SONG TITLE: BROWN SHOES DON’T MAKE IT
PERFORMER: FRANK ZAPPA/MOTHERS OF INVENTION
SONGWRITER: FRANK ZAPPA
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1967
COMMENTS: This seven and a half minute song from the 1967 album Absolutely Free gave an early indication of Frank Zappa’s artistic ambitions – the wide range of musical styles he knew and could bend to his own ends, his broadjumping studio cut and paste compositional style, and perhaps the best single codification of his central lyrical theme.
After opening with a gumshoe detective theme, Zappa sets out to investigate “a world of secret hungers perverting the men who make your laws.” A mayor’s life and day to day behavior are so dull, gray, plastic and controlled in order to accomodate his power hunger that he finds himself compensating by having an affair with a (barely) 13 year old girl.
The composition changes tempo, time signatures, instrumental line up and theme every few bars, yet never loses coherence because it is so purposeful. Zappa is trying to get into the character’s headspace. There he finds the wife nagging monotonously in drag time about flower shows. He also finds a sleazy cocktail lounge singer crooning encouragement for his perversion. His conscience briefly intrudes with noises about the incestuous implications of his behavior, followed by the climax of the of the whole thing in which an old-fashioned barber shop quartet describes his ultimate sexual/political fantasy in four part harmony.
So what we end up with is a psycho/social/political treatise and satire expressed through numerous early and pre-rock styles utilizing state of the art studio editing and effects, all leavened with a pound or two of humor. It’s like a whole concept album boiled down to just the good stuff, light on the self-importance, and change back on your eight minutes. All in all, a hell of an early career milestone.