We're Only In It For The Money

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The original title of this album was Our Man in Nirvana. Frank initially planned to intersperse Mothers music with monologues by the late, controversial comedian Lenny Bruce.

The only things about Money that distinctly rib Sgt. Pepper are the reprise of “What’s the Ugliest...,” the piano-note conclusion of the final song, the cut-out sheet (which includes a photo of engineer Gary Kellgren), and the front, back and inner covers. That inner gatefold, which was used as the outer for many years due to MGM’s paranoia about possible litigation from EMI (the Beatles’ label), shows the Mothers dressed in drag to replace the pretentious Victorian style that was fashionable in the late ‘60s. Under the Beatles’ libretto, the whole band faces forward except Paul McCartney; below Zappa’s lyrics, the Mothers invert the idea and all show their backs except Motorhead, who at this time is merely the road manager and an occasional sax player (he’ll be more prominent on Uncle Meat).

After winning back his old Verve tapes in court, Frank wished to digitally remaster the early albums for release on CD. The tapes had not been stored properly, however. The two-channel master of the Money album was ruined; it was necessary to return to the four, eight or twelve separate tracks (it was a song-by-song case) and completely reconstruct the two-track master, which involved positioning the instruments in the mix all over again and redoing the countless edits. Since this task would have to be undertaken anyway, he decided to replace the drums and bass with new parts played by Chad Wackerman and Arthur Barrow, respectively.

    Frank had never been crazy about the sound of the original rhythm section; one reason was that the drums had been mono due to the limited number of separate tracks. He was now able to get an excellent stereo drum sound in his own basement studio; he saw no reason why albums from the past had to remain trapped in unsatisfactory sonics. Since the studio was already set up for supplanting the rhythm tracks on Money, he liked the idea of doing the same for his old Ruben songs (the albums had been released back to back, barely a month apart, in late ‘68). 
    To Frank’s ears, complaints about the remixes amounted to irrelevant fetishism; but he accommodated those listeners in the case of Money when another two-track master, this one in much better condition, was discovered. The 1995 reissue therefore provided the album as originally heard. Since Frank didn’t touch any of the edits this time, the censored parts unfortunately came along with the original drums and bass. 
    1985’s Ruben reissue, however, was never replaced with the original master. The CD that’s still available is therefore the one with Chad and Arthur on it, and the overall sound, along with the more clear backing vocals and pristine instrument equalization (one thinks of the acoustic guitar in “Jelly Roll Gum Drop,” finally brought to the forefront in the mix), is a hell of a lot better (to this writer’s ears) than on the old Verve LP. Just because an old fan’s uneasy about change doesn’t mean that he should refuse to give the superior remaster a chance. As Watson writes, “Maybe it’s better just to enjoy Art Barrow’s undeniably beautiful playing.” He quotes Frank from William Ruhlman’s 1/27/89 Goldmine interview: “I think that the material should have a chance to sound as good as you can make it sound, given the technical tools that are at your disposal.” Watson adds, “Zappa obviously resents those who ‘freeze’ his back catalogue to its original technical limitations.”

While “hung up” is the perfect phrase with which to kick off an album that mocks trend-led kids and their rhetoric, it also refers to the taped phone conversation later on the album, as well as Madge, who appears here in “Harry, You’re a Beast” but who was “on the phone” in “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” on Absolutely Free.

Engineer Gary Kellgren is the one whispering and enjoying the effect of the reverb on his voice.

The inverted drummer lays off with his backward pedaling, sticks his head into the foreward presentation like a little kid on a dare and says, “Hi, boys and girls! I’m Jimmy Carl Black! I’m the Indian of the group!” This is a spoof on the introduction of Ringo Starr as Billy Shears on Sgt. Pepper, heard just after that album’s opening piece as well. He comes back during “Concentration Moon,” but his wording’s slightly different: “Hi, boys and girls! I’m Jimmy Carl Black and I’m the Indian of the group!”

