Frank Zappa - Joe's Garage

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Joe's Garage cover Ok, so I'm ending out with 3-disk album, Joe's Garage. At first I thought of picking all multi-disk albums as a cheat to get in as much music as possible (e.g. Genesis - The Lamb Lays Down on Broadway, Beatles - The White Album, etc.). I abandoned this when I realized most artists haven't done a multi-disk album, and even those that have, they aren't necessarily my favorite by the artist. For example, Joe Jackson's Big World is a very good album, but pales by comparison to either I'm the Man or Look Sharp (or even Jumpin' Jive). But I digress.

Joe's Garage, vols. 1-3 is a long and wonderful concept album. Yes, there are the always sexually explicit and often misogynistic lyrics, and the occasional lapse into juvenile silliness, but this is a great album throughout. The composition, the musicians, and the production are all top flight. Frank Zappa has a knack for taking serious subject matter, presenting it in a humorous way, and injecting it with powerfully serious music (see also The Thing Fish for another example of this).

Joe's Garage back cover The plot of Joe's Garage concerns Joe, who is led astray into a life of depravity because of the evil influence of Rock & Roll. The story is narrated by Zappa as the "Central Scrutinizer", with Ike Willis singing the role of Joe and Dale Bozzio (later of the Missing Persons) singing the role of Mary, Joe's sometime girlfriend.

After an introduction where the Central Scrutinizer describes his job (including enforcing the laws that aren't written yet :-), The album opens with Joe playing in a garage band in Canoga Park. Joe's Garage is a tribute to garage bands, which likely constitute the majority of Zappa's fanbase; musicians who recognize Zappa's talent and can identify with the aspirations of Joe and his friends as they Jam in their garage.

We thought we was pretty good
We talked about keepin' the band together
`N we figured that we shoud
`Cause about this time we was gettin' the eye
from the girls in the neighboorhood

The police come and break up the jam session (another thing I'm sure most of us who've been in garage bands can identify with). In this case though, the Central Scrutinizer tells Joe to "stick closer to church oriented social activities". We're introduced to Joe's girlfriend Mary in the randy romp Catholic Girls and a wild jam called Crew Slut. The latter song concerns when Mary dumps Joe to become the Crew Slut for the road crew of a rock band

Hey Hey Hey all you girls in these industrial towns
I know you're probably getting tired of all the local clowns
They never give you no respect, they never treat you nice
So perhaps you oughta try a little friendly advice
and be a CREW SLUT

Joe's Garage liner notes pic Misogynistic? definitely. Realistic? to some extent. Well, at least some of these women have gotten even by writing tell-all books. And to be honest, Zappa isn't just disrespectful of women. He's basically disrespectful of everyone and everything (particularly institutions and government), but in a good sorta way. He's an equal opportunity basher.

Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt sees Mary entering a wet t-shirt contest to earn the money to get back home from some town the band has left her in. The music to this song is amazing. In fact, much of this album would make a great jazz album, were it not for the silliness and the other songs which make it a great blues album or a great rock album. Anyway, the mallet solo (or is it just a keyboard solo that sounds like a mallet instrument) is fabulous.

Since Mary's gone, Joe starts dating a woman named Lucille, who gives him "an unpronounceable disease", which leads to the song Why Does it Hurt When I Pee?

I Got it from the toilet seat
I Got it from the toilet seat
It jumped right up
`N grabbed my meat

Joe, in his despair, sings Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up. This is a very nice blues number. Joe needs to find some answers, so he decides to join the "First Church of Appliantology." The head of the church, L. Ron Hoover, tells Joe that he's a "latent appliance fetishist". So Joe learns to speak German so that he can go to a bar called "the closet" and pick up on automated appliances. His pick up line is completely obscene, and is repeated both in English and German.

Fick mich, du miserabler hurensohn
Streck ihn aus
Streck aus deinen heissen gelockten schwantz
Mach es sehr schnell
Rein und raus
Magisches Schwein
Bis er spritzt, spritzt, spritzt, spritzt
Feuer! Aber beclecken nicht das Sofa, Sofa!

Okay, so this album (and this web page by extension) probably needs a parental guidance warning, if you believe in such things. :-) Joe picks up on an appliance named Sy Borg that "looks like it's a cross between an industrial vacuum cleaner and a chrome piggy bank with marital aids stuck all over its body." They go back to Sy's apartment where Joe gives a recitative about them having sex

This is exciting
I've never plooked
A tiny chrome-plated machine
That looks like a magical pig
With marital aids stuck all over it
Such as yourself before

Joe's Garage liner notes pic The pure ridiculousness of the situation combined with the pseudo-classical setting (I really did mean recitative) lends a very bizarre tone to this song. It also provides an environment for some rather dreamy floating guitar leads as well. In the course of the orgy, Sy Borg shorts out, so once again the Central Scrutinizer comes and arrests Joe.

Joe gets placed in a special jail for people from the music industry, and basically gets gang-raped by the ex industry execs that are in the prison in the songs Doing Work for Yuda and Keep it Greasy. After that, the album is mostly instrumental numbers (read: prolonged guitar solos) in a variety of styles, with an occasional break for dialog or a bit of recitative about how Joe gets out of jail and is depressed because there's no music anymore.

The last big solo, Watermelon in Easter Hay, is the most spectacular of the lot. It's a long dreamy guitar solo over a slow progression that alternates 4/4 and 5/4 measures. This is Zappa at his musical best. Even if the rest of the album were mediocre (which none of it is), this track would make it worth buying the album. It's that good. Get ahold of this album, put this song on, and then just lay back and float. Zappa closes out the album with a throwaway song called A Little Green Rosetta.

Through all the silliness and obscenity, Zappa is conveying a very serious message, which he points out in the liner notes. In Zappa's own words:

If the plot of the story seems just a little bit preposterous, and if the idea of The Central Scrutinizer enforcing laws that haven't been passed yet makes you giggle, just be glad you don't live in one of the cheerful little countries where, at this very moment, music is either severely restricted...or, as it is in Iran, totally illegal.

If you're interested, you can listen to samples of some of the songs here. If you really like it, you can even buy it there.

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