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Frank Zappa - The Mothers Of Invention: We're Only In It For The Money CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



4.11 | 621 ratings

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5 stars This is very arguably Zappa's most famous album, and in my observation is very often the album that Zappa newbies are recommended to pick up first. This actually has quite a bit merit (though I'd probably have gotten You Are What You Is first if I could do it all over again); it has quite a few great, GREAT melodies, a bunch of neat sound effects that don't usually take total precedence over the music, and of course it has the concept and the accompanying lyrics. Yes, this is the infamous total bashing of "Flower Power" and hippies in general, the one with the band in drag and the inside cover containing an elaborate Sgt. Pepper's parody and all of that. The final nail in the coffin of the psychedelia of 1967, if you will (though by coming out in the second half of 1968, its impact wasn't as timely as it could have been).

Before I start commenting on the concept, just as every single review of this album is seemingly required to do at some point, there's something I want to comment on that I don't think I've ever seen discussed. Today, years after the release of this album, the fact that Zappa despised hippies is just taken for granted, and the reasons he gives for this are certainly very legitimate ones. I have to wonder, though; did hippies back in 1967 and 1968 have any reason to believe that an album like this was imminent from The Mothers of Invention? I can't help but think that the situation was quite the opposite; Zappa had put so much energy into ripping on "conventional" American culture in his first two albums that I would think that many hippies would have thought they'd found a common soulmate. After all, they were rebelling against their parents and elder authority figures (and the culture that had sprung up from them), the same people which Zappa thoroughly condemned in his own unique way. In a certain way, it could have been perceived that Zappa and Flower Power hippies were sort of "brothers in arms," united in their struggle against The Man.

And yet, there's this album, which I suspect was an even greater shock to the hippie community than we today consider it to have been. The question is then this: why would Zappa so thoroughly despise the people and ideologies he condemns on this album, when in theory they had several goals in common with him? The answer, I suspect, was largely tied in with the fact that hippies were making Zappa and his own fervent desire to bring down the establishment look bad by association. It's the same sort of reason why, even though I like a lot of prog rock, I despise reading messages from people insisting that music is supposed to be judged solely on how complex and intricate and difficult-to-play it is. When I'm trying to get people into art-rock and prog-rock, as I have attempted for much of my adult life, I have done so with the intended goal of showing fans of "normal" rock music that they can indeed fit art-rock and prog-rock into their already-existing pallettes, and that you don't have to become a snooty technique whore to enjoy these things. More than any other kind of comment, I get absolutely livid when I read comments of this type, because in those comments is an inadvertant and incidental, but nonetheless very real, attack on my credibility as an art-rock lover among others whom I am trying to convert.

And so it was with Zappa and hippies; he was really trying to effect a change in society as a whole, but while hippies were ostensibly trying to do the same thing, most of them were just a bunch of lazy poseur brats who were merely looking for an excuse to get high and get laid. Zappa had to make it as clear as he could that he did not consider these imposters as people on the same side as him; it was only true eccentrics like him, the "other people" that he refers to in the song "Mother People," that were the true revolutionaries, the ones who could actually pull off what it was he intended to accomplish.

Now that that little rant is over, I can get back to the album. The truth is, as much as I like it, I still don't feel like I like it as much I'm "supposed" to. As thorough an assault on hippies (and by extension, all phonies, poseurs and hangers-on) as it is, it kinda feels to me like the concept runs out of steam midway through. I'm still not sure of the purpose of the whispering control-room voice threatening to erase every Zappa album (as cool as it sounds), since it's kinda difficult for me to figure what some sort of commentary related to censorship has to do with the album concept. I'm also not a fan at all of the closing sound collage, "The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny;" I do think it's amusing that Frank would essentially stick a parody of taking music too seriously onto the end of the album (after asking around, I've found that at least the people I've asked think that the spiel Frank goes off about needing to read "In the Penal Colony" by Franz Kafka is totally tongue in cheek), but making it almost twice as long as anything else on the album was a bit much. I'm also not a particular fan of "Absolutely Free" (the second longest track on here), which aside from the lovely piano introduction is alarmingly dull to my ears (echoing voices saying "Flower power sucks!" notwithstanding), and "The Idiot Bastard Son" doesn't do much for me either.

