AOTY 2023
The Mothers of Invention - We're Only in It for the Money
Nov 30, 2021
The History of The Albums – n°377

[I recommend you to go and read my first review on The Mothers Of Invention - Freak Out (1966), in order to understand it better]. To summarize, The Mothers Of Invention, led by the legendary Frank Zappa, had just released a first album that was a commercial failure, despite what it would become afterwards, that is to say a classic and pioneering album. The Californian band created their own style, the very opposite of counter-culture, constantly drawing satires on an Experimental Rock background of which they are one of the precursors. Despite the failure and the lack of means proposed by the label, Zappa and his band recorded in November 1966 a second album "Absolutely Free" (which will be released in May 1967) in an almost impossible timing. As a result, Zappa will do everything to push his formula to its paroxysm by accentuating the experimentation and the shock-value to make it more reserved and sophisticated. He introduces 3 additional musicians in the group Don Preston, Bunk Gardner and Billy Mundi. He then relegates Ray Collins to secondary singer, becoming the main one and develops notably new musical directions what makes Absolutely Free, the first Jazz-Rock album of all times. We find there notably excellent songs like Plastic People or Brown Shoes Don't Make It. An important and fabulous album as a whole, but I preferred to tell you about We're Only In It For The Money (1968) because it seems to me more significant.

What is important to understand is that neither Freak Out (1966), nor Absolutely Free (1967) will be a commercial success, it is especially when the band will play at Garrick Theater, a New York bar that they will be offered a contract of several months as a regular speaker. The Mothers Of Invention left LA for NY and built their reputation thanks to their crazy performances at the Garrick Theater, unprecedented shows where even the spectators played a role. Thus, Zappa and his band continue to exist despite the failures of their albums, and even better to mark the spirits beyond New York, in Europe in particular where they occur from time to time. Thanks to this turning point, Zappa will continue to believe in his formula, he knew that being a person on the bangs of the counter-culture, his acceptance by the general public could not be done in one day. He did not give up and directed his band to create a 3rd album We're Only in It for the Money, one of the most famous albums in their discography. True to form, Zappa built We're Only in It for the Money as a parody album of the Beatles' Sgt. Peppers, and more generally of the satire of the counter-culture and hippie movement. By taking the idea of the cover of Sgt Pepper's, Zappa caricatures himself by launching a series of „non-commercial projects“ with this album. In doing so, he is the first to bring to light a critical view of the music industry on LP, and also one of the serious precursors of parody in music. Although this album was more commercially successful on release, We're Only in It for the Money is marked by several important symbols for the band's career. The first one is that this third album will mark the end of the first line-up and a serious step back from the financial difficulties of the band in lack of success. And the second more positive, for the first time We're Only in It for the Money receives at the time some critics praising it thanks to the clever idea to attract the spirits by a parody of the Beatles, the number 1 band in the world at that time.

Conducted over 19 songs with a duration of 39 minutes, We're Only in It for the Money consolidates the approach of the format proposed on Absolutely Free, i.e. many very short songs. In fact, never before has an LP (without a double/triple format) had so many songs. Basically, although We're Only in It for the Money has its highlights, it is typically this kind of concept album that should be listened to as a single entity. Each song offers a piece of the puzzle, allied between them without (almost) any transition of silence, like the superb fade of the first 2 tracks of Sgt'Pepper's. We also find a multitude of dialogues and skeechs (random and improvised without report), even inside the same song what makes the reading of this disc so unpredictable and spontaneous. The satire and the humor is thus present in every corner, waits in the parody of interpretations that in the pikes of the discussions/speech. One could believe that this album could finally be limited by its grotesque aspect, but the musical result is incredibly bluffing. It's like a great joke that could make anyone laugh at any time. We're Only in It for the Money is a rock crosserver, incorporating avant-garde segments, that goes off in many different stylistic directions, but it still remains oriented towards the essence of the psychedelia they're making fun of. The impressive number of experiments, as much in the effects as in the innovative capacity that Zappa had to use collages, give the impression of being immersed in a supernatural show, without losing his conscious claims. Note that Zappa was his own producer, a total rarity for an album of this era.

Understanding the madness of Zappa and his band is not an easy task, but with time, we understand that this is part of what makes this album brilliant. Let's do a random overview of the best moments. First of all, I would say "What's the ugliest part of your body?", a doo-wop/power pop ballad where the band openly criticizes the counter-culture system that makes people ignorant. This one is present 2 times in the album, with a cover as a wink to Sgt Pepper's again. In the same thematic register, "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" is undoubtedly one of the best songs on this album, because of its instrumentation and its hyper formidable melodies. We find additional vocal effects very modified, which probably inspired the voice of Crazy Frog (great reference). This mockery of the life of the hippies is commonplace that we find almost every 3 sentences an allusion to that. Who Needs The Peace Corps is an absolute parody of the psychedelic pop, sprinkled with such delicious guitar chords. Of course Zappa even dares to evoke the city of San Francisco, one of the birthplaces of the counterculture, it stings. It's pretty crazy to know that Zappa started the fashion of making a song that has the name of a previous album with Absolutely Free, a Baroque Pop/Experimental Rock ballad so effective that the melody stays in your head. Absolutely Free also highlights that reverb game like never before executed so well. Can we also think that Flower Punk is one of the roots that anticipates the future punk? I don't think so, however it is certain that the energy and this disillusioned parody was like visionary. Lonely Little Girl is probably the song that most parodies the Beatles with this love song formula articulated on a rather simplistic Folk Pop ballad. An obvious callback to Help/Rubber Soul. With more seriousness, Mom & Dad is a rather disturbing satire that highlights police violence in a storytelling as grotesque as it is terrifying. Finally, the ambitious and complex Concentration Moon is a kind of delirious revisit of Good Vibration that continues to point the finger at police abuses. We're Only in It for the Money is a classic that will remain one of the symbols of the musical revolution for many aspects that I mentioned before. The only reproach I can find is that it pushes its concept so much that it is difficult to listen to it in any circumstance.

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