ThingFish

Released: November 1984

Tracklist
DISC ONE

  1. Prologue
  2. The Mammy Nuns
  3. Harry & Rhonda
  4. Galoot Up-Date
  5. The “Torchum” Never Stops
  6. That Evil Prince
  7. You Are What You Is
  8. Mudd Club
  9. The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing
  10. Clowns On Velvet
  11. Harry As A Boy
  12. He’s So Gay
  13. The Massive Improve’lence
  14. Artificial Rhonda

DISC TWO

  1. The Crab-Grass Baby
  2. The White Boy Troubles
  3. No Not Now
  4. Briefcase Boogie
  5. Brown Moses
  6. Wistful Wit A Fist-Full
  7. Drop Dead
  8. Won Ton On

Line-Up
Frank Zappa (guitar, synclavier), Steve Vai (guitar), Ray White (guitar), Tommy Mars (keyboards), Chuck Wild (broadway piano), Arthur Barrow (bass), Scott Thunes (bass), Jay Anderson (string bass), Ed Mann (percussion), Chad Wackerman (drums), Steve De Furia (synclavier programmer), David Ocker (synclavier programmer)

Thing Fish: Ike Willis
Harry: Terry Bozzio
Rhonda: Dale Bozzio
Evil Prince: Napoleon Murphy Brock
Harry-as–boy: Bob Harris
Brown Moses: Johnny “Guitar” Watson
Owl-Gonkwin-Jane Cowhoon: Ray White

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29 Responses to “ThingFish”

  1. tom says:

    You can say a lot about this album, that the music is recycled, that dale bozzio’s voice is annoying and that the “narrator” is boring.

    but this is probably the most controversial release among zappa fans (because non-zappa-fans wouldn’t know it exists).
    I think it has to be viewed in context of the time it was written in, and it has to be listened to bearing in mind that there should be visual action accompanying the audio.

    Once you start to imagine what could happen on stage… it makes you wanna see it.

  2. Lindsey Durway says:

    I loved it and listened to it non-stop for a couple months after a friend gave it to me. It was like our Monty Python–we quoted snippets at each other constantly & pulled lines into our conversations. We still say “Yow! You a wise ole mammy!” or “Can’t even speak your own fuckin’ language!” I had never been a FZ fan until then, so the music, largely decried as repeat material by others, was all new to me.

  3. kzdarwin says:

    I thought it was really funny when it first came out, something to offend everyone, but especially women, gays, and blacks. I think it would have worked well on stage, but I doubt if it ever was or will ever be staged. It’s still a good send-up of Broadway shows, but I doubt if anyone except hardcore Zappa freaks would really appreciate it.

  4. Bob P says:

    Everyone needs to listen to Frank Zappa music.
    Especially now. Explore great composers like FZ.. Stop watching America Idol before its too late. Dont let people tell you what kind of music to listen to.
    Thingfish ( my fav is brown moses )
    Ike Willis is brilliant. Listen to his vocals on this album. Damn it isten to this album
    BP

  5. Isaac says:

    Frank Zappa’s best album. A mix of great music, and funny and disfunctional characters. THING-FISH is a much-misunderstood classic. Get ‘em while they’re hot!!!

  6. Isaac says:

    Correction: Get “It” While They’re hot.

  7. Darren says:

    I have owned this album no less than 4 times throughout my life. It is some amazing work. Zappa is brilliant. I think this is a great album to start with if you have never listened to Frank Zappa’s work in the past.

    Yeah, I still talk like some of the characters on THINGFISH too, on occasion.

    Put a copy in your car and at home and make a backup as you will want to hear it one more time when you are 78. Stay young.

  8. Chris says:

    I enjoy this album thoughly. This has been one of my all time favortie record since the first time heard it in 1987. It still cracks me up to this day.

    With regards to the actual live performance: I had a math teacher in college who I got to know socially. We were talking about FZ and Thingfish one day and he tells me that he has a Hustler – yes, I said Hustler – magazine with pictures in it from Thingfish. So he brings it in the next day, and sure enough, there was (if I remember correctly) about a 5-6 page photo spread of almost ALL of the characters from Thingfish posed in various scenes from the “show” . (like Rhonda with the oversized briefcase and the carboard nativity scene).

