Band Name: Frank Zappa
Album Name: Joe’s Garage Acts I, II, III
Release Date: September 17, 1979 and November 19, 1979
Band on Record:
Frank Zappa as The Central Scrutinizer, Larry, L. Ron Hoover, Father Riley, and Buddy Jones.
Ike Willis as Joe.
Dale Bozzio as Mary.
Denny Walley as Mrs. Borg.
Al Malkin as Officer Butzis.
Warren Cuccurullo and Ed Mann as Sy Borg
Terry Bozzio as Bald-Headed John
The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen Chorus – Al Malkin, Warren Cucurullo, Dale Bozzio, Geordie Hormel, Barbara Issak & most of the people who work at Village Records circa 1979.Disc I:
Track 1: “The Central Scrutinizer”
The introduction to Zappa’s “rock opera” that lays down the future of the world in which music will be considered illegal and the means to which all corruption in the world comes from. This is a forsight to the PMRC which was established 7 years or so in the future. The track, musically, has an interesting format with an almost jazz style drum beat in the background as well as odd cartoon style sound effects. Zappa’s voice is appropriately disturbing to show the disturbing nature of the future and the laws that exist there.Song Rating: 8 out of 10
Track 2: “Joe’s Garage”
Musically, this is an absolutely fantastic track with some great guitar and bass playing. They enhance the awesome singing Ike Willis brings to the band to complement Frank Zappa’s already superb and smooth voice. Willis may have an even smoother voice, but both play well with each other. The main criticism is the ending where everything jams together as the cops arrive on the scene and everything gets chaotic, which follows the story. There are some quirky musical numbers on here that do not detract from the overall effect of telling the story of a band that wants to start working its way up in the industry while telling all the trends in music that did become the norm as time went on.Song Rating: 10 out of 10
Track 3: “Catholic Girls”
This is the first song that truly shows Zappa and his twisted humor, and that may be what makes it so good. The different vocal parts are all sung memorably and are sure to get played over and over within your mind as it has surely happened to me on a few occassions. Warren Cucurullo, known for his work with Duran Duran, also sings a bit on the track.Song Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Track 4: “Crew Slut”
There’s a rather cool guitar sequence on this track that works perfectly with Zappa’s vocal lines and the harmonica mixed way out there in the back. The solo reminds me of a Southern style guitar playing, not quite in the rock line, but cool nonetheless.Song Rating: 10 out of 10
Track 5: “Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt”
An interesting musical choice for this track, some of the kooky instrumental use that is Zappa’s staple shows up on here. The vocals are quite smooth and the sequences where the lyrics are happening cut off the odd music and that works to keep everything flowing along. Great use of the English language by Frank Zappa, not something you normally hear at a wet t-shirt contest Song Rating: 9 out of 10
Track 6: “On the Bus”
A mostly instrumental track that features some good guitar licks and melody. The only vocals are from “the central scrutinizer’ that serve to pass the story along. The guitar is great, though, and there is some exceptional drumming from Bozzio in his jazz style.Song Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Track 7: “Why Does it Hurt When I Pee?”
