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Frank Zappa Thing-Fish album cover
2.39 | 193 ratings | 16 reviews | 7% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1984

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Prologue (2:56)
2. The Mammy Nuns (3:31)
3. Harry and Rhonda (3:36)
4. Galoot Up-Date (5:27)
5. The 'Torchum' Never Stops (10:32)
6. That Evil Prince (1:17)
7. You Are What You Is (4:31)
8. Mudd Club (3:17)
9. The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing (3:14)
10. Clowns on Velvet (1:51)
11. Harry-As-A-Boy (2:34)
12. He's So Gay (2:44)
13. The Massive Improve'lence (5:07)
14. Artificial Rhonda (3:32)
15. The Crab-Grass Baby (3:48)
16. The White Boy Troubles (3:34)
17. No Not Now (5:49)
18. Briefcase Boogie (4:10)
19. Brown Moses (3:01)
20. Wistful Wit a Fist-Full (4:00)
21. Drop Dead (7:56)
22. Won Ton On (4:19)

Total Time 90:46

Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / guitar, Synclavier, arranger & producer

- Steve Vai / guitar
- Ray White / guitar, voice actor (Owl-Gonkwin-Jane Cowhoon)
- Denny Walley / slide guitar (9)
- Tommy Mars / keyboards
- Chuck Wild / piano
- Bob Harris / keyboards, trumpet (4), backing vocals (17,22), voice actor (Harry-as-boy)
- Ruth Underwood / synth (14)
- Motorhead Sherwood / tenor saxophone (8)
- Don Van Vliet / harmonica (14)
- Arthur Barrow / bass
- Scott Thunes / bass
- Jay Anderson / string bass
- Chad Wackerman / drums
- Ed Mann / percussion
- Steve De Furia / Synclavier programmer
- David Ocker / Synclavier programmer
- Roy Estrada / backing vocals (14,17,22)
- Johnny "Guitar" Watson / vocals & voice actor (Brown Moses)
- Napoleon Murphy Brock / voice actor (Evil Prince)
- Ike Willis / voice actor (Thing Fish)
- Terry Bozzio / voice actor (Harry)
- Dale Bozzio / voice actor (Rhonda)

Releases information

Artwork: Ladi Von Jansky (photo)

3LP EMI ‎- EX 24 0294 3 (1984, UK)

2CD Zappa Records ‎- ZR3871 (1984, US)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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Buy FRANK ZAPPA Thing-Fish Music

FRANK ZAPPA Thing-Fish ratings distribution

(193 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(7%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(13%)
Good, but non-essential (26%)
Collectors/fans only (33%)
Poor. Only for completionists (20%)

FRANK ZAPPA Thing-Fish reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
1 stars Alright, my question to Mr. Zappa, what were you thinking with this one? A very odd and "interesting" concept album from Frank and his band of cohorts. Certainly one of the last ones in Zappa collection, as it is very strange and could put you off of Zappa easily. The reworkings of some classic Zappa songs here are welcome, and certainly translated into more "crude" forms vocally, but still there are some things to enjoy. Terry Bozzio does a terrific job in the role of Harry, and Dale Bozzio does a superb job as Rhonda. These two steal the show with their constant bickering and banter about mostly sex-related issues. It has a similarity with Joe's Garage with that. However, the melodies in the original compositions aren't really that strong but the dialogue that occurs really creates a broadway-type atmosphere. I really enjoy The Torchum Never Stops and Drop Dead. The first is a reworking of the classic The Torture Never Stops from Zoot Allures, only Ike Willis takes it to another level with his crude, ebonic-like vocals. Drop Dead features superb performances from Terry and Dale Bozzio, and has some strong rhythms to it. Overall, if you are a Zappa fan, you probably own this (and probably dislike it as much as I do), If you are just getting into Zappa, then steer clear of this and return once you've looked into the rest of his catalogue. In all seriousness, this album is not really worth the money unless you are a completionist (like me).1.5/5.
Review by tarkus1980
1 stars I have to give Zappa credit: I now know what it takes to turn me into a raging Puritan. It takes moments like hearing Terry Bozzio yelling out, "Hurt me, OB'DEWLLA! Make me whimper and beg for your tiny rubber love!"

