We're Only In It For The Money

By ?

Rolling Stone, August 27, 1987

The Mothers of Invenlion
Released Fall 1968

NINETEEN SIXTY-SEVEN'S SUMMER OF LOVE WAS kicked off with the June 2nd release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In San Francisco hippies hailed the dawn of a new pop-based youth culture. But down in Los Angeles, Frank Zappa had his doubts.

"Sgt. Pepper was okay," Zappa allows, "but just the whole aroma of what the Beatles were was something that never really caught my fancy. I got the impression from what was going on at the time that they were only in it for the money – and that was a pretty unpopular view to hold."

The result of Zappa's skepticism was the third Mothers of Invention album, We're Only in It for the Money – perhaps the most mercilessly derisive raspberry ever flung at the rock scene by an actual participant therein. In Zappa's lyrics, San Francisco was populated by "phony hippies" cavorting in the "psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street," most of them hapless out-of-towners with no higher aspiration than to "stay a week and get the crabs and/Take a bus back home." He parodied the dippier lyrical tendencies of the clay ("Diamonds on velvets on goldens on vixen/On comet and cupid on donner and blitzen"). He decried the hippies' irritating elitism ("Who cares if hair is long or short . . ."). And he summed up the situation with the doo-wop question "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?" (Answer: "I think it's your mind.")

Appropriately the album was recorded in New York City, far from the great West Coast flower-power fiesta. Zappa had relocated the Mothers to Manhattan following the Sunset Strip youth riots of 1967 and the subsequent shutdown of many Hollywood rock venues by the LA police. The group had begun a celebrated four-month residency at the Garrick Theater, in Greenwich Village, at Easter, playing two shows a day, six days a week. By summer's end, Zappa was attempting to entice his weary musicians into the local Mayfair Studios to begin work on Money. However, he says, only bassist Roy Estrada and multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood "pretty much stuck with it. The rest of the guys didn't really like it. Most of them had quit at least five times. It was hard to get 'em to show up to sessions. That's why I did most of the stuff."

Money is also the first Mothers album that Zappa produced, and his tape-splicing compositional technique is boldly deployed on the instrumental track "The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny." ("Before they started making dolls with sexual organs," he says, explaining that title, "the only data you could get from your doll was looking between its legs and seeing that little chrome nozzle – if you squeezed the doll, it made a kind of whistling sound. That was the chrome-plated megaphone of destiny.") He also scattered aural collages throughout the record, including the voice of visiting pal Eric Clapton babbling, "It's God, I see God." (Clapton didn't play on the album, however, as was widely assumed; nor did Jimi Hendrix, another celebrity drop-in, who had jammed with the Mothers at the Garrick and was recruited to pose for the Pepper-parody jacket photo.)

In addition to lambasting hippie culture, Zappa also sought to immortalize some of his more bizarre childhood acquaintances – in particular, two brothers named Kenny and Ronnie, who featured in the song "Let's Make the Water Turn Black."

"Ronnie had been busted for bootlegging," says Zappa. "He used to make raisin wine and sell it to kids in junior high school. Ronnie saved snot on a window in his room. He had gotten into this syndrome of flipping boogers. One day his mother went in there and started howling because she couldn't see through the window – it was all green. They had to use chisels and Ajax to scrape the sruff off. This is absolutely true."

Kenny, the other brother, lived in a garage in back of the house with Mothers sax man and roadie Jim "Motothead" Sherwood. Since there was no plumbing in the garage, they began urinating in some Mason jars Kenny's mother kept for canning, then in the earthenware crocks that Ronnie had used to concoct his raisin wine. They covered the crocks with a board.

"One day," says Zappa, "just out of curiosity, Kenny lifted the board to see how the whiz was doing, and there were these things swimming in it – like some mutant tadpoles that had been brewing in there. The father found out and made them flush it all down the toilet. So whatever was living in the jars is now probably eleven feet long and living in the sewer system in California."

And the song's concluding line, 'Wait till the fire turns green"?

"When they weren't pissing in jars and saving their snot on the windows," says Zappa, "they were lighting each other's farts. So there it is. It's like a folk song."

Recorded at Mayfair Studios and Apostolic Studios, New York City, August to September 1967.
Producer: Frank Zappa. Engineers: Gary Kellgren and Dick Kunc. Highest Chart Position: Number Thirty.