With the three-part acts of Joe’s Garage, Act I is more closely related to rock and opens the storybook with a central narrator on the self-titled track “Joe’s Garage.” The Central Scrutinizer illustrates the setting by describing, “We take you now, to a garage in Canoga Park…” As the story’s proposed tragic hero (played by Ike Willis) has his vocals introduced, he describes, “it wasn’t very large, there was just enough room to cram the drums in the corner over by the Dodge. It was a fifty-four, with a mashed up door and a cheesy little amp with a sign on the front said ‘Fender Champ.’”
Joe’s Garage Act I is a tale of hope and the desire to create a sound that is unique but can closely represent Zappa and his struggle to be fully inventive without the fear of censorship or hindrance. As “Joe’s Garage” continues and begins to build up with more instruments and vocal samples being overlaid, the chorus from Zappa describes, “We could jam in Joe’s Garage, his mama was screaming, ‘Turn it down!’ We was playing the same old song, in the afternoon and sometimes we would play it all night long.” He continues by stating, “It was all we knew and easy too, so we wouldn’t get it wrong. Even if you played it on the saxophone.”
Then a saxophone solo bursts through the frame and the overwhelming cast of musicians featured on Joe’s Garage Act I is a Zappa-fest of talent. With Zappa on lead guitars and vocals, he recruits Warren Cuccurullo on the rhythm guitar and vocals. Denny Walley covers the slide guitars, there is also both Peter Wolf and Tommy Mars on the keyboards. For the rhythm section comes Arthur Barrow and Ed Mann. Vinnie Colaiuta features on the drums and the “combustible vapors.” The horns are used by Jeff Hollie for the tenor sax, Marginal Chargrin (Earle Dumler) covers the baritone sax, and Stumuk (Bill Nugent) is on the bass sax. Finally, there is Dale Bozzio and Al Malkin on vocals and Craig Steward on the harmonica.
Then as the chorus falls in, the vocalists join to form one mob of a voice that describes, “And be a crew slut (Hey, you’ll love it), Be a crew slut (It’s a way of life). Be a crew slut (See the world), Don’t make a fuss, just get on the bus.” While the track becomes more frantic and the story diverges, The Central Scrutinizer is brought back to illustrate, “Again, we see music causing big trouble!”
The final two tracks featured on Joe’s Garage Act I are “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” and “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up.” While amusing in vernacular through the record, “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” has a performance from Willis that is both expressive and dramatic as his screams describe, “Why does it hurt when I pee? I don’t want no doctor to stick no needle in me. Why does it hurt when I pee?” As the nearly Broadway level of instrumentation through chimes and string ensembles swell, the use of sound effects creates a theatric nature. Even the lyrics that describe, “My balls feel like a pair of maracas,” the strings are scratched to resemble a shaking motion that resembles a razor on steel.
When the madness is over, “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” is the final piece to Joe’s Garage Act I, and Joe as a character falls into madness over the woman that gave him VD. The instrumentation here is more closely related to the vein of shadowy lounge jazz or progressive rock where the drum patterns are less resembled on a straight forward four-count measure with taps and rattles on the snare and hi-hats as guitars shriek and spin. Even though the misery has found Joe, he finishes the track illustrating, “Lucille has tore my heart up, I really love her. I really really love her. Lucille, my mind up, I really love her, I really love her.”
Falling from the pits of insanity all over the idea of music, both Joe’s Garage Act II & III are on the same disc but are entirely different animals on the machine. Where Act I is accessible from a rock standpoint, the sound is not fully there as a straight-forward record. Zappa through writing and production settings is a twisted maestro that swings a Telefunken U47 microphone instead of a baton.