on July 31, 2012
I came round late to Frank and it was this album that opened my perception to his work so suddenly; like an endearing slap in the face.
Many regard this as his best work, but I'm not sure that this is an easy conclusion when faced with more than sixty different Frank Zappa albums of extraordinary variety and style and varying degrees of musical and lyrical depth.
Also, his lyrics sometimes famously repel people whilst charming and amusing others; one person's upset/another person's insight.
Frank regarded his whole musical output, including live performances and even interviews, as a sort of continuum of themes connecting everything and creating one body of work.
That said, this is possibly the studio album that I find most musically profound...possibly.
'Peaches En Regalia', the highly regarded first track, is beautiful, musically startling and maybe even a little funny.
'Willie the Pimp' puts an unlikely balance into the album (it should stick out like a sore thumb, but somehow does not) with Captain Beefheart's (Don Van Vliet) Howlin' Wolf-esque vocals setting the tone amongst a relatively stripped-back instrumentation of drums and percussion, gritty guitar, bass, a wonderfully ragged violin riff from the great Don "Sugarcane" Harris, and piano, before Mr. Zappa enters with astonishing lead guitar; it always seems fresh- Frank Zappa must be one of the most underrated popular guitarists as well as composers.
'Son of Mr. Green Genes' allows us to briefly catch our breath, before lurching back into Frank's tremendous axe-manship and kaleidoscopic instrumentation from the absurdly talented Ian Underwood- Underwood is all over this album like a benevolent musical rash.
'Little umbrellas' is a relatively short, eastern-like dirge that swings along sparingly before the ultra-saxophonic release of 'The Gumbo Variations' that has Ian making sounds with his saxophone that some less-fun folk may, back in the day, have wanted to censor; really spectacular stuff and some powerful violin and guitar solos, too.
That reminds me: this was released in 1969! I mean, most of the music I listen to is from the towering musical decades of the sixties and seventies, but the production, clarity and innovation of 'Hot Rats' is still a little extraordinary.
'It Must Be a Camel'. Whether or not you agree with the title's hypothesis this is a fine closing track to this remarkable instrumental (except Beefheart's brief vocals) album. It is relaxed, but with strange layers of timing and sound that seem to let us know that, while this is goodbye for now, Frank will be back...
Note: The 2012 reissue of Hot Rats is the remastered version originally done for the vinyl release of 2008 by Bernie Grundman, which is from the original analog master and is more true to the original vinyl mix of 1969 as opposed to the controversial 1987 mix of the Ryko CD reissue- although many feel each version has its own unique positives & negatives or special individual attributes when the mixes are compared.
The original mix has more definition on the bass and drums (they are more acoustically present due to the absence of the digital reverb that was added to the Ryko remix), but contains a shorter version of 'The Gumbo Variations' and Frank's guitar solo on 'Willie the Pimp' is faded in and out somewhat, whereas the Ryko remix has it all in and very up front.
So, opinions are divided, often depending on what one is used to. But one thing, in my opinion, is for certain, and that is that both versions contain an extraordinary album of music.
on June 2, 2003
That's right, I listen to this cd, and think "That's nice, where is Hot Rats?" This is because for ages I listened to the original vinyl version of this album, making cassettes for my car and just enjoying the heck out of it.
But, when this album was reissued on cd, Zappa decided to do a substantial remix of the album. There are some huge changes, missing instruments, different solos, all kinds of things that are distracting to people used to the original mix.
Not to say that the new mix is bad - it's very good, in fact. Clear, noise-free, and well balanced. It's just not how it used to be.
As far as the album itself goes, there are some mind-boggling jazz/rock compositions here, with only one vocal piece in the whole album. We get the fantastic "Peaches and Regalia", the slimy "Willie the Pimp", the satisfying "Son of Mr. Green Genes", and more.
There is some astounding violin work here, some great guitar playing, and an very strong album that seems to come from one musical viewpoint, unlike the eclectic approach that Zappa usually takes.
Very worthwhile - now, if they would just issue Hot Rats on cd...
on February 14, 2003
Basically just dropping the name `Mothers of Invention' and releasing this as his first solo album, Mr. Zappa showed, who had been boss all the time, and let the unsuspecting music world cop it in the teeth with this blast of basically instrumental work. Gone were the dropping off into the world of parody or spoken word humour, that had often enlivened, but more often marred `The Mothers' albums. A joke is only funny the first couple of times, but soon becomes annoying, especially after repeated playing in between bits of your favorite music.