I will admit that, when I think about what's accomplished with this album without thinking about actually listening to it, this album impresses me pretty well. It takes the form of a parody on Broadway musicals (Frank originally intended it to be a real production, but it was never performed in full until well after he died), starring the victims of government experiments to try and get rid of "highly rhythmic individuals and sissy boys." Thing Fish, voiced by Ike Willis (a Zappa regular) is one of these victims, and like all of them (the others, also part of the play, are called the Mammy Nuns) he ends up with a potato for a head, a duck bill for a mouth and wears an Aunt Jemima type dress. Two yuppies from Long Island, Harry (voiced by Terry Bozzio) and Rhonda (voiced by Dale Bozzio), come to the show expecting a generic razzle-dazzle Broadway production and unwittingly become part of the cast. Eventually, Harry as a young boy comes out on stage; Harry is revealed to be gay (for business purposes); Harry reveals his contempt for liberated women and women in the workforce; Harry falls in love with a robot version of Rhonda (Artificial Rhonda); Harry has a child (of sorts) with Artificial Rhonda; Harry dresses in bondage clothing and has lots of sex with one of the rubberized Mammy Nuns; Rhonda repeatedly has sex with her briefcase to get back at Harry. The end. No wonder the story of this album ended up as a featured article in Hustler.

It's hard to imagine a more vicious satire on yuppie culture than what happens on this album (that isn't to say it's all that successful, but it sure is intense). This album drew a lot of complaints for having excessive racist overtones, but I can't buy that; Willis' depiction of Thing Fish was little more than a faithful imitation of the Kingfish character from Amos and Andy, and this album really seems to make fun of racism in much the same way the movie Blazing Saddles did a decade previous. Plus, the album has a few really brilliant lines: it's hard to choose, but I think my favorite is when Rhonda goes on the following rant: "This is SYMBOLISM, Harry! Really DEEP, INTENSE, THOUGHT-PROVOKING BROADWAY SYMBOLISM! This isn't DREAM GIRLS, Harry! This is the way it REALLY IS ..." I'm also fond of when Harry pulls out the following gem (which I think is terrible, but which is so incredibly wrong that I can't help but laugh) about how he lost his attraction towards women when they started entering the workforce: "Let's face it: that would be like f***ing a slightly more voluptuous version of somebody's father! I'm far too sensitive for such a traumatic experience!" This album is a treasure trove of attacks on society the likes of which Zappa hadn't attempted since Money, and one could probably fill up pages of analysis on its various nooks and crannies if so desired.

It's too bad, then, that I really hated listening to this album (and yes, I did make myself listen to it start to finish more than just once). It's a cool idea on paper, but it's JUST TOO MUCH. The original music content of the album is extremely low: there are only a handful of new songs, and the rest is either reworked versions (with new lyrics) of previous Zappa songs (from Zoot Allures, You Are What You Is, Ship Arriving, Tinseltown Rebellion and probably others I'm forgetting) or generic Broadway-style dialogue-driven mush. The new "actual" songs are nice - I'm particularly fond of the hilarious disco-pop/doo-wop of "He's So Gay," and "Brown Moses" has a weird sense of power in its bluesy perversion - but they're clearly not the point of the album. The point is to take the most offensive concepts possible and shove them down the listener's throat with reckless abandon, and by the 3,000th entendre I'd just had enough. What it reminds me of, painfully, is the Flo and Eddie era, back with a vengeance and voiced by a black Mr. Potato Head. Many parts of the album make me laugh, but it's a very uncomfortable, unpleasant kind of laugh, and while that's almost certainly what Zappa would have wanted, that doesn't mean I have to pretend to enjoy it at all.

