Joe’s Garage, Act I, II & III

Released: Act I Sep 17 1979 – Acts II & III Nov 19 1979


  1. The Central Scrutinizer
  2. Joe’s Garage
  3. Catholic Girls
  4. Crew Slut
  5. Fembot In A Wet T-Shirt
  6. On The Bus
  7. Why Does It Hurt When I Pee
  8. Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up
  9. Scrutinizer Postlude
  10. A Token Of My Extreme
  11. Stick It Out
  12. Electric Aunt Jemima
  13. Sy Borg
  14. Dong Work For Yuda
  15. Keep It Greasy
  16. Outside Now
  17. He Used To Cut The Grass
  18. Packard Goose
  19. Watermelon In Easter Hay
  20. A Little Green Rosetta

Frank Zappa (Central Scrutinizer, L. Ron Hoover, Father Riley, Buddy Jones), Ike Willis (Joe), Dale Bozzio (Mary), Denny Walley (Mrs. Borg), Al Malkin (Officer Butzis), Warren Cuccurullo & Ed Mann (Sy Borg), Terry Bozzio (Bald-Headed John), Al Malkin, Warren Cucurullo, Dale Bozzio, Geordie Hormel, Barbara Issak & most of the people who work at Village Recorders ca 1979 (UMRK Chorus).

35 thoughts on “Joe’s Garage, Act I, II & III”

  1. A 3-LP album seems excessive… In “Joe’s Garage” you can find masterpieces beside dull tunes. The storyline is a bit unlikely. It gives the impression that Zappa built the story around the already existing songs, so you’d better listen to the music without judging the script.

    “Joe’s Garage”, “Catholic Girls” and “Crew Slut” are really strong songs, which make a big opening to the album (besides the weak “Central Scrutinizer”). “Lucille Has Messed My Mind up” is a really fine reggae, if we forgive the repetitive lyrics. “Packard Goose” is very catchy, except for the long and difficult (but somehow challenging and attractive) middle section. One of the most beautiful solos in the history of electric guitar is “Watermelon in Easter Hay”, and it’s worth the price of the double CD. But many other songs are fillers… Anyway, it’s an album to be remembered.

  2. This doesn’t sound like any other Zappa album. Dub-like drum effects, icy slap bass, whispered commentary from the “Central Scrutinizer”, it’s probably Zappa’s most oddly atmospheric music (IMO) and it suits the paranoid storyline superbly.

    This album is also Home of The Tits. You get to hear Ike Willis getting off with the legendary industrial vacuum cleaner. And if you like mind-boggling guitar solos cut and pasted on to creepy grooves… theres a lot of that too.

    Absolutely captivating. Maybe even Frank got a bit sentimental at times….?

  3. If El Tejano finds a 3 LP album excessive, what does he think of Läther (4 LPs)? If he finds the storyline unlikely, then he probably never attempted to make a living performing music. This is essential if one is to grasp the full magnitude and splendor of this record.

    Yeah, okay…mind-boggling guitar solos, hot drumming, industrial vacuum cleaners – all wonderful, but the true genius lies in the finesse and delicate handling of a very sad and hopeless situation. This record presents Zappa in a light he seldom allowed. Frank Zappa did, in fact, have a heart and could display sentimentality without becoming trite.

    All of the songs contribute to the plot. There is no filler on this record. Each song displays a growing melancholy and hopelessness as Joe wanders through his life in search of…

    ….that’s it. Joe no longer knows what he’s looking for. He gets distracted from what he really wants to do: bend the string like reent-toont-teent-toont-teent-toont-teenooneenoonee.

    “Watermelon” is, in the context of the album, the very last imaginary guitar solo Joe is to dream before he gives it up forever. The yearning and longing is quite apparent in the performance of this piece; that’s why it’s so good. Melancholy leads to bittersweet absurdity provided in “A Little Green Rosetta,” so as not to send an entire generation of guitarists into hermitage.

    “Take a tip from Joe. Do like he did, hock your imaginary guitar and get a good job. Joe did, and he’s a…….happy guy now.”

    This record deserves a 10 rating. Joe’s Garage is a masterpiece penned by a misunderstood genius, but “ultimately, who gives a fuck anyway?”

  4. I first heard this masterpiece two months prior to release when FZ himself came to my home for dinner and brought the masters with him. We laughed ourselves sick during most of it, but during Easter Hay, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! You are sorely missed, dear friend.

  5. Myself and the other guys from Frencheryk (see web link) all adore this album!
    I teach drums in a Catholic (!) school, and brought it in today to play to one of my students. Suffice to say, he loved it!