But here on `Hot Rats' Mr. Zappa surrounds himself with some of the finest musicians in the United States of America, who just happened to also be his best friends, and went from cult figure to International Superstar. In the high brow student world of 1970, if you didn't have the Hot Rats poster in your bed sit, you were considered very square. The album was an absolute `must have'. (Mind you it was also required to wear your hair down to your ankles, platform boots 2 foot tall, huge bell bottom trousers that hid them anyway, say things like "Cosmic" or "Groovy" a lot, and end every sentence with "Man". Eat your heart out Austin Powers, looking back it all seems terribly complicated now.)
But that was one thing that Mr. Zappa had mastered, although all of the playing on this album is intricate in the extreme, with great lolloping extended solos and each song has a terribly gripping hum able tune that makes your fingers twitch and your feet tap.
The first piece of music presented here for your edification (it would almost be an insult to label them down as just plain old songs) is the wonderfully monickered "Peaches En Regalia", where Mr. Zappa on guitar, and multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood get to flex their musical muscles. These two musicians are the only two to appear on every track. "Peaches En Regalia" is certainly one of Mr. Zappa's most commercial and popular tracks and, almost certainly, one of his best. In an amazing way the album starts, leading us into a treasure trove of sound. Yes, this was what started what is called `Jazz/Rock', but at the time it was just a convenient label for journalists to put it under. Mr. Zappa should not take the responsibility for the driveling of some, who tried to follow in his footsteps.
Next up is the infamous "Willie The Pimp" the only vocal track on the album sung by the esteemed Don Van Vliet, better known as `Captain Beefheart', and what lyrics they were too!
"I'm a little pimp with my hair gassed back
Pair of khaki pants with my shoe shined black"
You can hear the gleam in the great Captain's eye, the guitar solo that follows will take the roof off your head every time you hear it. And remember, Steve Vai was an apprentice of Mr. Zappa's for many years and has never been able to step out of his shadow.
After "Son of Mr. Green Genes", and for this album the short "Little Umbrellas", you get the full version of "The Gumbo Variations". This had to be severely edited for the vinyl release due to time constraints, but now with the wonders off compact discs, you get the whole thing remastered from the original tapes, all but seventeen minutes (what's three seconds between friends), where the soloists, Mr. Zappa guitar, Ian Underwood everything, and Sugar Cane Harris on violin, all vie for the spotlight, holding your attention with every nuance of sound.
Then finally we get "It Must Be A Camel" (the title of which sounds like something J.K. would say out on the golf course after a bad night), where the legendry Jen Luc Ponty joins the fray to bring it all to a fitting climax.
A truly magnificent collection. If it's not in yours, make it so.
You may notice the artist referred to as Mr. Zappa through out this review commanded a fair amount of respect, did the Guvnor.
Mott the Dog.
on January 23, 2006
I think I haven't heard something like this before and I have thousands of Jazz and rock fusion cds from any era. This album it is one of the fews that really blew me away since its first listening. It's melodic content, its inventions are exceptional such as the overall musical value. Its improvisations too even if I'm used to listen to very high level improvisations (from the best Jazz cats). You simply have to listen to "Peaches in regalia" to be absolutly hooked. It's incredible! It's a sort of small avant garde composition, a sort of small portrait of uncanny beauty! Wow I'm listening to it just know for the ten hundreds thousands time! It's so brilliant, funny, it's ridicolous! Perfect futurama from the sixties!
