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Frank Zappa Ahead Of Their Time album cover
3.26 | 89 ratings | 12 reviews | 16% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Live, released in 1993

Songs / Tracks Listing

1.Prologue (3:07)
2. Progress? (4:44)
3. Like It Or Not (2:21)
4. The Jimmy Carl Black Philosophy Lesson (2:01)
5. Holding The Group Back (2:00)
6. Holiday In Berlin (0:56)
7. The Rejected Mexican Pope Leaves The Stage (2:55)
8. Undaunted, The Band Plays On (4:34)
9. Agency Man (3:17)
10. Epilogue (1:52)
11. King Kong (8:13)
12. Help, I'm A Rock (1:38)
13. Transylvania Boogie (3:07)
14. Pound For A Brown (6:50)
15. Sleeping In A Jar (2:24)
16. Let's Make The Water Turn Black (1:51)
17. Harry, You're A Beast (0:53)
18. The Orange County Lumber Truck (Part 1) (0:46)
19. Oh No (3:22)
20. The Orange County Lumber Truck (Part 2) (10:36)

Total Time: 67:27

Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / guitar, vocals
- Don Preston / piano (electric), noise
- Jimmy Carl Black / drums
- Roy Estrada / bass, vocals
- Bunk Gardner / clarinet, saxophone (Tenor)
- Art Tripp / percussion, drums
- Ian Underwood / piano, saxophone (Alto)
- James Sherwood / saxophone (Baritone), tambourine

Releases information

Rykodisc #RCD 10559

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Bj-1 for the last updates
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FRANK ZAPPA Ahead Of Their Time ratings distribution

(89 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(16%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(34%)
Good, but non-essential (40%)
Collectors/fans only (8%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

FRANK ZAPPA Ahead Of Their Time reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars If you're a fan of the live aspects of The Mothers of Invention, then you'll probably love this album. Recorded in 1968 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the first half of this show is a play performed by the Mothers of Invention, and the second half is full of instrumental workings of some classic Mothers songs and a pre-Chunga's Revenge Transylvania Boogie. It's not a bad live album, but I think there are better live albums with Mothers material, and while this may be one of the only ones that is solely comprised of the early material, the other albums aren't wrought with a play that without the visual aspect seems pointless to release.

You can hear the fans enjoy the play, though, they're laughter shows that they are receptive to what Zappa was conveying on the stage. I can't say I really remember much of the play, though, although there are some funny dialogue moments in The Rejected Mexican Pope Leaves The Stage. The second half is a big improvement. Classic Zappa songs like King Kong and Pound for a Brown are played alongside great renditions of Oh No and The Orange County Lumber Truck (the original full version). In all, this part of the album is what makes it worth at least one listen.

In all, it's one half mediocre (mainly because without a visual aspect a play is almost useless), and one half excellent. If you're a fan of The Mothers of Invention Material and 1960s Zappa, then this album will probably satiate your appetite. For someone like me, who's a much bigger fan of 1970s Zappa, I'm impressed by the latter half, but the first half leaves me a bit cold (despite some comedic moments). Not the best Zappa live album, but not a bad one by any means.

Review by Chris H
4 stars One of the only albums available that really shows how weird and exciting an early Mothers Of Invention concert could be. For those of you that don't own this album, you may think "How weird could a concert actually be?". Well let me tell you, The Mothers of Invention didn't perform just concerts, they performed musical sketch comedies as well. However, if you lack the ability to witness this brand of musical comedy in person, just being able to hear it does not do a justice. Without picture, the first 10 songs of this 20 song concert is near worthless. The reason I only say NEAR worthless is because it is still rather funny and you can hear that the audience appreciates it by the wild applause. Also, it gives younger listeners like myself a good idea of how the shows were actually performed back in those days. Don't write this of as half an album right from the start.

The actual strictly music portion of the show is just instrumental re-works of all the classic Mothers songs. A pre-Chunga's Revenge version of "Transylvania Boogie" is featured, being played after a shortened up version of "Help, I'm A Rock" which is the only second half song to contain vocals. "Sleeping In A Jar" is extended, and "Harry, You're A Beast" is shortened while the extended "Oh No" is played to perfection. "Oh No" separates the two- part "The Orange County Lumber Truck", which is finally played in it's full form. The album finishes off with Frank's amazing solo at the end of "...Lumber Truck".

In the end, this is truly an album that any fan of The Mothers Of Invention should own. Of course the play would be much better with visuals, but the audio is still better than nothing and serves its purpose of bringing you the early MOI stage antics. The 10 musical re- workings are truly amazing, and recommended for any fan of jazz-fusion, not just Frank Zappa fans.

4 stars, highly recommended.

Review by Man With Hat
COLLABORATOR Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
3 stars Ladies and gentlemen, the Mothers Of Invention.

