WE'RE ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY: THE SIXTIES
In 1967 the Los Angelos freak scene was completely overrun by the world wide spreading Flower Power movement, that had
its origins in San Francisco. Zappa wasn't fond of their ideas, certainly not their positive attitude towards drugs. His
music already needs concentration playing it sober, so the idea of musicians on drugs while he was paying for their time
was unacceptable for him.
The Mothers playing at the Garrick Theater, New York 1967. Source: Overnite sensation/Apostrophe (') DVD.
On his contrary album "We're only in it for the money", he reproduces their ideals while at the same time adding
demeaning remarks to it ("forgive me because I'm stoned"; "flower power sucks"). Because the Flower Power movement
lost its innocence and impact with the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont in 1970, "We're only in it for the money"
has with hindsight become a reflection upon the sixties. Zappa still found himself kicking at remnants of the
movement in his eighties songs "The blue light" and "We're turning again".
The music on the album is, regarding chord progressions, less complicated and it is an example of the more commercial
side of Zappa. The construction of the songs on the album however can be sophisticated. "Flower punk" is as a progression
relatively easy. The overdubs at the end however give this song a quite unusual character: on one channel you
hear a hippie dreaming about achieving his ideals while on the other channel a manager talks about how to invest all the money
that comes from it. "What's the ugliest part of your body?" below deals with rhythmic complexities.
In "The Real Frank Zappa Book" of 1989 Zappa uses three pages arguing against the "hateful practices" of
traditional harmony, especially the chord progressions that are played over and over again in pop music and
the chords of resolution you had to write down to pass a harmony course (The Real Frank Zappa Book, chapter 8,
section "hateful practices"; Zappa!, page 32).
Zappa's attitude towards traditional harmony is ambiguous however, because he applied common chord progressions
with just as much ease as he liked to deviate from them. See the Joe's Garage section for Joe's love declaration to I-IV-V.
He even had a weakness for deliberate simplicity, represented in the teenage love songs
from "Cruising with Ruben and the Jets" (1968). Next are some examples of uncomplicated
chord progressions (all 5th chords unless indicated):
1) A fragment of the melody of "Mother people" from "We're only in it for the money" with the chords progression I-IVpart -V-VI-IV-V-I in D written
beneath it (what you hear on the album is a sped up track, about a minor third higher). Notable is that for the bass Zappa puts a C natural
beneath it in bar 1 instead of a D. Rhythmically the three
presented bars offer three different forms in 3/4. The first bar is on beat. The second is syncopic between beats one and two. The third bar
is 3/4 subdivided into 4.
Mother people, opening bars (midi file)
Mother people, opening bars (notes)
2) A section of the melody of "Absolutely free", also on "We're only in it for the money". The chords here are first
in F Mixolydian, I-II-I-V (bars 1-8), then in A flat, I-IV-V-VII (bars 9-12), followed by two closing chords in F Mixolydian, I-VII (bars 13-15).
Hereafter the song rolls back into I of the opening theme.
Absolutely free, opening (midi file)
Absolutely free, opening (notes)
3) See the Cruising with Ruben and the Jets section for examples of continuingly repeated easy progressions.
4) "What's the ugliest part of your body?" is a returning song on "We're only in it for the money" in the shape of a collage.
Here things are getting more complicated. The chords are standard, but rhythmically it's complex: changing meters,
including odd ones, a tempo change and various syncopic forms in the lead melody.
It's made up of three themes as presented in the following block of transcribed bars:
- Theme A, bars 1-12: the main theme in doo-wop style. The bass is giving the root notes of the basic chord progression, being
I, VI 7th, IV and V in G. This four bar bass progression gets repeated three times. The doo-wop element lies in the accompanying
vocal harmonies in the second staff.
- Theme B, bars 13-20: the second theme in 7/8 falls in abruptly. In fact it has nothing in common with theme A. The meter
is different, the tempo is different and the keys are different, so you could
just as well say that a new song is starting here. It's using more than one scale, the chord progression in rock notation
being C, A, Am7 and D.
- Theme C, bars 21-24: a third theme in the same tempo as the previous one. This one is doing a little sequence gliding through
scales as well. The progression here is three minor chord going down following the chromatic scale followed by one major chord:
Bm, Bbm, Am (plus a vague D in the bass) and Ab. In staff 2 a second voice a singing a quarter note behind the
lead vocal, somewhat softer in the background, thus creating an echo effect.
The collage construction of this song is set up via two means:
- The song itself can be split into two halves as indicated.
- The A theme is just sung once and doesn't return in the song itself. It returns much later on on the CD, namely 9 tracks
further in the form of a reprise. During this second track the theme does get varied upon, though in an unconventional
way by speeding up its phrases.
What's the ugliest part of your body?, section (midi file)
What's the ugliest part of your body?, section (transcription)
It's a commonplace in rock 'n roll history that "Sergeant Pepper's lonely hearts club band" by the Beatles is the first
concept album, usually without explaining what then this concept is. I guess it's the packaging, the instrumentation and
maybe the quality of each individual song. Some Zappa fans have argumented that the Mother's first two albums could then
be considered concept albums as well. Indeed all Zappa's albums each have some form of a conceptual idea behind them.