Ok guys I'll begin this review telling you exactly which are the overall best albums from Frank Zappa because I think only a newcomer in the Man's Universe would read Hot rats reviews to know what its all about. Every person who knows Zappa knows and love Hot rats, so the target of this review is you, the one who don't know Zappa (on planet Earth!! .. where have you been? Have you slept all these years? .. just joking ...). Knowing Zappa is something not so easy to do for the newcomer due to the immense discography from the man. But if you want to know immediatly what to buy first ok, you have read the right review. They are, Grand Wazoo, Waka Jawaka and Hot rats (even not in this order or better, buy ALL THE THREE TOGETHER). I'm talking about the best studio albums. And probably the best from a compositional standpoint. And please be aware that I'm talking about music, not about lyrics or comedy, goofy antics, theatrics or whatever. In this trilogy you'll find some of the VERY best music from the man especially if you're an open minded kind of guy and you are already familiar with different musical stuff, Jazz, psychedelia, rock, progressive, classical. If you already know quite well these "materials" you will be able to understand what Zappa did with them and to enjoy the deepest his contribution to the music world and the intensity of his music contained here, in the majestic Hot Rats. If you wouldn't like these three albums I frankly doubt that you could love another album from the man. These three are the most brilliant, have the most clever music writing, the best improvisations, the best of the best in the Zappa's Universe. They are instrumental albums and it is self explanatory why they are the best musically. Frank did concentrate on music exclusively and the results are under everyone's ear. Exceptional. Some people say this album is "Jazz-rock". I don't think so, I don't agree. It is a straight rock album (psychedelic and avant garde at least), this music in the end doesn't swing, it does not have complex chord progressions, people improvise freely mainly on pentatonics not following the chords progressions (not addressing the chords) and the gear used is not classical Jazz stuff (double bass, piano, etc). You have a sort of more or less "clear" Jazz approach only in "The Gumbo variations" where the sax has the main role, but nevertheless we're more in a rock-funky field than a Jazz one. Jazz is something else even if the sax player really used here and there a sort of Coltrane alike language. This album has a straight rock beat, I would call it a psychedelic progressive rock album, it's not Jazz. Grand Wazoo is more Jazzier and even Waka jawaka in a sense. But there's NOT BEBOP here. Just to be perfectly clear. Some people use the word "Jazz" to nobilitate a thing, to say it is intellectual, refined, sophisticated armonically. But it is a wrong use of the term. THIS IS NOT JAZZ, neither Jazz rock. Ok, this said, this album is all these things, but still it's not Jazz, it's not even Jazz rock. I'm saying this to make Jazz mates (I'm one of them) know exactly what they could find here. You would find a brilliant composer, a psychedelic mind, a really creative man, a really clever, dense, passionate, impressive, really avant garde music (avant garde even compared to standards of today in a sense) , but you will not find Jazz here. No swing, no standards chord progressions, no bebop, no substitutions. This album rocks! And it rocks hard! Psyco rock! Brilliantly and completly devastating! I'm a Jazz, bebopcat, but an open minded one and I love to death this album and a lot of other Zappa's albums. Where there's creativity, intelligence, fun, intuitions, passion, art ... I'll be there! You have to be there with me too. Buy at least Hot rats, Wazoo and Waka! Zappa rules! Music is the best.
'the present day composer refuses to die' was the quotation from Edgar Varese which graced each of the Mothers albums as I remember from the vinyl releases in England.
This particular album made such an impression on a group of young people in Sunderland that they renamed their "disco" in the Londonderry Hotel on Saturday evenings after it. Played some pretty neat music there too.
This album is in many ways the one which represents the huge body of work that Frank Zappa, composer and musician, created all within the original confines of 45 minutes available on a long playing record.
Working in the rock field can often be limiting for the serious musician due to the varying degrees of snobbery which exist between 'real' musicians and rock stars. Zappa was one of the very few who drew respect from all quarters for his work.
From the outset on this album one can find traces of all of his work, the catchy Peaches en Regalia leads the field, the warm up for the title track with the redoubtable Don Van Vliet exercising his vocal chords with some of the most immortal lyrics in rock history before letting Zappa present a showcase of his considerable guitar playing talents. As usual the maestro assembled a team of the highest musical talents to assist him on this journey and on Willie the Pimp, Don 'Sugarcane' Harris provides a taster of things to come later on the Gumbo Variations, very reminiscent of his work on 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh'. Acclaimed by many as THE outstanding track on the album, Willie the Pimp' is distinguished by those awesome vocals but musically the performance is equalled if not bettered by the subsequent tracks.
'Son of Mr. Green Genes' is also another showcase for the Zappa guitar talent but here the playing is more restrained and is contained within exquisite performances by Ian Underwood in particular. Where is he today, I wonder? The run towards the end of the composition is excellent and the interplay between Zappa and Underwood displays a great deal of understanding between the two musicians.
All of the tracks on this album have, as another reviewer has noted, memorable tunes. What is also noticeable are some of the themes which appear on other albums such as the Grand Wazoo and Waka Jawaka as well as the earlier Mothers albums and the later works such as the Yellow Shark. That Zappa was in tune with the classical world is undeniable but he was clearly interested in serious music of all forms as evidenced by the recurring themes which later became the trademark of Terry Riley as well as Philip Glass.
