Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lumpy Gravy 1968

From wikipedia - Lumpy Gravy uses sound effects and dialogue to link highly dissimilar musical themes. Some orchestral parts have a jazz-like feel while other sections show tonal and atonal classical music influences. On first listening, the album may appear to have no musical structure. But after repeated listening the album's unique flow begins to make more sense. Zappa's first instrument was drums. Through careful attention to rhythm, dynamics, pacing, and technology, he was able to bring sound elements together in a way that was almost without precedent. The closest parallels would be cartoon music soundtrack recordings of the 1930s-1950's, such as the work of Carl Stalling, and the music of Zappa's favorite classical composer, Edgard Varèse. Zappa also acknowledged the influence of John Cage in his use of random and chance processes. While editing the work Zappa randomly strung together some blocks of recorded material. Other Zappa albums such as Läther use these types of musical elements in a similar way. But the radical nature of Zappa's musical structures are at their most extreme on this album because Lumpy Gravy is composed of many short segments.

Duodenum, also known as "Lumpy Gravy Main Theme" was probably recorded at Zappa's own Studio Z, which he operated in Rancho Cucamonga, California, circa 1963-1964. This tune was originally written as the theme for Zappa's unfinished 1964 film project Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People. The 'surf music' style ending of the album was also recorded at Zappa's Studio Z. The blues harmonica fragment, "Another Pickup", comes from a 1966 live recording of The Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Sounds of bells, coughing and "snorks", recorded in New York City, were leftovers from an animated television commercial for Luden's cough drops. This advertisement, called "The Big Squeeze", won Zappa a Clio Award for sound in 1967. Though Zappa was not credited as a performer on the disc, he probably did play guitar and percussion on some of these additional recordings.


There are several thematic and musical links between Lumpy Gravy and We're Only in It for the Money. Both have extensive use of dialog, editing and musique concrète. On the back cover of Lumpy Gravy, Frank says in a speech bubble, "Is this phase 2 of We're Only in It for the Money?" The 'surf music' instrumental finale appears in a vocal version on We're Only in It for the Money under the title "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance". One short orchestral section of Lumpy Gravy was also used in the song "Mother People" on We're Only in It for the Money.

Lumpy Gravy, Part One – 15:48

The Way I See It, Barry/Duodenum/Oh No/Bit Of Nostalgia/It's From Kansas/Bored Out 90 Over/Almost Chinese/Switching Girls/Oh No Again/At the Gas Station/Another Pickup/I Don't Know If I Can Go Through This Again

Lumpy Gravy, Part Two – 15:51

Very Distraughtening/White Ugliness/Amen/Just One More Time/A Vicious Circle/King Kong/Drums Are Too Noisy/Kangaroos/Envelops the Bath Tub/Take Your Clothes Off

2 comments:

miles said...

a masterpiece, and just the beginning of zappa's long running 'conceptual continuity,' and 'project/object' concepts. a great place to start, along with it's companion.

Tony said...

I remember it like it was just yesterday. The day in high school when a pal of mine found a cache of Lumpy Gravy at a record store in the cut-out bin for $1.98 each. This must have been around 1973 or 1974.

About 4 or 5 of us piled into a 1966 Corvair Monza and arrived at the store after school one day, making a bee line for this notorious LP.

"Cut-outs" were LPs that didn't sell well when first released. They were bought up by "rack jobbers" at cost usually, and re-sold with a tiny hole punched in the corner so you couldn't return it for a full-price refund. This practice continued with 8-tracks, cassettes and into the 1990's with CDs.

My introduction to groups like The Mothers, Velvet Underground and The Who was through the cut-out bin at places like the corner drug store or Woolworth's.

I still have that LP and treasure it as one of my favorite Zappa works.