  6. I was just looking for something new to listen to when i came across the 2 disk joe’s garage. I listened to it at the the store’s listening post when i realized the album’s beuty. i bought it and listned to it over and over again. It is truly one of the best albums i have ever owned.
    Thank you Frank zappa for opening the door to your world, wherever you are.

  7. When this “Rock Opera” first came out it was spread over two albums released seperately. ( I guess the record company didn’t want to release one 3 record set at the time.) It was on the Zappa Records label, but I believe it was released, at least in the USA, by Mercury Records. Unfortunately, there were a bunch of bad pressings of Acts II and III circulated, but the music was great anyway and when Rykodisc released it on cd I grabbed it up quick. I think this is in some ways, FZ’s most personal story telling about a boy who just wanted to play guitar, but got “plooked” by the industry. The Orwellian subplot concerning the banning of music by the government in order to make everyone a criminal isn’t, (in light of the Patriot Act, and other recent developements), as far-fetched as one would have thought in the swinging late 1970’s when this was first released. Also, hidden among the tracks of social commentary and humorous/sad situations are some of FZ’s best guitar solos of the late 70’s.

  8. Why hasn’t anyone commented on the amazing “A Token of My Extreme”? Easily one of the all-time greatest Zappa tunes. One of the few times his humour was actually funny instead of just “funny” because of the reactions it caused.

  9. “Joe’s Garage” was the first Zappa album I fell head over heels in love with. Contrary to some opinions I don’t find any filler on this album. Zappa’s guitar work is superb throughout. The flow of the album works (with the possible exception of “Green Rosetta”) as well or better than any of his other work. It is pleasant to hear Zappa being sentimental (Joe’s Garage, Token of My Extreme. I think “Watermelon in Easter Hay” is the greatest epitaph the man could possibly have, and the greatest solo I have ever heard. This (IMO) is the one truly indispensable Zappa album, but maybe not the best for a newbie to start with. R.I.P Frank!

  10. During the last year I’ve been delving deeper and deeper into Zappa’s music… And I can listen to “Joe’s Garage, Acts I, II & III” with somehow different ears.
    A year ago Nanook said that there are no fillers in this album. With the remaining exception of “A Little Green Rosetta”, I now agree with him. The fact is: I was more used to FZ’s comedy stuff, and melancholy things he did seemed far to be grasped by me. Songs like “Outside Now” and “He Used to Cut the Grass” used to be tediously long; now they are full of musical subtleties, and I can listen to them over and over again with interest. I must admit that what opened my ears was “Shut Up’n Play Yer Guitar”, an album which forces the listener to go beyond the obvious. Zappa can be listened to from several levels – from simple stuff for 12-year-olds to great richness. And it’s always enjoyable.
    That’s why “Joe’s Garage, Acts I, II & III” doesn’t seem excessive to me anymore, being a 3-LP album – because FZ takes his time until he’s made his musical point satisfactorily, no matter how many minutes it takes. And you end up asking for more. (By the way, I got “Läther” a couple of months ago, and I find it’s a short album, considering the quality of the music in it.)
    This opinion of mine could be titled “How a FZ Album Grew on Me” or “Thank You, Frank, for Doing Music that Can Take Many Months to Reveal Itself to Some of Us”.

  11. Frank Zappa´s brillant masterpiece. Genius, perfect, oustanding. One of the bests albums of rock history, everything works as a musical “clock”, the music & the lyrics shows one of the best moments of this specialllyu beautiful artist-composer-visionary of the human soul and the modern society.

  12. This was the first Frank I bought after (very) selected highlights were featured by Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman on Saturday afternoons on BBC Radio1… or was it the late-lamented John Peel on weekday nights?
    Who cares… Just get it out in SACD format NOW!!!!

  13. First heard this on a camping trip just after high school in 1981. SOme friends borught it along on a tape and I had most of it memorized by the end of the trip. I absolutely love it. I didn’t quite get the whole concept back then, especially the last few songs. But I get it now.

