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Frank Zappa: We`re Only In It For the Money (1968)

Things sure been looking up for Zappa by the time We’re Only In It For the Money came out at the beginning of 1968. He had already two albums under the belt (maybe three, as some sources say that Lumpy Gravy was released in December 1967, before We’re Only In It For the Money came out). In the middle of 1967, the Beatles gave us Sgt. Pepper, just in time to capitalize on the countercultural movement. So Zappa responded to Sgt. Pepper with this album which not only poked fun at the hippies, but poked fun at the conservative establishment. By this time, Ray Collins temporarily dropped out of the Mothers of Invention, stripping the band of his distinct vocals, but in its place, the vocals duties were handled by Zappa, drummer Jimmy Carl Black, and bassist Roy Estrada.

It seems that while the album was recorded, the vocal tracks were slowed down, so the results were that they sounded like The Chipmunks (because slowing down the tape while recording will speed up the sound played at normal speed). And the results are absolutely hilarious! The album cover pokes fun at Sgt. Pepper. On the front is Zappa and the Mothers in drag, in the gatefold is Sgt. Pepper-like artwork (in this case, you see people like Jimi Hendrix, Tom Wilson – their producer, Nostradamus, Eric Clapton – who made a guest on this album, Franklin D. Roosevelt and many more). Plus you get similar, Sgt. Pepper-like cutouts as well.

Anyway, the album starts off with “Are You Hung Up?” Basically it’s just a bunch of electronic effects, with voices repeating “Are You Hung Up?” many times, and someone giggling. “Who Needs the Peace Corps” obviously pokes fun at the hippies, with lyrics that go “I’m completely stone/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”. Pretty obvious that he’s poking fun at the hippies who seem to do little else than get stoned all the time. And just to be fair, Zappa and the Mothers goes after the conservative establishment as well, with songs like “Mom and Dad”, and “Bow Tie Daddy”, which is a real easy thing to do to those who are non-conformists.

“Flower Punk” is totally outrageous, again, another song poking fun of the hippies. What’s more outrageous is the song pokes fun at the song “Hey Joe” (a song that Hendrix made most famous, but other versions existed before him, such as The Leaves, and Tim Rose). The lyrics go “Hey punk, where you going with that flower in your hand? Well I’m going up to Frisco to join a psychedelic band”. The song is twice as fast as Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe”, and there’s that process of slowing down the tape for the vocal tracks, so it sounds like Alvin, Simon and Theodore are singing “Flower Punk”. “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” is about two mischief making suburban kids (Ronnie and Kenny) who do rather gross things, while at the end of the song is those same two kids as grown-ups fighting in a war (remember that this was 1967/’68, smack in the middle of the Vietnam War).

The album also had problems with the 1967/’68 censors. One song in question, “Mother People” was originally intended to have lyrics that go: “Better look around before you say you don’t care/shut your fuckin’ mouth about the length of my hair/how would you survive if you were alive/shitty little person”, but was changed to go: “Lemme take a minute and tell you my plan/Lemme take a minute and tell who I am/If it doesn’t show/Think you better know/I’m another person”, definately does not have the impact as the original intended lyrics, to say the least. Also “Harry, You’re a Beast”, featured a small section where the lyrics were cut out, spliced, and partially played in reverse.

The album ends with “The Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny” is basically a bunch of electronic effects. But you shouldn’t be too surprised, what the likes of Karlheinz Stockhausen (one of Zappa’s idols, aside from Edgar Varèse) were doing in the 1950s was what Zappa often did (although within a rock context) in the late 1960s.

We’re Only In It For the Money is that perfect album to piss off the conservative establishment. Yeah, we know that Zappa wasn’t too fond of the hippies, but at least he wasn’t too fond of the conservative suburban mentality. For an album recorded mid to late 1967, the sound quality is unbelievably great.

One last thing, back in the late 1980s, just as as CDs were starting to become popular, Ryko reissued this album on CD with Lumpy Gravy included. Whatever you do, don’t buy that version, as it had a bunch of ’80s add-ons, giving it that unnecessary ’80s sound that the two albums never had. Luckily in 1995, Ryko did the right thing and returned both albums to their original mix, so obviously, get that version if you’re not lucky to own the original LPs on Verve. We’re Only In It For the Money is regarded as one of his best albums, and I’ll have to agree. Get this album!
– Frank Zappa: vocals, guitar
– Roy Estrada: bass, vocals
– Don Preston: keyboards
– Jimmy Carl Black: drums, vocals
– Ian Underwood: winds, keyboards
– Euclid James `Motorhead` Sherwood: winds
– Billy Mundi: drums
– Bunk Gardner: winds

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