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The Mothers 1971 will test the patience of Zappa completists, but there are highlights

Exhaustive, eight-disc collection of Frank Zappa & The Mothers's 1971 recordings, including infamous Rainbow gig

Frank Zappa & The Mothers: The Mothers 1971 cover art
(Image: © Zappa/UME)

Frank Zappa had a traumatic 1971. Following a facetiously chipper performance of I Want To Hold Your Hand at London’s Rainbow Theatre, a deranged ‘fan’ took to the stage and shoved Zappa into the orchestra pit, hospitalising him for many months and permanently lowering the pitch of his voice. 

This would prove the end of this iteration of The Mothers, with Flo And Eddie, formerly of The Turtles, brought in to help add to The Mothers’ vocal and comic range, forced to quit in search of work. 

The Mothers 1971, featuring the work of band stalwarts such as drummer Aynsley Dunbar and saxophonist Ian Underwood, is for Zappa completists only, although many of them may have their completism tested by five half-hour-plus versions of Billy The Mountain included here, a meandering satire on early 1970s right-wing, militaristic America. Really, you’re better off listening to one of Zappa’s brief explanations of the piece, also included here.

Elsewhere, in material mostly recorded at the Fillmore East, there are multiple versions of late-60s classics Peaches En Regalia, King Kong, Willie The Pimp and Little House I Used To Live In, although these are at times dulled by Zappa’s increasingly meandering jazz-rock tendencies. 

There are highlights, however. Cruising For Burgers is a nice reminder that Zappa’s frequent doo-wop pastiches were suffused with nostalgic love. Fillmore Improvisation allows the Mothers off their leash to pretty wild and mind-bending effect, while Zanti Serenade features some fine Moog synth playing from Don Preston. The rumbling free jazz of Super Grease pleases also.

In an entertaining guest encore spot from John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Lennon performs a bluesy Baby Please Don’t Go, with Ono on accompanying ululations. They stick around for the refreshingly minimal, pre-punkish Scumbag as well as Awwk

You sense Zappa deferring, for once, to fellow musicians on a higher perch. He might have released this recording himself had John and Yoko not released their own mixes on Some Time In New York City.

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.