By listening to this record you can tell the Mothers live were a force to be reckoned with. In that regurd, Ahead Of Their Time shows off two very different sides of the Mothers. Side one consists on a play. I'm sure this was a blast to see live, however, just the audio from it leaves a bit to be desired. The musical portions have some interest in them but alot of the humor of the situation is lost. Some humor gets carried over, but it seems to have been much funnier truely live. Also, it seems to drag on a bit towards the end. Nevertheless this does make this record more of a historical document, and thus should have a bit more of important for true Zappa diehards.

But the real meat and potatoes comes after. Starting with King Kong and ending with The Orange County Lumber Truck Part II, there is never a dull moment. These ten songs really show the avant-rocking power of the early Mothers Of Invention. The saxophones and Frank's Guitar really steal the show here. King Kong, The Orange County Lumbar Truck, Pound For A Brown, and Oh No, and Translyvanian Boogie contain fabulous solos by the above. In addition there are some great reworkings of classic Zappa songs, such as Sleeping In A Jar, Let's Make The Water Turn Black, and Help, I'm A Rock. But perhaps the greatest moments occur in the suite of the last five songs (which would later appear in an augmented/expanded form later in the Zappa repertoire). My only wish is that there was more ofm this kind of material around from this line up of the Mothers.

All in all, this album is certainly one of two sides. If this was just the first ten songs, I would give this two stars, and if this was just the last ten songs I would give this five stars. Needless to say it's both, so I will try and spilt the vote as fair as I can...and thus give it a 3.5. I'll round down though. However, don't let this discourage you from investigating this one. The latter half has plenty of enjoyable material and shows a (perhaps more) progressive Mothers. Recommended.

Review by ghost_of_morphy
2 stars Somehow it feels wrong to give a Zappa album two stars. He's given us so many brilliant gems over the years. But this one kind of falls flat, and I can't see a way to give it more than two stars.

As has been mentioned by others, the first half of the concert is dramatized. There really isn't that much of a storyline to it, but there are certainly some zany antics that we miss out on. (I'd love to see Jimmy Carl Black hustling young ladies dressed as a pop star, for instance.) That's the first half of the concert. The music here (indeed on the whole album) features Uncle Frank and the Mothers in full-blown avant-garde mode. If you like Frank's avant-garde stuff and if you don't mind using your imagination to supplement the verbal clues we get as to what was going on stage, the first half of this should be quite satisfactory. There are some great musical moments (they tend to come early) and there are some that are rather trying. But the Mothers are, as billed, ahead of their time in the first half of this concert.

The second half is a step backwards, however. King Kong is ok, Pound for a Brown is disappointing from the start but Frank salvages it with a decent guitar solo in the second half. Mediocrity rules the second half of the concert. The Orange County Lumber Truck is decent and has some nice guitar work from Frank, but the one track that REALLY is exciting is the all instrumental version of Let''s Make the Water Turn Black. This is the stuff! Other than that track, though, there isn't too much to get really excited about.

I have to give this two stars. Frank gave us so many great live recordings, but this one is clearly not up to standards. It's not bad, but there's a whole bunch of other Zappa albums you want to get before you try this one.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "Ahead of Their Time" is an archival live album release by US act Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention. The album was released in 1993 through Barkin Pumpkin and reissued in 1995 by Rykodisc. The album was recorded at the Royal Festival Hall, London, England on October 28, 1968. The first 10 songs on the album feature 15 members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and together the 10 tracks form a kind of classical/avant garde/rock piece with strange but absolutely hilarious dialogue and theater performance by the band. This was a one-off performance on the 1968 Mothers of Invention European tour and according to the liner notes Frank Zappa spend about $7,000 on the event which about equalled his total income from the tour.

The remaining tracks performed at the concert includes classics like "King Kong", "Let's Make The Water Turn Black", "Harry, You're A Beast", "The Orange County Lumber Truck" and "Oh No". They are all performed in instrumental versions so donīt expect many vocals on "Ahead of Their Time" except for the weird dialogue and the occasional odd vocal part. Frank Zappa comments in the liner notes of the booklet that the second part of the concert was: "A fair but not outstanding 1968 Mothers of Invention rock concert performance".

The sound quality isnīt the best but itīs certainly acceptable for the time even though thereīs a very audible hiss throughout the concert from Don Prestonīs keyboard rack (thatīs where the noise comes from according to the liner notes in the booklet). The skills of Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention are indisputable and their performances here are of a high quality. They were an incredibly professional and well playing band.

