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Music / Lumpy Gravy

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An extension of The Big Note.

Lumpy Gravy is a 1968 music album by Frank Zappa. It was his personal debut album as a solo artist, recorded as a Solo Side Project without involvement of the Mothers of Invention as a group. His next solo album would be Hot Rats (1969), after which all of Zappa's releases, with or without the Mothers of Invention mentioned on the album cover, would be branded as his own work. Nowadays, distinctions between his solo work and his work with the Mothers are no longer made: it's all part of the same canon and back catalogue.

Lumpy Gravy was recorded for Capitol Records, while Zappa's work with the Mothers was released by Verve Records at the time. Verve's corporate parent MGM Records sued Capitol claiming that Zappa was not allowed to record for them because he was signed to Verve Records, even though his contract stated that he was allowed to work on outside projects in which he did not perform, and all of the music on the album was performed by an orchestra. As a result the album was delayed from release for over a year. However, this Executive Meddling didn't turn out too badly, because Zappa ended up reediting the original album into a longer and more avant-garde album released by Verve in 1968, containing dadaist improvised spoken word pieces and orchestral compositions, turning it into one of Zappa's most acclaimed albums. He himself once named it his personal favorite.

Lumpy Gravy was a New Sound Album compared to Zappa's previous output. It doesn't feature any songs and is a more a collage of orchestral compositions and manipulated tape sounds, intercut with sudden noises like snorks, coughs and surreal quotes and conversations. Zappa had all kinds of people from his entourage stick their heads inside a Steinway grand piano and would record their conversations from within. All dialogue was improvised, but he suggested general thematic guidelines. Interestingly enough for a solo album Zappa himself is never heard on this album. Most of the guest spots are members of the Mothers of Invention, studio staff members or people from Zappa's entourage or friends. One of the most unforgettable voices is Louis Cuneo, a man who visited the Mothers' concerts in the Garrick Theater often and was known for his Signature Laugh. Zappa would often invite him onstage, give him a stool to sit on, hand him a microphone and stop the music, just to let him laugh at nothing for five minutes, while the audience would laugh along with him.

Lumpy Gravy is also a Concept Album build around a vague and surreal storyline where people hide inside a piano, because of horrible pigs, ponies, and kangaroos who terrorize the outside world. It featured the first appearances of compositions like "Oh No", "King Kong" and "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" (here entitled simply "Take Your Clothes Off"). Conceptually, the album is the second part of a trilogy, with We're Only in It for the Money being the first part (despite being released later) and Civilization Phaze III being the final part. The links to Money are somewhat tenuous and mostly consist of shared melodic elements, but Civilization is essentially a direct sequel to the album, even sharing several dialogue parts.


Lumpy Gravy Part One (15:51)

  1. "The Way I See It, Barry" (0:06)
  2. "Duodenum" (1:32)
  3. "Oh No" (2:03)
  4. "Bit of Nostalgia" (1:35)
  5. "It's from Kansas" (0:29)
  6. "Bored Out 90 Over" (0:32)
  7. "Almost Chinese" (0:25)
  8. "Switching Girls" (0:29)
  9. "Oh No Again" (1:12)
  10. "At the Gas Station" (2:41)
  11. "Another Pickup" (0:53)
  12. "I Don't Know If I Can Go Through This Again" (3:52)

Lumpy Gravy Part Two (15:51)

  1. "Very Distraughtening" (1:34)
  2. "White Ugliness" (2:21)
  3. "Amen" (1:33)
  4. "Just One More Time" (0:58)
  5. "A Vicious Circle" (1:12)
  6. "King Kong" (0:42)
  7. "Drums Are Too Noisy" (0:58)
  8. "Kangaroos" (0:57)
  9. "Envelops the Bath Tub" (3:42)
  10. "Take Your Clothes Off" (1:52)


  • Frank Zappa: composition, direction
  • Sid Sharp: conduction of the orchestral segments
  • Louie "The Turkey" Cuneo, Ronnie Williams, Dick Barber, Foon "The Younger", James "Spider" Barbour, Roy Estrada, Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood, J.K. and Tony, John Townley, Gilly Townley and the girls from Apostolic, "All Night" John Kilgore, Cal Schenkel, Gail Zappa, Larry Fanoga, Monica, Jimmy Carl Black, Sammy Whiteside, Harold Kelling, Charlie Phillips, Bruce Hampton: vocal segments, recorded underneath a piano.

