This is a rocky protest song, with a catchy, blues-trio riff and echoing harmonica wailing throughout. The inherent tension of the blues progression is amplified with throbbing drums and the cascading electric guitars. Zappa’s vocal declension in the chorus is neat, and emblematic of his style, and the lyrics are more complex than blues songs typically exhibit. At one point, Zappa slides in the rollicking lines: “watched while everybody on his street would take a turn / to stomp and smash and bash and crash and slash and bust and burn,” which is impossible for me to remember, such that I had to google it. Zappa turns his ire to the TV news: “they say that no one blabs is faster / their coverage can’t be beat”. I love the short-span rhyme “blabs it faster,” which fits so nicely into the rhythm of the line. Further, I can’t help but wonder, if Zappa was annoyed by the state of journalism at the time (and his later work on Packard Goose suggests he probably was), what he might think about today’s 24-hour news cycle.
As violence grows, exploding in the streets, Zappa takes the side of oppressed black Americans, and says so explicitly near the middle of the tune: “there’s a whole lots of times I wish I could say I’m not white”. He’s embarrassed by the fervour and violence of protestors and cops, but seems to blame the establishment more than the black folks getting their teeth kicked in. The fast-rhyme bridge presages rap music, to some slight degree (I hesitate to make this assertion in earnest), and then Zappa takes a mild solo that shows his capacity to build a lick in real-time, then improvise around it.
The fast-rhyme bridge continues, packing a tonne of lyrics into a short span of blues-riffing. We hear again about the “Great Society” – Zappa insists that perhaps there is no such thing. He gets meta by the end of the tune: “you know that five in every four / just won’t amount to nothing more / gonna watch the rats go across the floor / and make up songs about bein’ poor”. He wouldn’t be poor for long.
The song’s tempo grows as it approaches the end, the guitars growing more manic, the harmonica wailing into infinity.