The Mothers of Invention / Frank Zappa

Inca Roads

Composed by Frank Zappa

Song Review by

"Inca Roads" is one of Frank Zappa's most cherished, covered, and appreciated pieces. It allied his ability to write a catchy song with his mastery of complex music forms, making it a favorite among progressive rock fans (who are not always kind for the man's music) and virtuoso ensembles. The lyrics begin on a UFO theme: "Did a vehicle/Come from somewhere out there/Just to land in the Andes?," referring to South American architectural structures some believed were landing sites for flying saucers. But quickly the song takes a dive into "life on the road." The word "vehicle" is replaced by "booger-bear," a title given to the band member who ended up with the ugliest groupie the previous night (which makes it the contrary of "Bwana Dik"). The name of drummer Chester Thompson comes up in regards to that, as it will again under similar circumstances in "Florentine Pogen." The song ends with a tutti "On Ruth!," a wink at percussionist Ruth Underwood's amazing marimba fireworks in the finale.

The life of "Inca Roads" began around 1970. At that time Zappa was working on a guitar-propelled slow instrumental piece that was first integrated to live performances of "Holiday in Berlin" (an example survived on the official bootleg Freaks & Motherfu*#@%!) -- it would become the guitar solo section. Then, during the 1972 Grand Wazoo/Waka/Jawaka recordings, the man wrote a more substantial piece of music, a jazzy instrumental as yet unrelated to the first -- this one, with an increased tempo, would turn into the instrumental middle section and the last vocal section of the song (a 1972 proto-version is included on Lost Episodes).

"Inca Roads" in its official incarnation was premiered live in fall 1973. The guitar solo heard on the first version released, the one on the 1975 LP One Size Fits All, was recorded at a show in Helsinki, Finland -- it can be heard back in its own performance on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2 and is considered to be one of Zappa's greatest recorded solos (the one on the studio version of "Watermelon in Easter Hay" comes close). Many other "Inca Roads" solos have been chronicled on the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar and Guitar collections. The song was played live extensively during the 1973-1974 tour, only occasionally during the last half of the 1970s, and finally came back gloriously for the 1988 tour. It was included on many bootlegs, official or not, and recorded by tribute bands such as Zappa's Universe, the Ensemble Ambrosius, and Dangerous Kitchen.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
One Size Fits All 1975 Universal / Zappa Records
blue highlight denotes editor's pick