Hot Rats

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For the band named in tribute to Zappa's album, see The Hotrats.
Hot Rats
Studio album by Frank Zappa
Released October 10, 1969
Recorded July 18 - August 30, 1969
T.T.G., Los Angeles
Sunset Sound, Los Angeles
Whitney Studios, Glendale using 16-track
Genre Jazz fusion, instrumental rock, progressive rock
Length 47:15
43:21 (2008/2012 remaster)
Label Bizarre/Reprise
Producer Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa chronology
Mothermania
(1969)
Hot Rats
(1969)
Burnt Weeny Sandwich
(1970)
Singles from Hot Rats
  1. "Peaches en Regalia"
    Released: 1970
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[1]
Robert Christgau C[2]
Yahoo! Music (favorable)[3]
All About Jazz (very favourable)[4]

Hot Rats is the second solo album by 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 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, the son's band, Zappa Plays Zappa, won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for their rendition of "Peaches en Regalia."[5]

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".[6] It was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[7]

Music[edit]

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 saxophones.

The opening track on Hot Rats is considered to be one of Zappa's most enduring compositions,[8][9] and has been covered by many artists.[10]
 

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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. 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.

Van Vliet's idiosyncratic vocal on Zappa's "Willie the Pimp" was among their collaborations.

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"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 Underwood.

"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 Bognor Regis, a town on the south coast of England. Musically, "Bognor Regis" is 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.

Advanced recording techniques[edit]

Zappa used advanced recording equipment to create an album of outstanding technical and musical quality. The album was recorded on what Zappa described as a "homemade sixteen track" recorder; the machine was custom built by engineers at TTG Studios in Hollywood in late 1968. Additional tracks made it possible for Zappa to add multiple horn and keyboard overdubs by Ian Underwood. Only a few musicians were required to create an especially rich instrumental texture which gives the sound of a large group. It was this use of advanced overdubbing that was the main motivation for Zappa, who hated playing in a studio.[11]

Zappa was among the first to record drums on multiple tracks. This made it possible to create a stereo drum sound. Prior to this time the entire drum set was typically recorded to a single (mono) track of an 8-track recorder. On Hot Rats, however, four of the tracks were assigned to the main drum set, including individual tracks for the snare and bass drums and left and right tracks for other drums and cymbals. In this setup the engineer had unprecedented control over the sound of each drum component in the final mix. This technique was widely imitated and became the norm in the early 1970s when machines with 16 or more tracks became widely available.

Zappa pioneered the use of tape speed manipulation to produce unusual timbres and tonal colors. On "Peaches en Regalia", "Son of Mr. Green Genes", and "It Must Be a Camel" Zappa plays "double-speed percussion." After recording basic tracks (drums, bass, guitar and piano, etc.) at the fast speed of the recorder, Zappa played additional drum overdubs while listening to the basic tracks at half speed. On the finished recording, played at normal speed again, the overdubs are heard at twice the usual speed and pitch. This gives the drum overdubs a bizarre, comical quality, much like toy drums.

Other instruments were processed in a similar way, including keyboards, saxophones and bass. Zappa is credited with "octave bass" (a bass guitar sped up to double speed)—the resulting sound is similar to that of a guitar but according to Zappa has more "punch" and energy. Additionally, a processed electronic organ was integrated as an orchestral voice within an ensemble of woodwinds and piano. "It Must Be a Camel" features the sound of a hard plastic comb being stroked, sounding almost like a jerky, audio slow-motion bell tree or wind chime; Zappa also 'plays' a ratchet wrench as percussion on "Willie the Pimp". This was all done with analog technology more than 10 years before modern digital sound processing equipment became available.

Artwork[edit]

The colourful, psychedelic aura of the late sixties is apparent in the graphic design and photography of Hot Rats, though Zappa himself actually disdained the psychedelic movement. At a time when foldouts were usually reserved for double-disc albums, this one-disc album had a foldout emphasizing the photography as well as the elaborate artwork of Cal Schenkel. The cover photo by Andee Cohen Nathanson, utilizes infrared photography and reflects Zappa's taste for striking visual images, combined with the absurdly humorous. The woman pictured on the cover is "Miss Christine" Frka of The GTOs.

Release history[edit]

The LP version was released on the blue Bizarre Records label in 1969. In 1973 the album was re-issued by Reprise Records. The Reprise version was deleted in the early 1980s when Zappa's contract with record distributor Warner Bros. Records ended. The inside of the original gatefold LP cover has a collage of color pictures, many of which were taken during the recording sessions. On the initial CD edition many of these were removed, and the few that were included were printed in black and white. The 1995 reissue restored the full gatefold artwork.

In 1987 Zappa remixed Hot Rats for re-issue on Compact Disc. "Willie the Pimp" is edited differently during the introduction and guitar solo. "The Gumbo Variations" has 4 minutes of additional material including an introduction and guitar and saxophone solo sections which were cut from the vinyl LP version. Piano and flute which were buried in the LP mix of "Little Umbrellas" are prominent on the CD. Other differences include significant changes to the overall ambiance and dynamic range. A 2008 remaster of the original mix was used for a 2009 limited edition audiophile LP by Classic Records and for the 2012 Universal Music reissue.[12]

Though not a hit in the U.S., it was a top ten hit in England and the Netherlands in 1969-70.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Frank Zappa. 

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Peaches en Regalia"   3:38
2. "Willie the Pimp"   9:21
3. "Son of Mr. Green Genes"   8:58
Side two
No. Title Length
4. "Little Umbrellas"   3:06
5. "The Gumbo Variations"   12:53
6. "It Must Be a Camel"   5:15
Total length:
43:11

Personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from Hot Rats liner notes.[13]

Also featuring

Production[edit]

  • Producer: Frank Zappa
  • Director of engineering: Dick Kunc
  • Engineers: Cliff Goldstein, Jack Hunt, Brian Ingoldsby, Dick Kunc
  • Arranger: Frank Zappa
  • Cover design: Cal Schenkel
  • Design: Cal Schenkel, John Williams

Charts[edit]

Album - Billboard (North America)

Year Chart Position
1969 Pop Albums 173

References[edit]

  1. ^ Huey, Steve (2011). "Hot Rats - Frank Zappa | AllMusic". allmusic.com. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Christgau, Robert (January 29, 1970). "Consumer Guide (7)". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved April 29, 2013. 
  3. ^ yahoo
  4. ^ MacLaren, Trevor (31 March 2003). "Frank Zappa: Hot Rats". allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "Frank Zappa: Biography". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2011-02-22. 
  6. ^ Q Classic: Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, 2005.
  7. ^ 1001 Albums You Must Hear - 2008 Edition
  8. ^ Lowe, 2006, The Words and Music of Frank Zappa, p. 74.
  9. ^ Couture, François. "Peaches en Regalia [Song Review]". Allmusic. Retrieved April 11, 2010. 
  10. ^ Notable covers include: Jon Poole, What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?; Meridian Arts Ensemble, Prime Meridian; Dixie Dregs, California Screamin '​; Dweezil Zappa, Go with What You Know; Phish, Vegas 96; The Roots, How I Got Over
  11. ^ a b Neil Slaven (2003-03-01). Electric Don Quixote. pp. 141–144. ISBN 978-0-7119-9436-2 
  12. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20120802022949/http://theseconddisc.com/2012/07/30/would-you-go-all-the-way-zappa-reissues-arrive-and-details-emerge-next-batch-announced
  13. ^ (1969). "Hot Rats liner notes". In Hot Rats [Album cover]. Bizarre.

External links[edit]