  14. “Joe’s Garage” is wonderful. It is also a nostalgic trip for me, because it was the third Zappa record I ever heard in my life. Like other reviewers mentioned above, it has something for everyone, and the parts that you just don’t “get” right now will surely reveal their beauty to you later. The above reviewer who mentioned the important correlation between “Joe’s Garage” and the “Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar” series is right on the money. There is a VERY important connection there. The downright gushy, sentimental parts of Zappa don’t easily reveal themselves often, so all fans better appreciate them when they do appear. Right from the first tune “Joe’s Garage” itself, Frank makes it clear that he is definitely going to go into a fairly sentimental, heart-string pulling area, which is a nice touch considering his last vocal album was “Sheik Yerbouti” and didn’t dare touch anything remotely connected to lyrical warmth or sentimentality. Many have criticized Frank for allowing himself to be so maudlin or gushy with “A Watermelon In Easter Hay” and “Outside Now”. Many are wrong, they are heartbreakingly beautiful pieces, and were always designed to be so. Frank is truly pouring his heart out on this work, what he is singing about is timeless, VERY important to our society, and that does make this a timeless Zappa masterpiece that deserves your ear, mind and heart. My ONLY criticism of “Joe’s Garage” is in the slick, mid-rangy, flat “disco”-like production so popular in the late ’70’s. Let’s face it folks: this album just doesn’t come close to packing the “sonic wallop” of so many other sparkling Zappa productions. It’s very thin, mid-rangy, and you wouldn’t be able to pump a decent bass frequency out of Arthur Barrow’s parts no matter how much you personally tried to re-EQ the masters. This is a THIN, THIN, production, and although the music is essential and beautiful, it sure ain’t no “One Size Fits All” when it comes to a large frequency span! Oh, well, we still can’t purchase the ORIGINAL “Crusin’ With Ruben and the Jets” featuring the original bass and drum parts, and this album (in my opinion) is a masterpiece that Frank took the power out of in the way he engineered and mixed it. It’s still essential, and there is definitely no reason to avoid it. It is a Zappa masterpiece. ’nuff said.

  15. I listened to these albums everyday the whole time I was in college in Arkansas. I even played them one night when I was a DJ on the college radio station. It was late and few people were listening. One guy called me up and warned me about playing such graphic lyrics on the air and in the next breath asked me where he could get a copy of the album. These records are so much fun to listen to. Frank as the central scrutinizer is hilarious. I’m pushing fifty and it’s still high on my list of favorites. Play it for your kids. Show them how wierd you really are. Keep it greazy!!

  16. I,m in total agreement with the previous reviews, this is a absolutley stunning masterpiece and “Watermelon in Easter Hay” is the most beautiful heartbreaking guitar solo ever.

  17. Watermelon In Easter Hay is the best melody ever recorded!!! And Packard Goose is excellent too! And Vinnie Colaiuta is the best drummer in the world!

  18. When I first heard JOE’S GARAGE, I did not know what to think. Songs like ‘Catholic Girls’ and ‘Keep It Greasy’ were funny, and ‘Stick It Out’ quickly gave way to my love of German, but I pushed aside ‘He Used To Cut The Grass,’ ‘ Packard Goose,’ and even ‘Watermelon In Easter Hay’ to the side. After about 5 months and about 7 more Zappa albums, I listened to it again. I loved every track. ‘A Token Of My Extreme’ quickly became a favourite, and ‘Watermelon…’ almost made me cry with its pure beauty. The way Frank could make the guitar speak in volumes rather than vibrate and produce mere sounds astounds me every time I hear this album. By and far more ‘listener-friendly’ than the great THING-FISH, but less focused. Nevertheless, a great album for the lyrical and musical aspects.

  19. _Joe’s Garage_ is one of the truly under appreciated rock masterpieces. One earlier reviewer said it sounded as if the script was written around existing songs. Not so. The whole album was pretty much made up as they went along. This is most evident in _Little Green Rosetta_ and when the Central Scrutinizer cracks himself up after saying, “…and ultimately, who gives a fuck anyway.” Originally FZ assembled a group of musicians to cut just a few tracks and ended up over the course of a month giving birth to _Joe’s Garage_. _Watermelon in Easter Hay_, as others have noted, is one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded from any musical genre.

  20. Oh yeah, Steve Gad’s clone, Vinnie Colaiuta, is totally out of sight on this album. Unbelievably complicated drum tracks never overpower the music or disturb the groove. Nice.

  21. I was laughing my head off, the first time I heard it.
    After a while I became bored with the ‘poppier’ first disc and only played the long solo’s. Now I play it maybe twice a year and love the catching simplicity of Joe’s Garage and Why does it Hurt.

    When Zappa died I only played his music for a month, avoiding this album. Then one night my best friend came along, and we played Zappa for 2 hours. Suddenly he said “Yeh, alright. Just play it, okay?”
    I immediatly knew he ment Watermelon in Easter Hay. Hearing that beautiful solo at that time was one of the most emotional moments of my life. I still can’t hear that song without thinking of Zappa’s death.
    Is it his best? Could well be. Is it the best solo ever? It is certainly the most emotion-filled solo I know of.

  22. Joe’s Garage was the first Frank Zappa Album where I knew I had to aquire the entire collection. Even though Hot Rats and Sheik really did it for me, this pushed it over the edge. It seems I always come back to this album the more I listen to Frank, and collecting boots gets me even more into it.

