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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Frank Zappa

We're Only in It for the Money

Review by Steve Alspach

America went through a bit of culture shock in 1967, and things were turned upside down. Haight-Ashbury was the place to be if you wanted to reject your parents' lifestyle (for a while, anyway). "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out" was the mantra of the time - hell, even the New York Yankees were in last place for a few weeks. If the hippies thought they would find a supporter in Frank Zappa, they picked the wrong man.

We're Only in It for the Money was a forty-minute "PBBBBT" towards not only the "established" society but also of the hippie movement, Zappa feeling that the "Summer of Love" was a waste. In Zappaland the young and old feel his slings and arrows, and his nightmarish parody of the Sgt. Pepper cover (the nerve!) showed that there were no sacred cows. Some of the songs may not have aged well (tracks in the '60's calling for rebellion rarely do) and if you're looking for some of Frank's frightening fretboard frenetics (yeah, I got my alliteration on), you'd be wise to look elsewhere. The guitar work is kept to a minimum here as We're Only in It... focuses more on screwball arrangements and lambasting America's zeitgeist with both barrels. If you're a newcomer to Zappa but brave enough to seek out his music, this CD may be the one to start when looking at his work in the '60's.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Are You Hung Up?
This one is a short piece of tape editing, voices, bizarre whispering from the engineer, and an introduction by Jimmy Carl Black, the "Indian of the Group" and perhaps the ugliest man in the history of rock music.
Who Needs the Peace Corps?
A barbed song that is aimed towards those on their way to San Francisco, flowers in their hair or otherwise. Those not familiar with early Zappa may be surprised at how much some of these songs sound like his later rock efforts, especially the signature off-the-wall fill-in riffs. His one-liners, such as "Gee, my hair's getting really good in the back" may have been wasted on the stoners back then, but then wasn't that the "problem" with Zappa - that is, people laughing at the jokes were probably the targets of the joke to begin with?
Concentration Moon
The Sunset Valley riots of 1967 get attention on this. Zappa starts with a silly waltz, then goes to a double-time 4/4, a break for some more random voices, and then he repeats the structure again. The refrain is, "Cop kill a creep, pow pow pow."
Mom and Dad
This may be Zappa's most somber piece - it's certainly the one on this album. Zappa reams the "plastic mom and dad" who are not attentive to their child, but the last verse ("Your child was killed in the park today / Shot by the cops as she quietly lay / By the side of the creeps she knew / They killed her too") shows that the hippies don't escape responsibility either. This song really didn't age well at all, truth be told.
Telephone Conversation
This is a :48 tape of what sounds like a party line with Frank Zappa, an operator, and a mother-daughter conversation.
Bow Tie Daddy
A Roaring '20's vo-do-dee-o-do sendup that tweaks the nose of the suburban father, this is only 33 seconds, so there isn't much to discuss here.
Harry You're A Beast
Another potshot at the suburban lifestyle, the opening is pleasant and bouncy enough as the idea of "American Womanhood" is totally skewered. Then comes one of the hilarious highlights as Harry and Madge succumb to wild passion which leaves Madge crying and Harry saying "Madge, I couldn't help it! I...doggone it." (If you're going to visualize middle-aged married couples in the '60's doing the rumpy humpy, you'd better take a cock-eyed approach to it.)
What's The Ugliest Part of Your Body?
Zappa thought that it was your mind. In this instance, he's aiming for the parents as he sings, "All your children are poor unfortunate victims of circumstances beyond their control" - a bit heavy-handed, perhaps.
Absolutely Free
Starting with a rather interesting solo piano from Ian Underwood, the song then goes into a waltz motif, and the voice insert "flower power sucks!", followed by "escape the weight of your corporate logo" shows that Zappa may have been ahead of his time, or that things haven't changed in 40 years. The harpsichord adds a nice touch, but there are some quick time changes throughout this piece.
Flower Punk
Turning again towards the hippies, this breakneck 7/4 send up of "Hey Joe" is the most dead-on put-down of flower power ever recorded. The song then turns even more screwy in the end - pick a channel and listen to the deadpan satire through the noise (I prefer the left channel).
Hot Poop
Some more strange whispering from Gary Kellgren, a snippet of backwards music, and short snorking noises makes up this one. At 26 seconds, one does have to ask "Um, Frank - why?" Could songwriting royalties have anything to do with it?
Nasal Retentive Calliope Music
Another disorganized pastiche of strange noises, there is a little bit of surf music towards the end, but Frank can't even leave that alone before putting in a few more seconds of anarchy.
Let's Make the Water Turn Black
Two cousins of a band member are immortalized in this song. I read an interview with Zappa about the housekeeping habits of these two kids when they weren't busy making watermelon wine for junior high school kids - believe me, you don't want to know the details, and the lyrics pretty much spell it out for you. The music? Well, it's a light, sing-along number, only one of a couple on this album. (It seems Zappa makes the lightest music when the lyrics go into the strangest territories.)
The Idiot Bastard Son
A 3/4 piece that sounds a bit like a continuation of the characters from the previous song, Zappa places some disjointed vocals in the middle of the piece before picking up the track again. The tune concludes with Gary Kellgren's creepy whispering again.
Lonely Little Girl
A sympathetic nod to the younger generation who may have been neglected by their parents, this is a short piece at 1:09 - time enough for a few verses, revisiting part of "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body" and a short guitar flourish.
Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance
Zappa finally offers a bit of encouragement in all this mess - "We know that hair ain't where it's at" - and in his own strange way suggests acceptance for all, hippy or straight, rich or poor. The music is almost a doo-wop mode that Zappa was always fond of.
What's The Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Reprise)
At 1:02, Zappa can't even leave this alone without screwing around with the tape speed and as a result, this reprise becomes a bit of a mess.
Mother People
This is a rather catchy tune where the musicians had to be on their toes to keep with the tricky 32nd-note passages and riffs. Towards the end, though, there is a surprisingly languid orchestral passage.
The Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny
At 6:25 this is almost twice the length of the next-longest song. Once again, Zappa goes for the avant-garde, starting from musique concrete to tapes of people laughing played at various speeds, some free-form improv, and finally, a ker-PLUNK of a note that fades away to nothing, another nod to (or slap at) that other album that ends with a tremendous piano chord.
 
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