Monday, July 30, 2012

Frank Zappa 8: Hot Rats

The Mothers weren’t exactly rolling in the dough, and Frank was getting the itch to play with more schooled musicians than the buddies he’d collected since high school. So off he went, guitar in hand, studios booked.
For those unimpressed by bathroom humor or avant-garde, Hot Rats makes an excellent case for Zappa as a musician. Culled from sessions with select musicians outside of the Mothers as a touring unit, it was a surprise commercial success, too. The album is predominantly instrumental, and the few lyrics are neither topical nor provocative, unless you have a problem with the word “pimp”.
Side one is terrific, beginning with a grand fanfare in “Peaches En Regalia”. Not only is it one of his most melodic pieces to date, each segment is unique and melodic on its own. “Willie The Pimp” rides the same riff for nine minutes, begun on the electric violin, supporting the vocal by Captain Beefheart, then making way for the lengthy wah-wah guitar solo. Nearly as long, and even more majestic, is “Son Of Mr. Green Genes”. Here the melody from the Uncle Meat track is sped up and dressed up by multiple keyboards and saxes. (Frank should really have considered giving Ian Underwood equal billing, considering all the excellent work he did on the whole album.)
Side two gets a little more out there, approaching a sound that would one day be called jazz fusion. “Little Umbrellas” has a mildly Arabic melody, which always confuses us with the last song on the side. “The Gumbo Variations” is a 13-minute groove (extended to 17 on some CDs) featuring the whole ensemble, giving plenty of room for Ian to honk away and Sugarcane Harris to saw. “It Must Be A Camel” ends the side as it began, a little slower, a little unresolved.
If you’re going to dive into Zappa, Hot Rats is highly recommended. However, besides being very good, there’s not a lot like it in his catalog, so your next step won’t be as easy. It’s still the one album just about everyone can agree on, and even though the Rykodisc CDs' mix was different from the vinyl (now in standard circulation with the 2012 catalog overhaul) it’s still pretty damn good.
The album’s stature was such that it got a vault release all its own for its golden anniversary. The Hot Rats Sessions presented working and full takes of every one of the tracks on the album, as well as future cuts like “Twenty Small Cigars” and “Lemme Take You To The Beach”, key chunks of the Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh albums, and even the fabled “Bognor Regis”. To further supplement the album itself, the 1987 mix is accompanied by single mixes, early mixes, promo spots, an ancient acetate of “Little Umbrellas” from the early ‘60s, and even Captain Beefheart’s isolated vocal for “Willie The Pimp”. Pretty damn amazing for a just a few days’ work. And again, Ian Underwood is a genius.

Frank Zappa Hot Rats (1969)—4

1 comment:

  1. I didn’t really appreciate frank until I got older.however, a friend got me into him and he truly is a great guitarist in his own right. Great post keep up the hard work. Check these out IStillGotMyGuitar.