Friday, February 22, 2008

109. FRANK ZAPPA: Help, I'm A Rock

A detailed analysis of the above Frank Zappa composition, including notated musical examples.
Help, I'm A Rock


NOTES ON THE COMPOSITIONS INCLUDED HEREIN: "HELP, I'M A ROCK ... is dedicated to Elvis Presley. Note the interesting formal structure and the stunning four-part barber shop harmony toward the end. Note the obvious lack of commercial potential. Ho hum."

Key of D Harmonic Minor (with pedal A)
Quarter note = ca. 116
There are 187 bars

BARFINDER: The word "help" is on the first beat of Bar 4

PERCEIVED INSTRUMENTATION: Vocals, electric guitars, electric bass, piano, drums and percussion.

Part 1
Bars 1-3

As noted above, one interpretation of the "key center" would be that this is D Harmonic Minor with an A root. The music is very exotic-sounding with the constant half-step movement.

Part 2
Bars 4-16
"Help, I'm a rock"

In Bars 7-10, Ray introduces us to FZ's exotic scale, sounding like a Turkish muezzin:

Part 3
Bars 17-81
"Ay ow-ee-ow-ee" ... "ah ah ah ah"

Those of you browsing this section who are not particularly "hard-core" will likely conclude at this point that we are a completely insane individual (and we "are" an individual, incidentally, despite our insistence on the pompous use of the 1st person plural...)

Those of you who are "hard-core" will completely understand why we spent a few spare hours getting this stuff transcribed (music AND lyrics). We hope you enjoy it!

Bars 17-22 mark the beginning of Jimmy Carl Black's "foreign language" section.

JCB sings the "foreign language, of course. Ray sings the a ha-a ha-a in Bar 22 -- but who "sings" see'dra votra nee? Elliot? Roy?

Also, note how Bar 17 is the last bar of the A-Bb-A sequence. Beginning in Bar 18, as JCB gets his discourse started, the pattern changes to A-A-A...

Check out Bars 40-43. JCB goes nuts here! He squeezes a bunch of syllables in very tight spaces, and in Bar 43, when he finally slows down and says, you know... you get the feeling he's about to completely crack up!

Mee-oo-da-ra and Do-dee-bop. We believe that's Ray.

Do-dee-bop is great, because it defines A Major, with a C# in it!

Other subsections of this part which deserve specific mention:

Bars 23-32 where JCB gives us some great "vocal" drumming

Vel-la kay-la sa-la tch'ay Vor-a kor-ay kay-a la kur'ad Vor-a silli kay-t'ay tcha-to Vor-a kay-ay tay-lay tay-ay tcha-to

Bars 48-53: The A-ki-o-ka o-ki-o-wee section; Bars 61-64 where JCB's uh-oh combines nicely with whoever is going aah

Bars 67-70 where JCB sings Say la do sa ka ho-say Vay-lay ko say-let-a-no Vay-la ka sa la to-shay Va-la ko-lo-tay. He sings Say la do sa ka ho-say in a higher pitch with a certain urgency in his voice.

Bars 71-81 contain the grungy sounds which begin to coalesce into quarter-notes, bringing us to:

Part 4
Bars 82-85
4/4 quarter-note = ca. 168

Another great four-bar "surprise interruption."

Watson attempts to describe this on page 68 ("a headlong rush of squeezed sound") -- not bad -- because that's what it is. Suddenly we're moving quickly to a new groove. The interesting thing is, the rushing 4/4 underpinning in the bass and drums is, as Watson points out, nearly identical to another composition from this very release, "Who Are The Brain Police?" However, there is yet a third work from this release which does the exact same thing (bass part nearly identical). Can you find it? [answer at the bottom of this page...]**

Part 5
Bars 86-161
"Help, I'm a rock ... "letter back that said"

Nice 1/8th-notes in the piano here. Varèse uses a percussion instrument called a "lion's roar" in several of his compositions -- the ones we've seen were big thick ropes going through a huge bucket with a hole in it, and the sound of the rope passing through hole in the bucket creates this "lion's roar." Perhaps that -- or some variation thereupon -- is what we hear at Bars 106-107; 110-111; and 158 (and prominently featured in "The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet").

Beginning at around Bar 142, the piano (and/or guitar?) adds a G# to its 1/8th-notes, but you have listen very carefully to hear it -- a nice dissonance! (right around I always wondered whether or not I could make it.

Part 6
Bars 162-187

3/4 quarter-note equals 4/4 quarter note. The female's moans definitely cross the barline.

** "I Ain't Got No Heart"

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