Frank Zappa: The Mothers 1970

Hardcore fun for Frank Zappa fans

Frank Zappa Mothers 1970 album cover
(Image: © Press)

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The arrival of another large Frank Zappa box containing 70 previously unavailable tracks is always a cause for celebration. The Mothers 70 includes four discs of studio and live material, performed by the short-lived line-up featuring Aynsley Dunbar, George Duke, Ian Underwood, Jeff Simmons and Flo & Eddie duo Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. Despite the fact that some of the live material here has been bootlegged in the past, it’s good to have this properly mastered and strutting about in all its official pomp.

Arguably the main draw is a session the band recorded at London’s Trident Studios with then unknown producer Roy Thomas Baker. Weighing in at just over an hour but still feeling frustratingly short, it’s essentially an audio scrapbook of ideas, motifs and backing tracks, though Red Tubular Lighter, the delightfully meandering Giraffe, and an unheard version of a Dunbar-centric Envelopes will quicken the pulse of Zappaphiles everywhere.

The live material is made up of the heavily-circulated Piknik, originally broadcast on Dutch radio, together with shows from Santa Monica and Spokane edited into a hybrid concert, plus a final selection of Zappa’s personal live tapes recorded in various locations.

At one point, Frank introduces a track from Freak Out, which emerged four years earlier: “Now listen, we’ve got this song called Trouble Every Day which is about a riot that happened in Watts, California a few years ago and has been repeated to death throughout the United States since that time…” Half a century on, that take on societal pressure and political issues remains depressingly relevant. But if the social commentary feels pertinent, the sexual banter that forms the basis of Zappa’s cock-opera creaks with age. Even as satire, after 50 years it’s all a bit limp and laboured.

Knob gags and groupie snark aside, these are good performances. King Kong Parts 1 and 2 interspersed with Igor’s Boogie, with Duke’s roiling Echoplexed electric piano and in the later section, Ian Underwood’s piquant sax absolutely cook. The Man Of The Match award, though, goes to Dunbar and his explosive, on-point drumming through this set. Along with some old Mothers cuts, the shows represent an enjoyably messy nexus whose content is variously embellished, distilled and refined across Chunga’s Revenge, 200 Motels, and The Mothers Fillmore East – June 1971.

Although the totality of The Mothers 1970 may lack the revelatory buzz that accompanied 2019’s Hot Rats 50th anniversary box, there’s enough here to arouse and maintain enthusiastic interest.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.