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Music / You Are What You Is

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Do you know what you are?
You Are What You Is is a 1981 album by Frank Zappa. On this Concept Album Zappa returned to political and satirical protest songs which targeted the American government, Christian fundamentalism, the Moral Majority, yuppies and the reinstatement of the draft. You Are What You Is was for many years dismissed along with most of his 80s work, though in recent years it has risen in stature, with more than a few fans feeling it's his last good/great rock album. In particular, "Doreen", "Goblin Girl", "Sinister Footwear", "You Are What You Is", "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", "Dumb All Over", "Heavenly Bank Account", "Suicide Chump" and "Drafted Again" have become fan favorites.

The Title Track was made into a music video in 1984, the first and only time Zappa made one (other songs of his had music videos, but these were either performance recordings or animations made without Zappa's involvement). It didn't receive much airplay, mostly because it featured a lookalike of Ronald Reagan seated on an electric chair and an unidentified vocalist (via overdubbing) using the N-word. The most exposure the video got in the US was on Beavis and Butt-Head, and even then it only appeared by Zappa's own request and occurred after his death.

The single "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted" (1980) is a Protest Song against the reinstatement of the draft by the Jimmy Carter administration. The original version can be heard on "The Lost Episodes" (1995), while a sped-up version can be heard on "You Are What You Is" as "Drafted Again".


LP One

Side One
  1. "Teen-age Wind" (3:01)
  2. "Harder Than Your Husband" (2:29)
  3. "Doreen" (4:43)
  4. "Goblin Girl" (4:07)
  5. "Theme From The 3rd Movement Of Sinister Footwear" (3:34)

Side Two

  1. "Society Pages" (2:27)
  2. "I'm A Beautiful Guy" (1:56)
  3. "Beauty Knows No Pain" (3:01)
  4. "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" (3:36)
  5. "Any Downers?" (2:09)
  6. "Conehead" (4:20)

LP Two

Side Three
  1. "You Are What You Is" (4:22)
  2. "Mudd Club" (3:11)
  3. "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" (3:10)
  4. "Dumb All Over" (5:50)

Side Four

  1. "Heavenly Bank Account" (4:03)
  2. "Suicide Chump" (2:50)
  3. "Jumbo Go Away" (3:42)
  4. "If Only She Woulda" (3:47)
  5. "Drafted Again" (3:05)

Note: CD releases are on a single disc


  • Frank Zappa: vocals, lead guitar
  • Ike Willis and Ray White: vocals, rhythm guitar
  • Bob Harris: vocals, trumpet
  • Steve Vai: guitar
  • Tommy Mars: keyboards
  • Arthur Barrow: bass
  • Ed Mann: percussion
  • David Ocker: clarinet, bass clarinet
  • Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood: vocals, tenor saxophone
  • Denny Walley: slide guitar
  • David Logeman: drums
  • Craig Steward: harmonica
  • Jimmy Carl Black, Ahmet Zappa, Moon Zappa and Denny Walley: vocals

Are you shot in the trope hole?

