45 Years Ago: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention Release ‘Fillmore East, June 1971′
Fillmore East – June 1971 captures the Mothers of Invention at the peak of their second incarnation. The band had gone through changes since its formation in 1965, and as the original version fell apart, Frank Zappa put together a new, and often more chaotic, lineup in 1970. This group included Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo and Eddie) from the Turtles, who had recently disbanded.
Recorded live over two nights at the Fillmore East, just two months before its release in August 1971, Fillmore East – June 1971 is really more of a theatrical rock 'n' roll comedy routine than it is a straight-up concert LP. Things start off straightforward enough with "The Little House I Used to Live In" but soon dives head first into the comedic end of the pool. It's mental slapstick set to music as "The Mud Shark" tells the infamous tale involving members of Vanilla Fudge, Led Zeppelin, an enthusiastic groupie and an aquatic creature.
Later, the exaggerated doo-wop-meets-gospel-brunch rock 'n' roll of "What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are" is both heartfelt and sarcastic.
Zappa leads the band through a mini opera of sorts throughout the album, armed with musical chops and stacks of jokes. That juxtaposition of the musically intricate and the lyrically juvenile is fully on display in "Bwana Dik": "I've got the thing you need / I am endowed beyond your wildest Clearasil-spattered fantasies," Kaylan sings over typical Zappa complexity.
"It's almost too innocent and stupid to be filthy," Kaylan told Goldmine in 2002. "I think Frank was wise, using us to do that, because we were lovable buffoons – we weren't those street creeps to be feared that he had worked with before. We're just pussycats up there, so to hear us do some of those things, it's obviously a joke. It took some of the harshness away from it, and it made even Zappa's caustic humor appear palatable -- not only to those people who knew us in the audience, but to those who didn't. ... We were still nonthreatening."
Flo and Eddie perform a piece called "Do You Like My New Car?" that pokes at contemporary pop stars as it slowly turns toward filthy groupie exploitation ("We are not groupies! Roger Daltrey never laid a hand on me!"). By song's end, general mayhem breaks out as a twisted version of the Turtles' "Happy Together."
Even though it's not part of Fillmore East – June 1971, one of the concert's encores featured a special appearance by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. That performance would later turn up as part of Lennon's Sometime in New York City album under the title "Live Jam." "We spent about four days with John, putting all the stuff together for that one night at the Fillmore," recalled Volman. "When the thing came out on John's album, Frank was very upset. John and his compadres had gone in and redone the tracks. ... They hadn't re-recorded them, but they took out the essence of those songs, vocal parts that were imperative to the music and the movements. It caused a real riff between John and Frank."
Fillmore East – June 1971 came packaged in a simple white sleeve with a handwritten title, giving it the look of a bootleg. All these years later, it remains an exciting, freewheeling and musically intriguing romp that shows off this edition of the Mothers in all their gory glory.
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