Frank Zappa. It was released in October 1969. Five of the six songs are instrumental ("Willie the Pimp" features a short vocal by Captain Beefheart). It was Zappa's first recording project after the dissolution of the original Mothers of Invention. In his original sleeve notes Zappa described the album as "a movie for your ears."
Because Hot Rats largely consists of instrumental
jazz-influenced compositions with extensive soloing, the music sounds
very different from earlier Zappa albums, which featured satirical vocal
performances with extensive use of musique concrète and editing. Multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood
is the only member of the Mothers to appear on the album and was the
primary musical collaborator. Other featured musicians were Max Bennett and a 16-year old Shuggie Otis on bass, drummers John Guerin, Paul Humphrey and Ron Selico, and electric violinists Don "Sugarcane" Harris and Jean-Luc Ponty.
This was the first Frank Zappa album recorded on 16-track
equipment and one of the first albums to use this technology. Machines
with 16 individual tracks allow for much more flexibility in
multi-tracking and overdubbing than the professional 4- and 8-track reel-to-reel tape recorders that were standard in 1969.
The album was dedicated to Zappa's newborn son, Dweezil Zappa. In February 2009, Dweezil's tribute band to his father's musical legacy, Zappa Plays Zappa, won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for their rendition of "Peaches en Regalia."
In the Q & Mojo Classic Special Edition Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, the album came #13 in its list of "40 Cosmic Rock Albums". It was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. This is Official Release #8.
Zappa composed, arranged and produced the album himself. His primary
instrument on the album is lead guitar. "Willie the Pimp", "Son of Mr.
Green Genes", and "The Gumbo Variations" are showcases for his powerful
and unconventional solo guitar performances. Four of the tracks have
intricately arranged charts featuring multiple overdubs by Ian
Underwood. Underwood plays the parts of approximately eight to ten
musicians, often simultaneously. His work includes complicated sections
of piano and organ, as well as multiple flutes, clarinets and
The song "Peaches en Regalia"
is widely recognized as a modern jazz fusion standard and is one of
Zappa's best-known songs. Zappa plays a short solo on an instrument
credited as an octave-bass, which is a conventional bass guitar recorded
at half-speed so it sounds an octave higher in normal speed playback.
When one listens to the song, it is apparent that many other instruments
were also recorded at half-speed: organ, reed instruments, percussion.
Underwood contributes flute and multiple saxophone, clarinet and
keyboard parts. Zappa later re-recorded the song several times in live
performances. It has been re-interpreted by many other jazz and rock
artists, including Phish, the Dixie Dregs, and Frogg Café.
"Willie the Pimp" is a rock tune which features a vocal by Zappa's longtime friend and collaborator Captain Beefheart. It has violin by Don "Sugarcane" Harris and guitar solos by Zappa in what appear to be loose jams, though the performances were edited before release. The title Hot Rats comes from the lyric of this song.
"Son of Mr. Green Genes" is an instrumental re-arrangement of the song Mr. Green Genes from the Mothers album Uncle Meat. The unusual title of this song led to an urban legend that Frank Zappa was related to the character Mr. Green Jeans from the television show Captain Kangaroo. This is the only song on the album to feature both intricate horn charts and extended guitar solo sections.
"Little Umbrellas" is similar in style to "Peaches", another short
carefully arranged tune with numerous keyboard and wind overdubs by
"The Gumbo Variations" also is a jam performance that features a
tenor saxophone solo by Underwood and some intricate electric violin
playing by Don "Sugarcane" Harris in addition to a guitar solo by Zappa.
The CD issue is a longer version containing portions that were edited
for the LP. It includes a brief spoken segment at the beginning where
Zappa's voice is heard instructing the musicians on how he wants them to
start the tune.
"It Must Be a Camel" is also an intricately arranged tune with
numerous wind and keyboard overdubs by Underwood. The very unusual
melody of this song is highly rhythmic and often makes large melodic
leaps. The title may come from the fact that these leaps resemble
"humps" when written on paper. The recording contains a violin
performance by Jean-Luc Ponty.
A recording from the Hot Rats sessions titled Bognor Regis was set to be released on the B-side of an edited version of "Sharleena", a track from the 1970 Zappa album Chunga's Revenge. The single release was canceled; however, an acetate disc
copy was leaked to the public and the track has appeared on Zappa
bootlegs. The song was named after a town on the south coast of England.
Musically it's a basic blues instrumental with electric violin solo by
Don "Sugarcane" Harris. Another track recorded during these sessions,
titled "Twenty Small Cigars", was later released on Chunga's Revenge.
Aside from the experimental side project Lumpy Gravy, Hot Rats was the first album Frank Zappa recorded as a solo artist sans the Mothers, though he continued to employ previous musical collaborators, most notably multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood. Other than another side project -- the doo wop tribute Cruising With Ruben and the Jets -- Hot Rats was also the first time Zappa focused his efforts in one general area, namely jazz-rock. The result is a classic of the genre. Hot Rats'
genius lies in the way it fuses the compositional sophistication of
jazz with rock's down-and-dirty attitude -- there's a real looseness and
grit to the three lengthy jams, and a surprising, wry elegance to the
three shorter, tightly arranged numbers (particularly the sumptuous
"Peaches en Regalia"). Perhaps the biggest revelation isn't the
straightforward presentation, or the intricately shifting instrumental
voices in Zappa's
arrangements -- it's his own virtuosity on the electric guitar,
recorded during extended improvisational workouts for the first time
here. His wonderfully scuzzy, distorted tone is an especially good fit
on "Willie the Pimp," with its greasy blues riffs and guest vocalist Captain Beefheart's Howlin' Wolf
theatrics. Elsewhere, his skill as a melodist was in full flower,
whether dominating an entire piece or providing a memorable theme as a
jumping-off point. In addition to Underwood, the backing band featured contributions from Jean-Luc Ponty, Lowell George, and Don "Sugarcane" Harris, among others; still, Zappa is unquestionably the star of the show. Hot Rats
still sizzles; few albums originating on the rock side of jazz-rock
fusion flowed so freely between both sides of the equation, or achieved
such unwavering excitement and energy.
1. Peaches en Regalia (3:39)
2. Willie the Pimp (9:23)
3. Son of Mr. Green Genes (8:57)
4. Little Umbrellas (3:09)
5. The Gumbo Variations (16:55)
6. It Must Be A Camel (5:17)
Total Time: 43:11
Line-up / Musicians
- Frank Zappa / guitar, octave bass, percussion, arranger & producer
- Captain Beefheart / vocals (2)
- Lowell George (uncredited) / rhythm guitar
- Ian Underwood / piano, organ, flutes, clarinets, saxes
- Don 'Sugarcane' Harris / electric violin (2,5)
- Jean-Luc Ponty / electric violin (6)
- Max Bennett / bass
- Shuggy Otis / bass (1)
- Ron Selico / drums (1)
- John Guerin / drums (2,4,6)
- Paul Humphrey / drums (3,5)