  • All Women Are Lustful: In "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" we learn that "the girl has a very large mouth (...) and we can only assume as to how she's been using it". The conehead girl and the goblin girls are also down on their knees a lot.
  • Alliterative Name: Connie the Cone in "Conehead".
  • Alliterative Title: "Harder Than Your Husband" and "Goblin Girl".
  • Artistic License Linguistics: The correct English term would be "You Are What You Are". The use of the grammatically incorrect phrase could tie in with the song's concept of people pretending to be other races, with "you is" being a common element of African-American Vernacular English.
  • As the Good Book Says...: "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" is a biblical phrase, attributed to Jesus Christ, who said that "the meek shall inherit the Earth." The song also mentions that "Moses, Aaron and Abraham are all a waste of time."
  • Belief Makes You Stupid:
    • "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing"
    Those Jesus Freaks, well, they're friendly but
    The shit they believe has got their minds all shut
    An' they don't even care when the church takes a cut
    Ain't it bleak when you got so much nothin'?
    • "Dumb All Over"
    Religious fanatics can make it be all gone
    I mean it won't blow up 'n' disappear
    It'll just look ugly for a thousand years
    You can't run a country by a book of religion
    Not by a heap or a lump or a smidgeon
    Or foolish rules of ancient date
    Designed to make you all feel great
    While you fold, spindle and mutilate
    Those unbelievers from a neighboring state
  • Be Yourself: "You Are What You Is" features a young middle class white man trying to sing blues and even mimicking Afro-American slang while he sings. Later in the song a black man tries to act white and learns golf, eventually claiming he "ain't no nigger no more." The central message of the song is that people are who they are and shouldn't try to act what "they are not."
  • Break-Up Song: "Harder Than Your Husband"
    Our affair has been quite heated
    You thought I was what you needed
    But the time has come, my darling to set things right
    I'll be harder than your husband
    Harder than your husband
    And I don't want our love affair to end with a fight
  • Call-Back and Continuity Nod:
    • The album ends with sped up noises saying "Leave my nose alone, please", which was also a line during "Flower Punk" on We're Only in It for the Money (1968).
    • "Drafted Again" shares a similar theme with Ethell not wanting to be drafted during "Billy The Mountain" from Just Another Band from L.A. (1972). The original non-sped up version of "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted", which was released as a single in 1980, would become available on "The Lost Episodes" (1995), a posthumous album.
    • During "Teenage Wind" the teenager says "he could go to a midnight show of 200 Motels". Later the lines "Opal, you hot little bitch!" and "Where's my waitress?" from the "200 Motels" song "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" are repeated.
    • Parents who neglect their children while spending time drinking beer are addressed in "Teenage Wind" and "Conehead", a theme Zappa visited earlier during "Mom & Dad" and "Lonely Little Girl" from We're Only in It for the Money (1968).
    • Lines from "Doreen" are repeated again during "Goblin Girl", which follows directly afterwards.
    • "Sinister Footwear" ties in with shoe imagery in Zappa's lyrics. The track would reappear as "Sinister Footwear II" on Them or Us (1984), as a guitar solo, "Variations On Sinister Footwear III" on Guitar (1988) and live on Make A Jazz Noise Here (1988). He explained what the work is about in a radio interview with Charles Amirkhanian, broadcast on KPFA-FM, May 17, 1984:
    (...) a ballet about a guy who designs the ugliest shoe in the world and then all the things that happen before you get to wear it. And the shoe has been designed and I just saw like about twenty pairs of it, sitting around this place, it's really great..
    • The line "kinda young, kinda wow" in "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" is a reference to "Catholic Girls" from Joe's Garage (1979).
    • The father of the conehead girl in "Conehead" is described "workin' all day at the drivin' school in a stupid lookin' hat". We know from the liner notes of "The Lost Episodes" (1995) that the description of "The Grand Wazoo" (see also The Grand Wazoo) is anyone "at a meeting with a big dumb hat."