    The first time I lstened to Joe’s Garage I was on Acid (I appreciate Frank more now that I’m sober) and poured over the libretto like a appliance fetisist. My friend who had brought the album over and who was also on acid, didn’t seem to get Frank’z satire throughout the album and wanted to stop listening after the first act was over. I begged to keep listening and we tried the second disc, but couldn’t even get through Keep It Greasy. He let me borrow the album and I’ve been hooked ever since.
    I love telling the general plot of Joe’s Garage to people who’ve never heard of FZ before. Their first reaction to just the basic synopsis is always worth seeing. Be it positive or negative.

  23. I’ll be brief. I have chosen Watermelons in Easter Hay to be played at my funeral, when the time comes.
    Says it all??

    Who gives a fuck anyway?.. heh heh heh

  24. Circa 1980:

    Got this as an impressionable youngster, was a tad disturbed by FZ in blackface being snuggly w/ a mop, then even MORE so by the whole thing beginning w/a flat-out paranoid monologue from FZ that has the claustro-ambience of an obscene phone-call — so of course i identified w/ it strenuously by religiously lip-synching & gesticulating along w/ the “heavy” parts, in conformity w/ contemporary standards 4 angry/righteous pubescent-mongoloid consumer glee …

    FFWD 2006

    (wherein yer narrator-entity rapidly “dwindles off into the twilight realm of his own secret thoughts”)

    Oh Smeg, looky looky balls on hooky: now we have a REAL Central Scrutinizer that isn’t BANNING music – just REPLACIING it w/ generic inhuman disco-stalag pulsations designed 2 erase anything that might activate the critical POV or aesthetic need 2 evolve on the part of its victim-hosts … sorry, folks, y’all can keep classing it as “Comedy Music” all y’want, but this shit is just SO not-funny no mo’ … i’ll always cherish & dearly love the tunes; the hooks purveyed in songs like “Fembot…” (originally yclept “Wet T-Shirt Nite”??) or “Packard Goose” have the power 2 sautee my dendrites even NOW … & yeah, the production on these is Unique (::: i just happen 2 be one of them Sicko Mutant Sumbitches that quite love the oddity of the thing :::) but the thematic content’s prescience just gets ever harsher by the DAY now … at least poor Joe back there actually HAD an “Outside” 2 get 2 … yikes … i didn’t mean 2 type that Mr. NSA-feller, really i didn’t, it was, uh, just a Joke!

    Heh heh?

  25. Is it actually possible to add any comment here worth an ounce? Nobody’s reading this anyway, but if I can submit my truly uneducated ponder, I must. Joe’s Garage is an absolute freakin’ Masterpiece. It is timeless. After all, the album is almost 30 years old and it still rings of genius as though it was released just yesterday. The technical brilliance was unprecendented, and the story line was merely a thread for amusement. During the finale, when Frank’s guitar phrasing begins answering itself, I still get goose bumps. It’s one aspect of consumerism to appreciate the music. But to understand who Frank was, what he believed in, and how he built his empire from scratch by following no one, it adds total conviction to every single note played.

  26. Now THIS is about as perfect as Frank could ever get. A myriad of styles, experimentation, guitar solos, and the tightest musical backing he ever had (yeah, I think these guys were better than the 1988 band that everyone raves over, though Scott Thunes and Chad Wackerman are a killer rhythm section in their own right).

    The story is also cohesive and entertaining, and perhaps strikes close to home if you are a musician who has ever had to deal with idiotic record execs. Ridiculous? Sure, but so was Nanook (the other most entertaining concept Frank ever came up with). The production was also superb and terrifically clean, but certainly not as sterile as the early eighties records would be. There was a great “feel” and “atmosphere” to this album.

    We are also introduced to the fantastic Ike Willis, perhaps the best of Frank’s lead vocalists, extremely entertaining without overdoing it (like Napoleon Brock Murphy would do live, … he was just too much to take sometimes) Ike was great here, and through 1988 he was consistently an emotive, but technically proficient vocalist. And one of the most intelligent funny guys you can ever meet.

    Yeah, one of my favorite albums of all time.

