The Mothers of Invention "Freak Out!" Vinyl Reissue Straight Poop

According to mastering engineer Chris Bellman, Freak Out! was cut from a digital source. Overnight Sensation was cut directly from the original analog tapes.

Why the disparity? I heard from "Vaultmeister" Joe Travers, who told me that FZ made the transfer using the Sony dash PCM 3324 at 44.1K 16 bit back in 1987 because the tape was already badly deteriorating and at the time that was the best they could do.

He assured me that today it is the best sounding option. I don't receive a great deal of promo vinyl from UMG and I can't possibly buy every reissue but Chris is keen on me hearing what he's done with the cut so he's trying to get me a copy.

If I do I'll compare to an original and let you know. Back then MGM, which owned Verve, the original issuing label was not exactly known for careful mastering and great pressings so it will be interesting to hear both how it sounds compared to an original, and to the Ryko CD version that I do have.

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Comments
mauidj's picture
Bit of a disappointment...maybe!

I was hoping it would be from a tape master. I look forward to your review Michael. I haven't listened to it in a while so I'm just giving my original Verve a wash in the Audio Desk......

vince's picture
Those Hungry Freaks, Daddy!

Looking forward to your comments, Mike.  

I've got both records on the way (UPS says Friday delivery!).  I think I pre-ordered them the day they were announced.  Couldn't press the "buy button" fast enough!  I plan to compare the two reissues to my originals as well.  Should be a fun weekend project.  

I'm a bit dissapointed that Freak Out isn't an original master too, but if the original was falling apart then I am very glad that it was preserved in some fashion.  A lot of material from that period was lost due to neglect.  This rock and roll thing was never supposed to last...

I hope the family reissues the lot.  And there is a lot, so I'll likely be pressing the "buy button" a good deal if they do.

Michael Fremer's picture
Neglect? Or bad tape

While some tapes did suffer neglect, unfortunately when that was recorded, tape had gone from acetate to mylar backing and that resulted in more shedding and binder oozing.... ironically the tapes on Scotch 111 from the 1950s are in great shape. Tapes from the late 60s much worse.

vince's picture
tape and review

Thanks Mike.  I did not know that about the tape backing.  I wish Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company did a bit more homework before selling what sounds like a faulty combination.  I agree about the 1950s tapes.  I am a jazz (Hard Bob, etc) fan and I have heard plenty from the '50s that sounds just fine, thank you very much!

I gave a listen to Overnight Sensation and compared the original to the reissue.  My original (MS2419) has a lot of cover wear, but the LP is still in pretty good shape.  Some surface noise, but nothing obnoxious.  I made the following observations:

 

1. Cover

Covers are similar, but not identical.  Both are gate folded.  The new one has a poster stored in one pocket.  The old one does not and that side is sealed.  The original is slightly lighter (wear?).  The new cover has a bar code and some Zappa iconography.  It also has some fine print.  Old cover used brown, heavy paper as a base and another sheet of paper was bonded to it.  That sheet has art work.  The new cover uses white stock of a similar weight to the old cover and the art appears to be printed directly on it.  Similar weight covers on both.

 

2. Label

Old label, yellow DiscReet, both sides.  New Label side 1, purple and blue fade Barking Pumpkin.  Side 2, pink with green Zappa bubble letters.

 

3. LP media

Old; flimsy, light but flat.  New; shiny ,180 gram, dead flat.  

 

4. Sound 

The reissue is silent.  I cleaned it with my Loricraft before playing it and it paid off.  Not a click or a pop did I hear.  To my ear, the album has a dark presentation and I think this was addressed a bit in the new version.  The highs sound more extended, not just brighter, but higher.  Otherwise I think it is remarkably similar to the original.  Make more like this please...

Michael Fremer's picture
Why I Love Analog Planet Readers!

Thanks so much for that great information. I cannot afford to buy every reissue and since I have two originals (one white label promo), I couldn't justify purchase but when Chris Bellman is cutting from analog tape you can be sure it's going to be good based on my experience. 

MrRom92's picture
I hear this "tape

I hear this "tape degradation" thing cited as the reason for not using an original master in a reissue all too often. I think it is more of an excuse than anything in most cases, I firmly believe that tape is extremely robust, especially of this vintage, and it would take alot of severe abuse to make a tape completely unplayable or unusable. I really do wonder exaxtly how degraded this tape is and why.

 

I do believe them that it is deteriorating, because if they used the analog master for one reissue, I don't see why they wouldn't for another unless they physically could not play back the tape any longer. But it boggles me how the tape could be in such bad shape that it's unusable if it was stored properly.  My guess is that it wasn't.

