*3.33-BROWN SHOES DON'T MAKE IT (Mothers of Invention)

Mothers of Invention


Brown shoes don't make it.
Brown shoes don't make it.
Quit school. Why fake it?
Brown shoes don't make it.

     TV dinner by the pool.
     Watch your brother grow a beard.
     Got another year of school.
     You're okay, he's too weird.
     Be a plumber.
     He's a bummer,
     He's a bummer every summer.

           Be a loyal plastic robot
           for a world that doesn't care!

                 Smile at every ugly!
                 Shine on your shoes and cut your hair.

Be a jerk-go to work! (4x)
Do your job, and do it right.
Life's a ball! TV tonight!
Do you love it?
Do you hate it?
There it is
The way you made it—Wow!

                       A world of secret hungers
                       perverting the men who make your laws.
                       Every desire is hidden away
                       in a drawer in a desk by a Naugahyde chair
                       on a rug where they walk and drool
                       past the girls in the office.

                             We see in the back
                             of the City Hall mind
                             the dream of a girl about thirteen.
                             Off with her clothes and into a bed
                             where she tickles his fancy
                             all night long.

                                   His wife's attending an orchid show.
                                   She squealed for a week to get him to go.

                             But back in the bed his teen-age queen
                             Is rocking and rolling and acting obscene!


                       And he loves it, he loves it.
                       It curls up his toes.
                       She wipes his fat neck
                       And it lights up his nose
                       But he cannot be fooled,
                       Old City Hall Fred,
                       She's nasty, she's nasty
                       She digs it in bed!


                       Do it again
                       And do it some more.
                       That does it, by golly
                       It's nasty for sure!
                       Nasty nasty nasty
                       Nasty nasty nasty

Spoken: Only thirteen, and she knows how to nasty!

                                         She's a dirty young mind,
                                         Corrupt and corroded.
                                         Well she's thirteen today
                                         And I hear she gets loaded.

Spoken: If she were my daughter, I'd...
(What would you do, Daddy?) (3x)

                                              I’d smother my daughter in chocolate syrup
                                              And strap her on again, oh baby. (2x)

                                              She's my teen-age baby
                                              And she turns me on.
                                              I'd like to make her do a nasty
                                              On the White House lawn.
                                              I’m going to smother my daughter in chocolate syrup
                                              And boogie till the cows come home!

                                                   Time to go home.
                                                   Madge is on the phone.
                                                   Got to meet the Gurney's
                                                   And a dozen gray attorneys.

     TV dinner by the pool.
     I'm so glad I finished school!

           Life is such a ball
           I run the world from City Hall!


Brown Shoes Don’t Make It is a cut off the Mothers of Invention’s second album, Absolutely Free. The Mothers were perceived mostly as a satirical group, with bawdy lyrics and a doo-wop orientation that was anathema to psychedelic music at the time. The psychedelic orientation was progressive in 1967 rather than retrospective. Their first album, Freak Out, however, did include a loud rock blues number, out of character for the Mothers, with a repetitious electric guitar riff in the manner of the Rolling Stones, titled Trouble Every Day, which provided comment on the race riots of 1966. The Mother’s second album incorporated many old musical forms, including do-wop, to piece together something that was unique, using different tracks spliced together. This was a psychedelic technique, even if the sound wasn’t psychedelic, but rather old-fashioned. The Mother’s social commentary wasn’t kind to hippies, and didn’t promote the use of drugs. Their contrariness to fashion quickly won them influence in the works of major tastemakers John Lennon, Brian Wilson, and Mick Jagger. The final cut of Absolutely Free, a humorous cabaret number titled America Drinks and Goes Home, served as a model for the Rolling Stones’ On With the Show from Their Satanic Majesties Request, and the Beatles’ You Know My Name, the flip side to the single Let It Be. I always thought at the time that these cabaret numbers, quoting cheesy songs from my parents’ era, were mocking the use of alcohol and its supposed superiority to other drugs.

Brown Shoes Don’t Make It was thought of as a rock mini-opera, a form which would expand and become increasingly popular. Born in the psychedelic era, mini-operas were not confined to the psychedelic aesthetic, and continued long after psychedelic music fell out of fashion. Though the first rock mini-opera to be noted in the Psychedelic Masterworks, Brown Shoes was not the first to be produced. That honor goes to The Who's cut A Quick One While He’s Away, which was in comic mode, using old forms, similar to what Frank Zappa had done. Quick One's textural range was limited to the four Who musicians, and sounded like dancehall entertainment. However, unlike Brown Shoes, The Who's Quick One was not a product of studio splicing and could be performed live.

There are too many different sections of Brown Shoes to keep track of. I count 13 with some repetitions. The A section is repeated once, early on. The B section is brought back briefly (with the similar lyric: TV dinner by the pool) in the penultimate stanza, and is followed by a repeat of the C section, with the same musical pattern but a different melody. There are two breaks that separate the repetition (with melodic variations) of a central stanza. The lyrical verses are followed by a lengthy and noisy coda, the first of a batch of psychedelic songs that used lengthy codas which I tend to edit down now that I can.

Lyrically, Zappa was a sharply witty (though often potty-mouthed) social commentator in the manner of Lenny Bruce. (Ray Davies of the Kinks would offer similar ironic observations of modern society within the dictates of good taste.) In this lyric he seems to mock someone who has government authority for his brutal fantasies of seducing a barely 13 year old girl. Zappa seems to make the point of condemning those authority figures that would prosecute people in a court of law who acted on things that authorities would only fantasize about. The audience is being told to “drop out” of the rat race; to quit school and educate themselves for something better than status and possessions. (I read somewhere years later an interview with Zappa in which he continued to state this point of view—he believed after public high school every one had enough education to pursue their interests in a library without investing in a college curriculum.) TV dinners by the pool and orchid shows, like brown shoes, haven’t brought happiness. Dreaming of a thirteen-year old girl in order to feel some life, a bureaucrat daydreams "If she were my daughter I’d…" The song then introduces a child’s voice, repeatedly asking "What would you do, daddy?" We are told that secretly our governmental officials (in a fit of self-aggrandizement to counter their frustrations) desire to fuck daughters on the White House lawn. The child’s voice in Brown Shoes Don’t Make It is the first time the trope is used in the songs collected here, but would be used again in Traffic’s Hole in My Shoe, Incredible String Band’s A Very Cellular Song and later, in 10cc’s I’m Not in Love.