And this, is why you be careful of who you sleep with. Joe’s got a wonderful STD in the story, but his vocals are just as smooth and the playing that accompanies his mantra is perfect.Song Rating: 9 out of 10
Track 8: “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up”
Another just fantastic vocal and musical disc. Both aspects to Zappa’s music go hand-in-hand to deliver a perfect performance. Ike Willis shows how diverse his voice is on this track as he goesup an octave to hit the high notes, and does it sound just as good as his regular vocals? Yes, they sure do, if not better!Song Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Track 9: “Scrutinizer Postlude”
On the original vinyl, this is attached to the previous song in the credits, and the track is essentially a movement of the plot to the storyline. It does provide some more satire of McCarthyism as the central scrutinizer wants to be the center of attention as McCarthy did.Song Rating: 5 out of 10
Track 10: “A Token of my Extreme”
This has some satire for the Church of Scientology as the Church of Appliantology has its members pay quite a large sum of money to be members. The same creed that the Church follows to stop all criminality is the same aim the central scrutinizer hopes to achieve. The rhythm section on this track is the true stand-out with some great bass lines and drums. The guitars are mostly in the background that provide a melody back-drop to the vocals of Frank Zappa.Song Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Track 11: “Stick it Out”
Sang half in German and then translated into English and sung again, all I have to say is this is probably the most messed-up and vulgar song I’ve heard in a loooong time. The music is definitely “good-time” music ans keeps with the flow of someone going to have sex. Crazy bass work during some of the verses.Song Rating: 9 out of 10
Track 12: “Sy Borg”
Although the vocals provided by Willis are rather good as he has been for most of the record, the rhythm to his singing seems a bit off. Not to mention the annoyance of Sy Borg’s robotic vocals. The lyrics have a rather funny twist, and the insanity of everything is reflected in the music as things shift from lilting keyboards and jazzy drums with a jazz bass line to odd keyboard intonations that sound spacey. It’s a decent song, although it does seem to run on for too long.Song Rating: 8 out of 10Disc 2:
Track 1: “Dong Work for Yuda”
The only thing I do not enjoy about this song is the persistant “Sorry John, Sorry better, try it again.” After a while, it begins to become too repetitive. Beyond that, Terry Bozzio does a great job singing and the music moves and grooves along.Song Rating: 9 out of 10
Track 2: “Keep it Greasy”
The singing from Ike Willis is absolutely fantastic on this track, his voice just smoothly rolls through the hit-hat drumming and tom use that fills the background. “Manx” also has a spectacular part, don’t know who sings his part since it’s not in the credits, but it adds a flare to the tune. The musical breakdown is especially interesting for the bass lines that flurry along to the fast guitar solo that makes up the majority of the track. Great song.Song Rating: 10 out of 10
Track 3: “Outside Now”
The music on this track ranges from some lower guitar/bass notes (because the executives hate those kinds of notes that don’t produce hit singles) that sound almost out of tune, in a cool, good way; into some interesting jazz drum arrangments that ultimately end up in a frenzied, but measured, guitar solo. Ike Willis does an okay vocal job, but as the track goes on his performance falls away and the repetition is blah.Song Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Track 4: “He Used to Cut the Grass”
This tune recounts a lot of the lines that have been used before on the disc as Joe wishes he could continue playing music (which, if you forgot was outlawed) and makes a lot of things clearer as to what Zappa feels would result from a society in which there was no creativity allowed. He, instead, shows the ingenuity of Joe’s mind and the guitar notes he plays in there, which if you ask me are quite intricate and played amazingly well. I dig the long, extended solo that makes up this track as well as everything that makes up the rhythm section. Ike Willis could have done a better job on vocals if you ask me, though. Perhaps sound a little more sullen as your character is supposed to be feeling.Song Rating: 9 out of 10
Track 5: “Packard Goose”
This song probably contains the darkest guitar riff of any on the album. And, I love it! It’s great how everything seems to change and not remain static on the album, always prividing a fresh view, and this is certainly one of those times. The drums, instead of maintaining the stedy jazz style as before, revert to a more generalized drum pattern (although during the solo those jazz elements take back over and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that). The singing is up to par as well, and the lyrical gems are a great aspect to do some research and figure out just what Zappa is getting at here. I’ll include a link at the bottom for a bunch of dissection of Zappa and his diction choices.Song Rating: 9 out of 10
Track 6: “Watermelon in Easter Hay”
Is it just me, or does the Central Scrutinizer sound even more sinister than ever on this track
! Anyway, this is an 8 minute guitar solo that never stops being interesting as each second is filled with an unique guitar arrangement, from sweeping arpeggios to the end which rings of a sad ballad rock tune. It’s long, but the minutes seem to fly by.Song Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Track 7: “A Little Green Rosetta”
I’m not going to lie, this is probably my least favorite song on the album. It’s full of trademark Zappa insanity with the music and vocals. For some reason, I just can’t seem to enjoy it…everything bothers me, from the random lyrics to everything being thrown together at once. Funny random music in the background is the only thing that saves it for me, and then the child chorus happens and everything goes South again.Song Rating: 3 out of 10
The master of satire and everything to bring issues into a semi-funny light, Frank Zappa, has a complete winner here with Joe’s Garage. He brings to the forefront such issues as “Big Brother,” government scares such as McCarthyism and how those relate to control, as well as criticism of The Church of Scientology. He manages to do this in a way that is exemplary because of the humor his scenario brings into being for the future. In fact, his predictions on censorship in music was not far off from the reality that came about not even a decade later in the creation of the PMRC.