Michael Fremer's picture
Tape degradation...

Was all too common from this era. Shedding and binder ooze were commonplace regardless of how well the tapes were stored. It depended upon the formulation used and unfortunately much of that era's tape was Mylar backed and that led to both problems. Baking was the only solution and usually after baking you one get a few plays at most...from what I've been told.... they used the original master for "Overnight Sensation" because that tape was in good condition. Has <i>Freak Out </i> been in good shape there's no reason to believe it wouldn't have been used.

Dual's picture
The whole 'binder ooze'

The whole 'binder ooze' problem came years after "Freak Out" was released, with the advent of back-coated tapes around 1972 or so. The thinking was to put a friction and static-reducing layer on the back of the tape. Scotch 206/207 was the first of these, if I recall, and that was a fragrant tape: there was so much goop in it you could smell it. Backcoating in theory was a good idea and the pro end of the industry never went back, but many if not most of the formulations were subject to 'binder ooze' and sticky shed. Tapes can be baked (and re-baked) to allow playback, so all is not lost. However, there are many ways to ruin a tape, and if the Zappa crew say this mid-late 60's tape failed, I'm sure it did.

kozy814's picture
If the tape is in such bad

If the tape is in such bad condition they should at least consider the options behind making a good qualty saftey copy using current digital tech.  Or even a new analog tape copy. 

MicallefK's picture
Overnite Sensation?

Does this mean that the OS reissue is also cut from a digital, not analog source?

Michael Fremer's picture
NO!

"Overnight Sensation" was cut from the original analog master tapes.

MikeT's picture
Both on their way to me also.

I have both dropping today (when I get home from work).  

Not sure why people are complaining about Freak Out being from a  digital source. If you read what is posted, the digital transfer was done by Frank Zappa (and his vaultmeister) in 1987 before Frank's death.  Yet other tapes from earlier albums were not transfered to digital and are still in usable condition.

Why would anyone doubt that the tape isn't in good shape?  I know Mr. Zappa was known for his idiosyncrasies back in the day, but if he thought the tape was unusable and wanted to ensure a copy existed in digital, he did so with the best of the day.

Maybe the tape really is in bad shape and can no longer be saved with more recent digital technology.

Only Joe Travers and Gail Zappa would know - I would assume.

Michael Fremer's picture
My assumption too.

I know Frank was an early digital fan, but then so were Neil Young and Peter Gabriel but over time they reconsidered. I believe Frank had second thoughts too, but I could be wrong.

If they made available the tape for <i>Overnight Sensation</i>, why wouldn't they do likewise with <i>Freak Out!</i> were the tape useable?

MrRom92's picture
I don't know what was done

I don't know what was done and what was not done, but I would hope that the Zappa estate actually inspected the tape. You probably already know that there are tons of situations where a tape box is marked "DO NOT USE" and is usually looked over, until some daring soul looks inside and discovers something that would be preferable to use despite the written instrucions. For all we know, there could just be a single dropout in the tape or something. Or it could be totally mangled. We don't know, I was just offering some conjecture. Like you said, I think they would have used the tape if they could have - I just hope that they actually looked into the possibility of actually using it rather than basing their immediate decision on 30 year old written instruction.

 

 

Also, I have to agree with what you and others have said in regards to the tape. This tape would be a bit early for binder issues or issues with backcoating, but that's not to say 3M didn't make some formulas that didn't hold up well anyhow. Some are prone to stretching and flaking. See: the current state of many of the Dylan mastertapes.

 

Also see: the state of almost any recording made on 111. Introduced in the 1940's and still holds up perfectly to this day! Maybe not the best sounding formula but it's durable, and does have a magic sound of it's own.

pelicor12345's picture
MOFO

On September 10th, 2006. Zappa.com announced the MOFO project/object, which was the original vinyl mix of Freak Out and a bunch of extras. I bought the shorter version and it is definitely the original vinyl mix, not the mix used on every other CD, including the most recent Universal issue. When I read ‘cut from digital master/1987’ I am guessing that is the ‘newer’ remix, not the original vinyl mix. And if so, again, why?? Both mixes have their merits, though. A good case could be made for the 1987 mix, admittedly, despite the digital source.

MikeT's picture
Original 1966 stereo mix

The liner notes indicate, "Original 1966 Stereo Mix Cut from FZ/Bob Stone digital transfer of original analog tape master, UMRK, 1987".

It sounds pretty good. I don't have an original to compare to, just a few different CD copies. Maybe a touch of high end brightness, but the low end sounds nice. 

nirayo's picture
MOFO and more

There were four albums that the Zappa Family Trust re-mastered using the original analog tapes in recent years. The already mentioned MOFO set was for Freak Out. Two subsequent sets contained We're Only in It For The Money, Lumpy Gravy, and Cruisin' With Reuben and the Jets.

