California Dreaming: Lonely Little Girl

After the problems of getting Absolutely Free released, Frank Zappa quickly ran into more record label problems, this time over an album to be titled Lumpy Gravy.

Zappa had signed with Capitol records as a solo artist and, working with Nik Venet as “producer” (although Venet was very hands-off, and essentially left Zappa to his own devices) recorded an album of his orchestral compositions. However, Verve took the view, not unreasonably, that as Zappa was signed to them as a band member he should not be off making albums for their competitors (Zappa, on the other hand, pointed out that he didn’t play a note on the record and that “my contract did not preclude me from doing that. I wasn’t signed as a conductor.”

The result was that while he was working on the next Mothers of Invention album, he also found himself re-editing the tapes of Lumpy Gravy, turning the straight orchestral album he had delivered to Capitol into one for Verve that would fit into the “conceptual continuity” of the Mothers’ releases, including spoken-word sections and collage elements. He spent so much time working on editing the spoken word sections that he later claimed that his daughter Moon Unit’s first word was “werp” in imitation of the sound of the tape being played backwards.

When Lumpy Gravy finally got a release on Verve, Zappa’s photo on the cover had a speech bubble added, saying “Is this phase two of We’re Only In It For The Money?”, and the albums did appear to be linked.

In particular, both featured versions of a song titled Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance that Zappa had written some years earlier. Originally conceived as a Dave Brubeck-esque jazz number, it had later been reworked as a surf instrumental (a 1963 recording of which was used in the finished Lumpy Gravy) and finally recorded with vocals as part of the Money sessions.

We’re Only In It For The Money
, the Mothers’ third album, was recorded at the start of a long run of sessions which would also produce two other projects — the largely instrumental soundtrack for the Mothers’ film, Uncle Meat (while the album was released in 1968, the film was unfinished until 1987), and the doo-wop album Cruising With Ruben & The Jets (of which more later).

While these projects all overlapped, though, We’re Only In It For The Money had a very clear concept — it was a satire aimed at the hippy movement, and especially those in San Francisco. Zappa believed, largely correctly, that the LA “freak” scene, people like Franzoni and Vito and the bands they followed, were genuinely trying to create something new and different and, most importantly, individual; that they were expressing their own ideas in their own way. By contrast, he saw the hippy movement as a commercialised, conformist, watered-down version of what the LA scene had been doing, a bunch of hedonistic conformists thinking they were different from their parents because their drug of choice was dope rather than booze.

That said, Money is also fundamentally more sympathetic to the young than to their parents, and certainly more so than it is to the police and other authority figures, and the overall feel is one of frustration at lost potential — that the hippies were only rebelling cosmetically when they could have done so much more.

The first release from the Money sessions, though, didn’t give much indication of this. The single of Lonely Little Girl (a vastly different edit from that which eventually appeared on Money) is almost, but not quite, radio-friendly for the time. After a guitar intro which is the Mothers’ first venture into the heavy rock that was just starting to become popular, the song settles into something which feels almost like an ultra-conventional pop song. In two-part Everly Brothers harmonies, they sing “you’re a lonely little girl/but your mommy and your daddy don’t care”, and the seventeen-bar verse/bridge/chorus here could easily have been a song by Chad & Jeremy or Peter & Gordon, sounding like the commercial pop of about eighteen months earlier, had it not been for the heavily-processed vocals, sped up to give the entire track a faint feel of a raised eyebrow.

After this initial verse/bridge/chorus, though, we get a sudden edit into a snorting noise and a tinkle of tuned percussion (taken from a commercial for Luden’s Cough Drops for which Zappa had written the music), before the song goes into Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance, a song which in this version both satirises and celebrates the hippies’ rather narrow vision of utopia — “who cares if you’re so poor you can’t afford to buy a pair of mod a-go-go stretch elastic pants?/There will come a time when you can even take your clothes off when you dance”, and “there will come a time when you won’t even be ashamed if you are fat”. Finally, we get another, short, section of two-chord fuzz garage rock that doesn’t appear on the finished album.

While the single was released in November 1967, further record company problems meant that the album itself didn’t get released until March 1968. The main reason given by the label was that Cal Shenkel’s cover, which parodied that of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was too similar to the Beatles’ (while Zappa got Paul McCartney’s promise that they wouldn’t sue, that was apparently not good enough, and the original vinyl release had the photo originally intended for the inner gatefold on the outside, with the intended cover relegated to the gatefold), but Zappa later discovered that the record had, without his knowledge or approval, been censored by the record label. Some of the censor cuts were at least understandable (the word “balling” removed from someone saying “I don’t do publicity balling for you any more”, or the engineer calling fellow Verve act The Velvet Underground “as shitty a group as Frank Zappa’s group”), but others were just inexplicable (a reference to a waitress “with her apron and her pad/feeding all the boys at Ed’s cafe” was deleted because someone at the record label thought she was feeding people sanitary towels).

Despite this interference, We’re Only In It For The Money remains, along with Lumpy Gravy, possibly the finest thing Zappa ever did. But it was clear that he was going to have to find a way to have his records put out without record company interference…

Lonely Little Girl

Composer: Frank Zappa

Line-up: Frank Zappa (guitar, vocals), Jimmy Carl Black (drums, vocals), Roy Estrada (bass, vocals), Billy Mundi (drums), Don Preston (keyboards), Bunk Gardner (woodwinds), Ian Underwood (woodwinds, keyboards), Motorhead Sherwood (saxophone).

NB this is the line-up of the band as featured on We’re Only In It For The Money, not all of whom are audible on the track. Zappa later claimed on CD reissues of the album that the only musicians to play on the album were Zappa, Underwood, Estrada, and Mundi. The fact that Preston, Gardner, Black, and Sherwood, along with other members of the Mothers from later lineups, sued Zappa for $16 million in unpaid royalties around the time of the CD release had, I am sure, absolutely nothing to do with this.

Dick Barber provided snorks.

Original release: Lonely Little Girl/Mother People, The Mothers Of Invention, Verve VK-10570

Currently available on: The Lumpy Money Project/Object, Zappa records CD

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