It’s time for another round of What’s the Concept?! This week, we’re taking a look at Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s 1968 album We’re Only in It for the Money.
What’s the Concept?!
This is the Mother’s third concept album in a row, and the themes are quite similar to their previous two. It’s a social satire of both left and right wing movements during the 1960s, making fun of both hippies and the conservatives who hated them. The album was also making fun of The Beatles, because Zappa thought they were a bunch of phony sell outs who were grossly commercializing youth culture. Towards the end of the album, he aligns himself more with the left, because Zappa was an authority mistrusting freak himself.
Lonely Little Girl was the only single released from this album, with Mother People as its B-side. Both are solid tracks, but I’m kind of perplexed that Lonely Little Girl was chosen as a single because it’s not the most accessible song on the album. Lonely Little Girl does incorporate the bridge of What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body at the end, which makes me very fond of the song, but I’m surprised Mother People is the B-side because it’s a much stronger showing. With lyrics asking “Do you think that I love you/Stupid and blind/Do you think that I dream through the night of holding you near me” before a record scratch, it’s pure Frank Zappa making fun of your feelings. It’s reminiscent of Broken Hearts Are for Assholes in this way and I adore it.
Who Needs the Peace Corps is one of my favorite songs from Zappa’s Mothers period. It’s skewering not even hippies, but phony hippies. People who join the movement for the drugs and fashion, not the music and peaceful ideology. It beckons you to go to San Francisco, saying that “every town must have a place where phony hippies meet.” It then detours into a monologue about what will happen when the singer makes it to Frisco, including becoming a rock and roll band’s manager, living with them because “the groups all live together”, and getting the crabs (but not caring!)
Concentration Moon is segued in from the last track, and I swear this song makes me believe that psychic abilities are possible, but only one person had them, and that person was Frank Zappa. The events in this song kind of eerily mirror the Kent State shooting, which happened two years after the album was released, with lyrics about creeps killed in the park by cops. Also, America is a “scab of a nation driven insane”. I can’t not love that line.
One really can’t discuss this album without pointing out tracks like Hot Poop, Nasal Retentive Calliope Music and The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny. These are tracks that are essentially nothing but noise. And somehow it doesn’t even grate on you, despite many of the sound effects being high pitch and disarming.
Let’s Make the Water Turn Black and The Idiot Bastard Son follow a bit of a story. The first is about Kenny and Ronny, two guys that were creeps as kids and the creepy things they did, one of whom is now in the army and the other’s taking pills. The second follows a bastard child whose “father’s a Nazi in congress today/His mother’s a hooker somewhere in LA”, and how Kenny and Ronnie will feed him and the kid will grow up and “enter the world of liars and cheaters and people like you”.
What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body (spoiler alert: it’s your mind) is freaking amazing. It starts out with a vaguely doo-wop sound before kicking it into gear with its manic and frenzied second and third verses. The lyrics are cutting and great in this relatively short track:
All your children are poor, unfortunate victims of systems beyond their control
A plague upon your ignorance and the gray despair of your ugly life
This album is universally praised. It’s on quite a few “best albums of all time” lists, and when it was released, Barret Hansen of The Rolling Stone, a gent you may know better as Dr. Demento, said it was the most advanced rock album up to that point. I love this album. I have the entire thing memorized and find new things to love about it on almost every listen. I think that it’s probably Frank Zappa’s strongest work during his time with The Mothers, which is notable in and of itself because all of his work with The Mothers was fantastic and strong. It’s delightful, hilarious, musically intense ear candy. You cannot go wrong with this album.
This album was added to the National Recording Registry in 2005, due to its cultural significance. I am tickled than an album that has a track called Hot Poop is in the Library of Congress.
The speaking voices of Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart can be heard in various tracks on the album.
There was a bit of a delay in the release of the album due to the cover. They originally wanted the cover to be the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band parody, but Zappa was turned down by Capitol Records. They ended up releasing the album after a five month delay with that parody as the inside artwork and the original gatefold image of the band in drag as the cover art. Frank Zappa was not happy. When the album was rereleased in the 1980s, the Sgt. Pepper parody cover was restored to its rightful place.
Frank Zappa was friends with Jimi Hendrix, and Jimi posed for the Sgt. Pepper parody cover. He’s one of the only non-band members whose eyes aren’t blacked out.
Many parts of this album were censored by the record company without Zappa’s knowledge or approval. One of the dumbest was censoring the lyric “And I still remember Mama with her apron and her pad feeding all the boys at Ed’s Café!” from Let’s Make the Water Turn Black. It was cut because they thought the pad was a maxi-pad and not a notepad you use to write down food orders at, you know, a café.
Despite the skewering of The Beatles, Paul McCartney really dug this album and ended up finding the Sgt. Pepper parody hilarious.
This album was part of a four piece project called No Commercial Potential, which also included Lumpy Gravy, Uncle Meat and Cruising With Ruben and the Jets. Frank Zappa said these are all essentially one long album.
Kenny and Ronnie from Let’s Make the Water Turn Black are based on Kenny and Ronnie Williams, friends of Frank Zappa’s, who would do things like collect jars of urine and light their farts on fire.
Hi, I’m Jimmy Carl Black and I’m the Indian of the group!