Album of the Week: Hot Rats!


With vinyl being a hot music commodity and back in vogue, it would seem inevitable that one of the music giants of the vinyl era would get remastered and re-released. Frank Zappa remains one of the those musical geniuses where his impact was missed by a deservedly larger fanbase while he roamed planet Earth. With a must-see documentary -- Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words (Sony Pictures Classic) -- currently in theaters and on demand, hopefully some of his genius will be discovered by a new generation of fans. Certainly the above-titled masterpiece Hot Rats, reissued by Zappa Records in August on 180gram vinyl cut directly from the original analog master tapes by Bernie Grundman, remains one of his cornerstone releases in his immense and musically varied catalog. 

Which brings us to the album itself... an album that I've purchased a few years after its initial vinyl release back in 1969 on Bizarre/Reprise Records and since then on numerous compact disc overhauls to its current version lovingly and faithfully rereleased by his estate. Leaning more towards the rock side of jazz-rock fusion, this juggernaut effort was released the same year as Miles Davis' masterpiece Bitches Brew. Moreover, this was Zappa's first solo album after The Mothers and on it he unleashed the full fury of his electric guitar chops. Joined by Ian Underwood on piano, organ, clarinet, and saxophone, this 6 track record has some of his most beloved instrumentals including the playful "Peaches En Regalia" which features Shuggie Otis on bass and Ron Selico on drums. And the mad horn and zany clarinet driven "Son of Mr. Green Jeans" featuring Paul Humphrey on drums and Max Bennett on bass.

The center piece track for me, and most fans, is "Willie The Pimp" featuring the only vocals on the album by mad genius Captain Beefheart. Certainly Beefheart's Howlin' Wolf yelps and Sugar Cane Harris' electric violin intro and outro riff provide sonic magic, but it's really Zappa's epic and majestic soloing that inspires the listener. For me, its sheer git-heavy audaciousness is rivaled only by Funkadelic lead guitarist Eddie Hazel on "Maggot Brain" released two years later. This nine minute plus tune never grows stale or tired. 

If you've never listened to Zappa before, you may want to start here. You won't be disappointed. Now hold your Bic lighters high and sway back and forth.