Hot Rats is a veritable goldmine of music which can be listened to again and again and again without being totally depleted. To me this album demonstrates the genius that was Frank Zappa and his untimely death has deprived humanity of a significant musical talent.
on August 3, 2012
This sounds EXACTLY like the vinyl version I obtained several years ago. If you believed that the original CD reissues (containing Zappa's remix) did not do the album justice, then please, pick this up. I am one of those folks who are used to the original CD version (I didn't grow up in the 60s and the 70s unfortunately), so it is still kind of strange listening to the original 1969 mix (even though I own the vinyl version). Still, there is a greater degree of warmth here, and you can't go wrong with it either ways. Finally, it seems like the Zappa Family Trust is giving the fans more of what they want!
on June 11, 2001
This is a great work of music. I must say however that the remixed CD is a different great work of music than the original vinyl album, and after numerous listenings to both, I prefer the original version. The remixed CD lowers the sound of certain instruments and parts of the original music to inaudible levels at key points, so that it is quite jarring to one who is used to the original. Sometimes the remix opens up the sound to new, interesting textures, but sometimes the remix removes the power of the original. What an odd situation. There should be a CD version of the original vinyl album mix too.
on March 17, 2014
By mid 1969 Frank Zappa was broke and supporting two very young children. The Mothers Of Invention, in their original and most gloriously creative guise, had been put to death. Their record label for six official releases (MGM Verve) owed a fortune in royalties and didn't look like coughing up any time soon. The original Mothers had been a kind of sharing collective. Future Mothers incarnations would see Zappa leading bands of salaried employees and taking complete control, creative and business.
Between these two phases of Zappa's career sits the extraordinary Hot Rats, recorded August 1969 in a fancy new state of the art 16 track studio. It was originally to have been credited both to Frank Zappa and Ian Underwood, but it was Zappa that ended up with his name on the front. After Lumpy Gravy, it was his second solo album.
Zappa needed to make some cash, and to this end he abandoned the avant-guard classicism of Uncle Meat (which had just been released) and the psychedelic social comment of the earlier Verve albums to explore and broaden the new frontiers of jazz-rock. It was a genre ripe for exploitation, it gave plenty of latitude for creativity and, as Blood Sweat And Tears and Chicago were discovering, people were buying the stuff. Hot Rats was stunningly creative and it could only have come from the brain of Frank Zappa, but it was safe and completely unintimidating. For years it was known as the Zappa album that non Zappa fans bought.
It was released to universal critical adoration but, initially, disappointing sales, especially in the UK, where Zappa had expected it to see some chart action. In an effort to promote the album, Zappa assembled a band he called Hot Rats with himself, Underwood, Max Bennett, Sugercane Harris and Aynsley Dunbar, and played some gigs. Ironically, Hot Rats would set records for the length of time spent in the charts, hovering in the lower reaches continuously for decades. It was massively influential to both rockers and jazzers, and it single handedly defined a standard for anyone attempting to explore the genre in the future.
When Zappa `tweezed' Hot Rats for CD in the late 1980s he was smarting a little from the venomous response to the (virtually) re-recorded CD issue of "We're Only In It For The Money." For Hot Rats he reinserted a further five minutes of Ian Underwood's opening sax solo in The Gumbo Variations and some of his own guitar work. This was marvellous. He also (quite clumsily) re-edited "Willie The Pimp" and completely remixed it. This was awful. Overall the sound, like all of Bob Stone's mastering of Zappa's early catalogue for Ryko, is dull, cold and very over compressed by comparison with the original master.
Thankfully, Hot Rats (and most of Zappa's early work) was remastered again in 2012, and reissued. This time the source material was that lovely original master from 1969. It's a mixed blessing though; the sound is gorgeous as it was on the vinyl and we get the original mix and edit of Willie The Pimp, but we revert to the original shorter edit of The Gumbo Variations.
The perfect answer is to have both CD issues of this watershed, ground breaking album. But either way, Hot Rats is a genuinely essential component to the history of both rock and jazz, and no collection claiming to be comprehensive should be without it.
on January 15, 2004
This album came out of nowhere. FZ made this album after having disbanded the original Mothers of Invention, but before assembling the 200 Motels Mothers. The direction Zappa was taking with this album is more akin to what he was trying to accomplish in the latter days of the original MOI. Its a serious jazz fusion record, but this time without the Mothers antics. Zappa collaborted with MOI mainstay Ian Underwood, a brilliant woodwind player and keyboardist, jazz violinist Don Sugarcane Harris, blues bassist Max Bennet and his comrade, drummer John Guerin. This is a tight ensemble -- and Hot Rats, make no mistake, is a musician's album by and for musicians.