The way I see it, Barry, this should be some very dynamite tropes

  • Animal Motifs: Pigs, ponies and kangaroos play an important part on this album.
  • Annoying Laugh: Louie the Turkey's obnoxious laughter.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Pigs, ponies (who have claws!) and kangaroos are apparently dangerous in this universe.
  • Bizarro Universe: In "Very Distraughtening" Spider tells a theory about how the universe is made of one Big Note. He is actually voicing Zappa's own opinion about his music, where he viewed his entire oeuvre as one musical composition.
    Spider: Everything in the universe is . . . is . . . is made of one element, which is a note, a single note. Atoms are really vibrations, you know, which are extensions of THE BIG NOTE, everything's one note. Everything, even the ponies. The note, however, is the ultimate power, but see, the pigs don't know that, the ponies don't know that. Right?
    Monica: You mean just we know that?
    Spider: Right!
  • Bogey Man:
    And it was two, it was two boogey-men that were on the side and , we were ... already blocked the entrance, so I had to ... I had to kick, I had to fight to f-four or five boogey-men in front of me ...
  • Call-Back and Continuity Nod
    • On the back cover of Lumpy Gravy Zappa asks: "Is this phase two of We're Only in It for the Money?" In the album sleeve of We're Only in It for the Money (1968) he asks: "Is this phase one of Lumpy Gravy?"
    • The opening theme of Duodenum would return with lyrics as "Bwana Dik" on Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971).
    • The line "As soon as the pony's mane starts to get good in the back" is reminscent of the line "Oh, my hair is getting good in the back" during "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" on We're Only in It for the Money and the line "I can't wait 'til my 'fro is full grown" in "Uncle Remus" from Apostrophe (') (1974).
    • A classical piece heard on this album can also be heard during "Mother People" on We're Only in It for the Money (1968).
    • Oh No is heard here in its original orchestral version. On Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970) the melody would receive lyrics. The same goes for Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance, which got lyrics on We're Only in It for the Money (1968).
    • King Kong is heard here too for the first time. It would receive an Epic Rocking workout on Uncle Meat. It also continues Zappa's use of monster movie imagery in his work.
    • The line "Cause round things are boring" would later reappear in the circle around the star map on the back cover of One Size Fits All (1975).
    • The line "so that it envelops the bathtub" would later reappear during the track "Flowing Inside-Out" on Civilization Phaze III (1994).
    • The line "Because it was pretty good bread. I was making $2.71 an hour" during "Almost Chinese" later reappears during "At the Gas Station".
    • During "At the Gas Station" somebody garbles "Louie Louie", a song that Zappa would frequently quote in his songs. The monologue discusses cars, another conceptual continuity item in Zappa's work. In "Switching Girls" this car concept is continued and during "White Ugliness" Spider advises: "The thing is to put a motor in yourself." Also, "At the Gas Station" talked about "another pickup", while White Ugliness mentioned the game pick-up sticks.
    • During "Very Distraughtening" Spider explains a concept revolved around the Big Note, where he basically voices Zappa's opinion, who felt that all his albums were in fact one musical work. It would be worked out later again on Civilization Phaze III (1994).
    • In "White Ugliness", dog sounds are imitated, leading to the first use of the dog bark Arf! in Zappa's lyrics.
    • Pigs and ponies would reappear in Zappa's later works too, from Greggery Peccary in "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary" on Studio Tan (1978) and Läther (1996) to the pygmy pony in "Montana" from Over-Nite Sensation (1973). References to noses, cigars, and the Pope in "White Ugliness" would also return in Zappa's work.
    • Louis Cuneo's laughter can be heard briefly during "Whatever Happened to All the Fun in the World" on Sheik Yerbouti (1979).
    • Similar dialogue recorded from inside a piano would reappear on Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention (1986) and Civilization Phaze III (1993). The lyrics of "Evelyne, A Modified Dog" on One Size Fits All (1975) also refer to recordings inside a Steinway piano.
  • Concept Album: All the dialogues have some sort of connection with each other.