    One of these days I am going to see if I can find an old copy of that :)

  9. xorg says:

    This album is a turkey, and it stinks.An idea that merited maybe a fifteen minute pastiche stretched out to like total boredom.

  10. Guacamole says:

    The mere fact that “Izzy La Bonehead” opines that this is “Frank Zappa’s best album” speaks volumes.
    Also interesting use of the word “disfunctional” (sic) from one who should know a great deal about dysfunctionality.

  11. Nick says:

    This is a hard album to get into. Many FZ fans would be disappointed by all the repeat material, but I think that the Thingfish versions are still very interesting and engaging. If there is anything I missed on this album, it would definitely be the guitar solos. There were so many great guitarists (most notably Vai and FZ) whom I imagined funneling some brilliant improvisations through the Obdewlla X character (express yo’self!). What i did like about this album was the unpredictable irreverance in the storyline. There was so much going on in the musical that I doubt whether it could even be staged; and that is what makes Thingfish great. It transcends the boundaries of what a Broadway musical could be. The only theatre that can stage the Thingfish show is the mind of the listener. As for the voices, Ike Willis does brilliantly as usual, but I feel the character who made the most of his vocal spots was Napoleon Murphy Brock. His transformation on his two numbers shows his great versatility as a vocalist and I’m not sure, but I’m can detect a bit of Napoleon’s signature tone in the breathtaking ensemble chorus parts on songs like Galoot Up-Date and The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing. All in all, I dig this album, but I wouldn’t put it as starter FZ as some people would because for his 80s records, I would rather start with You Are What You Is and also because it hard to find an appreciation for Zappa’s brilliance because of the “offensive” material. So a GOOD from me.

  12. henry says:

    Recycling ‘old’tracks and reshuffling them into a
    new kind of album with a different story-line is
    not the worst about this album. In fact the work of
    Zappa has so many facets that it is interesting to re-use those tracks. What irritates me more is the fact that on the same album within a story are too much repetitions. For instance, the woman who keeps shouting that her partner is a ‘worm’, once is ok but more is boring and the strength of the dialogues
    is undermined by the lack of different words.
    The same with the “accent” and wordplay in a Southern-States manner. If more moderatly applied,
    the karakter in the story using this accent,
    would have been stronger. The accent dissapears
    when its used too much, because you get used to it
    so the paradox is that the humor of this use of the language gets lost.
    The atmosphere is ok, the story and the sex,dirt,
    music, is ok. But listning to zappa’s albums from
    the 70-ies after HotRats, one cannot escape the
    impression that he lost himself in the many live
    performances/recordings and endless possibilities
    of the studio. I hear he has a vast vault of 1000
    nds of tapes. Why repeating yourself when you have
    so many new ideas lying in the cellar? For recycling was one thing that Zappa did a lot.
    Half of “Cruisin’….” consists of early-album stuff. Sheik Yerbouty, Joe’sGarage, ThingFish and
    BabySnakes overlap eachother too much.
    Just look at 200 motels. There’s these shouts on
    the record 200MOTELS!!!200MOTELS!!!
    I found this repetitious and amateurish, not the
    whole project, but some details like these shouts.
    But Zappa is not the only one. Most rockmusicians
    -composers repeat themselves too much in one song.

  13. Aladdin McFadden says:

    Have you ever written anything Sir Henry? Ever played a fucking note? Repetetion – mate – is the basic foundation block of all art!

    Aladdin McFadden.

  14. 5jerry says:

    “Thingfish” is definitely an acquired taste. It’s long, vulgar, convoluted, far-fetched, and a bit much. But that’s what Zappa fans like. Sure, there’s something in there to offend everyone, but only if you lack a sense of humor. Lines in the dialogue like “A potato-headed jigaboo with Catholic clothes on” can get some people’s back up, but humor is always at someone’s expense. If you can’t laugh at this, you have no reason to even get near it. There are a lot of serious things mentioned in the storyline, but it’s all done in such an over-the-top manner, that it starts to lose its sense of reality after a while.
    If you expect to hear a lot of FZ’s voice and guitar playing, you’ll be disappointed; both are in there, but it’s mostly Ike Willis’ delivery of the narration, and the characters’ dialogue. These are annoying people, but we all know the types we meet here.

