Frank Zappa - Hot Rats (1970)

Peaches En Regalia    3:37
Willie the Pimp    9:16
Son of Mr. Green Genes    8:29
Little Umbrellas    3:03
The Gumbo Variations  16:57
It Must Be a Camel    5:16
Total Time: 47 min, 11 sec

This album seems to be the one that most "casual" fans (and quite a few "hard core" fans) consider Zappa's best. This was the first real solo album Frank did since Lumpy Gravy - the only Mothers in the Hot Rats band were Frank himself and Ian Underwood. They were joined by Captain Beefheart on vocals, Don "Sugar Cane" Harris on violin, Jean Luc Ponty on violin, and a host of guest drummers and bassists. Whereas the previous album, Uncle Meat, had relied largely on composed material, Hot Rats contains lots of rock and jazz jamming and soloing.

The disc opens with the oddly beautiful Peaches En Regalia. The first time I heard this song, it stuck me as sounding very weird. But eventually it redefined the idea of beautiful music for me until I came to wonder what I had ever found so strange about it. It's a perfect little composition that doesn't overstay its welcome. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about Willie the Pimp. Most Zappa fans consider this a classic track - after all, it has Captain Beefheart on vocals and Sugar Cane Harris on violin, plus a no-holds-barred, smoking guitar solo from Zappa. But I have to be in the right mood to get into the ugliness of this track, and even then it seems to go on way too long. But like I said, the majority of Zappa fans seem to disagree with me on this one.

Son of Mr. Green Genes is basically an eight and a half minute rocker that takes the melody of Uncle Meat's Mr. Green Genes and expands it to a huge and somewhat bombastic scale. This track is also famous for spawning the rumor that Frank was, in real life, the son of the actor who played Mr. Green Genes on the Captain Kangaroo show. He wasn't.

Little Umbrellas is another short and sweet composition in the style of Peaches En Regalia, but more relaxed. Umbrellas features a gorgeous bass line. The Gumbo Variations is a 17 minute jazzy jam fest full of thick, grinding organ sounds, bouncy bass and upbeat drumming, over which Frank (on guitar), Ian Underwood (on sax) and Sugar Cane Harris (on violin) trade some amazingly good leads. The bass and drums even get a short solo section near the end. The track goes on and on and on, and sounds great the whole way through. I even like the "practice runs" beginning that was added for the CD release. A monster track.

The disc ends with the peaceful (relative to the high energy of the previous track) It Must Be a Camel. This one sounds the closest to straight jazz on the album, but still a rather avant jazz. It's a track that I'll have to get to know better, because when I first got this CD I didn't have a CD player yet, so I copied it to tape. Unfortunately, the tape ran out about a minute into this song, so although I've heard the rest of the album dozens of times, I've only heard the entire "Camel" a few times. I like it so far...

Anyway, Hot Rats is definitely recommend to those who want to hear some beautiful instrumental music ("Willie" is the only track with vocals) in a general jazz/rock vein, with some great solos from Zappa on guitar and the others on their respective instruments. Those who love this album might also want to pick up The Lost Episodes, which features about 20 minutes worth of great extra material from these sessions. I wonder why Zappa didn't just make Hot Rats a double album? Imagine.

Album Cover

Image of the Hot Rats album cover