  • Confession Cam: Zappa is photographed from above on the album cover.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After a particularly difficult orchestral piece one of the musicians is heard muttering: "Oh man, I don't know if can go through this again?"
  • Epic Rocking: In a sense. The album is intended as a single piece of music, and only contains a gap for the LP side division. However, most releases have it divided into twenty-two tracks, most of them quite short.
  • Face on the Cover: Zappa shown from a bird's eye view, his face and body filling the entire album cover.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Apart from LP side divisions, it's a gapless album
  • George Lucas Altered Version: At the same time as the infamous We're Only in ft For the Money remix; however, Zappa was talked out of releasing it. While a snippet appears on a sampler for the Old Masters set, it was released in its entirely for the first time on Lumpy Money alongside the original Capitol Records version.
  • Growing Wings: "A Pig with Wings".
  • The Hyena: Louie the Turkey finds everything hilarious!
  • Improvisation: All dialogues were improvised.
  • Instrumental: Several tracks are orchestral music.
  • Jump Scare: Louie the Turkey's laugh can create this reaction.
  • Killer Rabbit: Ponies apparenty have teeth and claws and can attack you.
  • Lampshade Hanging and Leave the Camera Running: After a particularly avantgardistic piece one of the musicians is heard muttering: "Oh man, I don't believe I can go through this again."
  • Listeners Are Geniuses: The track "Duodenum" refers to part of the digestive system, which connects the stomach to the small intestine. The very unintelligible title "Bored Out 90 Over", to which Jim Motorhead Sherwood adds: "Bored out .90 over with 3 Stromberg 97s" received something of a Cryptically Unhelpful Answer in Zappa's text Data for Sensitive or Critical-sensitive Position from his United Mutations Folio (1968). As an answer to the question "Most enlightening revelation brought about through highest level of education" he answered: "Bored out 90/over". When asked: "Most enlightening regulation maintained by educational facility" Zappa wrote down: "With three Stromberg 97's".
  • Malapropism:
    "That's very distraughtening".
    (...) "I fought so back, hard back, and it was..."
    (...) "So that it envelops the bath tub..."
  • Mind Screw: This is definitely one of Zappa's oddest albums.
  • Miniscule Rocking: Some tracks last less than ten seconds. On the other hand, the album is intended as a single suite of music, with only a gap for the LP side division.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: In "Just One More Time" Zappa provides a Take That! towards the traditional morning flag salute in American schools.
    That's the basis of all their nationalism. If they can't salute the smoke every morning when they get up.
  • National Stereotypes: A particular melody is followed by the remark: "Almost Chinese, huh?"
  • New Sound Album: It sounded very different compared to Zappa's earlier work with the Mothers of Invention.
  • Non-Appearing Title: The words "Lumpy Gravy" never appear on the album.
  • Nostalgia Filter:
    A bit of nostalgia for the old folks.
  • Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: A literal line near the end of "White Ugliness".
  • Nude Nature Dance: The complete title of "Take Your Clothes Off" ("Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance").
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Several conversations on Lumpy Gravy are so surreal that people sometimes seem to be talking about the same topic, but one line later appear to be going on about something totally unrelated.
  • One Scene, Two Monologues: "At the Gas Station" features Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood talking about his car, while another unrelated conversation between several people starts up and intermixes.
  • One-Word Title: "Duodenum", "Amen", "Kangaroos".
  • Out-of-Clothes Experience: "Take Your Clothes Off".
  • Properly Paranoid:
    Spider: "How do you get your . . . your water so dark?"
    John: "'Cause I'm paranoid. I'm very paranoid."
  • Regional Riff: During "Almost Chinese" an Oriental riff is heard, which is lampshaded by someone saying: "Almost Chinese, huh?"