    The high point, I would have to say, is the long part Napoleon Murphy Brock sang in the middle of “The Torture Never Stops,” where you would normally hear Frank’s guitar solo.

  15. brian walsh says:

    I think most peoples’ biggest problem with this album is that there are songs that have already been released on other studio albums. Frank must have known what he was doing to put in those repeat songs. Here’s my take on it:

    FZ supposedly had been working on this project for about 3 years (’81 to ’84). Ike must have spent a LOT of time getting the Thing-Fish character down. Or he may have just come up with it in an hour. And it really is quite hilarious, he does it other songs: The Evil Prince – YCDTOSA #4; Purple Haze>Sunshine of Your Love -The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life; We’re Turning Again, Porn Wars – FZMeets the Mothers of Prevention. I thought it was funny before I knew that was Ike’s Thing-Fish voice.

    Plus the other thing about Thing-Fish is that it’s kind of a new thing to throw at people, so Frank includes old songs (gasp!) and Thing-Fish “raps” over them. Hearing him (it?) dub over No Not Now and throw comebacks at Harry cracks me up: “Now Not Now!!!” “Yep! Gotta do it now!” “No Not Now!!!” “Dis ERMERICA, boy!!” etc. This way the character is introduced to the audience. Or something.

    Also this “nasty sucker” is FULL of FZ in-jokes. Conceptual continuity fans must LOVE this album. Here’s some FZ characters that are finally explained.
    -Quentin Robert DeNameland (original appearance: Studio Tan)
    -The Evil Prince (original appearance: Zoot Allures), and why he “eats a steaming pig in a chamber right near there”
    -Harry ? (original appearance: We’re Only in It for the Money… Harry you’re a beast… listen to FZ’s sped up voice “Madge, it’s not merely physical! I…Doggone it!”)
    -Harry-As-A-Boy talks about needing his allowance for “glue and Grateful Dead tickets”. See Teen-Age Wind (You Are What You Is)
    -King Kong (YCDTOSA #3) has the same stanza as is found in The Massive Improve’lence: “I want a nun/I want a nun etc”

    Then, later when you hear Thing-Fish return on the other songs (mentioned above), it’s like hearing a particular singer: it’s as unmistakeable as Captain Beefheart.

  16. Scott says:

    I love this album. I hate this album.

    I can’t do the reworking of, for example, “The Blue Light” or “You Are What You Is”. I just don’t enjoy his reworking of those songs that I love so much. There are some other examples of this on Thingfish that I don’t care for.

    On the other hand I like “Clowns On Velvet” and I love “Brown Moses” and “Wistfull Wit A Fistfull”.
    The dialogue cracks me up and I get the point about the government creating AIDS.

    Don’t forget “Won Ton On”.

  17. jeroen says:

    This album is too long.
    I love the story line, the dialog is very funny and offensive. I’m not really into the reworkings and I positively HATE the Ike Willis voice in The “Torchum” Never Stops. The way Frank used to sing it is so beautiful, it really hurts my ears to hear the Thing Fish character ruin it.
    The highlights on this album are great and many. To add to my torture: I think The Evil Prince is the most beautiful thing I have heard Napoleon sing, it’s so dramatic (if only it had a seperate entrance for my cd-player!!!). The Crab-Grass Baby and The White Boy Troubles are very funny, and Wistful Wit A Fist-Full is a piece of art.

    I love the way the ending (It’s all symbolism, deep thought provoking broadway symbolism [to quote from memory, so don't shoot me]) points forward to Civilisation III (The piano is really a metaphor for that place inside yourself): both Zappa’s Big Weird Stories are ment to be more then just entertainment. And they are.

  18. Nathan Ahlers says:

    Thing Fish is the greatest. Thing Fish is one of the greatest works of the 20th century. Bow to Thing Fish. If only it could have been actually staged as intended. The humor element is amazing, yet behind it lies a deeply disturbing storyline that I think many people overlook, or do not understand. Thing Fish explains how the CIA created AIDS with the agenda of “population control” to wipe out “the proliferatium of unwanted tenants in de Condominium o Life”. The parody of Broadway is relentless, and like other targets of Zappa is well deserved.
    Thing Fish contains certain passages of music later to appear in full on Zappa’s last masterpiece “Civilization Phaze III”. Don’t overlook the amazing music on Thing Fish. Some of it is unlike any of his other music. He wrote some super-hip gospel music for this album.
    But above all Bow to Ike Willis, and listen carefully to everything Napolean Murphy Brock has to say as the Evil Prince.
    Go buy this album TODAY.