 

All four of these albums used the inferior digital masters for the recent round of CD remasters and it looks like this is continuing with the new vinyl pressings. This leads me to assume that this was done to force those of us who care about the original mixes (like me) to shell out the money for the over-priced ZFT sets. Those, admittedly, sound great for CDs, but it leaves us with vinyl reissues pulled from masters that the ZFT itself feel are inferior (if we are to believe the liner notes on their own reissues)

iyke's picture
One question

Did Chris Bellman himself have the cahnce to examine the tape? I know someone from the Zappa trust told him, but it would have been nice if the tapes were provided to the remastering engineers/facility to let  them render the last judgement on wether it can be Salvaged. With all the technology out there today there might have been an avenue to save this treasure. They do it all the time with deteriorated Hollywood negatives. Some Hitchcock classics like Vertigo have been painfully restored, and those are negatives with audio and photograhic info.

Why isn't anyone embarking on a restoration project with these landmark American musical recordings?

The very reason why I'm dead set on acquiring all the Analogue Productions and Music Matters Blue Note 45s. I know once those records go out of print, those who don't have them can content themselves with digital dupes or get your scalp taken off by some entrepreneur on Ebay. 

Michael Fremer's picture
Chris Bellman's Job Description

The mastering engineer's job is to work with the provided source. Zappa's people made the decision and since they provided analog tape for Overnight Sensation it's obvious that they are not against providing tape. 

Your comparison to film is interesting because I think if you look into those restorations like "Vertigo" you'd find that much of the work was done (of necessity) in the digital domain and that the soundtrack was to a great degree re-made using new sound effects elements. It was quite controversial.

Here we have FZ's original mix digitized. Though we'd prefer analog all the way, if the tape was not in great shape in 1986, almost 30 years later it would be that much worse....

At least it wasn't destroyed in the Universal fire some years ago as MANY master tapes were. That's why Mobile Fidelity's Stevie Wonder reissues are not part of their "original master tapes" series. 

You don't want to know what was lost in that fire but think Motown, Impulse etc. Fortunately one off copies of most exist in other vaults such as the UMG Berliner facility. I visited some years ago (before the fire) and saw the tapes.

Zardoz's picture
Freak Out a (re)view

OK, to begin with this is coming from someone who has only listened to the 1966 Mono Verve (V-5005-2) pressing for 45 years, so take it with the usual grain of salt.

 

I freshly cleaned and listened to my old mono pressing which, in spite of being played a lot on some really bad late 60’s record players, still sounds pretty good. It does have noise, but it’s mainly only really audible between the tracks, mostly inaudible when the music is playing, even during the few quite passages. Then I cleaned and listened to the new FZ release.

 

The first thing I noticed on the new FZ release is that it is much harsher sounding and a bit lighter weight than the original mono. There is a sharpness to the guitars and drums that is a bit too much for my ears, especially after 45 years of the mono version. More of the backing and harmonizing vocals can be heard on the FZ release, and a bit more inner detail through out, but the warmth, pace, and rhythm, of the original mono is missing. The music doesn’t make my “toe tap” like the original, and affects me the way most CD’s do. I’m always able to stop listening at any point with CD’s, while LP’s tend to make it really hard for me to shut down my system, or even to switch to another LP before the one I’m listening to finishes. Even the opening guitar chords on the “Brain Police” does not have the stygian depth of the original mono and doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up a little, making you feel like something from a Lovecraft story is creeping up on you. The whole unsettling feeling created by the original is almost completely missing from the new release, but the new version does create a totally new effect. This effect though is more street gang frightening than macabre.

 

So after this disappointment, I opened a sealed stereo Verve pressing (V6-5005-2) that I had been holding on to until my mono pressing wore out or something. I’m not sure exactly what this release is. It could be an original Verve 1966, but I don’t think so. The jacket color isn’t as good as my original mono, but it has no dates or anything other than the catalogue number to go by. So I don’t know if it’s part of a late pressing run, or if it was a Verve reissue some time later. REV is inscribed in the run out on both mono and stereo copies, but the stereo labels are black, not blue like the mono version’s.

 

The V6 pressing is not as quite as the new FZ pressing, or as open and dynamic, and is harsher than the mono, but a little better in that department than the new release. The Floyd Cramer style piano on the “Go Cry..” cut, comes through well on the V6, but is probably a bit better on the FZ release. This is a bit more hidden in the mono mix, but the mono is still a bit more organic than either of the other versions, though definitely not as dynamic.