All songs have appeared before as part of the Mystery Disc from "The Old Masters, Box Two (1986)", which also contained the material from "Uncle Meat (1969)", "Hot Rats (1969)", "Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970)", "Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970)", "Chunga's Revenge (1970)", "Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971)" and "Just Another Band From L.A. (1972)". Itīs still a welcome release though, to those who donīt own the boxset. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

Review by tarkus1980
3 stars Oh man, what a bizarre live album (at least, the first half of it is). This is a complete recording of a relatively short live performance (Frank mutters something near the end of the band having to leave early to catch the subway before it closed) that The Mothers put on back in 1968, and while Frank claims in the liner notes that the overall performance was just fair, it's definitely a fair performance that deserves to be heard a few times by any fan of the group.

The primary attraction of this show lies in the first half, which includes 14 members of the BBC symphony playing some weird chamber music pieces that have a really bizarre half- improvised play built around them. The summary given by Zappa in the liner notes is essentially that a civil war breaks out within the group over what the band's direction should be, which causes factions of the group to go in different directions. Three of them leave out of protest over another's desire to play wacky crazy electronic music, and go off to form a "well disciplined" group consisting of themselves and the 14 BBC symphony members ... as robots. Meanwhile, Motorhead wants into the group, but they don't want him because he can't read music, so he proceeds to try and sneak in through other means. Jimmy Carl Black (the Indian of the group) then declares to the others that they'll never get laid playing music like that, and that if they want to get laid they gotta play rock'n'roll music and drink beer. The story goes into weirder territory as the evening goes on, but suffice it to say that some of the other features include Black dressed as Jimi Hendrix and Roy Estrada dressed as the Pope (!!!). I will definitely admit that it hurts quite a bit not to have the visual side of this play easily available (it's included in the Uncle Meat movie, but that's not a very easy find, nor very watchable overall, or so I'm told), and as the lines of dialogue start to thin out and the chamber music itself starts to take over, I do find my attention drifting a bit. Still, it's an extremely funny listen for a couple of runthroughs, even if it doesn't have much replay value beyond that.

The second half, then, is basically a "normal" Mothers of Invention performance, and it's got its ups and downs. "King Kong" eluded me the first listens, but eventually this shortened portion at least became as interesting as the studio version. Everything else in the first portion of the second half, except for the brief "Help, I'm a Rock" blurb, is just far too unmemorable and not interesting enough for my tastes. On the other hand, though, I'm sure not offended by any of it either; I enjoy all of it plenty while it's on, even if I inevitably end up treating it mostly as background noise (and, come to think of it, I remember "Pound for a Brown" having some pretty terrific guitar passages). The second half of it, then, is a blast, a perfectly segued medley (all instrumental, of course) of "Let's Make the Water Turn Black," "Harry, You're a Beast" and "The Orange County Lumber Truck" (divided in two parts with "Oh No" sandwiched between them; these would eventually make their way onto Weasels Ripped My Flesh). The last of these, which closes the show, is an absolute blast of lovely jammy jazziness, built around a simple and pretty theme, with great sax and guitar solos all around. And besides, it actually has a real groove to it; go Jimmy Carl Black!

So that's your archive release. I kinda wish there were real pictures from the play portion in the liner notes instead of all these drawings, since that would help make the first half come to life for me in a better way than it actually does, but that's just a fairly nit-picky complaint. If you're a M.O.I. fan, and especially if you love the jazzier "King Kong" type of stuff more than I do, you'll want to pick this up very quickly.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars While it's great to have a recording of a show like this, this CD also demonstrates just how visual a Mothers Of Invention concert was back in those days (Damn, was it really 42 years ago?). The first half of the album has the band performing a musical play called "Progress?" in which the "talented" members of the band (because they can read music), Ian Underwood, Bunk Gardner, and Art Tripp, quitting the Mothers to form their own group, one with discipline. The whole story transpires with the BBC Symphony Orchestra playing Zappa's works behind them (much of it later used again in "200 Motels"). The music is great, but unless you are reading the liner notes when listening, there is no way to know what the audience is reacting to. This makes this part of the album not terribly conducive to repeat listenings.

The second half is easier on the ears, with the Mothers playing instumental reditions of many early favorites. The recording quality is fair, and the performance is great. Although it does underline the fact that, despite having two drummers, the rhythm section at thetime just wasn't up to the task of performing Frank's music. Most of the drumming is just simple timekeeping. But still, it's great music.

3.5 stars - rounded down to keep it in comparison with FZ's other albums.

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
3 stars My first Zappa experience began here and thankfully did not end with this mixed bag that is half genius, half mediocore. It seems a lot of Zappa albums are designed for the immediate impact on the listener. Immediately one will be confronted with a lot of nonsense and shenanigans with staged tomfoolery that at first is humorous and then simply grates on the nerves and you might wish the band would just stop acting the goat and get on with some decent music. Watching this live may be a wonderful experience but listening to this gobbledygook is a cold experience because at times the audience are howling with laughter and we have no idea what the heck is going on. Zappa and his entourage are certainly having a lot of fun with his audience though did not have the listening audience in mind with this material, that is for sure. It takes till about track 11 to get to the good stuff and when Zappa gets into it, the actual music is irresistible.

