Brown Shoes Don't Make It

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"Brown Shoes Don't Make It"
Song by The Mothers of Invention
from the album Absolutely Free
GenreProgressive rock, experimental rock, comedy rock
Songwriter(s)Frank Zappa
Producer(s)Frank Zappa, Tom Wilson

"Brown Shoes Don't Make It" is a song by The Mothers of Invention, written by band leader Frank Zappa. It is the 14th and penultimate song on their second album Absolutely Free. The song is one of his most widely renowned works, declared by the AllMusic as "Zappa's first real masterpiece".[1]


The title was inspired by an event covered by Time magazine reporter Hugh Sidey in 1966.[2] The reporter correctly guessed that something was amiss when the fastidiously dressed President Lyndon B. Johnson made the sartorial faux pas of wearing brown shoes with a gray suit. Johnson flew to Vietnam for a surprise public relations visit later that day.

Live versions of this song are featured on the albums Tinsel Town Rebellion and Road Tapes, Venue 2.

Music and lyrics[edit]

The lyrics start off as a general attack on suburban American society: TV, greed and conformity are all mocked openly in the song. It then shifts in tone, dealing with a city hall official fantasizing about having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl.

The music makes several stylistic shifts, covering hard rock, classical, psychedelic rock, music hall and jazz. It is cited by AllMusic as being a "condensed two-hour musical". The song lasts 7:30 and is the twelfth track (fourteenth on CD reissues) on Absolutely Free. According to Zappa, the beginning background music was inspired by Lightnin' Slim's "Have Your Way".


The song has received widespread acclaim from critics, and is considered by many as "Zappa's first masterpiece". In a positive review of the album, Dominique Chevalier said "there are snatches of dodecaphonic scales, ballads, rock, R&B, Beach Boys, soap opera and more ... and ensures that this is no piece of easy listening".[3] As well as giving its parent album 4.5 stars, AllMusic gave a very positive review of the song.[4] It is also included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[5]



  • Suzy Creamcheese (Lisa Cohen) – vocals
  • Jim Getzoff – violin
  • Marshall Sosson – violin
  • Alvin Dinkin – viola
  • Armand Kaproff – cello
  • Don Ellis – trumpet
  • John Rotella – contrabass clarinet


  1. ^ "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" (song review). Retrieved 2008-03-03.
  2. ^ Sidey, Hugh (1980-06-30). "The Meaning of the Cordovans" (web reprint). Time. Retrieved 2008-03-03.
  3. ^ Chevalier, Dominique "Viva Zappa!" 1985 Page 62
  4. ^ allmusic review
  5. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll A-C". Archived from the original on 2008-01-20. Retrieved 2008-03-03.

External links[edit]