The music on this record is the traditional Zappa craziness with lots of “bells and whistles” in both the literal and metaphorical sense. More of the attention appears to be on the vocals, however, especially Joe who has a great set of pipes in Ike Willis smoothly singing over his parts as everything he loves (music, Mary) falls down around him. Joe would have gone places, but thanks to the Central Scrutinizer nothing is able to materialize when music is outlawed and Joe is arrested for playing. The vocals for the Central Scrutinizer are distorted and grating, perfect for someone who scrutinizes everything, a scary notion in democracy with the idea of Big Brother and during the period of McCarthyism when everyone was under suspicion and watch for being a Communist.
The beginning of the linear notes clearly states how, and uses the energy crisis of the 70’s as a point, anything could be passed as law if the people are conned into thinking it will be good for them. If music was outlawed the energy crisis would be solved is the analogy given, but the fact is a lot of countries (i.e. Iran as the notes point out, if you want the movie Persepolis will see) outlaw music and the storyline of this “rock opera” is not far from reality.
That being said, the main focus of vocals on the record makes sense as instruments would be outlawed (except in your head), but always present is a drum sequence that points out how great Terry Bozzio is on the kit and especially when he is working a jazz beat. He does prove he can play other ways as well, but it is when the jazz drums are going that he truly shines.
The best song, musically, is “Joe’s Garage” as everything is played to the best of each member’s abilities, not to mention having a catchy melody and two smooth and dominant singers in Zappa and Willis. The song eventually ends with the cops breaking up the jam session and beginning the case for the outlawing of music. The PMRC was great at censoring music when parents were afraid of the awful influence music (heavy metal in particular) would have on their kids. Instead of having control of what their children listened too, it required a full congressional hearing for there to be a judgment on whether those little “Parental Advisory” stickers needed to be added to albums. Does this not show how far off Zappa’s scenario is of the government being able to control, and essentially ban music from people?
When Joe goes insane from an STD he received from a woman named Lucille he hooked up with when Mary split to become a groupie, things truly go insane with the music and story. Joe joins the Church of Appliantology (anyone see The Church of Scientology there?) Both churches require a bit of money to be considered members. The Church of Scientology also has a creed to “stop all criminality,” much in the same way the Central Scrutinizer hopes to end all criminal activity by banning music. The music on “Sy Borg” and “Stick it Out” show the insanity that has developed in the world and especially in Joe’s mind as he is the guinea pig to show why music is “bad.”
The second disc is Joe in jail for damaging a robotic sex toy (read: government hooker, to control people?) and everyone that is there happens to belong to the music indistry in some way or another. There is also a parody of prison sex life and how homosexual it is on “Dong Work for Yuda” and “Keep is Greasy.” When Joe ends up outside and sees how cloned everything in the world is, he truly snaps and begins to imagine that music is being played within his head and that everyone loves it. He even believes people are writing reviews for it, although (as the linear notes enlighten us too) journalism is now banned and the government has completely taken over every aspect of life.
In “Packard Goose” we find the music becoming darker with an absolutely sinister riff that only lasts for that song as everything else is in Joe’s head and has a light airy feel to it. Even the central scrutinizer sounds more sinister on “Watermelon in Easter Hay” although the music there is rather uplifting in a guitar solo.
The album ends on a low note for me, with the worst song on the album “A Little Green Rosetta” just being abslutely crazy with children choirs and all sorts of odd sounds added in. Joe is supposed to have found a job and be happy, but it seems that the happiness is almost false on the tune. However, the album does a great job of showing the effects of government control and provides some out of this world musical and vocal performances.Overall Rating: 8.5 out of 10