Absolutely Free

What To Get: The 2012 CD, which uses the dry vinyl mix.

The CD has two bonus tracks: "Big Leg Emma" and "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right." All pre-2012 CDs use the same digital master with gobs of added digital reverb; the 2012 UMe CD is a new digital master without digital reverb, but with wear in spots.

We Need: A description of the Old Masters LP.

ESSENTIAL VERSIONS FOR COMPLETISTS: The 2012 stereo version (it has some dropouts, but sounds much better than all previous CDs), plus the mono mix. [completist's guide]


  • UK cassette (Verve Polydor 3113-036)Original vinyl (Verve V65013 in the US, May 26 1967; Verve SVLP 9174 in the UK (no gatefold cover), October 1967) (also discovered on white Verve label - presumably the very last pressing(s))
  • Mono vinyl (Verve V 5013 in the US, May 26 1967; Verve VLP 9174 in the UK, October 1967)
  • German vinyl (Verve 710006)
  • French vinyl (Verve / Gravure Universelle 710006, single sleeve, different back cover with live picture)
  • British vinyl re-issue (Verve 71006)
  • Japanese vinyl (Verve MV 1120, unique cover)
  • Australian vinyl (Verve V 5013 in mono, V6 5013 in stereo, 1968)
  • Cassettes (Verve 3113 066, D416-74212)
  • 8-track
  • Reel-to-Reel (Verve VVX 5013, US, stereo, 4-track, 3.75-IPS)
  • UK vinyl re-issue (Verve Polydor Select 2317-035, June 1972, gatefold cover)
  • UK cassette (Verve Polydor 3113-036)
  • White MGM label re-issue (between 1972 and 1975)
  • "Facsimile bootleg" copy of Verve 2317 035
  • The Old Masters vinyl (Barking Pumpkin BPR 7777-2, April 1985)
  • Original CD (Ryko RCD10093 in the US (imported into Australia by Festival Records and re-stickered Ryko D40733), Zappa CDZAP12 in the UK, January 1989; VACK 5022 in Japan)
  • Russian picture CD (Grammy UL 98909)
  • Zappa Records cassette (TZAPPA12)
  • 1995 CD (Ryko RCD 10502, May 2 1995; VACK 5111 in Japan, renumbered 5246 in 1998)
  • 1995 cassette (Ryko RAC 10502, May 2 1995)
  • Japanese paper-sleeve CD (Ryko/VACK 1204, September 21 2001)
  • UMe 2012 CD (Zappa Records ZR3835 July 31, 2012)

And on the weird side, parts of this album seem to have been issued in Poland as a set of flexi-disc postcards.

Current Version Track-listing (links to Román's stupendous lyrics rundown)

  1. Plastic People 3:42
  2. The Duke Of Prunes 2:13
  3. Amnesia Vivace 1:01
  4. The Duke Regains His Chops 1:50
  5. Call Any Vegetable 2:20
  6. Invocation And Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin 7:00
  7. Soft-Sell Conclusion 1:40
  8. Big Leg Emma 2:32 (non-LP bonus track)
  9. Why Don'tcha Do Me Right? 2:37 (non-LP bonus track)
  10. America Drinks 1:53
  11. Status Back Baby 2:54
  12. Uncle Bernie's Farm 2:11
  13. Son Of Suzy Creamcheese 1:34
  14. Brown Shoes Don't Make It 7:30
  15. America Drinks & Goes Home 2:46

Track Titles

Biffy the Elephant Shrew's white-Verve-label copy has the typo "Song of Suzy Creamcheese".


Lou Ming has a little bit to say about a comparison between the original Verve artwork and the Old Masters artwork:

...cover is slightly altered. The title is positioned higher on one than the other on the front. Also the name on the back (the big red letters with the white outline) has been re-drawn on the "Masters" version and the slightly hidden "War means work for all" from the Verve cover is missing from the "Masters" version. Of course the inside gate fold has a huge red circle/slash "no" symbol where the mail offer for the freak map/libretto.