    • "You Are What You Is" ends with a lot of lines that are lyrics from various Zappa songs: "Give me a five dollar bill and an overcoat too" ("Wonderful Wino" from Zoot Allures (1976)), "Where's my waitress?" ("Lonesome Cowboy Burt" from 200 Motels), "Harder Than Your Husband" (another track on this album.) (reference to the track "Mudd Club" on this album)
    • The music video for "You Are What You Is" features a man with lettuce for a head. This is a Call-Back to the vegetable themes of Absolutely Free (1967). The black protagonist "stopped eating greens", which is a call back to the first line ("eat your greens") from "Mr. Green Genes" of Uncle Meat (1969). In the same video we also see a nun, which brings of memories of Keith Moon's role in 200 Motels(1971)''. The line "Mercedez Benz" is a reference to car imagery in Zappa's work.
    • During "You Are What You Is" Zappa mentions a character talking "like a Kingfish from the Amos 'N' Andy." This references the character Kingfish from the radio show Amos N Andy, of whom Ike Willis could give a pretty spot on vocal impression. Zappa would make this a running gag for years, eventually culminating in the album "Thing-Fish" (1984).
    • "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" references "Hare Rama", which Zappa namedropped before in "Can't Afford No Shoes" from One Size Fits All
    Is Hare Rama really wrong?
    If you wander around with a napkin on?
    With a bell on a stick and your hair is all gone?
    The geek shall inherit nothing
    • In "Mudd Club" Zappa uses the line "Lemme straighten you out", which he used before in "Stink-Foot" from Apostrophe (') (1974). The song also mentions "fabulous poodles doin' the Peppermint Twist for real", which ties in with poodle imagery from Apostrophe ('), Overnite Sensation (1973) and Roxy & Elsewhere (1973). A "guy with a blue mohawk" comes in "in serious leather". Leather is a Running Gag in Zappa's lyrics. It also mentions Greek Town, which is mentioned again in "Jumbo Go Away".
    • The televangelist in "Heavenly Bank Account" has got a Wembley tie, which ties in with tie imagery in Zappa's lyrics.
    • "You Are What You Is", "Mudd Clubb" and "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" would be covered in a different voiceover on Zappa's "Thing-Fish" (1984).
  • Cannibal Tribe and Stewed Alive: In the music video of "You Are What You Is" a man with lettuce on his head is put inside a cauldron while cannibals dance a tribal dance around him.
  • Concept Album: Several songs are bound together, but the album lacks an overall storyline.
  • Country Music: "Harder Than Your Husband" is played in a country style and sang by Jimmy Carl Black.
  • Corrupt Church: "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", "Dumb All Over" and "Heavenly Bank Account" attack Christian fundamentalists and the Moral Majority which were a very powerful force in American politics during the 1980s.
    • "Dumb All Over"
    And when his humble TV servant
    With humble white hair
    And humble glasses
    And a nice brown suit
    And maybe a blonde wife who takes phone calls
    Tells us our God says
    It's okay to do this stuff
    Then we gotta do it,
    'Cause if we don't do it,
    We ain't gwine up to hebbin!
    (Depending on which book you're using at the time ... Can't use theirs ... it don't work ... it's all lies ... Gotta use mine ...)
    (...) Hey, we can't really be dumb
    If we're just following God's Orders
    Hey, Let's get serious ...
    God knows what he's doin' ...
    He wrote this book here
    An' the book says
    "He made us all to be just like Him," so ...
    If we're dumb ...
    Then God is dumb ...
    (An' maybe even a little ugly on the side)
    • "Heavenly Bank Account"
    Remember there is a big difference between kneeling down and bending over
    He's got 20 million dollars in his heavenly bank account
    All from those chumps who as born again, oh yeah, oh yeah
    He's got 7 limousines and a private plane
    All for the use of his special friends, oh yeah
    (...) He is dealin', he is really dealin'
    IRS can't determine where the hook is
    He's got presidential help all along the way
    He says the grace while the lawyers chew, oh yeah, they sure do
  • Cradle of Loneliness: "Teen-Age Wind"
    It's a miserable Friday night
    I'm so lonely and nobody will give me a ride to the Grateful Dead concert.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: The club visitors of the Mudd Club in "Mudd Club" are portrayed in a satirical way, thus subverting this trope.