It can be in style, it can be in the lyrics and it's about always present in the sound of an album. For the two albums this section
is about the concept is outspoken and obvious, in the music and the lyrics. "We're only in it for the money" is about
the hippie era with relatively main stream music combined with some experimental tracks. The next track,
"Bow tie daddy", is musically in an
interbellum style for a change. It has its basis in C (most specifically bars 1, 4 and 5), but keeps changing scales frequently. From
bar 8 onwards the modulations start to dominate. The lead melody is rhythmically
characterized by its alteration of on beat notes and various forms of syncopes. The syncopes are created via triplets, bows and
See also the Lumpy gravy section for "It's from Kansas" for another example of such music.
Bow tie daddy, opening (midi file)
Bow tie daddy, opening (transcription)
Compared to other rock composers Zappa's inclination to use non-traditional harmonic patterns is one of his
distinctive features. We'll see a lot of it in the coming sections. It is understandable that Zappa liked to
put the accent on this in his interviews, but if he didn't apply normal patterns as well his albums would never
sell and Zappa would never have reached the status and financial independency as he has done. Apart from "We're
only in it for the money", we have albums as "Apostrophe (')", "Sheik Yerbouti" and "You are what you is", that
show Zappa's commercial side and sold well for Zappa standards.
As he himself has remarked the London Symphony Orchestra
recordings would have been financially impossible without these albums.
One of the things that bothered Zappa for a while was to get his music played on the radio and the production of a hit single. Why some singles become hits and others don't is a territory that has many haphazard elements in it. It certainly helps to write a catching melody, that has the effect on people of "gee, I'd like to hear this again", also when only half listening. But fashionable aspects in the sound building and a direct emotional appeal get in the picture as well.
Zappa had no specific sense for writing hits and besides that he refused to adapt his lyrics to a level that wouldn't offend anybody. Eventually Zappa did get two hits when has name was already well known. "Bobby Brown" from "Sheik Yerbouti", an example of a song with a catching melody, hit the charts in two European countries, where the lyrics formed no real problem, and "Valley Girl" from "Ship arriving too late for a drowning witch" sold well in the U.S. The latter due to a gimmick in it, with his daughter Moon portraying a spoiled west coast teenage girl.
On the "'Tis the season to be Jelly" bootleg is a love song parody called "No matter what you do", that the Mothers played in 1967. It's a collage of textual
and musical conventions. The exact origins of this song are a mystery. Everything
on it sounds thus familiar that the chances that Zappa is arranging material here from his fifties single collection
are a lot bigger than that he wrote the (entire) song himself. Halfway the booklet of "MOFO" there's a sheet
with a "must record" songlist in Zappa's handwriting, where this song gets mentioned by its opening lyrics
as "I could be a slave". There are various other titles on this list, that aren't on Zappa's official albums.
One that now has become known via "MOFO" is "Groupie bang bang". This last song is a mix of material by Zappa
and "Not fade away" by Petty and Hardin (best known via Bo Diddley and The Rolling Stones). The purposes of this sheet remain uncommented upon. "No matter what you do" is made up of three blocks:
- Opening lick ("No matter what you do") in Bb Mixolydian (more or less, the bootleggers tampered with the speed) with
as progression I-II-VII. The riff
surprises by its joyful impact. Zappa also used it for "All night long", a song on the "Animalism"
album by The Animals, that he got credited for as arranger. Apparently he didn't consider himself the writer of that specific song.
The origins of "All night long" are a mystery just as well, thus not bringing a solution any nearer. There are at least three popsongs
with the same title. One by Johnny Otis, one by Joe Houston and one by Lionel Ritchie. None of these correspond to "All night
long" on the "Animalism" album. Biographer Kevin Courrier states that "All night long" was written by Harris Woody,
turned into a big hit by Chuck Higgins back in the fifties. It looks as if he's mixing things up. Harris Woody gets wrongly
credited for "All night long" on the "For real" album by Ruben and the Jets (that's the one Joe Houston played). Zappa was indeed a fan of Chuck Higgins' biggest hit
"Pachuko hop/Motorhead baby", but I couldn't find anything about an "All night long" by him.
No matter what you do (Trad./(Arr.) Zappa), opening bars (midi file)
No matter what you do (Trad./(Arr.) Zappa), opening bars (transcription).
- Second theme ("I don't care how you treat me"). Though the music of "No matter what you do" is comparted into three
blocks, this is not the case with the lyrics. Regarding the text "No matter what you do" is consistent. The lyrics of
the opening lick however would fit less into "All night long", where the lick is played as an instrumental intermezzo. On "No matter what you do"
the opening lyrics go as: "I could be a slave for the rest of my life, if only you could be my wife...no matter what you do,
can't hide my love for you". This is not specifically related to the text of "All night long", whereas in "No matter what you do"
the follow up with "I don't care how you treat me" is quite logical. The question then who is behind the music goes for the lyrics just the same.
- Third spoken block, that is using the slow theme from the 1st movement of Tschajkovky's 6th symphony in the background. The
lyrics, with the "big tits" punch line, are undoubtedly Zappa. "I married Joan" is a reference to a fifties TV series, but the music
from the title track from that series isn't used here.