Mono Vinyl

This album is so old it was issued both in mono and stereo versions, and of course the mono version was a bit different. From someone who said "don't quote me on this":

I used to own this record (maybe I still do. Perhaps I should look). One notable difference (and this is from memory) is in the "Do it again, and do it some more" segment of "Brown Shoes Don't Make It". There is a percussion track in this section which is heard in the left speaker and, after a short delay, in the right speaker - or is it the other way around? Well, anyway, the mono version mixes in this percussion track without the delayed track. Additionally, now that I think about it, the VOCAL on that particular section is slightly out-of-sync when compared to the stereo version. But don't quote me on this (unless confirmed from another source).

From David G.: 

No extended tracks that I can hear. And the "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" issue: the delayed percussion track IS there, just very quiet, but ye gods, is the vocal out of sync! Just for this section, too; it sounds like it's about half a beat late for the entire section. Probably a mistake.

From Paul E Curtis:

On "Status Back Baby", just before the Stravinsky guitar solo, the ref's whistle is heard at a slightly different point than on the stereo pressings. To my ears, side one of Absolutely Free sounds like a reduction of the stereo mix, as does "America Drinks & Goes Home"; however, the remainder of side two sounds like a proper mono mix (albeit one which is very similar to the stereo version).

Vinyl Release Intrigue

From Record Collector magazine #93, May 1987 (quoted by Mikael Agardsson):

The US version of Absolutely Free was due to be released in January 1967. Zappa had wanted the album to include a libretto/lyric insert, but MGM attempted to censor some of the songs and, following a four-month delay, Absolutely Free appeared without the libretto. Another hold-up occurred when MGM's legal department tried to remove the phrase "War means work for all" from the back cover montage. A compromise of sorts was eventually reached and the phrase was printed very faintly in grey!

The sleeve itself was a deluxe gatefold affair which opened vertically. The famous front cover photo of Frank was by Alice Ochs, although Zappa himself was responsible for most of the sleeve artwork. Following MGM's decision to axe the libretto, Zappa made it available separately via his publishing company. It was advertised on the sleeve of Absolutely Free together with the "freak map" which was originally planned to accompany Freak Out!.

And, from the same source, about the UK version:

This original UK pressing was issued in a non fold-out laminated sleeve with the cover photo turned through 90 degrees (as opposed to the US gatefold sleeve which opened vertically).

(This non-gatefold cover appears to have had an unknown poem on the back cover, which I'd like to read some day.)

Australian Vinyl

From Collecting Frank Zappa in Australia - Part 1: The Early Years, an article by Stuart Penny in it - The Australian Record Collectors Magazine, Issue #14 June-July-August 1995 (provided by Henry Griggs, Sydney, Australia):

The next Australian release (and the first Zappa/Mothers of Invention LP to appear in this country) was Absolutely Free (Verve V/V6 5013). Again, no exact release date is known, but the album was probably issued in early 1968 (compared to April 1967 for US issues, or October 1967 in the UK). Like the original UK Verve/EMI release, the Oz version appeared in a non fold-out sleeve with truncated artwork. But there the similarity ends, for whereas the UK original utilised the entire front cover artwork (as per the US sleeve), together with DJ Mike Raven's deeply embarrassing poem on the reverse, the Aussie version used almost all of the US gate-fold sleeve artwork, compressed to fit on the (laminated) front cover only. The reverse is an adaptation of the MOI group shot from the left-hand inside cover of the US LP, with very few changes (still with me?).

Issued in both mono and stero, original Oz pressings of Absolutely Free featured rear cover flaps together with the long-winded sleeve credit "Made and Distributed in Australia by PHONOGRAM RECORDINGS PTY. LIMITED Distributors of Philips, Mercury, Fontana, Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, Polydor, Archiv, Caedmon, Heliodor, Zodiac, MGM and Verve". Later issues arrived minus flaps with the simpler credit "Manufactured and Distributed in Australia under License". In common with most Australian LPs from this era, separate mono and stereo sleeves were not printed: early copies simply listed both numbers, while later pressings carried only mono numbers with silver 'stereo' stickers applied to the front cover, as required. Although not common by European standards, Absolutely Free appears to have been in production well into the '70s and is probably the easiest of the Aussie MOI Verve LPs to find. Apart from the somewhat flimsy cardboard used for the sleeve (a recurring problem with Australian LPs for many years) and the fact that, for reasons unknown, all Oz album covers were, until relatively recently, a good 15mm smaller all round than the US or UK releases, this is an interesting oddity of reasonable quality and early mono examples with cover flaps should sell for around $50.


