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"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.

The New World is rarely considered for its broad-scale architectural endeavours, but the Inca, a militant culture which rose to hegemony of western South America from 1200-1535 AD, devised one of the most sophisticated ancient road systems since the time of the Romans. Spanning the 25,000 km from the Inca capital of Cuzco (in the southern Andes Mountains), it is even more impressive by virtue of the terrain it crossed; riven with snow, swamp, jungle, rivers, mountains, valleys and very little level ground, it took the breath from the Spanish explorers who rediscovered it. Pedro de Cieza de León invoked images of old world triumphs, then dismissed them in wishing that “Alexander, or any of the ancient kings who ruled the world... built such a road.

Two roads were the primary arteries of travel. The Qhapaq Nan (or ‘opulent way’) ran through the highland between Cuzco and Quito (near the Columbian border of modern Ecuador) and a parallel road ran along the coast. Littered throughout were small capillary roads, which led as far north as Chile and as far east as north-western Argentina. Many roads served military and trade functions, serving to link a nation of six million subjects, although others led to high (5000 metres) mountain-top sanctuaries used for religious ceremonial purposes.

The roads themselves were remarkable to the explorers; in many cases, preconceptions of inherent cultural superiority were dashed when they encountered such sophisticated features as stone paving (not found along the coast), culverts, drainage canals (which were used for irrigation purposes in a manner similar to Roman aqueducts) and elevated causeways. As South American peoples had made no motive use of the wheel, steps or zig-zags were used to counter steep slopes. The roads often ran adjacent to stone quarries, enabling further construction or repairs. In highland areas, roads were often simply cut directly into the rock, wrapping around mountain peaks. The width of the roads varied between 16 metres (in areas where the mobilisation of large forces or prolific commerce occurred) and a mere 1 metre along the high mountain paths which saw little use.

Many bridges were necessary (to ford rivers or precipitous drops), although the Incas never invented the arch. As a result, they devised and primarily used braided rope suspension bridges which sagged in the middle, although the Inca also made less grandiose wood and stone bridges to cross small gaps. Despite their ingeniously simple construction, it took an organised task force several weeks to rebuild a damaged bridge, even under professional supervision. A few of these traditional bridges still exist in areas around the ancient Inca capital; the most famous suspension bridge, spanning the Apurimac Gorge (45 metres), was maintained well into the 19th century.


Archaeology: the Definitive Guide, various authors.

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