A monster of a tune. A whole music-hall musical in 7.5 minutes. Throughout this epic, we’ll be introduced to a number of ‘normal Americans,’ as well as an array of instruments and rhythms. Hardly two lines go by before the whole song changes.
We open on a funky riff and a chorus of voices, including, if I’m not wrong, Captain Beefheart’s, before a weird plinking verse. Soon the song incites us to “be a jerk / and go to work,” perhaps Zappa’s most damning invective against doing something you don’t enjoy.
Soon enough, with a literal breaking point, a thumping, eerie verse takes over: “a world / of secret hungers.” Dissonance with multiple voices and slithering instruments grows and grows as elements drop out. A voice hacks and spits in isolation until warped and warbling brasses creep in.
Deep in the psyche of City Hall Fred, everything is twisted. Alice in Wonderland is referenced and inverted in with one choice word.
Lethargic guitar accompanies our return to the real world, while strings follow the fantasy.
Throughout, different people and voices sing and compete with one another, telling conflicting tales simultaneously.
A grand fanfare with strings and trumpets takes over, but its energy and celebration can’t be sustained, and soon power done. A smooth lounge-lizard takes over on the piano, winking at the audience. A big chorus takes the stage, and you can practically see them kicking like the Rockettes.
A theremin-type sound reminds us that things are not all so grand, and an oily voices muses that “if she were my daughter, I’d…” but his not-to-subtle trailing off is picked up by the voice of a young girl asking “what would you do, daddy?” The musing grows more lecherous before another fanfare breaks out, in a cheesy, country-western style. City Hall Fred’s imagination is running away with him. All the same, the rhythm of this part is undeniable, with sticks and spoons and cowbell.
We circle back to characters from the opening of the song, and some of the musical themes are revisited with embellishment and evolution. The end of the tune is a charging, dramatic affair, with pulsing strings and echoey reverb. Instruments from throughout the piece clatter and conflict, screeching and competing for audiospace.
Inevitably, the fantasy collapses.