The more things change the more they stay the same
-- Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1849)
"I'm gonna tell you the way it is and I'm not gonna be kind or easy"
-- Frank Zappa (1967)
When I first heard that Frank Zappa's legendary album We're Only In It For The Money had been reissued, I got a pang of angst in my stomach worrying about whether they (ie. the labels, the Frank Zappa estate, etc.) would screw things up. I mean, there was precedent for such fan worries as the album has a sordid past involving everything from censorship of parts of the original recording made without Zappa's knowledge or approval from the original issuing label (MGM's Verve Records) to subsequent bastardization by Zappa himself at the dawn of the digital age (re-recording drums, bass and other parts for its first CD reissue) and then the inclusion of that same awful mix on the could-have-been-wonderful compilation from 2009 called Lumpy Money.
Before I get to the formal "review" portion of our Internet entertainment here, I must point out some factoids relative to this record for those not in the know the significance of this record. Issued less than a year after the release of the groundbreaking Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Zappa's We're Only In It For The Money was a scathing flip-side commentary to the harsh realities of the so-called "Summer of Love" and related fallout from and surrounding it. The album called out the phonies who were all part of the equation -- from hippies to parents to police to governing bodies of the day (if you will) -- all skewered in equal measure for hypocrisy, stupidity and inhumane actions. Ultimately, We're Only In It For The Money is a reminder to everyone take note of what is happening around us (an ongoing theme through Zappa's music throughout most of his career, actually).
Zappa was right on top of all this, calling it out for what it was as it was happening. And now, here we are 50 years on since it was recorded (49 since it was released) and this social documentary wake up call remains as relevant today as it was back then... perhaps more so.
It is perhaps the final track on the album, an avant-garde musique concrète piece called "The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny" that underscores the foreboding Zappa had for the times. In the liner notes he suggested that listeners first read Franz Kafka's In The Penal Colony before listening to it, adding:
"As you listen, think of the concentration camps in California constructed during world war II to house potentially dangerous oriental citizens... the same camps which many say are now being readied for use as part of the FINAL SOLUTION to the NON-CONFORMIST (hippy?) PROBLEM today."
Planting that seed, I'll leave it up to you, Dear Readers, to take the initiative to connect the societal dots between then and now.
Now, back to the review portion of our show:
This new reissue sounds overall pretty wonderful! It is important to acknowledge that We're Only In It For The Money has never "sounded" particularly great in an audiophile sense. I mean... as much as I love this album, it would not be a first or even fifth or even 10th choice as a demo record... regardless that it is in the Rolling Stone Magazine list of Top 500 albums of all time... regardless that it made it into the Top 30 that year (assuming the Wiki is accurate!).
My original pressings of We're Only In It For The Money have always delivered pretty compressed listening experiences. I used the plural here because I own about 5 or 6 copies of the album in various levels of condition and (probably) pressing production. All those variants in disc mastering back in the day likely introduced subtle variants worth at least considering depending on your level of fanaticism about this sort of thing. And with all the weird edits this recording endured along the way through the censorship process, it is quite possible (and I'm speculating here, folks) that the tape used to make the original pressings may have itself been several generations removed from the master tape depending on how the edits were handled by MGM/Verve Record as well as Frank Zappa himself.
It is known that this new reissue was mastered from a digital source. For us audiophile flavored individuals, I have confirmed via Universal Music's PR team and Vaultmeister Joe Travers himself that this LP was mastered from the approved FZ digital master which was done for the 1995 CD issue. When I asked about this he replied (via Universal's internal PR folks):
"FZ created an approved master of the original 1968 mix which was first issued on CD in 1995. That master lives now as a .WAV file at 44.1K 16B. This file is what Bernie Grundman and I made the latest LP reissue from. This was used because the original tape is really damaged."
That said, this version sounds at least as good as -- and in many ways better than -- the seemingly heavily compressed and often lackluster original Verve Records pressings form the 1960s. Yes, even at 16-bits and 44.1 kHz -- effectively CD quality -- it sounds better than my original LPs.
I know what you're thinking right about now, Dear Readers...
Stick with me...