As this was originally released in 1979 in two parts, I will be reviewing the late 2016 vinyl reissue in a similar fashion…
Joe’s Garage, Act I
First of all, let’s just say that if you’re one of those who “don’t know where to start” when trying to “get into” FRANK ZAPPA, then Joe’s Garage is a great place to start – if you’re not easily offended by puerile, pimply-faced humor. If, on the other hand, even the mention of things such as “ninnies,” “wet t-shirt nights” or (especially) “cock” have you immediately in the car headed for church, then steer clear of this one. In fact, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by staying away from Frank Zappa entirely. That’s not to say that everything he does mentions naughty bits or contains vulgar language, but it’s easier for me to issue a blanket danger! then to try and detail what’s safe for you and what’s not. Now then…
Joe’s Garage, Act I was released in September 1979. I was 16 and had recently moved to Seattle with my sister and parents from Southern California and was entering 11th grade. I had a general idea who Zappa was but didn’t know any of his music and knew no one who had any to check out. (This was waaaaaayyy pre-internet, kids.) All I knew is he was a great guitarist and he once had a band called The Mothers. (Back then, for you youngsters who don’t know, mother was short for the slang term motherfucker.) Well, I met a guy at my new high school who was really into Frank so we were both excited to plunk down the bucks for Joe’s Garage and plop that baby onto the record player. We had no idea what we were in for! We were just kids, fer cryin’ out loud!
This record is a true concept album, detailing the story of a young American male succumbing to the horrors and overall nastiness of a career in music. Joe, our hero, forms a band, gets signed to a record deal, meets groupies, contacts venereal disease (look it up, kids), and eventually – as detailed in the then forthcoming but not-yet-announced second volume – finds himself being “reprogrammed” by some crazed religious zealots (think Scientology). Musically, Joe’s Garage is a great intro to Zappa and his world because it contains everything that made up the man’s musical DNA: great guitar playing, humor, a love for doo wop, and an intricate yet (often) approachable sense to what makes good music. The band on this record was well-suited to the material, including Ike Willis on vocals (now, that mother could sing!), Warren Cuccurullo on guitar, Peter Wolf and Tommy Mars on keys, and various others on the rest. Zappa himself plays guitar, does some of the singing, and plays the role of narrator in the character of The Central Scrutinizer. It’s a role uniquely suited to FZ, as he later became the rock world’s mouthpiece and champion of free speech in the ’80s. (You may remember he testified in front of Congress during the days of Tipper Gore’s PMRC and their modern day witch hunt to persecute and prosecute musicians whose art used “bad language” that was surely going to mess up the minds of our impressionable youths.) Somehow ol’ Frank knew where America was headed and tried to head us off at the pass with his tale of how IT’S NOT THE GOVERNMENT’S BUSINESS TO DECIDE WHAT IT THINKS IS “BAD” FOR ITS CONSTITUENTS.
Errr, uhhh…… anyway, well, one of Frank’s greatest strengths was his ability to delegate. If he felt someone was better suited to sing a particular song, for instance, he’d have that someone sing it. Ike Willis is a monster on this record, singing a majority of the leads with soulful, expressive tone that really comes to the fore on “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up,” a slow R&B-slash-reggae groove that closes out Act I. He also grabs you by the nuts on “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”, a painful look at what VD can do to a fella. Yikes! I don’t EVER want my balls to feel like a pair of maracas!
Ummm, where was I? Oh yeah. The Zappa Records reissue on vinyl is well worth the money, putting all three records together in one deluxe, double-gatefold package that includes a booklet libretto. The records were remastered from the original analog master tape safety copy by mastering great Bernie Grundman and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Pallas in Germany. Though I don’t have the original vinyl or first CD pressing anymore, I can tell you with confidence that this vinyl reissue is miles better than those and even better than the very good sounding 2012 CD reissue. I’ll wrap up the story of Joe in Part II. (Click here for the conclusion!)
4.5/5 (Zappa Records ZR3861-1, 2016)