  27. The scope of this album is enormous. It cannot be grouped into one category because Frank does so many things at once. Although it is a heavy listen, and you may find only a few tracks that you like, eventually, it will catch on. And once it does it won’t let go. Many people are perplexed at what the album means. It does take a certain kind of person to listen to him. Each song is used to destroy the stereotype that if you join a rock band, your life will be destroyed. Frank does this masterfully with each song while at the same time, trashes the “rock scene”. He lashes out at at least ten things in each song which is unbelievable that anyone can do that. Each song is a stereotype of what being in a rock band has in store for you and Frank shows you the silliness of it, while at the same time using it to damage the image of rock and roll. At first, this album may seem like a celebration of all things rock represents but it is the exact opposite. Frank turns innuendo and subliminal messages into art and shows it for what it really is. This album seperates the men from the boys. It will also transform the way you look at music and rock bands in all together. It will be hard to take any rock band seriously after a few good listens. This is why Frank Zappa never appealed to Rolling Stone Magazine. Frank Zappa was against everything rock and roll represents and what the mainstream and what all underground and other “out there” bands stand for, while they painted him as some perverted monster. After you get “Zapped” you will find 99% of other musical groups laughable. The hierarchy of being in a rock band and your constant jealosy of wanting to be in that sort of scene will be squashed forever. Above all, Frank shines the light on the mythology and the mystery of rock and roll and reveals an imaginary secret. There is no mystery and no secret. The rock and roll bubble has been burst by Frank Frank ! And so much more! For the better! Yahoo!

  28. I’m still relatively new to Frank’s stuff having encountered him 2 years or so ago. Did a google search on him during that time and what popped up? Watermelon in Easter Hay of course. First listen I didn’t “get it”. I allowed myself to sample his other works ESPECIALLY Florentine Pogen which for awhile found itself being constantly replayed on my computer. Good ‘ol youtube, then I started enjoying his other songs like “The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution” and it was around then that I began to really enjoy Joe’s Garage. Besides the title song which I found beyond addictive when I first started to have a listen I find myself replaying A Token of My Extreme, Keep it Greasy and Packard Goose a song that for a very long time I couldn’t listen to past the first 30 minutes (now I listen to it almost anytime I get the Z craving) and of course Watermelon in Easter Hay. It was also around this time it struck me how talented this man was and just how much music has gone downhill. Made me MUCH more selective in what I will listen to as well. Frank you are missed.

  29. “a song that for a very long time I couldn’t listen to past the first 30…” SECONDS rather. Very sorry

  30. This was an album, I recall, that everyone had bought because of it’s novelty value – the title track had been receiving very heavy air play upon it’s initial release – at least Act I. Acts II & III were completely overlooked when released, except by the die hard Zappa fans. Not until all three acts were released together did most people realize the full scope of Zappa’s vision of Joe’s Garage. It reveals the consistent struggle FZ faced trying to make a career with the recording industry as he then saw it.

  31. 31 years on, Joe’s Garage is still not my favourite Zappa record. The main problem for me is that the main character just disappears from the story before he is established, to be replaced by the subplot involving Mary. And that subplot leaves a strange taste in my mouth, anyway. I think Joe’s presence should have been established much more firmly early on, with a song like My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama or Plastic People between the title song and Catholic Girls. That would have given the Central Scrutinizer and officer Butzis something to bite on… As good as the album is musically, it’s also another proof that Zappa was much more of a musician and a satirist than a dramatist. Thing-Fish suffers from similar dramatic defects. That said, the overall concept is strong and there are gorgeous tunes in there (I really like He Used To Cut The Grass, by the way).

  32. I think you are missing the point, Dark Clothes. The main characters (aka Joe, Obdewl’l X, Mary, Nanook, Thing-fish etc.) are aspects, or masks, of Zappa. Ike Willis or Napoleon Murphy Brock might have been singing, but it was all Zappa. Think of Joe’s Garage as three chapters in one long interconnected novel (or symphony, or opera, if you please). Everything is interrelated on several levels. That many of the songs and themes were under development for most of the 1970s is clear evidence of this. Like it’s sister album, Thing-Fish, you lose the scope of the album when you attempt to view it separately from the remainder of Zappa’s works. Conceptual continuity is not just the key, it’s Zappa’s rosetta stone, and absolutely necessary if one if to see and hear Zappa’s body of work in their proper context. Joe was just as present in “My Guitar” and “Plastic People” as “Catholic Girls” and “Crew Slut”.

  33. Conceptual continuity doesn’t mean that you can’t distinguish particular works with singular traits. Joe’s Garage has so many properties of traditional drama (characters, plot, separation into acts and scenes etc.) that I find it hard to ignore the flaws in the dramatic construction. An album like Lumpy Gravy is very different, in that it’s well-nigh impossible to connect solidly to any established genre of music or literature. In my view that is the strenght of Lumpy Gravy (and makes it a useful example here), and why I feel it’s an even more accomplished work than Joe’s Garage, Thing-Fish and even CPIII.

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