Frank Zappa: Hot Rats (1969)

God protect us from the Zappa people.  The cult-like fanatics utterly convinced that our failure to appreciate the mad genius of Zappa is a personal failing, and we just need to give it more time, maybe try out just one more of his thousands of genre-defying albums, and we will absolutely find that moment of pure revelation.  (Hell, even The Onion nailed 'em.)

I've actually given it the college try, accumulating a pretty sizable Zappa collection.  Alas, I am still not convinced.  I admire his musicianship, his innovation and broad reach.  But I'm often put off by the sophomoric (and often snooty and misogynistic) lyrics, the weirdness for weirdness' sake, and all the damn marimbas.  Is there a better way to ruin an otherwise decent track than to add marimbas?  That said, I do like selected songs in the massive discography ("Joe's Garage" is pretty great).

The one component of his catalogue I genuinely enjoy is his largely-instrumental fusion work.  There's no denying the compositional and musical talent of Zappa and his various bandmates over the years.  So kicking back to one of his less vocally-inclined albums or live performances is, like my occasional visits to prog-rockers like Yes, something I like to indulge in now and then, if only to admire the dynamic and creative musical explorations.

Of his more instrumentally-focused albums, Hot Rats is a personal favorite.  In addition to the relatively pithy "Peaches en Regalia," an almost straightforward jazz piece accented by the usual instrumental weirdness, you've got longer jams like "Son of Mr. Green Genes" -- again with plenty of the telltale Zappa weirdness that I can take in small doses, but also some pretty cool guitar work; and the free jazz/prog workout "The Gumbo Variations."  And "Willie the Pimp," while I can take or leave the abrasive Captain Beefheart vocals on the front end, has a fun, funky vibe going on.  Album closer "It Must Be A Camel" is another piece that could have passed for straight jazz, but for the odd experimentalism.

Anyway, given the relative dearth of marimbas and Zappa's often-condescending-sounding vocals, it's probably the one Zappa album I actually play from start to finish (alongside 1972's Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo).

And with that, I've waded into the Zappa pool.  God help me.

Here's "Peaches" as performed by Dweezil Zappa:
 Here's an extended live jam from 1973 kicking off with "Green Genes":
And as a bonus, here's Phish covering "Peaches":

For serious diehards who really like Hot Rats, they just released a box set with 6 CDs of sessions and alternate takes.  Knock yourself out:

Comments

  1. My first Zappa album. I knew Sheik Yerbouti from the local NPR station that played a full album in the evening one night a week. I was in high school and there was a cook who worked at our restaurant - he was 24 or 25 years old. He did not have a car so me and one of my buddies drove him home and his offer for compensation was we could sift through his records and pick one. This is the one I picked. The fates were with me that night.

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