From JWB:

Absolutely Free was indeed issued on reel-to-reel on Verve in America. I was extremely delighted recently when I managed to buy it for 50 cents at a garage sale, in excellent shape. I was highly entertained by thoughts of transferring a clean tape of the original LP to CD. I was horrified when I took it home and discovered that it had been ERASED, and replaced by Barry Manilow. I sold it as a collectable a short while later on eBay.

Some info from James Neher:

I grew up with the "Absolutely Free" reel-to-reel tape.  "America Drinks and Goes Home" had the radical left-to-right stereo imaging.  Overall the sound on the 3-3/4 ips tape was very dull and crummy - any mediocre vinyl copy, carefully cleaned up with a de-clicker etc., would sound much better.

UK Vinyl Re-Issue

From Record Collector magazine #93, May 1987 (quoted by Mikael Agardsson):

Issued in Britain with its intended fold-out sleeve for the first time, this re-issue is almost identical to the US release except that here the album title is set somewhat higher on the front cover, the catalogue number is not shown on the outer sleeve and the white edging on the back cover title is much thinner than on the American version.

White MGM Label Vinyl Re-Issue

From Ryan Davenport:

One of my copies of Freak Out! has a white label with the MGM logo (with the lion) on the left side and the Verve logo on the right side. I don't think it has the original cover, so I can't say for sure what country the release comes from. The lion looks to be a more recent, stylized guy than the ones I remember seeing on singles from mid/late '60s. For what it's worth, the MGM/Verve release has an extra catalog number and extra matrix number in the vinyl (MGS 296). I haven't checked yet to see if the recording is different in any way.

From TFaulconer:

According to Neal Umphred's "Goldmine Price Guide to Collectible Albums" (4th edition), this variation on the Verve label was used from 1972-1975. I've only seen one example of this variation myself - a copy of Absolutely Free with the album title and contents filling out the top and bottom regions of the label in simple thin, black lettering, and the lower wraparound MGM address being the same Sunset Blvd-Hollywood address used on their 1970's releases.

From Biffy the Elephant Shrew:

There are white label copies of Absolutely Free around, which have a suspicious typo on the label ("SONG of Suzy Creamcheese"). I've always wondered whether this wasn't some kind of bootleg, though this seems unlikely.

"Facsimile Bootleg" Copy of Verve 2317 035

From Román García Albertos:

Well, I call 'em "facsimile bootlegs", because they reproduce the cover and the label and the vinyl of the original releases. But they aren't. They don't sound very good (well, they sound good, but they're at least second generation), and the covers seem to be xerocopies of the originals. When the original releases were impossible to find and the CD era hadn't come yet, I think this was the only way to hear the records.

From Kristian Kier:

The main differences between the counterfeit and the original are the covers and the matrix numbers. The covers show some damages which weren't caused by handling, they were copied (xeroxed might be the wrong terme, since they seem to be printed professionally) due to photo transfer. Best examples: We're Only In It for the Money and Zappa in New York.

The matrix numbers on the counterfeits are all hand-written. Original records by Verve/Polydor don't have hand-written numbers! That's the easiest way to check wether it's a fake, or not!

From Hasi:

The "hand-written rule" is valid only for European Verve/Polydor pressings, not for Verve US pressings. So if the record you are interested in has a V(6)/5045 number, it should have hand-written matrix numbers.

Kier continues: 

Another clue: Most of these counterfeits do not have track separation between the songs.