  19. Mower B. Yard says:

    Thingfish is brilliant. Those Zappa fans who claim to hate it should go back and listen again. I used to be one of them too, but I’ve seen the light. My wife was introduced to Zappa by this album, before I met her, and she loved it right away.

    How can you not love an album that gives Broadway a prolonged and well deserved thrashing? Like Frank’s other more successful satires, he uses their own tools (musical and otherwise) to beat them silly.

    All of the new music is top notch (“Brown Moses” is possibly one of Frank’s most towering achievements of songwriting, and it’s a gospel number no less). The reworked material is great too, once you get over your expectations. Frank *meant* to do it, that’s important to keep in mind.

    Some other reasons why TF is great:

    The reference to the Tuskegee Experiments in “Prologue” (“since dey done used a few of ‘em befo’ when dey was messin’ wit de ZYPH’LISS”)

    The idea that the folks in charge might not want people who live in trailers to vote, or to live – “Galoot Update” (see also “The Green Hotel”).

    The Mammy Nuns, a brilliant conflation of two opposites.

    “that’s right, we got fairies on a string for your ass just a little later”

    “Harry, he pissed on my fox!”

    The Mystery Resease

    “The Crab-Grass Baby” + “The White Boy Troubles”

    Scott Thunes shines throughout

    “sleepy wimp seeks lastin’ relationship wit’ anally-oriented ‘luminum sidin’ salesman”

    “Briefcase Boogie” (dig that cello)

    the very cogent summation and updating of that well-known bible story in “Brown Moses”…

    …on into “Wistful Wit a Fist-Full” – go Napoleon, go!

    “Drop Dead” – very harsh, the extreme positions of the various protagonists presented in all of their glory

    “tater husbandry” – once again Frank was decades ahead of his time

    “it’s just like the ‘lympics”

    etc. etc.

  20. Jamez says:

    Interesting concept album, just wish there were more new songs instead of rehsahed ones.

  21. Marco J says:

    I am so impressed with the reviews that preceed mine, I am promising myself that I will not babble on in the usual 8-paragraph way most of my reviews on this site do.

    I agree: “Thing Fish” is amazing, is arguably the most difficult Zappa relelase to not only get into, but keep digging into (even Ben Watson himself professed his intellectual road-block when approaching this work). Maybe visiting it with listening breaks in between is the best approach.

    Everyone before me pretty much hit it all on the head quite well: inside jokes, references and Conceptual Continuity clues abound, a strong re-uniting of the themes that Zappa had been dabbling with since “You Are What You Is” are re-explored in a far deeper, darker way, and the 1993 “FZ approved” remaster is TONS better than the first Ryko 1986 2-CD, which also suffered from the same quiet, thin “digital ’80′s sheen” that “Them or Us” did upon its first CD release.

    FZ himself stated (somewhere) that he felt “Thing Fish” was one of his most important releases. This is very important, folks.

    My personal take is this: this is far more in the category of Frank’s “political” albums (“We’re Only In It For the Money”, “You Are What You Is”, “Broadway the Hard Way”) than “experimental” works, even though “Thing Fish” is both in droves. What I think you are hearing as you listen to “Thing Fish” is the brazen confidence of a composer and social theorist realizing and even boasting that in this case, he is also a PROPHET of sorts.

    Yes, I fully know how pompous, pretentious and over-dramatic that sounds and reads on my monitor, but please bear with me for a minute and don’t tune me out yet, OK?