One major bit of mockery in “Who Needs the Peace Corps?” centers on the hippie who thinks he’s a gypsy but who also says he’s on his own, when in fact gypsies are people who always wander together.

The statement “Oh, my hair’s getting good in the back” updates a similar comment made on Lumpy Gravy. Frank actually heard some kid say this in Sacramento.

The line from “Peace Corps” that says “I will love the police as they kick the shit out of me on the street” was censored by MGM on early pressings of the record. Halfway through “Concentration Moon,” Gary’s heard again. What was censored from all but the earliest pressings of the record was his last line: “I get to work with the Velvet Underground, which is as shitty a group as Frank Zappa’s group.” What’s funny about this is that although the Mothers and their labelmates the Velvet Underground played many shows together, they disliked each other and made no secret of it.

After “Mom & Dad,” a phone rings and we hear, “Operator. Hold for a minute, please.” An edit instantly brings us past the wait, and Frank’s voice is heard giving the operator a number. He hands the phone over to Pamela Zarubica (his occasional girlfriend, who assumed the role of Suzy Creamcheese for promotional purposes during the Mothers’ first European tour, and who introduced Frank to his future wife Gail). Pam tells Frank about a guy in town who might be trying to kill him as she waits for Vicki, her half-sister, to pick up on the other end. She’s then heard trying to quell Vicki’s fears about Pam's father getting the FBI after her for withholding information on Pam’s whereabouts.

“Bow-Tie Daddy” was one of the first originals intended as recorded Mothers material. It was written during the same late-1965 period as “Hungry Freaks, Daddy,” “Who Are the Brain Police?” and “Oh No” (at that time called “Oh No, I Don’t Believe It”).

The nervously fast “Don’t come in me, in me” lines from “Harry, You’re a Beast” were censored from early pressings of the album and played in reverse on later copies (although retaining the rise in pitch and the unaffected words “in me”). The 1986 reissue finally saw the four measures played completely forward. The melody in this section of the song was repeated instrumentally in “The Orange County Lumber Truck” on Weasels Ripped My Flesh (and other albums).

The voice that says “I don’t do publicity balling for you anymore,” interjected just after the intro to “Absolutely Free,” is Pamela Zarubica’s.

“The first word in this song is ‘discorporate,’” Frank says in his “poetic hippie” style from the end of “Who Needs the Peace Corps?”. “It means to leave your body.” He’s being a smart-ass, since “discorporate” is made to indicate freeing oneself from corporations in the actual lyrics (“Escape from the weight of your corporate logo”). The line “You’ll be absolutely free only if you want to be” means that you’ll only be an individual if you allow yourself to take charge of your own brain and don’t let fads, pretentiousness or drugs supersede who you truly are. Other lines in the song approach this idea but turn into parodies of “psychedelic” lyrics. The noises often added to ‘60s music just for the sake of including “weirdness” are hilariously lampooned as “BOING!” is exclaimed with heavy echo twice in the song.

The lyrics in “Flower Punk” spoof “Hey Joe,” made popular by Jimi Hendrix (who’s seen on the album cover, holding a little white girl -- Herb Cohen’s daughter Lisa -- in front of a Christmas tree and a pope from a Titian painting in defiance of the traditional religious, racist American family portrait) but originally recorded by the Leaves, whose former bassist, Jim Pons, has played with the Turtles and will, by 1971, join the Mothers.

Among the exclamations heard at the end of “Flower Punk” is “Leave my nose alone, please,” which will be used as the cry of a child in a trench in “Drafted Again” on You Are What You Is.

Most copies of the album (and the 1995 CD version, which returns to the original record master) omit a verse from “Mother People,” including it backwards after “Flower Punk” under the title “Hot Poop.” The verse is excised because of the line “Shut your fuckin’ mouth about the length of my hair.” It’s only heard where it belongs on the ‘86 CD. One of Dick Barber’s snorks caps off the backward part (and the original album-side). The name “Hot Poop” predicts the album title Hot Shit (the second word changed by Frank to a similar exclamation of distress -- “Rats” -- before the cover was even designed, in order to avoid censorship, which was probably the impetus behind removing and playing backwards the “Mother People” verse itself).

