Friday, February 22, 2008

126. FRANK ZAPPA: Brown Shoes Don't Make It

A detailed analysis of the above Frank Zappa composition, including notated musical examples.

Brown Shoes Don't Make It


The Classic Version. By really studying this version, you will be prepared to be totally amazed by the version on Tinseltown Rebellion -- a live 1979 performance of this complex, difficult work.

He keeps switching tempos all the time, because if he finds a tempo he really likes, he'll go steady with it for awhile until he can...

This sprawling composition is formed by 19 SEPARATE SECTIONS, as follows:

Brown shoes

Section 1. 4/4; 4 bar intro; 8 bars unison chorus

TV dinner by the pool

Section 2. Slower 4/4; 3 bars of the Soloists (a trio; three voices) then 7 bars of unison vocals [tiny detail: after be a plumber come the words he's a bummer. The singer seems to stumble slightly over the word he's]

Smile at every ugly

Section 3. Four bars of fast 4/4. More circus music. There is a bassoon in here, which we assume is played by Bunk. This is actually a quote, but we'll be darned if we know the exact name of the original ditty (although I'm sure Charles knows! Charles?). The words cut your hair are usually played by a trombone with a major smeary glissando. Anyone know for sure? In any case, that great Retrograde Revolutionary, P.D.Q. Bach (the oddest of Johann Sebastian Bach's twenty-odd children), used THE EXACT SAME DITTY, repeatedly, in a work entitled "Twelve Quite Heavenly Songs" (Arie Proprio Zodicale, S. 16) available on the CD Liebeslieder Polkas, on Vanguard VMD-79438.

Be a jerk (and go to work)

Section 4, like Section 1, but only 2 bars of intro music, and 4 bars with a call and response this time.

Do your job ... life's a ball! ... (TV tonight!)...

Eight bars. Again, a chorus chimes in with a lyric in the middle of a solo line (life's a ball) ... very operatic writing!

A world of secret

First a bar with a fermata containing the beautiful ringing of a cymbal

Section 5. You just knew we'd end up in 3/4 at some point, didn't ya? The creepy four-bar intro:

Compare and contrast this relatively stark intro to the 12 bars that follow: FZ adds layer upon layer -- first the fuzz guitar (not notated above), vocals, timpani, percussion --

In a drawer in a desk

The background begins to swarm with a powerful washy reverberating sound -- a flutter-tonguing flute and/or trumpet is heard; 11 bars of this until

Past the girls in the office

Section 6. Four bars of faster 4/4. Beautiful eighth-note snorks lead directly to

We see in the back

Section 7. A new 3/4 (previous half-note equals new quarter-note); chamber music at its best; six non-Mothers play two violins, a viola, a cello, a trumpet and a contrabass clarinet here. We present here a somewhat incomplete transcription (it still lacks a few details in the strings and the contrabass clarinet) of Bars 70-80, from the snorks to about thirteen.

A few things to notice:

  1. How carefully FZ orchestrates this music. The piano plays at certain moments, usually moving in contrary motion to FZ's vocal;
  2. The flutter-tonguing. This is very difficult this is to do correctly!
  3. The constant use of tritones and careful avoidance of any defining tonality...

His wife's attending...squealed for a week to get him to go

Section 8. Slow 4/4 again! New slower tempo. Let the squealing begin -- sax

Teen-age queen

String Quartet break!

Baby baby

Section 9. Fast 4/4.

And he loves it

Section 10. We call this 6/8.

She digs it in bed

Section 11. 4/4 (arbitrarily). Note how FZ doubles the trumpet track and pans it, delayed, into the other channel. So effective, when not overused! And how 'bout that "all-tracks" electronic glissando at the end!

Do it again

Section 12. 4/4 ... Tin Pan Alley, almost completely straight (the only "goofy" giveaway -- the completely out-of-sync, delayed, drum part) ... sultry tenor sax ...

She's a dirty

Section 13. 4/4, sung out of tune ... (listen to the chord on loaded!)

If she were my

Section 14. 4/4 with fermatas. Lots going on here. Listen to the bassoon's interesting line; and a beautiful short lick on the xylophone right before the second what would ya do, daddy? just for starters...

Smother my daughter in

Section 15. 4/4, a snappy Dixieland feel with authentic clarinet. Notice the background vocals in this section, very well written.

Time to go home

Section 16. Slow 4/4 -- again, some great orchestrating here: listen to the detail in the orchestration behind gotta meet the Guerneys -- muted trumpet, strings --

TV dinner by the pool

Section 17. Check out the changes here: C Major/Db Major/Gb Major Seventh. And then 13 quarter-note beats in a row, rubato, starting with life is such a ball -- and then suddenly


Section 18. 24 bars of fast 5/8


Section 19. Another long fermata -- can you picture FZ conducting this, fingers jabbing wildly at the air molecules? A real treat is the beautifully recorded less-than-one-second echo from the final sound of this work before the first sounds of

Next track


tomasz. said...

brilliant analysis, cheers! i'm not massively familiar with the first few Mothers albums but this will surely be a great resource as i get more into 'em. i noticed you seemed to have stopped around February '08 though. Plans to do any more?


Lewis Saul said...

>>Plans to do any more?

Someday! My own composition takes priority these days! Thanks for the nice comment!