Sorry, Zappa again

Fatima XBerg's picture

From a time when marketing was carefree and fun.

In the early seventies Polydor in Germany released a series of double albums called "Pop History". These compilations tried to portray pop acts over four vinyl sides, with the approach that the 'serious music lover' (i.e. the album-buying hippie freak of the time) wasn't only interested in the typical Greatest Hits and Best-Of-type samplers anymore; these sets were aimed at 'rock' fans, and looking at the tracklistings of the 30 volumes makes for some amazing discoveries – especially when you keep in mind that this project came from a label that was virtually swimming in money at the time due to the phenomenal sales of James Last albums.

Over the years I've assembled a complete collection of "Pop History Vol. 1-30" and it still amazes me. Not only do you get The Lovin' Spoonful sitting next to James Brown and The Grateful Dead, there's early Krautrock from Ihre Kinder alongside Mountain, Richie Havens, Taste and Euro-rock from Golden Earring and the Spotnicks. The people who compiled these albums were either plain mad or had a lot of fun: The Velvet Underground volume starts with "Lady Godiva's Operation", doesn't include "Waiting For My Man" (but "The Gift" and "Murder Mistery"), the Jack Bruce collection only has one track each from the Cream albums but four each from "Things We Like" and his album with Tony Williams Lifetime. The Who's set only features one of their singles (and it's "I Can See For Miles") but includes the second side off of "Live At Leeds". And "Bucket T" and "Smash The Mirror". Ha!

And then there's volume 7: Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention. Maybe my opinion is shaped by the fact that this was my second Zappa album ("Lumpy Gravy" was first), given to me by my father when I was 15, but this really is a fabulous journey through the Mothers' Verve years.

A: Help I’m A Rock • I’m Not Satisfied • Motherly Love • Plastic People • The Idiot Bastard Son
B: Brown Shoes Don’t Make It • The Chrome Plated Megaphone Of Destiny • Anything • You Didn’t Try To Call Me
C: Duke Of Prunes • Hungry Freaks Daddy • Uncle Bernie’s Farm • Who Are The Brain Police • Who Needs The Peace Corps • Absolutely Free 3:26
D: Status Back Baby • Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin • Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder • Flower Punk • America Drinks & Goes Home

Better than "Mothermania", and the fourth side especially is 20 minutes of pure bliss.

(If you don't already have all the tracks on yer phone or whatever, listen to a stream of the whole wondrous thing: http://www.mixcloud.com/fatimaXberg/pop-history-vol-7/
A list of the Pop History series is here: http://chickswithdisks.wordpress.com/the-pop-history-series/

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Always worth reminding the world of this fantastic artist, especially as this almost 50-year old music remains an inspiration.

have long fascinated me. They were compiled in Germany and pretty-much ran the gamut of the Polydor catalogue and associated labels. They date from 1971, because that was the year Polydor acquired the Verve/MGM label from EMI in Europe.

The covers varied somewhat and they were numbered differently in several countries. For example The Zappa/Mothers double album was released in New Zealand as Volume 6, while in Australia it kept its Volume 7 designation, but was only a single LP.

I'm afraid I wasn't very kind about the series in an article about Aussie Zappa releases I wrote decades ago:

Other Australasian Verve repackages include the ever-popular Pop History series. Polydor issued dozens of these German-designed monstrosities around the world during the early 70s, including several by MGM artists (Velvet Underground, Eric Burdon etc) whose back catalogue they had picked up in 1971. Zappa, of course, didn't escape the treatment and in 1972 the double set Pop History Vol. 6 (Polydor 2625 012) appeared in New Zealand.

Featuring the same gruesome cover art common to the entire series, together with a crudely cut-out Mothermania front sleeve photo, this album has little to distinguish it from the European version - save for the designation (Vol. 6) and the fact that the records are inserted from the inside centre of the sleeve, an idiosyncrasy peculiar to New Zealand.

In Australia, however, the same LP was issued with the more familiar Pop History Vol. 7 title. This was, of course, just a single LP (albeit with the same catalogue number as the NZ double) utilizing sides one and four only. By the way, has anyone ever seen a Mothers' Pop History which doesn't spell 'Invocation' incorrectly on the back sleeve? Ridiculously, in an attempt to emphasise what Polydor obviously saw as the Mothers', ahem, 'wacky' image, the ersatz picture frame which borders the front cover was shown broken into several pieces! Hey, are these guys crazy, or what?


New Zealand version

Variations of the same album appeared in the following countries:

Pop History Volume 4 (1972, Polydor 2612 015, France)
Pop History Volume 6 (1972, Polydor 2625 012, New Zealand)
Pop History Volume 7 (1972, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, Polydor 2625 012, Germany)
Pop History Volume 7 single LP (1972, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, Polydor 2625 012, Australia)
Pop History Volume 11 (1972, Italy)
Pop History Volume 14 (1972 Spain)


French version

...that these samplers are considered cheap cash-ins by 'serious collectors' and Zappa fans.

But: they are certainly not bad work. The artwork is expertly put together (well, it's a question of taste whether you think their 'ironic' design and typography succeeds...) and the "Mothermania" picture is certainly not "crudely cut-out"!
And the mastering and pressing of the original German series is fantastic (as all other Polydor releases from that era: they were all done at the pressing plant and by the team that did the Deutsche Grammophone classical releases) - the Who double album for example still sounds better than all the recent remasters and deluxe vinyl reissues.

I've always loved that series (where else are you going to find a Ginger Baker's Airforce compilation?) The covers seemed garish at the time but have aged well and the records always sounded OK.

I was probably just being dismissive back then (that piece was written in the early 90s) because Polydor had flooded the market with a glut of Zappa reissues in the 70s, so we had about six different compilations of the Verve material, but virtually nothing after 1969.

And I must apologise, because I've only just realised that Chicks With Disks is your own website Fatima. It's lovingly assembled and always worth a visit.

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