The Mothers of Invention / Frank Zappa

Brown Shoes Don't Make It

Composed by Frank Zappa

Song Review by

"Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is considered Frank Zappa's first real masterpiece. This seven-and-a-half-minute song takes the form of a suite of short musical snippets of varying styles (from swing to contemporary classical) held together by the "story." It first appeared on the 1967 LP Absolutely Free. It is the best of the album's "underground oratorios." "The Duke of Prunes" and "Call Any Vegetable" do present better cohesion as a whole, but they don't go as far both lyric- and composition-wise. The story of this condensed two-hour musical (that's exactly how it feels) addresses social hypocrisy. The piece begins by a cynical praise of the lower obedient suburban lifestyle: "Be a loyal plastic robot/For a world that doesn't care," "Shine on your shoes and cut your hair," "Be a jerk and go to work." But those advocating this anti-freak lifestyle, so to speak, appear to be a lot more deviant than the people not following "the rules": "A world of secret hungers" hide in the offices of those telling everyone what to do. The song then follows one of these political rulers who fantasizes about a 13-year-old girl ("Smother my daughter in chocolate syrup/And strap her on again"). The song ends by mocking suburban politics, as the repressed pervert claims "Life is such a ball I run the world from City Hall." The studio version was striking back in 1967, going beyond any pop song recorded before, but lack of time and budget left it a bit sloppy: sections aren't edited perfectly, the band does not always land sharply on the right cues. "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" was performed live in 1969, in 1973, and a lot in 1979, resulting in a definitive recording of it on the 1981 LP Tinseltown Rebellion.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Absolutely Free 1967 Zappa Records 7:29
Mothermania 1969 Universal Music Group 7:31
Threesome, Vol. 1 2002 Ryko Distribution / Rykodisc 7:30
American Pageant: Nullis Pretii Universe 7:23
blue highlight denotes editor's pick