 

Overall, I would say that if you are lucky enough to have an original mono version, hang on to it for dear life. If you don’t have any copy of this, get the new release, it is a long way better than nothing. If I had known what I do now, I probably would not have gotten the new release, but if I didn’t already have these two other copies, I would be very happy with the FZ issue. It does open up a lot of hidden delights from the old pressing.

 

Again, this is just my two cents, and others will surely hear it differently, but I unfortunately was disappointed with the new release. I’m really hoping that Overnight Sensation will be better, since it is from the original tapes.

 

Z

Paul Boudreau's picture
Hot Rats

"I’m always able to stop listening at any point with CD’s, while LP’s tend to make it really hard for me to shut down my system, or even to switch to another LP before the one I’m listening to finishes."

Good description - same here.

Apologies for mentioning a CD here (!), but I just ran across a Ryko gold-disc copy dated 1987 of "Hot Rats," which says on the back cover: "Remixed from the original multi-track masters with added material from the original sessions."  Anyone know what that means, exactly?  Thanks.

daveming80's picture
RE Hot Rats CD

This CD was of a remix done by Frank, which included instrument parts that were not used in the original LP mix.  I greatly prefer the original LP.  Don't think I have that CD any more . . .

Michael Fremer's picture
Remix, Remodel

It means FZ went back to the mutiltrack and re-mixed the album, probably to digital and added some extra tracks... Classic's "Hot Rats" reissue from a decade ago or more was cut from the original analog master and sounds great...

Paul Boudreau's picture
HR Remix

No extra trax on the Ryko CD so it must have been a remix of the original tracks.  I do have a copy of the Classic reissue along with three earlier LP copies (Bizarre, Bizarre WLP & Reprise) - Hot Rats may be my favorite FZ record.

musicisideas_ky's picture
Ryko Hot Rats

The Rykodisc CD of "Hot Rats" is a remix Zappa did in the late 80s, with some studio chat and an intro piece added to 'The Gumbo Variations'. The remix is noticeably different from the original LP in spots, especially on 'Peaches En Regalia' and 'Little Umbrellas'. The new CD uses the original LP mix.

vince's picture
Re: (re)view

Zardoz;

Thanks for posting your review.  I have been listening back and forth to the new and old too.  Fun project!  

Discogs may shed some light on your catalog numbers:

V-5005-2 Original Mono: http://www.discogs.com/Mothers-Of-Invention-The-Freak-Out/release/538636

V6-5005-2 Original Stereo: http://www.discogs.com/Mothers-Of-Invention-The-Freak-Out/release/2690657

So, according to Discogs you are in posession of two originals.  One is, presumably, M-/M-.  

I have the original stereo, same number as yours.  I have noticed some of the same things that you have, but I do not find the two versions as different as you.  The original does sound smoother, easier on the nerves.  Your comments have me wondering about the quality of the mono original.  From your description, it sounds like it may be the one to have.  It also makes me wonder if there is a mono tape in the vault that might be a better source for a reissue.

Thanks again!

Michael Fremer's picture
Thanks!

My relativelyh early "Freak Out" stereo is a blue label and has REV-4 on it.... I don't claim to have absorbed the full history of the album's original and subsequent releases....

Zardoz's picture
Freak Out stereo

My copy has REV RE-1 on it, and the map ad is missing, so it must not be a first run as those all had the ad. Later runs had the ad struck through or not at all, like mine.

Paul Boudreau's picture
Freak Out

Mine is V6-5005-2, blue label, no "rev" info on lead out and no map ad.

SimonH's picture
Freak Out! and Overnite Sensation

Thanks for all your comments, I enjoyed reading them. I bought Overnite Sensation pre-order and found it dark like Vince. As a result I had mentally put it aside for a second cleaning (1st being done  with my GlassASRC before playing). Having said that I found myself just cranking up the volume - it felt like the Slime was oozing out my system and accross the floor - it did sound impressively clean and just ripe four LOUD listening. BTW my old UK copy went long ago on the assumption I would one day find a better sounding copy so am unable to compare.  

I then ordered Freak Out! before reading about the digital source but hey ho - I am glad I got it - I can relate to the comments made so far and I wouldn't have bothered to find an original. Therefore I am now enjoying have a record I haven't previously owned from a good "cut" on a quality pressing at a reasonable price. Yes it would have been nice to have thicker card sleeves etc but...  

For analgue die-hards you must understand I am using a phono-stage that digitises the signal (at 192/24 tho) so I am a bit of a heretic so you may need to temper my comments a bit - but I am still affected by syndrome where I can more than often turn off a CD but will keep playing Vinyl.