I do have the fakes of Freak Out!, Absolutely Free, We're Only In It for the Money, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, Lumpy Gravy and Zappa in New York (with "Punky's Whips"), all coming from Italy. I remember having seen Roxy & Elsewhere, too.

Original CD

The original CD is mostly identical to the LP in terms of content, but has added digital reverb. Reverb-less versions of some of these tracks can be found on Mothermania, recently reissued as a digital download.

From Neil in the UK:

The CD has two bonus tracks: "Big Leg Emma" and "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right". The mix is the same as on the vinyl, but digital reverb has been added.

There were also some differences in cover/booklet artwork, but the 1995 CD restored the full original artwork.

From Román García Albertos:

[The CD version of "America Drinks & Goes Home"] has a different stereo image with the voice going radically from left to right to left, and the cash machine is only on the left channel. In the original vinyl version, the voice tends to stay around the middle, and the cash machine can be heard on both channels.

From David G.:

I listened to both my vinyl Absolutely Free and the CD, and they sounded the same on "America Drinks & Goes Home" ... perhaps the fact that the vinyl is more compressed near the end of the side was confusing the other listener? (it sounds like the vocal is more centered, but I think that's due to compression). [Webmaster note: We never satisfactorily resolved this issue. Does anybody else know of this alleged alternate mix?]

Note: At least some copies of the original Ryko release index "Call Any Vegetable" a bit early, so that it begins with "Cheesy, cheesy" from The Duke Regains His Chops.

1995 CD

Official Ryko statement: "New master. New timing sheet. Restored artwork." [full statement] Our statement: seems to be the same as the old disc, but with much better packaging.

David G. writes:

Having finally tracked down a decent (i.e. not scratched to all hell) first pressing of this title, I must say: the record sounds a good bit better than the CD. It's the same sort of comparison as with Uncle Meat: the CD sounds like it has a slight layer of noise-reduction, with some digital reverb applied. That said, if the tape is gone by this point, this might be the best we're gonna get.

Japanese Paper-Sleeve Version (2001-2002)

Starting in 2001, Video Arts Music released a limited-edition series (2000 copies each) of Zappa CDs in paper sleeves - miniature LP sleeves. There was nothing special about this series other than the covers, which were very well done - inserts and "bonuses" were reproduced, the albums that originally had gatefold covers got little miniature gatefolds, and cover track lists were exactly as on the corresponding LPs, even in cases where the CD has bonus tracks or a different track order. Included in this series were some entries that never had "proper" LP issues, i.e. Läther. Additionally, some rarities--like the "green/gold" cover of Chunga's Revenge--were reproduced as special items in this run.

We need to stress that the sound quality of these discs matches the US Ryko issues, which they are clearly derived from. These are collectors items, not new remastered editions.

LATE-2005-UPDATE: Ryko USA has apparently been importing the overstock of these releases to sell as domestic "special editions," causing the speculators who paid top dollar for the entire collection to hari-kari themselves. This includes some of the discs that, as of August 2005, were pretty hard to find ("Money" and others).

2012 UMe CD

Revised artwork. New digital master (by Doug Sax), removing the digital reverb applied to earlier CDs, and restoring the equalization of the original vinyl. Essential. Reviewers have reported some problems (a drop-out on Plastic People, tape problems on "America Drinks"), but this is the best we are going to get, probably. The two bonus tracks are in mono instead of fake stereo.

(Also, you can easily edit the intro of "Plastic People" on from the Mothermania web-download version, which doesn't have the glitch, if you are digitally inclined)


  • Are the mono and stereo versions otherwise different?
  • Any details on cassette releases?
  • Any details on 8-track releases?
  • What's the deal with the Old Masters version, mama?
  • How does the 1995 master compare to the original CD master? (Seriously, folks!)
  • Any details about the Russian CD?

Additional Informants

  • Juha Sarkkinen
  • Mikael Agardsson
  • Victor Dubiler
  • Gonçalo
  • B-Gas
  • Steve Jones

home - vinyl vs CDs - weirdo discography - bootlegs - misc - hot lynx - e-mail us at zappa dot patio at gmail dot com 2006-04-22 20:02

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