Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention — “Flower Punk”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — April 12, 2023


793) Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention — “Flower Punk”

Have I given you enough flower power that you’re sneezing and wheezing? Well, here is the antidote — Frank Zappa’s utterly hilarious deflowering. Son Raw says “Like the best satire, ‘Flower Punk’ is equal part tribute and slag, a speedy cartoonish homage to Hendrix’s version of Hey Joe that just so happens to disrespect the original song’s entire target demographic.” (

François Couture explains:

“Flower Punk” is one of a handful of songs appearing on the Mothers of Invention’ LP We’re Only in It for the Money . . . which criticized the way the hippie lifestyle had become fashionable, and thus was emptied of its sociophilosophical contents in the late ’60s. . . . The lyrics of the song feature a series of questions and answers like: “Hey Punk, where you goin’ with that button on your shirt?/Well, I’m goin’ to a love-in to sit and plays my bongos in the dirt.” A handful of flower power clichés are mocked that way over a devilishly fast uneven rhythm pattern . . . . After a while, the vocals are replaced by multiple sped-up voices speaking incoherently, delivering even more clichés . . . . Frank Zappa explains in the liner notes that the teenager’s brains blow up due to drug consumption.

As does Mat Shofield:

People at the time maybe saw Zappa as counter-culture because he wrote weird music and had unkempt hair like all the other freaks, but that’s only a bird’s eye view of the man and his work. Look at the disdain he shows for the ‘institutionalized hippiedom’ (as High Fidelity referred to it) and its burgeoning commercial appeal on We’re Only In It For The Money and on Flower Punk in particular, and you’ll see him calling out all the fakes and the Johnny-Come-Latelies: the ones jumping on the corporate-approved bandwagon with the hope/expectation of making some coin and getting laid. . . . Flower Punk sets the scene with the choice of cover, ripping off the cliched standard Hey Joe . . . but this time played in 7/8 to cock a snook at the non-musos, and sped up twice as fast on Zappa’s Variable Speed Oscillator. The lyrics nail all the Scott McKenzie stereotypes one by one: Hey punk, where you going with those beads around your neck/ that button on your shirt/ that flower in your hand/ that hair on your head – with the responses as shallow as the image drawn: I’m goin’ up to Frisco to join a psychedelic band/ to the love-in to sit & play my bongos in the dirt/ to the dance to get some action, then I’m goin’ home to bed. . . . For me, the real cynicism is in the spoken musings of said Punk though: in the left channel, sped up, Zappa is talking about how he’s just learnt the guitar, can strum some chords pretty well and hopes a girl in the audience will notice him and hook up with him; in the right channel, regular speed, he’s wondering what he’ll buy with all his imagined future royalties – a bike, no – a car, no – a boat, no – real estate… and then hopes that girl in the audience will notice him and hook up with him. . . . Ironically, We’re Only In It For The Money was Zappa’s most commercially successful LP of the early period.

Jamie Atkins lets Zappa speak for himself:

Let’s begin with the cover. Frank Zappa knew exactly what he was doing by lampooning The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released just seven months previously. . . . We’re Only In It For The Money was a sustained and hilarious interrogation of hippiedom. And what better way was there to grab the world’s attention than with a jab at the darlings of the pop world? . . . In an interview with Stereo Review from 1979, the composer looked back at the furor he’d caused, “If you stop and think about it, putting out an album like that would be a very courageous thing in the middle of hippie hysteria. I did two things that were definitely a no-no then. One, making fun of The Beatles, you couldn’t do that; and two, I made fun of the hippies, and you couldn’t do that either… Looking at it now, maybe it was an easy target. But you try it in 1967.” . . . Less foreboding but equally cutting were the near-constant digs . . . at what Zappa perceived as an inherent phoniness at the core of the hippie movement. “Who Needs The Peace Corps,” “Absolutely Free,” and “Flower Punk” are among the most potent putdowns of the tie-dye brigade. Speaking about the latter . . . Zappa was unrepentant, “I didn’t really expect any group who was singing about flower power to believe in it. And that’s the thing that was really bugging me about the whole thing, because the audience that was going along with the fad of flower power was being fed all this garbage and never stopped for a moment to question the integrity of the people who were whipping it on ’em. And when I made my statement of ‘Flower Punk’ I got cast in a negative light as being some sort of ghoul who wouldn’t go along with the sweetness and light that was pervading the United States in 1967.”

To truly hear and appreciate the lyrics in their full hilarity, listen to the sped-up song slowed down:

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