More Polemics From Pop Satirist

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Los Angeles Times, Mon., Mar. 18, 1968
By Pete Johnson[1]

Their first album, now a couple of years old, was fairly routine by later standards. The jacket was an oddly tinted pink and blue and yellow and black thing with the words "Freak Out!" encapsulated in a thought balloon. Next came "Absolutely Free," a double jacketed creation with each surface seemingly at right angles to each other surface. Their latest, "We're Only In It For The Money," surpasses both for incredibly imaginative humor. It is an inverted parody of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," a perfectly executed takeoff. Along the way, their albums have bannered such thought provoking slogans as "Kill Ugly Radio," "You Must Buy This Album Now, Top 40 Radio Will Never Play It" and "The Present Day Composer Refuses to Die." The group is the Mothers of Invention, spearheaded by Frank Zappa.

Zappa is a brilliant musician with a flair for satire. Unfortunately, he tends to do things a couple of years before people are ready for them and often crowds so many ideas into such brief musical space that they get lost in the confusion. That first LP (all are on the Verve label, by the way), a two-record set, anticipated many of the strange rhythmic "innovations" of the last album by the Rolling Stones, "Their Satanic Majesties Request."

Additionally, their record debut offered a 6-minute plus song called "Trouble Every Day," a deadly serious collection of thoughts inspired by the Watts riots which has even more topical value today. Then there were a number of tongue-in-cheek resurrections of the rock 'n' roll of the 1950s which showed as much sympathy as meanness.

For his second album, Zappa demonstrated that he is as familiar with Stravinsky as he is with Don and Dewey in a program which took some roundhouse swipes at the excesses of society, not the simple vices on which many pop musicians have pounced (love of money and wars, lack of communication), but at topics such as sexual fantasies and drunken revels which aren't revels. The Stones also apparently picked up on a song called "America Drinks And Goes Home" for their last album, which contains an inferior imitation.

Now comes No. 3, a hilarius visual evocation of "Sgt. Pepper" which is sometimes funny and sometimes grim inside. The Mothers attack hippies, the San Francisco scene, mother and fatherhood, childhood, drugs, flower people, making records, police, fashions and on. "This whole monstrosity was conceived and executed by Frank Zappa as a result of some unpleasant premonitions August through October, 1967" proclaim some small capital letters almost hidden among the lyrics inside the album. Along with the visual nod at the Beatles, Zappa takes them on in the structure of a couple of super-contemporary songs. One, "Mother People," pokes fun at the Beatles' odd musical transitions by using the sound of a phonograph needle skipping across a record to "unite" two dissimilar melodic sections, much as the Fab Four used radio static to connect parts of "I Am the Walrus."

The record is largely a series of polemics, but Zappa's barbs are witty enough to make his messages entertaining ("Unbind your mind / There is no time / To lick your stamps / And paste them in / Discorporate / And we will begin ... Wah Wah / Diamonds on velvets on goldens on vixen / On comet and cupid on donner and blitzen / On up and away and afar and a go-go ..."). Zappa is pop music's bravest iconoclast and perhaps its brightest. His next album, which has been held up for nearly a year through a technical dispute, is a full-length symphony called "Lumpy Gravy."