If you really, Really, REALLY like Zappa the social satirist, this is probably a must, and if you're fascinated by Zappa's obsession with conceptual continuity, it might be worth listening to just to play, "Name that Zappa song!" when listening. Otherwise, though, this is an absolutely nightmarish listen. I understand that even most Zappa fanatics tend to shun this album, and it makes me shudder to think that some people might have been introduced to him through here.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
1 stars Now I am as big a fan of Frank Zappa's work as anybody, but this supposed Broadway show, or parody of a Broadway show is a nearly unlistenable mess. Whatever messages Zappa was trying to convey get lost in a bizarre script that can't seem to stay on any concept, other than weird sex, for more than a minute or two. It begins with what appears to be a story of government experimentation on it's own citizens, then veers quickly through self centered yuppies, religion, sexual preference, until it just sits mired in perversion and ridicule.

I would never accuse Zappa of being a racist, but having Ike Willis sing and speak the entire album in an exaggerated "ebonic" vernacular makes the album almost an embarassment to listen to. And what may have been very funny to Zappa when writing and recording this, just falls flat in the final product.

The majority of the music is made up of previously released songs, with lyrics changed to fit the loose story of the show. Most of the new tracks are simple rhythms, with bits of singing, or spoken lines over them. The only listenable new song is Brown Moses, a gospel blues rock song featuring Johnny 'Guitar' Watson.

My guess is that in the wake of the music labelling controversy, which had Zappa testifying in the U.S. Senate, and Tipper Gore reciting sexual lyrics, Zappa just tried to create the most offensive album he could. In that he may have succeeded.

Review by HolyMoly
3 stars This is probably one of the top 5 most controversial items in Zappa's catalog, and that's saying a lot. I wince upon remembering that I dared to listen to this album in the same house as my parents. I hope they weren't listening through my bedroom door!

This was originally a three-record boxed set, with a libretto containing all the dialog and song lyrics; it's since been turned into a 2-CD set. Approximately half of the album is spoken dialog or narration, and the majority of the song material is reworked from prior material that had already been released. The theme is multi-fold: it's a parody of Broadway, a political statement on government testing of harmful chemicals on the public (a conspiracy theory I was not previously aware of), a ridiculous expose' on racism and the blurring of the lines in gender roles and identity brought about by yuppie culture. It's gross. It's tasteless. It's probably taking things a bit too far. But it's a good piece of work.

Musically, here's what happens:

Side One: The Prologue is a musical background performed on bass/guitar/drums, with Ike Willis as Thing Fish providing some background narration. "The Mammy Nuns" is a strong rock song (also performed live as an instrumental guitar vehicle, see You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 1) sung by Willis. "Harry and Rhonda" introduces Terry and Dale Bozzio's characters, the focus of the story, some dialog with more Synclavier music. "Galoot Update" is a recasting of the song "The Blue Light" (from Tinsel Town Rebellion), which itself featured a lot of spoken parts; these parts are replaced by more Thing Fish narration, very well integrated with the music. Probably the best track on the album.

Side Two: This begins with a tangential plot which is never adequately explained. The Zappa standard "The Torture Never Stops" is used to bring in an "Evil Prince" into the story, torturing people in his dungeon (just like the original song), but there's a lengthy Broadway-style song inserted in the middle sung by Napoleon Murphy Brock (occasionally performed live by Ray White; see You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 4) that also bemoans the state of Broadway. Confusing. The side ends with the dubious inclusion of the song "You Are What You Is", which is identical to the studio version, but has Thing Fish's interjections between each line, which work pretty well, adding to the song instead of subtracting. Still, plot-wise, I'm a bit lost.