  • Death by Irony: The cocaine sniffing girl in "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" has a large hole in her face from where her nose used to be. Eventually she is dumped in a hole herself:
    She got dirt all around the hole
    Where they dumped her box in
    They call it the grave
  • Distinct Double Album: The original album was a double LP; CD releases meanwhile are able to store the whole album on one disc.
  • Double Entendre:
    • "Goblin Girl": At first it appears to be a song about a female goblin, but then it turns out be a pun on the verb "to gobble".
    She's a Goblin Girl
    And she can gobble it all
    • "Conehead"
    When she's on her knees, the point is so high
    • "You Are What You Is"
    He learned to play golf and he got a good score
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" about someone who snorted so much cocaine that her nose fell off and her face is now a gaping hole.
  • Evil Laugh: Several are heard in "Goblin Girl".
  • Face on the Cover: A close-up of Zappa, smiling.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Several songs fade into one another thematically:
    • The girl from "Society Pages" has a son who came to be a "beautiful guy", which fades into "I'm A Beautiful Guy". The protagonist in "I'm A Beautiful Guy" concludes near the end of his song that "Beauty Can Feel No Pain", which is the title of the following track. In this next song the beautiful guy "has a head that is north, feet that are south" and he saves "the rest for Charlie's mouth", cue "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" as the next song. The girl described in "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" is Charlie's girlfriend but dies from a cocaine overdose and is buried in "Any Downers?". To find relief for the funeral Charlie watches television and sees the coneheads on Saturday Night Live'', which leads to "Conehead".
    • After informing the audience in "Heavenly Bank Account" about money grabbing televangelists the depressed protagonist decides to commit suicide, which leads to "Suicide Chump". As he is about to jump a girl named Jumbo prevents him from doing so ("Jumbo Go Away"), but she turns out to be ugly and nagging. Eventually he regrets having send her away ("If Only She Woulda"), because he gets drafted ("Drafted Again").
  • Gratuitous Spanish: "Harder Than Your Husband"
    So it's adios, adios, my little darlin'
  • Greedy Televangelist: "Heavenly Bank Account" is an early example, being released in 1981, well before the televangelism scandals of the late '80s that popularized the trope. The song depicts a televangelist who gets himself in the good graces of both the American public and the American government for the sake of embezzling donations without scrutiny, becoming a multimillionaire through invoking "the Fear of God in the Common Man."
  • Grossup Close Up: A close-up of Zappa's mouth and nicotine stained teeth is seen several times in the music video of "You Are What You Is".
  • Humans Are Morons: "Dumb All Over"
    We are dumb all over, dumb all over, yes we are
    Dumb all over, near and far
    Dumb all over, black and white
    People, we is not wrapped tight
  • I Just Want to Be Free': "Teen-Age Wind" where a teenager wants to be free from his parents, teachers and go to a rock concert.
    I got to be free, free as the wind
  • Instrumentals: "Sinister Footwear"
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting:
    • "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing"
    Well people, you ain't even got no kinda deal at all
    Cause what they do in Washington
    They just takes care of Number One
    And Number One ain't you
    You ain't even number two
    • The music video of "You Are What You Is" features a lot of American stereotypes, including an American footballer, a police man (who looks a bit like Elvis Presley in his G.I. period), a Ku Klux Klan member, a Playboy Bunny and President Ronald Reagan on the electric chair.
  • Nightmare Face:
    • A man with lettuce for a head appears in the music video of "You Are What You Is".
    • "Charlie's Enormous Mouth" about someone who snorted so much cocaine that her nose fell off and her face is now a gaping hole.
    • "Jumbo Go Away"
    The girl got a head like a buffalo
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Teen-age Wind"—The "Teen-age" part anyway.