  • Repurposed Pop Song: The little piece of surf guitar music after the line: "A bit of nostalgia for the old folks" was taken from the track "Hurricane" by Conrad & the Hurricane Strings, a group who Zappa produced in his studio Cucamonga years in 1963. Similarly "Oh No" was a theme Zappa originally composed for the B-movie The World's Greatest Sinner (1962). The song "Merry-Go-Round" at the start of "White Ugliness" was the Signature Song of Wild Man Fischer, whose debut album An Evening with Wild Man Fischer (1968) was produced by Zappa.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Zappa wears a high hat, tuxedo and gloves on the back cover of the album.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In a 1974 interview for Melody Maker Zappa revealed that the album title was inspired by a TV commercial for "Loma Linda Gravy Mix", with "Loma Linda" being a town south of San Bernardino, California.
    • On the album cover Zappa wears a T-shirt that advertises "Pipco", a Santa Barbara pipe company.
    • The song "Merry Go Round" during "White Ugliness" is a shout-out to the song "Merry-Go-Round" by Wild Man Fischer from his debut album An Evening With Wild Man Fischer (1968), which was produced by Zappa.
    • "King Kong" is a shout-out to King Kong.
    • "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" was covered literally note for note by the Dutch rock group Gruppo Sportivo on their album 10 Mistakes (1978) as Superman. Band member Hans Vandenburg later went solo and started a new group "Dierenpark". Their album "Slip Tong" (2002) has a track "Hoe je psychiater speld" with a sample of Peaches en Regalia.
    • The end credits of every episode of Duckman closed off with the sound of Louis Cuneo's "turkey" Signature Laugh.
    • The track Friar Fuck from King Kooba's album Enter the Throne Room (2001) samples dialogue from the track "It's From Kansas".
    • "Very Distraughtening" was sampled by Madvillain (consisting of MF Doom and Madlib) on their single "Avalanche/Victory Lap" (2001).
  • Signature Laugh: Louie Cuneo's turkey laugh.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Despite Zappa being shown and announced on both the front and back cover he is not heard speaking on any of the tracks and does not perform any of the instrumentation. He is, however, responsible for the composition.
  • Solo Side Project: This was Zappa's first and only solo album recorded while still being a part of the original Mothers of Invention. On this record, none of the band members appear on it as a group, though a few of them (Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada, Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood and Bunk Gardner) have guest appearances, but only in speaking parts. All music on the record is instrumental and recorded with an orchestra. Zappa's next solo album, Hot Rats (1969), was released when he had already disbanded the Mothers.
  • Speech Bubbles: Seen on the back cover.
  • Spiritual Successor: Zappa's album Civilization Phaze III (1994) was a double album following the same format as Lumpy Gravy. Once again people said surreal things to each other, recorded underneath a piano wing with their voices vibrating against the piano snares, intercut with instrumental compositions. Some of the dialogue is identical to dialogue appearing on the album; others were additional recordings from the same sessions that weren't used on the original album; others still were new, recorded in the '90s.
  • Spoken Word in Music: To the point that both become one.
  • Steel Ear Drums:
    Drums are too noisy and you got no corners to hide in.
  • Studio Chatter: All of the dialogues and monologues are basically this.
  • Stutter Stop: Louie suffers badly from this.
  • Suddenly Fluent in Gibberish: Most dialogues are like this, but the dialogue between Roy and Louis in "White Ugliness" really cuts the cake. They stumble over each other's sentences, stutter uncontrollably, forget halfway what they were going to say and abruptly change subjects too.
  • Surf Rock: A little piece of surf guitar music is heard, after the line: "A bit of nostalgia for the old folks". It was taken from the track "Hurricane" by Conrad & the Hurricane Strings, a group who Zappa produced in his studio Cucamonga years in 1963.
  • Surreal Horror: The dialogues are apparently about people hiding inside a piano for the horrors outside, where pigs, ponies and kangaroos terrorize the country. If, of course, these are to be interpreted as literal animals.
  • Verbal Tic Name: Louie Cuneo makes an appearance on this album. He was a friend of Zappa who had a very peculiar laugh, much like a turkey, therefore his nickname: "Louie the Turkey".
  • Vicious Cycle: "Vicious Circle". Also note that at one point a song called "Merry-Go Round" is sung and before the closing track set in Cal Schenkel says: "'Cause round things are... are boring."