Song Analysis Corner: “Trouble Every Day” | Frank Zappa
Hello, your modern-day #eCommerce student of Marshall McLuhan here! We freelance authors have to stay studied up on our media science, which is why we tend to appreciate satire of media, especially showing the business side. Here’s a few movies and TV series of the “satires about the media industry” genre for an example:
- WKRP in Cincinnati
- The Larry Sanders Show
- Murphy Brown
- Network (1976)
- Natural Born Killers (1994)
- The Truman Show (1998)
You get the picture. The modern Internet market is the same wacky disaster zone now as it was then. Indeed, it seems we even know less about media than we did then. The Zombie Apocalypse is over, and the zombies won.
Now take 1966’s media atmosphere. It was the golden age of 24/7 headline news. Round the clock, coverage of havoc and chaos prompted the expression “if it bleeds, it leads.” That’s the kind of TV news coverage Frank Zappa (praise be unto the name of the prophet forever, ahmen) had in mind when he wrote:
“Trouble Every Day”
This song was first released by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, on the album Freak Out! “Trouble Every Day” was also released as a B-side with the single “Who Are the Brain Police?” , of all things. Written just after the Watts Riots, the song was originally titled “The Watts Riot Song,” but had three main themes:
- racial violence
- social injustice
- sensationalist journalism
The song is of course as relevant today as ever. Still, the US’s national issues have improved a couple Civil Rights laws since the 1970s, but the media situation has now moved to social platforms in the 2020s - and Techenstein’s monster groans awake to snap his chains in the basement.
In typical Zappa fashion, the song has since been re-arranged and re-released on various collections. There’s also a few covers of it out there. Notably, this is the song that got The Mothers signed to MGM Records, whose producer heard only this and judged the whole band to be a “white blues band.”
Was TV Really That Bad in the 1960s?
Speaking as a Gen-Xer, I can confirm, TV news every night was a litany of shootings, stabbings, traffic pileups, all with blood and gore footage. It was the age before seatbelts were enforced; traffic accidents were bloodier, and news cameras just flashed the most gruesome footage they could find right at you at 6PM while you’re munching your tin-tray oven-heated TV dinner – mmmm, that leaked metal contamination just spiced up those faded carrot slices! It was a brutal time.
Now, you modern kids are quite impressed, to understate the point, with the events of January 6th, 2021. As well you should be; but let’s not forget, this is not the most historically torn we’ve seen this country.
First off, the Vietnam War brought tensions to a boil in the 1960s. The decade started with Jim Crow laws, after all. The the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally brought that to an end, but over a bitter street conflict.
By the end of the decade and into the ‘70s, Nixon got paranoid enough about kids burning their draft card and protesting Vietnam (=“in league with the commies”) to start his own War on Drugs – “can’t target the hippies freedom of speech so let’s just bust them for pot.” Nixon got impeached, Ford stepped in, and not one, but TWO attempts to assassinate Ford failed! Two guns, point blank range.
There were no trigger warnings in media. If the President had a gall bladder surgery scar, he showed it on live camera.
“No One Blabs it Faster!”
Never underestimate a visionary like Zappa. Given the other media parodies I list – and the continuing state of media up to this point – Zappa prophesied a media trend in the 1960s that would continue as a standard: people struggling while the TV news turned a dead, unhelpful eye. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be tweeted, either.