Now, that might seem like a whole lot of complaining I've given for an album I'm giving a ***** grade, and to a large extent I agree; it's extremely tempting to go back to the beginning and change that ***** to a ****. On the other hand, there are a whole lot of parts to this album that I really love, and furthermore there's just some unexplainable power coming out of this album that I can't help but feel beholden to. It also doesn't hurt, for instance, that not only are there a whole lot of melody snippets strewn throughout this album that I find unbelievably great, but that a lot of the lyrics and spoken passages strike my ears as absurdly perfect even after hearing them a zillion times. Do you have any idea how much giddy joy I get from hearing Frank sing, "I'm completely stoned. I'm hippy and I'm trippy; I'm a gypsy on my own. I'll stay a week and get the crabs and take a bus back home. I'm really just a phony but forgive me 'cause I'm stoned?" Or hearing the spoken voice-over in the same song ("Who Needs the Peace Corps?") say the following?

"First I'll buy some beads, and then a leather band to go around my head; some feathers and bells and a book of Indian lore. I will ask the Chamber of Commerce how to get to Haight Street, and smoke an awful lot of dope. I will wander around barefoot. I will have a psychedelic gleam in my eye at all times. I will love everyone; I will love the police as they kick the shit out of me on the street. I will sleep ... I will, I will go to a house. That's, that's what I'll do; I will go to a house where there's a rock'n'roll band, 'cause the groups all live together, and I will join a rock'n'roll band. I will be their road manager, and I will stay there with them. And I will get the crabs, but I won't care."

Does it get ANY more perfect than that?

Let's see, after that, there's "Concentration Moon," which has 3 melody snippets that I can't regard as anything less than awesome: the "AMERICAN WAY" snippet, the "Don't cry, gotta go bye bye" bit, and of course the main "verse" melody ("Wish I was back in the valley with all of my friends ...'). There's the extremely moving "Mom and Dad," where in the span of 2:16 he puts much of the blame for the existence of the hippies that he hates squarely on the shoulders of emotionally negligent parents. As much as many like to go on about how America needs to get back to ways of the 1950's in order to save the moral structure of the country, it should not be ignored that it was in this time that the archetype of the emotionally distant father, who came home from work and just wanted to put his feet up, read his paper, eat his already-made dinner and only have a token amount of involvement in his children's lives, really etched its way into the American consciousness. This was the time when the Pleasantville style of life became the supposed ideal, and you know what? That was the time period and culture that created the conditions for the culture of the 60's to come into being, and was indeed the soil from which phony hippies sprung. This song hits on that observation better than any I've ever come across, and if you don't grit your teeth a bit at the lines, "Ever take a minute just to show a real emotion, in between the moisture cream and velvet facial lotion?" and "It's such a drag to have a plastic Mom and Dad," (an obvious nod to "Plastic People;" conceptual continuity strikes again!) then we're just not on the same wavelength.

Other major highlights include the hilarious "What's The Ugliest Part of Your Body" (which then breaks into Frank delivering his message in a straight-up metered superliminal fashion), the AMAZING "Hey Joe" parody "Flower Punk" (which ends with two entirely separate monologues done in the usual helium-Zappa phony hippy voice, one in each speaker, each of which are jaw-droppingly dead-on imitations of shallow hippiedom) and of course the gloriously catchy "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance." Yeah, it's only a minute and a half long, and I know it's to be taken as a mockery of hippy world peace anthems, but it's so much fun and so lighthearted in comparison to the rest of the album that I can't help but be happy when it comes on.

There's other good songs, and other great sound effects (the most notable of which is the quasi-"rewinding" of "Mother People" that takes place during the unfortunately-titled "Hot Poop"), but I don't really need to go over them at this point. The overall message I want to convey here is that, as (arguably) overhyped as the album might be, and as obnoxious as some of its passages might be, Money nonetheless exudes greatness, and has a feeling of being "essential" to any 60's rock collection that I don't think should be ignored. I wouldn't recommend it as a first Zappa purchase, but it definitely should be gotten early on.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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