Monday, November 07, 2005

earCandy: Frank Zappa - We're Only In It For The Money (1968) 5/5

Frank Zappa, whether you can deal with his frequently offensive (to some) lyrics or not, is probably the greatest composer that can be directly associated with the rock genre (though he has released complete albums of classical and jazz works as well). Charles Mingus in jazz, Bela Bartok in classical, and Frank Zappa in rock are my holy trinity of composers who ignored the conventional boundaries of the genre with which they were identified to create some of the greatest music known to man. As a commentator, Zappa not only paved the way for acts like Ween and shows like Duckman (for which he allegedly wrote the music and in which his son, Dweezil, voices Duckman's son) and Family Guy (indeed, he was testified in front of the US Senate against Tipper Gore's ill-conceived music censorship escapades in the 80's). I could write pages about Zappa, but I'll keep this directed at this particular work. ;-)

We're Only In It For The Money is Frank Zappa's most poignant and powerful work of social commentary and musical expression. It completely skews the hippies and the straights of the day, complete with Sgt. Pepper's parody artwork (a hilarious send up which he couldn't get permission to use as the album cover and so is only included inside the album). Zappa considered himself and like-minded people "Freaks" - in a good way - and his remarks throughout this album pointedly deride the pretensions of the hippies and the uptightness of the straights. Rolling Stone referred to this as "perhaps the most mercilessly derisive raspberry ever flung at the rock scene by an actual participant therein" (probably referring directly to the song "Flower Punk", but also the general tone of music at the time while also being indicative of how far this album outstrips the musicality of just about anything in existence in rock then or now).

The compositional and production techniques on this album are staggering - from doo-wop rock songs to classical pieces, tape edits and musique concrete, and a host of effective montages, all of which deliver almost 40 minutes of delicious "headphone calisthenics" (I forget where I heard this term used, but it is a quote from somewhere). "Mom & Dad" is a presented song that forecasts the Kent State student shootings by a couple of years, "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body" answers the question with "your mind", and the catchy optimism of "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" is a nice balance to the critique that is so evident in much of the rest of the album.

Despite the topical nature of the lyrics, the album has actually aged well and is as relevant to many of today's issues as it was back then. Plus, it's about the most rewarding thing you could ever listen to intently on headphones in a darkened room ;-) .
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11/07/2005 09:11:00 PM  

3 Comments:

Anonymous northernwish@gmail.com said...

If I may be so bold,I agree and disagree..a little!

I agree with you that this is an amazing album. I love "flower punk" it makes me feel good.
But for me, "Joe's Garage" is the best of Frank. What an unbelievable statement he makes. I really get a feel for what was going on in the US. This album makes me laugh and think..which is a cool way for Zappa to make his statement. After a whole album of oppression and depression, "Watermelon On Easter Hay" relieves so much tension that I feel like I am going to cry. That guitar...first, rough and honest and then that perfect polished sound...just beautiful!

I think the best headphone album is "amused to death" by roger waters. This album is stunning in all it sound shades. Its another album that makes you think too!

November 11, 2005 3:26 AM  
Blogger Jeff MacArthur said...

Yeah, I think Joe's Garage is certainly a strong statement and solid album. I think I prefer WOII4TM b/c it's so incredibly varied AND bite-sized ;-) , but I totally hear you.

Like my Frank Zappa appreciation, I am mostly a big fan of Pink Floyd's earlier work, and I have yet to listen to Amused to Death by Roger Waters. Is this the album they were experimenting with 3D sound on? In any case, I'll check it out - thanks for the tip!

November 14, 2005 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Trans-man said...

There aren't many Zappa fans around, it's good to see some! I lost my entire album collection in a burglary and never had the chance to see Zappa live, but love his music.
Joe's Garage is great, and many of his songs made me laugh (Catholic Girls for example). I may not have the same understanding of many of his songs, since I wasn't born in this country, but I think he was the greatest musician of the 20th century.

November 10, 2007 8:34 AM  

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