"Inca Roads" is one of Frank Zappa's best-known songs. It's a long (by normal song length standards: almost 9 minutes) composition that calls for a good singer, a fantastic xylophonist and several musicians that play well together. The song as a whole has a cocktail lounge sort of feel, with the words somtimes sung low and Frank Sinatra-like. Two solo breaks give everyone in the lineup, especially Zappa, a few chances to show off their improv chops. The lyrics are pretty strange and, like most Zappa songs, had the potential to change a lot every time the song was performed live. The standard lyrics, sung by George Duke, are:

Did a vehicle
Come from somewhere out there
Just to land in the Andes?
Was it round
And did it have
A motor,
Or was it
Something different?

[chatter... see below]

Did a vehicle
Did a vehicle did a vehicle
Fly along the mountains
And find a place to park itself?
Park it. Park it.

Or did someone
Build a place
To leave a space
For such a thing to land?

[approx. 3-minute jam]

Did a vehicle
Come from somewhere out there
Did a vehicle
Come from somewhere out there
Did the Indians, first on the bill
Carve up the hill?

[another jam]

Did a booger-bear
Come from somewhere out there
Just to land in the Andes? [sometimes "the Andes" was replaced by "Perellis"]
Was she round
And did she have a motor
Or was she something different?
Guacamole Queen
Guacamole Queen
Guacamole Queen
Guacamole Queen
At the Armadillo in Austin, Texas, her aura,
Or did someone build a place
Or leave a space for Chester's thing to land?
Chester's thing... on Ruth!
Did a booger-bear
Come from somewhere out there?
Did a booger-bear
Come from somewhere out there?
Did the Indians, first on the bill
Carve up her hill?

On Ruth
On Ruth
Ha ha!
That's Ruth!

The song has two sections during which Napoleon Murphy Brock (saxophone, vocals), Duke (keyboards, vocals) and Zappa (lead guitar, vocals) say a bunch random phrases at the same time. These also vary drastically from recording to recording, but here is what they say on a studio version I have, followed by the live recording on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, vol. 2:1, 3

NMB: Whose [unintelligible] is that? ... What?
GD: Sho' would, I ain't never seen nothin' like that.
FZ: Well, why don't you sharpen it, then?

GD: It was a round ball or something. ... What's that white thing doin' up there?
NMB: Juh-heez-us! Jeezus!
FZ: Mother Mary 'n Joseph!

GD: Sure it would, but I ain't never seen no tush like that, I didn't know that was it.
NMB: Wait a minute! Don't put that stuff on my, don't you ever wash that thing?

GD: It was, tasted like a bunch o' anchovies. Salty an'...
NMB: Wait a minute! Have you got it worked out now? Put it back there!
FZ: Suzi Quatro get in town. Let's have a party tonight, yes indeed!

The song isn't anything of overwhelming philosophical importance, but there are several smallish things to note. The title and major focus of the lyrics refer to the extensive system of roads (spanning about 12,000 miles!) built by the Incas, which are speculated by some to have been built as landing sites for extraterrestrials. Ruth Underwood is the excellent xylophonist who plays the difficult runs throughout the song, as well as a great solo near the end. Chester Thompson is the drummer, with the daunting task of keeping together a long song with an irregular, syncopated drum part and frequent quick breaks of unusually-timed small solos. In the chatter, Zappa's "Why don't you sharpen it?" is a reference to a carpenter who worked for him once, who was constantly muttering this phrase about a screwdriver — the same carpenter would also exclaim "Mother Mary 'n Joseph!" whenever he hit his thumb with a hammer.1 The Booger-Bear Award was a joke among the band; whoever scored with the ugliest groupie would be awarded this nightly prize: Marty Perellis (some vocals and a gorilla suit in one song) was a frequent winner.1 The Guacamole Queen was a woman named Rikki who lived in Austin in 1973; she prepared cookies and nachos for the Armadillo (a club in Austin, Texas).

"Inca Roads" and bits of it appear on a few of Zappa's many, many albums:4

Zappa performed the entire song live in the following tours:2, 4

  • 1970/05
  • 1970/06–12
  • 1973/02–09
  • 1973/10–12
  • 1974/02–03
  • 1974/04–05
  • 1974/07–12
  • 1975/09–12
  • 1976/01–03 (shows started with the theme from "Inca Roads")
  • 1977/09–12
  • 1979/02–04
  • 1988/02–06

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1: ARF: Notes and Comments: http://www.arf.ru/Notes/Osfa/inca.html
2: Rino's Frank Zappa Page: http://home.tiscali.be/ir008421/www/
3: You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 2, The Helsinki Concert: http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/lyrics/You_Can't_Do_That_On_Stage_Anymore_Vol_2.html#Inca
4: Inca Roads: http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/songs/Inca_Roads.html

Inclusion of lyrics is in compliance with E2's interpretation of fair use.