When I was in high school and buying records I frequented the record store (they were still called that) and spent hours sifting through bins and bins and bins of shiny wrapped albums. I would fondly look at the album covers as I flipped through them all, like greeting old friends. Familiar faces and images and band photos. Sometimes I would pull one out and see if I recognized the song titles, mental noting which ones had songs I knew and may need to come back and buy when and if I had any money.
There were my favorites, like the Yes albums with the Dean artwork and Led Zeppelin’s iconic art and Bowie albums were always interesting… but one that always stuck in my head and made me say WTF? way way WAY before that was even a thing… was one I came across in the Z bin. That album was “Thing-Fish”.
Uh… I knew Zappa from “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” but this was something in a category all it’s own. I knew zero about this and was confused by the “Original Cast Recording” notation on the cover… and… what IS that thing?
The back cover listed the band members, though I didn’t know any of them save for Frank himself, but not a track list. So you had no idea what was actually ON this album. Further, it was a triple album and consequently expensive for someone like myself with little to no disposable income. Too rich for my blood, but I did stare at it and try to guess at the mysteries that this strange album held in it’s box.
Incidentally, this may have been the first box set I ever held. Box sets weren’t a dime a dozen back then as they are now. Seems like everyone has a box set these days. Back then, the hard box of Thing-Fish made it seem solid and powerful and intriguing.
Every time I was in a record store, I made my way eventually to the Z’s and would pick up “Thing-Fish” and continue to wonder about it. There was ever only one copy in the bins, if they had it at all, unlike some albums that had 5-6 copies or a whole wall display. That should have been a clue that what was in there was not popular or for everyone.
Fast forward to my later years when I started getting into Frank Zappa beyond just “Apostrophe”. Record stores were on the way out, and they certainly didn’t carry “Thing-Fish” anymore. CD’s were the thing and Napster was right around the corner. Zappa started coming to me in dribs and drabs. I discovered “Hot Rats” and “Studio Tan”.
I think I did end up getting “Thing-Fish” in the digital days, but was confused by it and didn’t give it much of a chance.
Then came the point where I went all in for Zappa. I listened to everything. I have my favorite era’s (the 80’s), stuff I don’t like as much as the rest (Flo and Eddie) and have come to appreciate Zappa as a musician and a composer, and have also come to understand a lot of what he took a stand on, albeit through unconventional methods perhaps.
One day I decided to give “Thing-Fish” another shot. I now knew who Ike Willis was and was familiar with some of the songs from other albums. Yep, songs from previous Zappa albums were here with overdubs and new edits spliced together with dialog from the characters in the “performance”. I began to get in tune with “Thing-Fish” in a way that I NEVER would have back in the day had I picked up this album in High School.
In this day and age, in order to not offend anyone, I will let Wiki give you a synopsis of this crazy 3 album set that is “Thing-Fish”
After listening to this a few times recently, with more understanding of what Zappa was trying to say with his oozing satire, I became more comfortable with it and began to really dig it. There is no lack of objectionable material in here, but if you are into Zappa I am sure you’re past that now.
So, the other day I decided to see how much this album was going for. Not especially surprising, Amazon has it, but only through 3rd party sellers and at the time of this writing both copies are going for over $85 bucks! Sheesh, no way. However I found it on Discogs for under $40. Not bad for an original 3 album set. It has arrived!
The box is a little worn but intact and all the innards are included. The libretto, which you will want to use to read along with is fashioned as if it were a play. The vocal delivery is noted as to what character is talking/singing. Essential.
It also includes the track list that is not on the outside of the box thus making the buyer either have fore knowledge of what they were buying, or, buying it strictly on faith. Not that hasn’t been done before, but with a triple album?
With illustrations if you are of strong stock.
That’s Ike Willis on the right who voices Thing-Fish.
Apparently the quality control person that listened to the album decried it to the label and they refuse to release it. Then it got shopped around to another distributer, thus the inclusion by Frank the following statement.
This was still released on Barking Pumpkins Records.
Also included in my copy was not 1 but 2 Zappa catalogs of the era (1985) with which to order various sundries as shirts and video tapes and singles by Dweezil.
To give you an idea of the age… note that the videos are available in Beta. Wow.
So I am pleased with my copy. It is a unique item in the Zappa catalog that I have never know anyone to mention, let alone own. I’m sure there are Zappa fans out there who have this.
Are you one? Tell me what you think of it.