    In place of the omitted verse on the applicable versions of the album, a beautiful segment of orchestral music from the end of Lumpy Gravy’s first half is inserted via a needle-zipping sound. 

Cream guitarist Eric Clapton is the one asking, from inside the piano at Apostolic during the Lumpy Gravy sessions, “Are you hung up?”; he’s also the person giggling at the beginning of “Nasal-Retentive Calliope Music” and joking about seeing God. Eric told Frank that he wanted to imitate Eric Burdon (of the Animals) being high on LSD. The snippet of surf music during this piece comes from Frank’s Studio Z days in Cucamonga (it’s the beginning of the Zappa-produced 1964 song “Heavies” by the Rotations, exhibiting a fitting enough title under this album’s circumstances).

Frank called “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” a “folk song.” It’s about Ronnie and Kenny Williams, Frank’s childhood friends. Dink was their father’s actual nickname. The lines “I still remember mama with her apron and her pad/feeding all the boys at Ed’s Cafe,” a reference to Ronnie and Kenny's mother, was censored from early pressings because some twisted schmuck at MGM thought that the lady in the song was feeding the customers her sanitary napkins. The tune ends with a click followed by an old recording of Ronnie talking like a DJ: “This would be a little bit of vocal teenage heaven right here on Earth!” His bluesy scatting, originally recorded to Frank’s guitar accompaniment in the Williamses’ living room, is then played backwards. Frontwards, the voice was one of the animals at the beginning of Lumpy Gravy’s second half.

“The Idiot Bastard Son” is about a kid born to parents who don’t care about him; the father turns out to be one of the Nazi-like politicians in “Plastic People” on Absolutely Free and the mother’s a hooker. The title works in two ways, as it describes the boy in technical terms while also sarcastically labeling him as he’s seen through authorities’ eyes. A kid who’s told he’s an idiot will act like one and eventually truly be one; it’s no coincidence that this song follows the one about the Williams brothers. In fact, they wind up “raising” the bastard (he’s an incarnation of the combined characteristics of the two brothers) and stashing him away in a jar. This most likely refers to one of the mason jars into which the Williamses and their friends urinated while playing poker in the Williams’ garage, the bastard being correlated with “Kenny’s little creatures on display” from the prior song, the tadpole-like things found in the urine after it had all been ceremoniously dumped into a big crock pot that had then been covered with a board and left to sit for a long time.

    The backward voices amid the cacophony halfway through the song are saying “Uh-oh!” and “You showed ‘em!”. One of the normal voices predicts the Mothers’ cover of “WPLJ” (“White Port and Lemon Juice”) on Burnt Weeny Sandwich. Ronnie’s scatting is heard backwards again, and an even more sped-up voice than the others comes out of the crowd and analyzes the kid: “Very strange.” The 1975 song “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary,” heard on the 1979 album Sleep Dirt (and on ‘77’s Läther once it’s finally released in ‘96), will have as its main character a pig who talks in a high voice like the one that says “Very strange” here. Greggery will consider local kids and their outdoor parties to be “very strange” in that long piece. 

The alternate title of “Lonely Little Girl” is “It’s His Voice on the Radio,” as can be read on the original Verve label (and in the libretto).

“Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” started as an instrumental Studio Z song called “Never on Sunday.”

Ronnie’s the one growling “Do it again! Do it again!” after the “Ugliest” reprise and Dick’s snork. A ticking update on the reversed drum pedaling at the album’s opening is heard just before “Mother People” starts.

As Frank’s response to the armageddon that concludes “A Day in the Life” on Sgt. Pepper, his own closing piece, “The Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny” (named humorously: It’s the small, circular wind hole in place of the genitalia on the common toy doll), offers its own final sustained note, but it’s delivered differently. The lone piano pitch (as opposed to the Beatles’ majestic chord) is made to sound as if it’s been struck just before the tape recorder’s been turned on; it then undulates from speaker to speaker as it fades.