The numbers and dates may have changed, but we can now finally confirm the news that has long been circulating, both here and elsewhere, that Frank Zappa’s catalogue is headed to Universal Music Enterprises (UMe). According to the Zappa Family Trust’s press release, a global license and distribution deal will see the reissue of 60 Zappa albums, beginning with a group of 12 (not 18, as previously believed) that will roll out on July 31.
Throughout a long career that produced more than 60 albums during his lifetime, Frank Zappa frequently clashed with the music industry’s major labels. As recently as last year, the late musician’s estate was embroiled in a legal battle with Rykodisc, a unit of Warner Music Group. The irony had not been lost on Zappa fans when Warner acquired Ryko in 2006. After all, Warner was the label from which Zappa acrimoniously split in the late 1970s. But Ryko, one of the first-ever CD-only independent labels, had been the distributor of Zappa’s massive catalogue since 1986 and the label behind a comprehensive reissue campaign that began in 1995.
Today, the once-painstakingly-curated Zappa catalogue is in a bit of shambles, with many titles no longer readily available and fetching high prices on the secondhand market. Others have been released by the Zappa Family Trust (ZFT) in comprehensive, bonus-packed editions under new titles such as The MOFO Project/Object for Freak Out! and Lumpy Money for Lumpy Gravy and We’re Only In It For The Money . These deluxe “audio documentaries” restored original mixes not present on the previous, standardized CDs, and premiered unreleased material. The ZFT has also issued more rarities from the vault including a memorable 1971 live stand at Carnegie Hall and a lost Captain Beefheart album produced by Zappa. Though Rykodisc prevailed over the ZFT in many aspects of a United States District Court – Southern District of New York order dated August, 2011, the ZFT can apparently now claim full ownership of the artist’s works.
As of June 11, 2012, it has been confirmed that Universal, or UMe, will take over the release of Zappa material. Twelve albums will arrive on July 31, with “another dozen recordings to be released monthly through the end of 2012.” This initial batch contains all of Zappa’s 1960s albums with and without The Mothers of Invention, and represents every one of Zappa’s albums between 1966 and 1971, save the early compilation Mothermania and the film soundtrack to 200 Motels. The deal between the ZFT and UMe is for the entire Frank Zappa catalogue as it appeared on Zappa’s own Barking Pumpkin Records label. The press release indicates that “many of the original analog masters have been remastered for this occasion. Yes, that’s right, you heard right.”
Hit the jump for more details!
Zappa’s first six albums, included among this batch of twelve, showed the prolific artist breaking down the walls between rock, pop, jazz and classical music. The workaholic artist couldn’t have known that he would only live for 52 years, but he recorded with the pace of a man racing against time. A passionate defender of freedom of speech and denouncer of censorship of any kind, Zappa melded intricate, experimental melodies and arrangements with incisive, forthright lyrics that were often humorous and frequently off-color.
Zappa’s Verve debut with his group The Mothers of Invention, 1966’s Freak Out! , was a call-to-arms to the Los Angeles underground music scene. Far from traditional pop, rock or R&B, the album blended experimental sound collages with R&B and doo-wop pastiches (a particular favorite of Zappa’s) and absurdist comedy. Even today, it sounds like no other rock album, but it was just a portent of things to come from Zappa. The Mothers’ Absolutely Free (1967) not only targeted the authority but the counterculture as well, its political and social satire taking the form of mini-suites on each side of the original vinyl LP, auguring for future extended works. Lumpy Gravy (1968) was credited to Zappa solo, and took things a step further. It was an ambitious mélange of orchestral arrangements, spoken word and electronic experiments; through his use of the Synclavier, Zappa would be a pioneering musician in the latter field right up to the time of his death. Two more albums from the same year, We’re Only In It For The Money and Cruising with Ruben and the Jets, saw the auteur both expanding his sound palette and referencing the beloved music of his youth, respectively. The former was a wicked parody of flower power, complete with Sgt. Pepper-spoofing cover; no cow was too sacred for Zappa to skewer. The latter, however, was a spot-on and even affectionate doo-wop homage that showed Zappa understood the rules of pop music even as he broke them.
The original Mothers of Invention disbanded in 1969 after the release of sprawling double album Uncle Meat. Zappa turned his attention to his first major symphonic work, which would be conducted by Zubin Mehta, and to his jazz-influenced, second solo album Hot Rats. Dedicated to son Dweezil, Hot Rats introduced one of Zappa’s most beloved compositions, the instrumental “Peaches En Regalia.” It was also his first album recorded with 16-track technology which allowed him to push even more musical boundaries. When Zappa reformed the Mothers in 1970, three alumni of the Turtles joined him: bassist Jim Pons and vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, a.k.a. Flo and Eddie. That iteration of the Mothers began a new chapter in Zappa’s career. The “Flo and Eddie”-era Mothers are heard on Chunga’s Revenge (1970), Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971) and Just Another Band From L.A. (1972), which closes out this initial group of twelve titles.
For the time being, it does not appear that any bonus material is planned at this juncture and there is no information on any extended packaging or new liner notes. Both physical and digital editions are planned for these albums. Universal’s Bruce Resnikoff, President and CEO, commented in the press release, “The artist and composer, Frank Zappa, is one of the most important and influential artists in music history with his prolific body of work, including his breakthrough rock ‘n roll concept albums. We are honored that Gail Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust have entrusted us with his legacy. We intend to honor him and bring high quality releases, digital and physical, for his new and longtime fans.”
In the meantime, the full list of Zappa reissues set for July 31 follows! You can pre-order below!
- Freak Out! (1966)
- Absolutely Free (1967)
- Lumpy Gravy (1967)
- We’re Only In It For The Money (1968)
- Cruising with Ruben & the Jets (1968)
- Uncle Meat (1969)
- Hot Rats (1969)
- Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970)
- Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970)
- Chunga’s Revenge (1970)
- Fillmore East – June 1971 (1971)
- Just Another Band From LA (1971)