Like a few of the albums I’ve reviewed on this blog, I don’t think Frank Zappa needs much of an introduction. Still though, I’m sometimes surprised and amazed when people haven’t heard of him, and I’ve not even that much of a Zappa fan. Hot Rats is my favorite of his, mainly because it features only one song with vocals, and that song is sung by a personal favorite, Captain Beefheart. To me, this album is like the shining example of what a Rock / Jazz fusion can achieve, Zappa takes the best of both worlds to create a seamless blend. Unbeknownst to me, I had been listening to the 1987 reissue for CD version of Hot Rats. There are slight differences throughout the album, but certain songs are mixed completely differently. When I finally got this on vinyl my mind was blown and I still can’t make up my mind as to which one I prefer.
The album opens with Peaches en Regalia, a breezy and erratic song, but one that loops in on itself. It repeats the same phrases but slightly differently every time, something they’ll repeat throughout the album. Willie the Pimp is one of my favorite songs of all time, and it’s one of the songs that was completely changed when Zappa remixed the album in ’87. The reissue version has one of my favorite song intros, just the violin and drums, then the bass, then a shrieking guitar brings it all together. The vinyl version has the all the band members playing together right away, and I feel it’s just not as good as the dramatic entrance. I just can’t get over that violin and drum intro, just thinking about the song makes me want to play it again so I can hear that intro one more time, I’ve never gotten over it. Captain Beefheart provides the only vocals on the entire album with this song, and his Howlin’ Wolf growl fits perfectly with the tone of Zappa’s guitar. His solo which lasts nearly the whole song is simply stunning, the creativity that he pours into this song (and this album) is just incredible.
The Gumbo Variations is another favorite, with a 16 minute run-time, it’s a sprawling and insane song. Solo after solo, all led by a thick and loud bass and funky drum set. The violin I fell in love with is back, this time it’s plugged in. Ian Underwood on the sax is the king of this track though, he just completely owns it. There’s not much more I can say about this song or this album, it’s simply incredible and mind blowing. This should really be in everyone’s repertoire of music. Another ESSENTIAL album.