Other guest appearances include famous jazz violinist Jean Luc-Ponty in his first of several appearances on an FZ album. He plays a small part on "It Must Be a Camel." Johnny Otis's son, Shuggie Otis, who plays bass on "Peaches En Regalia," and last, but by no measure at all least, Captain Beefheart.
The opener, PEACHES EN REGALIA, needs no real introduction. Now a jazz standard, its probably Zappa's best known song. And for a good reason. It is among the most efficiently and intelligently composed, succinct pieces that he ever wrote. This version, with FZ and Underwood's painstaking arrangement, is the first and best of its incarnations. But if you came for that marvelous gem, you'll stay for WILLIE THE PIMP. This monster features the incomparable four-and-a-half octave range Capt. Beefheart howling out in the most incredible manner the only vocals on the album, after which FZ blasts into a 7 minute guitar solo.
This is the first album in which Zappa takes his guitar playing seriously -- this solo, the first of many lengthy explosions on this album, is the kind of solo only a guitar player, perhaps, could fully appreciate. There's little of the burning-quick fretwork and pretentious high-register runs one associates with rock guitar. Instead, Zappa's solo, here and on the rest of the album, is methodical, heavy on rhythm and clinging strongly to the melody. Technique takes the place of speed, and meaningless spurts are replaced by what seems like incredible spontaneous composition. This kind of solo is what separates Zappa from the Jimmy Pages of the world.
The next piece, SON OF MR. GREEN GENES, is remembered most now for having started the (false) rumor that FZ was the son of the children's TV personality. Its the same as Mr. Green Genes on the Uncle Meat album, but arranged for a small wind ensemble and serving as a vehicle for another beautiful FZ solo -- this one considerably less aggressive than in Willie, but with no less merit. LITTLE UMBRELLAS is akin to Peaches, in that its a short, to-the-point jazz piece. Its a lethargic, loungy number with a strange quality, and an even more bizarre percussion run. An absolutely beautiful piece that never seems to get the attention it deserves.
The 17 minute GUMBO VARIATIONS (expanded 5 minutes in digital remix from the original vinyl) is straight jazz, each member of Zappa's combo getting their solo, starting with a furious 7 minute onslaught by Underwood on sax, followed by a fiery Sugarcan Harris violin solo, an acidic, cut-throat Zappa solo, and a bass/drum duet with Bennet and Guerin. The closer, IT MUST BE A CAMEL, is a bit like Peaches or Umbrellas, but with a Zappa twist. This is a short jazz piece mutated with abrupt rests, odd tempo changes, and a difficult time signiture. The hero of this piece is Ian Underwood, with some remarkable sax and keyboard playing. John Guerin gets some spotlight too, with some short, sporadic drum solos, accompanied by FZ's percussion.
This is an incredible album, accessible to almost everyone (Its true that this is the "FZ album that even people who hate FZ like"). One of the great masterpieces of Jazz fusion of all time and, although Zappa made several more masterpieces in the genre (One Size Fits All, Roxy, Grand Wazoo, Waka/Jawaka...) none of those albums, even if the music on some of them is technically more impressive, touch on a certain quality that this album has. Hot Rats sounds like a musician's labor of love, and is a unique masterpiece in FZ's catalogue. I love this album -- and though it was the first of the 50+ albums I've purchased, its still the one I play the most.
Absolutely essential, not just for Zappa fans. Play it until you know the solos by heart, or your CD player burns out.
on August 31, 2012
My favourite Zappa album. This reissue is from the original analog master, 1969. Make sure that your copy has this detail written on the back cover, if that's what you're after. Zappa's 80's remix is interesting in itself but it's great to finally hear this original mix on CD - thanks to Gail Zappa. I can listen to this music again and again, and hear something new each time. The playing is top class and Zappa as always assembled great musicians to play his work. There is a certain 60's TV/movie soundtrack cheesiness pervading the album, and yet it works brilliantly! I need both versions but for historical accuracy casual fans should probably go for this edition.