In 1968 Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention released their seminal recording ”Were Only In It For The Money” which parodied the cover LP art of Apple Records ”Sergeant Pepper’s” Beatles release. The record cover art was part of a deeper and more profound satire on popular culture and modernism in general. The designer of the artwork was 21 year old Cal Shenkel. This inversion of the ”Pepper’s” Peter Blake/Jann Haworth design was a part of an effort to push the limits of where satire and satirical art could go in terms of public censure before it could be labelled as ”degenerate art”.
In was an expression of anti-art and anti pop-art in particular, as a separate category of popular expression that hitherto had not been widespread or understood by the recording industry at that time. ”Were Only In It For The Money” however accepted the Blake artwork thesis on materialism and accumulation as consumer values within a system driven by idolatry and celebrity; albeit through a more corrosive, raw and vulgar attack both politically and lyrically. The music however ,was sophisticated and elegant in terms of execution and technical proficiency. It was an unorthodox mixture of low brow and high brow sharing a seat on the Magical Mystery Tour. Satire could forcibly lampoon cultural artifacts increasing and further ingraining their value and subversively creating new cultural icons for the more marginalized and alienated segments of society to identify with.
The lyrics were censored and the original album art was consigned to the inner jacket until later reissues.Like Blake, Shenkel built plaster figures and created cardboard collages of the personalities or in some instances anti-celebrities. Zappa was responsible for the final arrangement and photo shoot.
The music is avant-garde and uniquely American. The compositions are like intricate machines with hundreds of mechanisms which have their own series of moving pieces. The singing is not intended as filler, but essentially as both sound and music; dadaist elements activated by Zappa’s use of tape editing as a compositional tool to arrive at sound collages . The new 16 track recording equipment permitted experimenting in looping techniques, sampling and overdubbing similar to what George Martin had achieved for the Beatles and Brian Wilson with the Beach Boys.
However, with the Mothers, Zappa’s tinkering as a mad scientist impersonating a recording engineer resulted in his studio laboratory creating a Frankenstein in terms of accustomed audio accessibility . The record is characterized by passages of sound motifs existing without any centralized melodic idea. The eclectic arrangements were difficult to categorize and the abrupt rhythmical changes required repeated listenings to understand creative audio editing and its innovative role within complex song structures.
The music appropriated popular American culture of doo-wop, rhythm and blues, crooner,and the tradition of broadway musical scores, mated to the tonalities, song structures and experimental idiom of modern classical music. This produced a sound not normally associated with popular music or 60′s youth culture owing to its ”impressionistic” nature. Elements of electronic music and sampling were also integrated within the song segments which added to the sense of the unexpected. The classical influences of Edgard Varese is evident along with Stravinsky and Arnold Shoenberg to some extent. Later, Zappa would further develop Shoenberg’s theories of atonality and 12-tone technique in his music.