    Let’s face it: Frank was SPOT-ON back in 1981 when he put out “You Are What You Is” (religion, the political right, etc….), and there is NO COINCIDENCE that on this release (in 1984) Frank determinedly decides to borrow most heavily from that original 1981 release. The songs and their lyrics are actually more relevant NOW than then, and plus the AIDS thing is scourging the country. The “PROPHET” part is that Frank is actually making an emotionally touching plea to WAKE UP and face all the dead, old, static and re-cycled COVER STORIES we utilize daily in our wonderful U.S. of A. to ignore what is REALLY GOING ON. Frank REFUSES to allow the glitz, sheen and suspended reality of BROADWAY MUSICALS to mind-numb us from asking REAL QUESTIONS, both of ourselves as human beings, as well as of those who proport to “represent” us in government, societies, churches and even our own families.

    So screw all the surfacy criticisms about how much Frank “recycled” his stuff for this project. HE DID IT ON PURPOSE FOR A REASON FOLKS!! Everyone above this review is absolutely right: “Thing Fish” is beyond essential Zappa: it is an essential part of taking a long, hard look at the whole human race in multiple areas simultaneously.

    Frank used to say (I’m paraphrasing obscenely) that the music and culture of any particular time will end up telling the TRUE HISTORY of that time infinitely better than the ofiicial “history books” will. Listen to “Thing Fish” and keep listening, because we keep on making the same mistakes folks….so much of Frank’s work was a desperate attempt to get his listeners to WAKE UP and SMELL the “coffee” that is still getting more and more rancid all around us every day. Unfortunately, too many Frank “freaks” holed themselves up in their little bedrooms, got fanatically obsessed with Uncle Meat, Suzy Creamcheese and the “fanciful world of mad man Uncle Frank” as though they were listening to the aural eqivalent of “H&R Puffenstuff”, and didn’t really get the message to GET OFF OF THEIR ASS and DO SOMETHING in terms of the world around them. I’m sure these are the Frank fans so deeply hurt and wounded by songs like “We’re Turning Again”.

    Frank’s entire body of work was a huge act of love toward the entire human race. If you don’t understand that, I think you’re hopeless…..

  22. Jake St. Vitus says:

    Marco,

    Well said. I just listened to the entire remastered discs yesterday during a long car ride. I was very impressed by the prophecy of it and I was thinking about how “Thingfish” was not dated material at all. I also came to the realization that the already released songs chosen were chosen for a reason and not just to “fill space”.

    As an artist who recycles my own ideas often, I found this realization of mine and your “mirror discovery” of it to be a pleasing sign of ‘complex clairvoyance’ in the Zappa community.

    The lines about ‘string beans to Utah’ (on Them or Us’s “..Divorce”, and Drowning Witch’s and Thingfish’s “No Not Now” ) which just made me giggle when I was 15 now seem like an understanding of the distances our food travels to get to us and the petrol and effort of blue-collar workers whose soap-opera life is directly affected by another person’s need to eat. Donny and Marie and the Truck Driver are on different ends of the socio-economic scale – bridged by a string-bean.

    Ok, I Watson-ed out there for a while. Thank you KUR for letting me “step forward and express myself”. I will be letting my brain melt on a number of other discussions in the near future.

  23. giantalbinopenguin says:

    I gave this one another try over the weekend and, sorry to say, still found it a bit dull. This was a shame, ‘cos I really want to like it.

    I have no problem with the amount of reworked tunes (hell, who can – most of us go all excited at all the different live versions over the years!)

    I don’t have a problem with the supposed offensiveness, or the subject matter.

    I have no problem with Ike’s narration, every now and then it raises a smile. Although, that said, it’d be nice to hear those reworked tunes a tad better undreneath it.

    But at the end of the day it doesn’t gel for me. Sure, its nice to have all that conceptual continuity stuff going on, but this time none of it has any impact, the whole thing feels rushed.

    ‘Brown Moses’ is good though, as is the ‘Evil Prince’ section of ‘Torchum’. The versions of these (and ‘The Mammy Anthems’) that can be found on YCDTOSA 1 and 4 show the music in a different light though. Maybe the track listing for ‘Thing Fish’ would have made for a cool set list…

  24. urbangraffito says:

    Nathan Ahlers Says:
    August 26th, 2005 at 10:31 pm

    Thing Fish is the greatest. Thing Fish is one of the greatest works of the 20th century. Bow to Thing Fish. If only it could have been actually staged as intended. The humor element is amazing, yet behind it lies a deeply disturbing storyline that I think many people overlook, or do not understand.

