Monday, March 9, 2020

Frank Zappa Explains Why the 60s Music Scene Scene Was Such a Kick

Last week I shared some of the songs that brought to mind memories of various people who were important to me in one way or another. One of these songs was the zany one-hit-wonder They're Coming to Take Me Away Haha. Assuming you're familiar with the song (and I won't blame you if you're not), have you ever noticed the similarity between the opening notes (no notes, but percussion) and the intro to Bob Dylan's Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.

It's not identical, but similar, until Dylan adds that Salvation Army Band accompaniment, including trombone, the slide trombone being the second most memorable feature of the background players, the heartfelt laughter being first--none of which detracts in any way from the lyrics, which have nothing to do with rainy day women and everything to do with the punch line.

So, the question on the table is this: How did all those crazy songs like They're Coming to Take Me Away Haha get produced, and even promoted?

First off, silly songs had always peppered the pop charts, and were no doubt features of traditional folk music from the Hngarian hills to the Scottish Highlands. Nevertheless they became more visible via the advent of radio, and that didn't start in the Sixties either. Examples include the Monster Mash (1962), Flying Purple People Eater (1958), and Alley-Oop (1960).

But the late Sixties, when I was in high school, gave us plenty of unexpected music that one would be hard pressed to find a record label for today. Here are just a few memorable tunes that may bring back memories if you're a Boomer: Snoopy vs. The Red Baron, Wild Thing, Green Tambourine and Gitarzan to name a few.

Painting by the author.
Bob Hoffman, in his new book Advertising For Skeptics, shared an insight from Frank Zappa about why this period in pop music was such a swirl of creativity. Here's a link to a 1987 interview where Zappa explains the decline of the music business.  

The 60s were a time of transition where book publishing and the music industry weren't sure what would or would not work in the marketplace. I've written elsewhere about how the New York publishing houses eventually got out of the religious market because they were getting pummeled by not understanding the Jesus Movement.

In the music scene they're attitude was something akin to throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what stuck. They were often surprised.

“One thing that did happen in the 60s,” he (Zappa) says, “was some music of an unusual and experimental nature did get recorded, did get released.” The executives of the day were “cigar-chomping old guys who looked at the product and said, 'I don’t know. Who knows what it is? Record it, stick it out. If it sells, alright!'”

Freak Out (Mothers of Invention) was born in this spirit, as was "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Haha."

That's all for now. The doorknob's broke.

Related Link
Zappa Quotebook


KTUF said...

So you wrote a whole article from a PART of an old Zappa meme.

KTUF said...

You wrote an entire article from a small part of an old Zappa meme.

Ed Newman said...

Well, yes, evidently the Zappa piece was a trigger that dovetailed with thoughts I'd been noodling in my head for a few weeks about Rainy Day Women and Coming to Take Me Away, like writing an article inspired by a sentence from Lord of the Rings.

The Zappa link was triggered by a page (anecdote) in Hoffman's Advertising for Skeptics.

Unknown said...

ZAPPA was essentially Lenny Bruce with a screaming guitar.A true social satirist.