on October 8, 2016 | Last updated October 11, 2016
Frank ZappaSociety Pages Suite
Release Type: User Audio Type: Single-track Reductions: Yes (Auto/CAT) Pitched Vocals: Yes Vocals Gender: Male (3)
"Society Pages" is the first section of a suite or sequence of songs that were performed together by Frank Zappa's band from March 1980 and November 1981 (it was followed by "I'm a Beautiful Guy," "Beauty Knows No Pain," and "Charlie's Enormous Mouth") and was recorded this way for the 1981 LP You Are What You Is.
"Society Pages" is a charge against the powerful (as in "rich") people that reign over small towns. The "ol' Lady" in this song owns the local paper -- which always talks about her good deeds -- and "pass out jobs to yer relatives 'n such/So you all keeps a lot." The last verse mentions that she had a son that became a beautiful guy, prompting the segue into "I'm a Beautiful Guy."
"I'm a Beautiful Guy" begins where "Society Pages" left: with the son of the "ol' lady" who grew up to become "a Beautiful Guy" (that was the last line of that song). The music shifts from a rather straightforward rock to a heavy swing with band cues tied to the singer's lines. Ike Willis' crooning voice induces a mood for seduction: the beautiful guy "gave the eye" to a girl. He shows his interest in the yuppie health trend of the early '80s (after all, he is the son of a rich white couple): "They're full of water/I hear them say:/'Let's jog'/They're playing tennis." The girl is seduced, because "she's modern 'n empty 'n totally vain/But beauty, of course, can feel no pain" -- the last line intrusively paves the way for the abrupt segue into "Beauty Knows No Pain." For the last verse the music shifts to something squarer, but Zappa added a few ornaments to make the change to the next song trickier, including a bombastic finale.
Like the previous tracks in the sequence, "Beauty Knows No Pain" takes its cue from the last line of the previous song and provides in its own last verse the starting point for the next piece. The vain lifestyle and subtlety lacking seduction technique of the "Beautiful Guy" prompt a reflection on women and men who value "beauty" (seen as a form of social acceptance) above comfort. Bikini wax, nail polish, makeup, and "a pair of shoes that makes you wanna die" are all part of the burden people who are oblivious to the fact that "Beauty is a lie" must endure. The last verse of the song hardly fits with what came before it -- it is another attempt to create a link to the next piece.
From a musical standpoint, "Beauty Knows No Pain" is the most complex number of the sequence. It features odd (and changing) time signatures, lots of overdubs, and crazy arrangements. The last part of the piece reverses to a swing motif, tying it even more closely to "It's a Beautiful Guy."
This song has for a central character a girl named Charlie. She could be the one described as "modern 'n empty 'n totally vain" in "I'm a Beautiful Guy." Things start with a description of her mouth -- it's extra large. The addition at the end of this verse of the line "Kinda young, kinda wow," a quote from "Catholic Sluts," gives more meaning to the whole verse. From the mouth, we move to the nose -- it's all white, because she does cocaine. And now the quote is changed to "Kinda young, kinda dead." The third verse focuses on her brain -- it's all black. Pushed by her "extra dumb" friends, she took "an extra hit" of drug. Result: "She got a very dead brain, it won't come back."