    Mower B. Yard Says:
    August 28th, 2005 at 2:31 am

    Thingfish is brilliant. Those Zappa fans who claim to hate it should go back and listen again. I used to be one of them too, but I’ve seen the light. My wife was introduced to Zappa by this album, before I met her, and she loved it right away.

    Marco J Says:
    October 19th, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    FZ himself stated (somewhere) that he felt “Thing Fish” was one of his most important releases. This is very important, folks.

    Jake St. Vitus Says:
    October 19th, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    As an artist who recycles my own ideas often, I found this realization of mine and your “mirror discovery” of it to be a pleasing sign of ‘complex clairvoyance’ in the Zappa community.

    The lines about ’string beans to Utah’ (on Them or Us’s “..Divorce”, and Drowning Witch’s and Thingfish’s “No Not Now” ) which just made me giggle when I was 15 now seem like an understanding of the distances our food travels to get to us and the petrol and effort of blue-collar workers whose soap-opera life is directly affected by another person’s need to eat. Donny and Marie and the Truck Driver are on different ends of the socio-economic scale – bridged by a string-bean.

    As a writer, I have long been familiar with the literary recycling begun by William S. Burroughs and the beats in the 1950s and their influences on writers and artists in the coming decades (including Zappa, among others).

    So to see and hear FZ do his own bit of musical recycling on Thingfish was nothing less than a brilliant use of self-generated allegory with a uniquely sardonic purpose (as well as a response to those detractors who considered him small or dirty minded). One could say that Thingfish was the equivalent of a musical middle finger at critics.

  25. Stephen says:

    Anyone who does not like this album is a servant of “The Evil Prince”.
    It is brilliant. The true brilliance is the way FZ has taken genres (even his own) and satirized them beyond recognition. The Evil Prince part in the middle of “The Torchum Never Stops” is better than anything Broadway has created, with that FZ touch of being “over the top” in vulgar subject matter. If you listen to FZ for any other reason, than to be entertained, then shame on you. If you are not provoked and entertained by Thing-Fish, then please sell your Zappa collection, and buy the boxed set of The Culture Club (who’s lyrics are parodied on this album) and while your at it, buy the Moulin Rouge DVD, they say it’s really good for Broadway Zombie Critic types.

  26. prrrprppprpprrpp says:

    I quite like this album, even if the early version (Thing-fish premix – available on bootlegs) sounds more interesting, despite crappy sound quality.
    Re-worked “Torchum Never Stops” and “Artificial Rhonda” are IMO much better, than Zoot Allures versions. Won-Ton-On is also fantastic – backwards version of “No Not Now” with rhytm track playing forwards. I do like most of the talk here, but especially I love “The Crab-Grass baby” character with its awesome computer-generated voice.
    On the other side, most of the background tracks are too dull and monotonous, Frank could do much better things on synclavier at that time. On the early (premix) version you can hear some much more interesting background music. Maybe if Frank would take best parts of official and unofficial versions of this album, it could have been a masterpiece.

  27. Owl-Gonkwin-Jane Cowhoon says:

    Once upon a time, musta been ’round October, few years back, in one o’ dose TOP SECRET LABMO-TORIES de gubbnint keep stashed away underneath Virginia, an EVIL PRINCE, occasion’ly employed as a part-time THEATRICAL CRITICIZER set to woikin’ on a plot fo de systematic GENOCIDICAL REMOVE’LANCE of all unwanted highly-rhythmic individj’lls an’ sissy-boys!

  28. Garret says:

    Hi
    This album could have even sounded a 50 times better; tons and tons of detail were lost by the time it reached the pressing plant. Check out this interview: The Complete Mark Pinski Interview – While researching his Frank Zappa retrospective, Mix technical editor Chris Michie spent a long time talking with Zappa’s longtime studio and road engineer, Mark Pinske, getting a wealth of valuable material over three days of interviews. You should find it here: http://www.mixonline.com/recording/business/audio_mothers_sound/. I’m just talking about sound quality. I adore this album by the way.
    Garret

  29. James says:

    This is Franks best work if you follow Franks work from begging to end it all combines to tell a story. All past albums fit together to tell the story through Franks vision.

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