
- Steve Jones