Side Three: As on the You Are What You Is album, that song is followed by "Mudd Club" and "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", which follow the same pattern. By this time, the Harry and Rhonda plot has pretty much been lost, and it's hard to understand where Zappa is going with this. It's still entertaining, of course, and these are undeniably good songs, made just a little funnier with Thing Fish talking during them. "Clowns on Velvet" is an otherwise unreleased Zappa instrumental in the same vein as complex pieces like "Moggio" from the Man From Utopia album, though it too has a bit of narration inserted in it. Finally Harry returns to the action, forced to watch his early life as a boy re- enacted on stage: "Harry as a Boy" comprises more dialogue with Synclavier backing. And lo and behold, Harry is outed as gay ("for business purposes"), and the somewhat mocking "He's So Gay" brings all the Mammy Nuns (Thing-Fish and his potato-headed cronies) out to sing on his behalf.

Side Four: "The Massive Improve'lence" offers more dialogue, Rhonda (Harry's wife) suddenly aghast at discovering his secret life. But Thing-Fish keeps her at bay for the time being, in the interest of keeping the plot (such as it is) moving forward. "Artificial Rhonda" retells Harry's procurement of a wife, a depthless automaton of a woman, sung to the tune of "Ms Pinky" originally from the Zoot Allures album. Man and wife give birth to a little automaton of their own, the "Crab Grass Baby", who speaks in a robotic voice throughout this darkly synthesized piece. "The White Boy Troubles" is a brief tune that introduces yet another character, Brown Moses, played by Johnny "Guitar" Watson, though I fail to really see where he fits in the plot. The side ends with more narration from Thing-Fish.

Side Five: Stay with me here, we're almost through. This side gets off to a fine start with "No Not Now", a song previously released on Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, but with Thing-Fish interjections overdubbed on top. Again, it's funny and adds a layer of humor to the song. I still feel like the song doesn't really serve the story, but it's nice to have a good song come on now and then. It is a music album, after all. But while we've been enjoying it, Rhonda has just about had enough, and she furiously calls Harry a "worm" and has sex with her briefcase ("Briefcase Boogie"), which is Zappa's non- subtle way of conveying the trend of 80s careerism and sexlessness. You might want to check outside your door at this point to see if your mom is anywhere around. Brown Moses returns with a fine R&B styled song called "Brown Moses", which comments on the action in the past few tracks.

Side Six: For the final side, the Evil Prince (remember him?) returns to sing "Wistful wit a Fistful", for reasons I can't detect. Then all hell breaks loose in "Drop Dead", with Rhonda going even further out beyond the realms of family entertainment, if yo' 'quire my drif'. Finally, with Harry and Rhonda's marriage fallen apart but everyone happier somehow, Thing-Fish ties things up into a somewhat happy ending, over a backing track that is "No Not Now" played backwards (thus the title "Won Ton On").

In conclusion, the good and the bad:

Good: 1) Ike Willis's Thing-Fish character, spoken with an amusing, knowingly racist dialect similar to Amos and Andy (it helps that Willis is African-American himself). Willis is on top of the role and performs it brilliantly. 2) Terry and Dale Bozzio pulling off a very convincing, albeit over-the-top yuppie couple. 3) Some of the Synclavier backing is quite effective, and shows a side of Zappa not seen previously.

Bad: 1) Forcing existing songs into the plot without much to tie them in. 2) Frequent lapses in good taste. I get when Zappa's fans insist that it all has a point, but as was the case with "Sy Borg" on Joe's Garage, some of it seems like the "point" is just an excuse to be as extreme and obnoxious as he likes. 3) A choppy plot line and unclear story development.

If you're a Zappa fan, and haven't heard this, by all means do. There's enough humor and good ideas to make it worthwhile: it's neither a masterpiece nor a waste of time. But please brace yourself for some sick material, if you're not already on Zappa's somewhat perverse wavelength.