  • N-Word Privileges: "You Are What You Is"; of note is that the song's infamous n-bomb is audibly overdubbed by a different vocalist. Whether or not the vocalist was the black singer in the last act of the song has never been clarified.
  • Obsession Song: "Doreen"
    Doreen, don't make me wait till tomorrow
    Oh no, please darling, let me love you tonight
    And it'll be alright
  • One-Woman Song: "Doreen", "Goblin Girl" and "Jumbo Go Away".
  • One-Word Title: "Conehead".
  • Our Goblins Are Different: "Goblin Girl": They are apparently "black and green" dress in little green shoes, have Messy Hair and by gobbling they can "make your face look like you got scales on it."
  • The Parody:
    • "Harder Than Your Husband" is a parody of Country Music.
    • "Teenage Wind" is a parody of "Ride Like A Wind" by Christopher Cross, which was a radio hit in 1980. One of Zappa's band members, Arthur Barrow, had been to school with Cross and was impressed that he now had a hit in the charts. Zappa, as always, was not humoured. As Barrow told it:
    Frank said: "I can write a song like that in 5 minutes - get me a piece of paper", and proceeded to whip out the "Teenage" lyrics, in probably about 5 minutes. When word got back to Chris that Zappa had written the song, Chris was quoted saying: "Oh, I hope he doesn't release it while I'm peaking!". When I told Frank that, Frank said "Ooo, I've been in the business 15 minutes and I'm peaking!", which is, of course, where all that "I'm peaking!" stuff comes from."
    • "Heavenly Bank Account" starts off with music that mimicks a church service.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: The first verse of "You Are What You Is" describes a (presumably white) middle-class guy appropriating Black culture out of superficial fondness for its style without really understanding the subculture or the people who created it.
    A foolish young man from a middle-class family
    Started singing the Blues 'cuz he thought it was manly
    Now he talks like Kingfish from
    Amos n' Andy
    He tells you that Chitlins, well, they taste just like candy
  • Product Placement:
    • The music video of "You Are What You Is" features an actress dressed up as a Playboy Bunny. The lyrics also namedrop the lotions "Nivea" and "Royal Crown", as well as "Dashiki" and "Jord'ache" jeans.
    He thinks he's got the whole thing down from the Nivea lotion to the Royal Crown
    (...) He trades his Dashiki for some Jord'ache jeans
  • Protest Song: Zappa attacks American politics and Christian fundamentalists ("The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", "Dumb All Over", "Heavenly Bank Account"), cocaine addicted yuppies ("Charlie's Enormous Mouth"), the Mudd Club ("Mudd Club"), suicidal people ("Suicide Chump") and the reinstatement of the draft ("Drafted Again").
  • Questioning Title?: "Any Downers?"
  • Record Producer: Frank Zappa.
  • Religion Rant Song:
    • "Dumb All Over"
    We can't be dumb if we're just following God's orders. He put it right in this book here that he made us all to be just like Him. So if we're dumb, then God is dumb, and maybe a little ugly on the side.
    • "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing"
    Some take the Bible for what it's worth
    When it says that the meek shall inherit the Earth
    But I Heard that some Sheik just bought New Jersey last week
    And you suckers ain't gettin' nothing.
    • "Heavenly Bank Account"
    And the govenors agree to say:
    "He's a lovely man!"
    He makes it easier for
    Them to screw
    All of you...
    Yes, that's true!
  • Repurposed Pop Song: After president Jimmy Carter considered reinstating the draft Zappa released a Protest Song called "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted" in 1980. The single "Drafted Again" on "You Are What You Is" is the same song, but sped up in comedically funny voices. For those who want to hear the original version, check out "The Lost Episodes" (1995).
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • At the start of the 1980s the Moral Majority and Christian fundamentalists were very powerful in American politics, with Ronald Reagan directly profiting from their support and vice versa. Zappa's concerns about these evolutions were strong enough to inspire no less than three songs on this album ("Heavenly Bank Account", "Dumb All Over" and "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing"). He would continue to criticize the religious right in his material throughout the '80s. "Drafted Again" was directly inspired by the US government under President Jimmy Carter considering the re-instatement of the draft.
