[Review] Frank Zappa: Lumpy Gravy (1968)

Frank’s music concrète masterpiece sounds like the whole 20th century being sucked into a black hole.

Kronomyth 3.0: Saint Francis of a seizure.

What could be more fitting on the day after Thanksgiving than a little Lumpy Gravy? Frank Zappa’s music concrète masterpiece is the very model of a modern classical marvel. Sped-up classical arrangements, absurd dialogue, surf music and nasal snorting are spliced together in what could be described as a musical seizure scored for orchestra and chorus in thirty tiny movements. As conductor and musical architect (contractual obligations precluded him from actually playing on the record), Frank Vincent Zappa flies fearlessly into the face of ridicule and emerges a genius.

The original version of Lumpy Gravy was released in 1967 by Capitol Records and then quickly withdrawn because of contractual issues with Zappa’s label, MGM. This early version has since been re-issued, but the version of Lumpy Gravy that most fans are familiar with is the 1968 Verve recording which featured additional editing from Frank Zappa. Divided into two side-long parts, Lumpy Gravy is a patchwork of painstakingly orchestrated pieces performed by classical musicians, rock musicians and sundry satellites who engage in strange conversations about violent ponies, living in a drum and car repair. The sum effect is like listening to two generations of America (culture and counterculture) mixed in a blender for thirty minutes.

The music of Lumpy Gravy isn’t entirely removed from contemporary Mothers albums. Zappa had flashed his compositional chops on the second side of Absolutely Free, while two of the more memorable melodies presented on Lumpy Gravy were later re-purposed for “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” (We’re Only In It For The Money) and “Oh No” (Weasels Ripped My Flesh). Where Lumpy Gravy is different is its focus on Zappa the composer and not Zappa the comedian/guitarist.

The initial reaction from both the musicians and the general music press was one of bewilderment, maybe mild amusement. The music of Frank Zappa is difficult to take seriously because his sound palette is so unconventional and broad, but make no mistake: Lumpy Gravy is serious music. The whole idea of music concrète was to expand the understanding of music beyond conventional, conservative definitions. Here, Zappa lays down the foundation for a career that would cross between the worlds of classical and rock with equal ease, creating a bridge that few dared to follow but which represented perhaps the most fascinating musical journey of any artist in the twentieth century.

Original elpee version

A1. Lumpy Gravy – Part I (15:48)
B1. Lumpy Gravy – Part II (15:51)

All music written by Frank Zappa.

The Players

Frank Zappa (conductor) with The Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra & Chorus [All Night John & the other John, Dick Barber, Jimmy Carl Black, Cal, Eric & Charlotte, Roy Estrada, Larry Fanoga/Motorhead, Gilly and the girls from Apostolic (Maxine, Becky, Monica), J.K. & Tony, Louie the Turkey, Pumpkin, Spider, Ronnie Williams and also Sammy, Harold, Charlie, Bruce and the rest of the guys from Atlanta]. Produced by Frank Zappa.

The Plastic

Released on mono and stereo elpee on May 13, 1968 in the US (Verve, V/V6-8741) and in 1968 in the UK (Verve, VLP.9223) with gatefold cover. Reached #159 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1972 in the UK (Verve, 2317 046) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc on September 25, 1995 in the US (Rykodisc, RCD 10504).
  3. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on September 21, 2001 in Japan (Rykodisc, VACK-1205).
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 2016 in the US (Barking Pumpkin, ZR3638-1).

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