Latest members reviews

1 stars Why on earth is THIS my first review? I bet it must be something deeply psychologically concerning with me. Nonetheless: This Record is a great example of what happens if you throw some of the most dry Zappa recordings in your trash without having enough precaution that this might end in you ... (read more)

Report this review (#2778831) | Posted by GrafHaarschnitt | Saturday, July 23, 2022 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Review #161 This is probably the most rejected Frank ZAPPA album in his whole discography. A triple LP filled with an unstoppable narration by Ike WILLIS (kind of what ZAPPA did in "The adventures of Greggery Peccary" but extended six times longer), re-recorded songs from previous albums, and ... (read more)

Report this review (#2649488) | Posted by Uruk_hai | Saturday, December 4, 2021 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Spoken Word: The Album Ah, Thing-Fish, perhaps the most hated Zappa album. You probably know the story: this parody of a Broadway show was supposed to be performed on Broadway, but it didn't happen because of the financial problems. Eventually, it was performed live, though after Frank's deat ... (read more)

Report this review (#2231589) | Posted by Harold Needle | Tuesday, June 18, 2019 | Review Permanlink

4 stars If you are on this site, you certainly like challenging music. Yet, some releases can be maybe a little bit 'too challenging'. Zappa's 'Thing-Fish' is perhaps one of the best examples of this. You only have to go through the existing reviews and ratings of this album on this site to see just ho ... (read more)

Report this review (#2216143) | Posted by handwrist | Monday, May 27, 2019 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Only for the Hard-Core Fan. Up there among the most bizarre albums ever made (yes, even more strange than Trout Mask Replica), 'Thing Fish' sees Zappa make a play about a fictitious US government-military (or is it the Brown Moses?) plot to wipe out whole groups (African Americans, creatives, gay ... (read more)

Report this review (#1695682) | Posted by Walkscore | Tuesday, February 21, 2017 | Review Permanlink

3 stars This album is an aquired taste but once you get what it is - Frank Zappa's take on Broadway - then it's easier to appreciate. I don't get the low rating this album has here although I will admit that upon first listens I was not impressed. On later listens though I started to get it, what in the ... (read more)

Report this review (#1014631) | Posted by sukmytoe | Friday, August 9, 2013 | Review Permanlink

3 stars This is Zappa's most underrated album. Not for the quality of the music but for the storyline and its relevance to society (as with every Zappa work). It easily could have been one of his masterpieces but suffers from its abundance of recycled material. Thing-Fish instead rides entirely on its en ... (read more)

Report this review (#160393) | Posted by Egglord | Thursday, January 31, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars 1.Prologue 2.Mammy Nuns 3.Clowns on Velvet 4.Crab-Grass-Baby 5.Won Ton On These 5 songs are good, the story line is funny for about 5 or so listens (to where you laugh out loud at least 15 times). The 5 listed songs are some of Frank Zappa's best 1984 songs, and this is a highly importa ... (read more)

Report this review (#86706) | Posted by BaboonSweat | Friday, August 11, 2006 | Review Permanlink

2 stars I'm a huge fan of Zappa works but, in all the album he made, Thing-Fish is the only one i can't stand. I've tried to find something good in it and unfortunatly, i can't. I understand that Zappa is a visionary composer and that some of is works might be a little strange but in the case of a alb ... (read more)

Report this review (#84026) | Posted by Fido73 | Monday, July 17, 2006 | Review Permanlink

1 stars Though I`m a die-hard Zappa fan, I really find this the worst album in his repertoire, the voice of Ike Willis, which is great in other albums, sounds like Captain Beefheart has mutated into the strange grotesque creature of the cover of the album. Even though some people say the story is funn ... (read more)

Report this review (#83896) | Posted by orr2112 | Sunday, July 16, 2006 | Review Permanlink

4 stars A stunning album, the coming together of all those threads with which Zappa had been weaving since 200 Motels and earlier. All the characters are there all the themes, all brought together in a way which makes conceptual sense of the whole edifice; Zappa did call it 'conceptual continuity'. ... (read more)

Report this review (#30023) | Posted by | Tuesday, August 24, 2004 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Wow! It's great! It is so funny and entertaining. It is a sort musical with wierd plot and beautiful music. I enjoyed listening to it. Terry and Dale Bozzio are great. If you like crazy stuff, you'll love it. ... (read more)

Report this review (#30021) | Posted by Foxy | Thursday, May 27, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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