I have often skipped straight to the classics that are packed into the second half of the show. King Kong at 8:13 is a fantastic song, Help, I'm a Rock is a short blast of weirdness, followed by the devestating jazz of Transylvania Boogie. The infamous Pound for a Brown is here and sounds wonderful clocking almost 7 minutes, and there are short and sweet numbers at less than 1 minute such as Harry, You're a Beast and The Orange County Lumber Truck, Part I. The best track on the album is the lengthy jam session of The Orange County Lumber Truck, Part II at about 10 minutes in length and this showcases the brilliance of the band.

So overall this is a mixed affair but worth it to hear Zappa live when the band were at the peak of their powers.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Frank Zappa said that this was to be the last "Mothers" album. It was released in 1993 before his death, but the recording is from a much earlier concert, performed in 1968 at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Frank said that the band was their own opening act and that all the band members put on a play written by Frank with music performed mostly by 14 members of the BBC symphony. This recording of the play was previously available on the "Mystery Disc", but the rock portion of the concert was not previously available. Frank thought it was an important concert to have on record, so he put the entire show back together for consumer purchase, but he himself said it was only a "fair - not outstanding - Mothers of Invention rock concert performance".

So, this is the album that resulted from that decision. The first part of the album is the play which was entitled "Progress?" and, from what I can gather, it was pretty much a comedy, or satire, of life in a rock n roll band called the "Mothers". Knowing Frank, this was all based on events in the band, made into a funny skit, with a lot of dialogue (spoken parts) and music thrown in as needed. As mentioned earlier, Frank said the music was done by part of the BBC symphony, but I believe that a lot of it was also done by the band. What ever the case, the music itself is quite Avant-Garde, as you would expect from Frank's classical music. A lot of the music coincides with what is going on in the play itself, dramatizing things further. The "Prologue" to the play has many classical themes and sections from Mozart among others. This is track 1. Tracks 2 - 10 are the different parts of the play, some are only spoken parts, others are a mix of spoken parts and music. The recording is quite excellent, so there are no worries there. The problem is that we only have the audio portion of the play, and, judging from the audience's reactions, we miss quite a bit of the point of the play not being able to see it. You do catch part of the humor, and if you have the lyrics in front of you, it makes a little more sense, but it would have been better to actually see what was going on. Because of this, the first part of the album seems confusing and disjointed, and, if you didn't know that it was a play they were doing, you would start wondering what kind of ridiculousness is this anyway.

The good news about the album, is that the rest of the album is the "rock portion" of the concert. Things do get better at this point. Tracks 11 - 20 contain some decent examples of classic Mothers and Zappa recordings in this live setting. The "Epilogue" of the play flows right into the first track of this section, which is a rendition of the Zappa improvisational classic "King Kong". it is a decent version, but there are better ones out there, as on the "Uncle Meat" album. Next is a very short and very different version of "Help! I'm a Rock" mostly consisting of percussion with an even shorter vocal compared to the original version on the "Freak Out!" album. This is the last of the vocals on the album, as the rest of the album is instrumental. You will recognize a lot of the classic Mothers tunes, some of them will be improvised on and others are short and straight forward. Seasoned Zappa listeners will recognize pieces of this part of the performance from various other recordings and that is because Frank spliced them into other albums, like, for instance "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" and so on. Each track flows right into the other. The best tracks are the longer ones where the band does more improvisation as in "Pound for a Brown" and "Orange County Lumber Truck", but being interspersed with shorter snippets of Zappa melodies, it does break up the density of the improvisational sections.

Overall, it's an okay representation of the Mothers in concert, but there are better examples out there. The best part of the album is the musical performances, but the first half of the album definitely takes away from the rock/jazz fusion of the 2nd half. There are also many recordings that are a lot worse than this, so we can throw this one in the middle with 3 stars.

Latest members reviews

5 stars I love this album, I think it's the best document of the original Mothers of Invention band in a live setting. These recordings from the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1968 were originally going to be used in the Uncle Meat film project (which Zappa eventually completed in the early 90's.) H ... (read more)

Report this review (#50616) | Posted by | Friday, October 7, 2005 | Review Permanlink

3 stars This album really showcases Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention's musicianship; in fact, that is the highlight of this album. The second half,starting with "Transylvania Boogie", is entirely instumental. This second half flows very well, partly because this is live, but I can hardly ... (read more)

Report this review (#39159) | Posted by Michael Coia | Monday, July 11, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This album is very funny, and it shows us the way the Mothers used to do shows back then in the sixties. It has a concept chamber music an great versions to early Zappaīs classics. The best is "Letīs Make The Water Turn Black" in an instrumental version, along others like "Harry Youīre A Beast" ... (read more)

Report this review (#29611) | Posted by orr2112 | Thursday, August 12, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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