    • "Jumbo Go Away" was inspired by an ugly groupie who got punched out by band member Denny Walley, explaining the line "No Denny, don't hit me."
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Teenage Wind" is a parody of "Ride Like The Wind" by Christopher Cross and references The Grateful Dead.
    It's a miserable Friday Night. I'm SO lonely and nobody will give me a ride to the Grateful Dead concert.
    (How 'bout you?)
    Talkin' 'bout the bad girls
    (How 'bout yer . . . )
    All the Goblin Girls
    (Are you . . . POO-AHH!)
    Talkin' 'bout the bad, bad girls
    Now he talks like a Kingfish, from the "Amos 'N' Andy"
    • "Conehead" is a shout-out to the Coneheads sketch on Saturday Night Live, about extraterrestrial aliens with cone shaped heads from the planet Remulak who have somehow landed on Earth incognito. Zappa appeared twice on the show and played along in some of these sketches, until he began Breaking the Fourth Wall and wasn't allowed to return. The song "Conehead" mentions Remulak and the fact that it is "saturday night" several times.
    • "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" references evangelist preacher Billy Graham, Moses, Aaron and Abraham
    Eat that pork, eat that ham
    Laugh till ya choke on Billy Graham
    Moses, Aaron and Abraham: they're all a waste of time
    And it's your ass that' on the line
    • "Mudd Club" references the Mudd Club, a night club in Manhattan, New York, and Studio 54, another night club. Zappa visited it a few times and played dj there.
    • Beavis And Butthead: In the episode "Canoe" (1994) Beavis and Butt-head watches the music video of "You Are What You Is" and get so annoyed by what they see that they zap away. Mike Judge did this as a tribute to Zappa, as explained in "A Dinner with Extract's Mike Judge" on Coming Soon Net, December 2002:
    Frank Zappa was another one who made a really nice quote about 'Beavis and Butt-head.' It was, like, on his deathbed. He said three or four really nice things when he was being interviewed. Then somebody said, 'Put one of his videos on 'Beavis and Butt-head' and have them rag on it!' I think he had said to have them do that. So I did it and I had this backlash from fans... I was just trying to give him his dying wish, [laughing] but I just pissed everybody off.
  • Silly Love Songs: "Doreen", a love song sang straight, which doesn't happen much in Zappa's lyrics.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Beauty Knows No Pain" features a spoken word interlude by Zappa.
  • Suicide as Comedy: "Suicide Chump", probably the funniest song ever written about suicide:
    Now maybe you're scared of jumpin'
    And poison makes you sick
    And you want a little attention
    And you need it pretty quick
    Don't wanna mess your face up
    Or we won't know if it's you?
    Aw, there is so much to worry about
    Now what you gonna do?
    Go ahead on 'n' get it over with then
    Find you a bridge and take a jump
    Just make sure you do it right the first time
    Cause nothing is worse than a suicide chump
  • Surreal Music Video: "You Are What You Is" features Zappa electrocuting Ronald Reagan on the electric chair, a man with a lettuce head, a Cannibal Tribe around a cauldron, a nun, a police man, an American footballer, a nurse, a stewardess, a KKK member, a Playboy Bunny,...
  • Teens Are Monsters: In "Teen-age Wind" they're at least whiny and unreflective.
  • Take That!: The music video of "You Are What You Is" features president Ronald Reagan on an electric chair, with the caption "president from Hell".
  • Time Marches On: Former president Ronald Reagan is featured on the electric chair in the music video of "You Are What You Is". The song "Mudd Club" has a man appear "in an arrogant gesture to the best of what the 20th century has to offer."
  • Title Track: "You Are What You Is"
    Do you know what you are?
    You are what you is
  • Unrequited Love: "Jumbo Go Away" features an ugly nagging girl harrassing somebody.
  • War Is Hell: "Drafted Again", written in protest against the reinstatement of the draft.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: The second verse of "You Are What You Is" focuses on a Black man who renounces his heritage to fit in with his white peers.
    A foolish man of the Negro persuasion
    Devoted his life to become a Caucasian
    He stopped eating pork, he stopped eating greens
    He traded his Dashiki for some Jord'ache Jeans
    He learned to play golf and he got a good score
    Now he says to himself: "I ain't no nigger no more."