Sweltering Hot Rats



















Frank Zappa- Willie the Pimp and The Gumbo Variations
From: Hot Rats [Bizarre Records, 1969]

With the sweltering heat wave coming through the Pacific Northwest region as of late, temperatures are set to average between 95-100 over the next several days in Portland. With that said, I plan on writing this post as quickly as possible while not sacrificing the quality of the review.

I have never been the biggest Frank Zappa fan, mostly because the material I had heard up to that point was of the hokey parody variety, and it didn't sit quite right with my tastes at the time. Over the past couple years, I've grown an appreciation for the skilled musicianship and innovative ideas contained in much of Zappa's recording output from '66 to'72, especially Chunga's Revenge and Freak Out. Considering this, it's odd that I had yet to give Hot Rats, one of the most critically acclaimed records in Zappa's discography, a true listen until this past week.

Obviously I knew that I couldn't go wrong with "Willie the Pimp," the epic, head-spinning Captain Beefheart/Zappa collaboration, but the rest of the album was uncharted territory. The opening track, "Peaches in Regalia," immediately peaked my curiosity with its orchestral flourishes and perfectly placed horns. It sounded like a slightly off-kilter version of theme music from a classic 70's TV show with a strong jazz influence. But nothing could prepare me for the aforementioned deep cut "Willie the Pimp". It's the only non-instrumental song on the entire album, with Captain Beefheart's guest appearance, but the vocal section of the song only takes up a small section of the song. Zappa's insanely majestic guitar solo dominates the track, with blistering fretboard runs that rival some of the best to ever sling an axe.  The next track, "Son of Mr. Green Genes," starts out slow and easy only to erupt into another of Zappa's fiery solos within the next minute-and-a-half. Rather than being a song consisting a long guitar solo, this one mixes in horns and orchestral bits to even out the sound a bit. Make no mistake though, this track is still cooking with grease!

I like the way "Little Umbrellas" starts with a cool little bass and piano groove, but as the track goes on it loses steam. "The Gumbo Variations" really flexes its jazz muscle well with some complex, agile saxophone solos that are the focal point of the track. Let's not forget the phenomenal rhythm section that keeps the proceedings moving along nicely along with the violin and sax solos for the duration of the track. My favorite part of this track is at the 12:20 mark of the song when the drummer starts playing out of his mind right as Zappa's electrifying guitar solo begins. There's even a great drum and bass break at the end of the song that goes on for close to thirty seconds to pull in the hip-hop crowd. As far as I'm concerned, it would have made sense to end the record on this high note, but they chose to close it with another slow number akin to "Peaches En Regalia."  All in all, I'm glad that I was finally introduced to the greatness of Hot Rats.

Enjoy!

Comments

Donald Murray said…
Interesting. I would have assumed you would have known this as its one of those albums I grew up with. The fact that you don't means you can listen to it with completely fresh ears - I envy you. Zappa used to annoy the life out of me until I saw him live and I realised what a genius he was. This is his most commercial but far from his best. Never pretty, always spikey and cynical, I grew into him as the years went by. His musicianship was immense and he was an astonishingly good guitarist even if he never quite learned when to stop.. This is what made America great once upon a time. Just a shame there doesn't seem to be anyone around these days to fill his boots. Having read your review I shall dust down my old vinyl copy and wallow in a bit of nostalgia.
Konrad Useo said…
Your review is well stated, & I find myself in complete agreement. Thanks for the inspiration to hear it again.
Kevin said…
Don: It's great to see you here again! Yeah, I was really late to the Zappa party, mostly due to the fact that I was only exposed to his corny parody songs. Thankfully, I was introduced to the records that showcased his stellar guitar playing like Hot Rats, Imaginary Diseases, Chunga's Revenge and Over-nite Sensation. Now, I can't get enough of this stuff! I like that he doesn't know when to stop, as it gives the solos plenty of room to stretch out and get comfortable inside your brain. I'm glad that you were inspired to dust off your OG copy of the record based on my review.

Konrad: I'm glad that you dug the review, and that it motivated you to give it another listen.

I hope that you both keep coming back for more fresh tunes.

Best,

Kevin

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