Friday, February 22, 2008

128. FRANK ZAPPA: We're Only In It For The Money (1968)

A detailed analysis of the above work.
We're Only In It For The Money (1968)
Zappa Records Release #4
Rykodisc RCD 10503

LP: The Old Masters, Box 1(Barking Pumpkin BPR-7777-3)

The first true masterpiece. Five stars. Everything about this release rings completely true.

That is to say, everything about the "original" release ... the disastrous idea to record new bass and drum tracks became a reality in the mid-80's when FZ dragged Arthur Barrow (bass) and Chad Wackerman (drums) into the UMRK studio to re-record the original tracks, FZ apparently proclaiming that the old ones either a) sucked, b) were inaudible, or c) were eaten by snakes. In any case, the result can be heard on the The Old Masters, Box 1 LP. Our praise is confined to the "original" LP version, which is the CD. Got that boys and girls?

FZ takes a MAJOR leap into greatness and -- yes -- immortality with this third release! A parody of The Beatles' SGT. PEPPERS LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, it travels a road so much wider and longer than simple caricature, because the MUSICAL MATERIALS available to FZ from his ever-increasingly resourceful mind-palette were so varied and complex.

In Freak Out! and Absolutely Free, we discussed how the "pop song" was routinely mutated into something completely different -- goofy "doo-wop" vocals, out-of-tune falsettos, forced Tin Pan Alley, and occasionally tinged with a jazz discharge of some sort ("American Drinks And Goes Home" from Absolutely Free, for example).

This release leaves much of that stuff behind in favor of a new target for his satire -- the new "rock" dynamic -- sometimes musically tickling John and Paul's writing style -- sometimes just displaying his musical contempt (or semi-affection -- it's such a thin line, isn't it?) for the rock "style" in general. In any case, the ultimate comparison between the two releases can be summed up by the final chord of each release:

Paul asked his orchestra to create a chromatically-ascending crescendo and then smashed an E Major chord on the piano and let it ring...

Frank, on the other hand, wrote a masterful, carefully orchestrated, fully written out work ("The Chrome Plated Megaphone Of Destiny") -- chilling music absent any program whatsoever! He provided a program, however, and one that perfectly matches the music for its sheer terror (Kafka) -- and after all is said and done...

Frank also smashes out a final chord. However, it's not like Paul's big E Major chord! Instead, ringing dissonances are panned back and forth between channels, fading very slowly, just as Paul's does! FZ definitely is having fun goofing on what was, even then, already a classic! His "parody" -- taken as a whole -- speaks musical volumes about differences in musical philosophies.

And one important note about all the "electronic" sounds you hear on this release: You'll find this little statement from FZ in the liner notes:

"None of the sounds [on this album] are generated electronically...they are all the product of electronically altering the sounds of NORMAL instruments..." The interest in this distinction (between electronically-generated sounds and "musique concrète" [real sounds manipulated by electronics]), as Watson points out on page 70, is largely confined to us analytic types who want to know how everything is done! More important than exactly how each sound was produced, is the fact that this release HIGHLIGHTED electronic sounds in an integrated way probably unheard of in any pop music release at that time!

The Peter Blake classic. The Cal Schenkel classic. Two album covers, two classics!

This page shows you how the Beatles laid out their cover. For legal reasons, FZ had to reverse that layout:

  • FRONT AND BACK COVER. With FZ + MOI, all wearing dresses, in front of a plain yellow background, identical to the Beatles' layout. On the BACK COVER, FZ with a dialogue balloon saying, "Is this Phase One of Lumpy Gravy?" (qv)...
  • INSIDE LEFT LINER. On Sgt. Peppers, Paul has his back to the camera, while the remaining Beatles face forward. FZ sort of reverses this with FZ and all the MOI except Motorhead with their backs to the camera; only Motorhead faces forward! The written instructions for The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny deserve to be reprinted here:
    • 1. If you have already worked your way through, "IN THE PENAL COLONY" by Franz Kafka, skip instructions #2, #3, #4.
    • 2. Everybody else: go dig up a book of short stories & read "IN THE PENAL COLONY".
    • 3. DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS PIECE UNTIL YOU HAVE READ THE STORY.
    • 4. After you have read the story, put the book away & turn on the record player [contemporary note: good luck, boys & girls!] . . . it is now safe to listen (DO NOT READ & LISTEN AT THE SAME TIME).
    • 5. As you listen, think of the concentration camps in California constructed during World War II to house potentially dangerous oriental citizens ... the same camps that many say are now being readied for use as part of the FINAL SOLUTION to the NON-CONFORMIST (hippy?) PROBLEM today. You might allow yourself (irregardless of the length of your hair, or how you feel about greedy wars & paid assassins) to imagine YOU ARE A GUEST AT CAMP REAGAN. You might imagine you have been invited to try out a wonderful new RECREATIONAL DEVICE (designed by the Human Factors Engineering Lab as a method of relieving tension & pent-up hostilities among the members of the CAMP STAFF ... a thankless job which gives little or no ego gratification ... even for the chief warden).
    • 6. At the end of the piece, the name of YOUR CRIME will be carved on your back.
  • THE MOTHERS TODAY: has the "TO" crossed out and replaced with handwritten "yester."
  • INSIDE RIGHT LINER. The perfection of parody. Rather than the neat flower arrangement of the Beatles, FZ and Schenkel device the word "MOTHERS" with carrots, watermelon and radishes! Many of the personages behind the Mothers (in dresses) have black bars across their eyes. According to Cal, once they began to have legal problems with one person or the other, they just started putting the black bars on nearly everyone. Gail stands to the left of Frank, extremely pregnant with Moon Unit, and on Gail's left Jimi Hendrix has his arms peacefully wrapped around a small white girl. An unbelievably powerful image with an even more powerful message. At the feet of Jimi Hendrix sits the grand designer himself, Cal Schenkel, holding a carton of eggs.

2 comments:

Death Panel Truck said...

"FZ sort of reverses this with FZ and all the MOI except Ray Collins with their backs to the camera; only Collins faces forward!"

That's Motorhead Sherwood facing forward, not Ray Collins.

Lewis Saul said...

Thanks DPT ... fixed it...