Frank Zappa – Hot Rats
Record Label: Rykodisc
Release Date: October 10, 1969
When I first listened to Hot Rats, I was perplexed... As a prerequisite, you have to consider what you want out of your Zappa record. Do you want him to impersonate Bob Dylan, ask you if your poncho is a real poncho or a Sears poncho, and then try to sell you some pencils? Or do you want him to shut up and play his guitar? Well we find the latter here, and only the latter. Obviously inspired by Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, Zappa grinds out some organized fusion (not shy on blues influence), and a whole heap of elaborate progressions which demonstrate that the jokester really can be a virtuoso when he’s taking himself seriously.
The only thing to consider in approaching Hot Rats is this: you’ll need to temporarily suspend your ADD – the stuff that usually carries you through a Zappa recording. This time he really wanted you to pay attention to the music. Hot Rats was Zappa’s first outing away from his backup band The Mothers of Invention, and he wanted to prove that he could be taken seriously. So there are no sonic pranks, no goofy vocals (no vocals at all), nothing that would even suggest this was the same guy from the Mothers.
The toe tapper “The Gumbo Variations” clocks in at just under 17 minutes, and the other songs all have substantial length as well. Each one follows the same basic formula: solo followed by solo, allowing each instrumentalist to shine. Although it was not in Zappa’s musical nature to hold back, some listeners might get impatient with a few of the arrangements (lengthy saxophone solos, etc) but for as long as some of these selections are, the music never stagnates or gets caught up.
Since he was already the master of what can only be called genre-splicing at this point, Frank Zappa’s emergence into the world of jazz fusion should have come as no surprise. What is surprising is the amount of care he put into sounding professional. The man was known for his unique ways of perfectionism, but he was known for sabotaging them as well. Without a doubt, Hot Rats is a solid and energetic listen.
Recommended If You Like:
Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, Frank Zappa’s random moments of straightforward musicality, jazz-fusion and blues influence
Hot Rats is one of my favorite albums of all time. Good work. A minor correction though- you made a mistake in saying there are no vocals at all on the album, Captain Beefheart did vocals on "Willie the Pimp". Other than that, solid review.
Could not believe my eyes when I saw Frank Zappa. Zappa on ap.net?! After reading all those posts on guitar solos and who was not mentioned, I gave up on ever seeing Zappa's name on this site. Great review and kudos. Willie the pimp ftw.
Awesome Review! I'm a pretty big Zappa fan but only lucky enough to see 'Zappa Plays Zappa' being that he died when I was in 3rd Grade. Still an amazing show tho. Peaches En Regalia has always been one of my favs and when Phish pulled this one out on Vegas '96 I was blown away.