Saturday, January 17, 2009

We're Only In It For The Money

By the time Zappa and the Mothers had released “We’re Only In It For The Money,” they were on a rock-n-roll creative roll with accelerating momentum. A target had been identified for Zappa’s satire, and the scathing exposes within the lyrics were being presented more musically, with tunes easier to follow and more effectively matched.

Even the cover more overtly capitalized on the group’s newly gained confidence by making fun of the Beatles with a mock of the cover from “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.” By then, the Beatles had achieved super ultra mega stardom and were nearing their zenith.

The Mothers were nearing a zenith as well, and with “We’re Only In It For The Money,” Zappa held no prisoners: the album makes fun of hippies, cops, parents, society, and drugs, but also exhibited sympathy for many, identified within the album as the “other” people.

Despite the fact that this album became such a favorite among fans within the Zappa canon, it has a significant flaw: “We’re Only In It For The Money” is trapped within the period it mocks and was released. Matt P. at Ground and Sky points this out very well in his review of “Absolutely Free,” which he views as the more superior album between the two.

Some more evidence of how the album is inextricably tied to 1968 can be found in the blog post on the release at ChrisGoesRock (essentially, it’s what can be found in the Wikipedia entry for the album). I guess the fact that Paul McCartney went ahead and touted the Sgt. Pepper’s album as the first concept album didn’t quite sit right with Frank, seeing how he had already released two. The blog post also has information about all the censored versions and edits that occurred with the album.

But anyway, even with that limitation inherent in the album, it is, without a doubt, a great album. It is among Mark Prindle’s favorites in his comments on the Zappa catalogue, and even the very harsh critic Robert Christgau gives the recording an “A.” At the All Music Guide, it and “Freak Out!“ are the only two albums to receive all five stars.

All of this, however, is rather irrelevant when you consider Zappa’s words. Speaking about music critics and others in the music industry, Zappa told this to Don Paulsen for a Hit Parader article published in June, 1967, and can be read here:

“Usually they hate music. They love business and just want to make money. Whenever I have to deal with this kind of people (sic), I always tell them that I hate music and I’m only doing this for the money. They slap me on the back and we get along fine. I tell them I wish I could drive a cab instead, but I can’t get a license.” This, of course, was said shortly after “Absolutely Free” was released and before the deal over McCartney’s comment arose. For his next project at the time, Zappa had something else in mind. Obviously, however, the irony of his statement – that the band was only in it for the money – was a heart-felt sentiment, as evidenced by “Money”’s release.

Why did this album gain such a strong following? Why did it leave such an indelible impression on its listeners? I think it has a lot to do with what many have identified as the album’s duality within its content. The narrator in James Michener’s “The Drifters” eventually concludes that the counter-culture generation of the late 60s and early 70s isn’t much different from the older generation that spawned it, yet this conclusion is drawn sympathetically. Zappa, too, paints a picture with “Money” that reveals that the hippie culture isn’t much different from the older generation, but he reveals those similarities in terms of their shared phoniness.

The album begins with the short “Are You Hung Up?” which includes Eric Clapton stuttering like a stoner. This was such a cool thing for me when I first listened to the album, as I’ve always been a major Clapton fan. I bought the album in about 1974 or 1975, just before I graduated high school. I recall wondering at the time what vinyl pressing I had; it had a Verve label on the disc itself, but seeing how I bought it almost 10 years after its initial release, I figured it had to be a reissue.

So imagine my surprise and interest when I read years later about how later releases of the album were censored, such as the verse in “Who Needs the Peace Corps?” I can remember clearly the lyric in question was on the album I had bought: “I will love the police as they kick the shit out of me on the streets.” That was what was recorded on my album. I have never heard any other version of this song.

The album has been hailed by many as being ahead of its time, particularly in how it sang about cops killing kids (“Pow-pow-pow”) prior to the Kent State shootings in 1970. What makes the song “Mom & Dad” so poignant for me is how it describes the mother going home to drink, rationalizing the notion of police killing “some girls and boys” by lamenting over a drink, “they looked too weird it served them right.” A girl I knew while living in Tucson, Ariz., in about 1980 told me how her mother said the same thing, that the students at Kent State had it coming.

By the way, the song “Mom & Dad,” is probably one of the most heart-felt songs I have ever heard Zappa sing. Leading up to this song, he makes fun of hippies for being frauds, but right after that, he turns around and points his finger at the parents. He does it again at the end of “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?”

Then there’s the “phone call” just before “Bow Tie Daddy.” Sound a bit like the phone call bit in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” don’t you think? And that’s not all that surprising since there is recorded evidence of Zappa having jammed with Pink Floyd in 1969 at a rock festival in Belgium (when I finish my research on this, I will be posting on this event).

On “Side B,” Frank gets a bit nostalgic with the songs “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” and with “The Idiot Bastard Son,” both of which are sort of odes to a couple of characters from Zappa’s past. You’ll need to read his autobiography to get the details; it’s a very interesting story. But again, with the latter song, we hear Zappa sing a tragic story of a newborn child abandoned in the trash by the dissociative parents, a hooker and a politician.

Zappa goes deep with the recording, and even suggests in “Mother People” that he’s going deeper than his listeners realize; he mocks them knowing that they think they know what’s going on. Did they? Or was Zappa correct to suggest that they can’t see how they are just like the generation preceding them.

I rate this recording five out of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Released: January, 1968, Verve/Bizarre.

LP Release
Side one
Are You Hung Up? (1:23)
Who Needs the Peace Corps? (2:34)
Concentration Moon (2:42)
Mom & Dad (2:16)
Bow Tie Daddy (1:22)
Harry, You're a Beast (1:22)
What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (1:03)
Absolutely Free (3:26)
Flower Punk (3:57)
Hot Poop (0:26)

Side two
Nasal Retentive Calliope Music (2:00)
Let's Make the Water Turn Black (1:54)
The Idiot Bastard Son (3:27)
Lonely Little Girl (1:10)
Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance (1:33)
What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Reprise)(1:03)
Mother People (2:30)
The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny (6:30)

Current CD
Are You Hung Up? (1:24)
Who Needs the Peace Corps?(2:34)
Concentration Moon (2:22)
Mom & Dad (2:16)
Telephone Conversation (0:49)
Bow Tie Daddy (0:33)
Harry, You're a Beast (1:21)
What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (1:03)
Absolutely Free (3:24)
Flower Punk (3:03)
Hot Poop (0:27)
Nasal Retentive Calliope Music (2:03)
Let's Make the Water Turn Black (2:01)
The Idiot Bastard Son (3:19)
Lonely Little Girl (1:10)
Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance (1:33)
What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Reprise) (1:02)
Mother People (2:26)
The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny (6:25)


The Mothers of Invention
Frank Zappa – guitar, piano, Vocals, voices
Dick Barber – vocals
Jimmy Carl Black – trumpet, drums, vocals, indian
Roy Estrada – electric bass, vocals
Bunk Gardner – woodwind
Billy Mundi – drums, vocals
Don Preston – keyboards
Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood – baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone, voices
Suzy Creamcheese – telephone voice
Ian Underwood – piano, keyboards, voices, woodwind
Pamela Zarubica – vocals

Session musicians
Eric Clapton – Male speaking part in “Are You Hung Up?” and “Nasal Retentive Calliope Music.”
Gary Kellgren – “the one doing all the creepy whispering” (i.e., interstitial spoken segments)
Spider Barbour – vocals
Dick Kunc – “cheerful interruptions” vocal
Vicki Kellgren – additional telephone vocals
Sid Sharp – orchestral arrangements on “Absolutely Free”, “Mother People” and “The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny”

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