I have two Frank Zappa shirts, both of them have a large picture of Zappa on the front. I wear them to school on occasion, sometimes back to back so I get weird stares from people wondering why I wear the same shirt two days in a row. Whenever you look at Zappa something makes you chuckle, and I don’t know what it is. It could be his long, oily, and greasy curly hair. Maybe it’s his smooth mustache or goatee. It’s possible that it’s his sort of dumb look on his face, you don’t really know what the guy is thinking, it could be anything. If anything you get the impression that Zappa isn’t your ordinary man.
Sometimes people ask me who the hell the weird guy on my shirt is. I tell them that it’s Frank Zappa, who happens to be an excellent musician. I remember someone asking me how many albums he has released. I said “around 80 or so” and then they wanted a serious response. I bet that certain person is wondering how such a strange man can release so many albums, and why he hasn’t heard of him before. I’ve never really gotten anyone into Frank Zappa, and I suppose that they are sort of scared off by his odd hair and the weird look on his face. My dad never liked Zappa because he thought that his music was to unconventional, than I pulled out ‘Hot Rats’ for him to listen to.After he listened to the album all the way through his opinions on Frank Zappa and music in general were changed quite a bit.
The key to getting into ‘Hot Rats’ is to listen to it with an open mind. Although the album is probably Zappa’s most famous album it isn’t very easy to get into. No Zappa albums sound the same, so if you already own some of his albums this could be a completely different experience. I suppose that’s what makes Zappa so great, he can churn out so many albums yet things don’t sound similar at all, he is always up to something and could care less what other people think about him or his music.
‘Hot Rats’ has influences of jazz, classic rock, blues, and funk, things go together quite smoothly. While listening to this album it is almost like Mr. Zappa picks you up and takes you into another world. When I listen to it pianos, guitars, and brass instruments blend together so smoothly it feels like I am in a magical island eating strawberry ice cream. The piano lines are jazzy and upbeat, the guitars are slippery, funky, and quick paced. As for the brass instruments, well they add sort of jazzy and spicey feel to the music. ‘Hot Rats’ is a jazz-fusion album that was years ahead of its time, so how exactly did Frank pull it off" You will find out shortly.
Peaches En Regalia
The album kicks off with the catchiest and most radio friendly song featured on ‘Hot Rats.’ It sort of sounds like something that would be playing at an Chinese restaurant. A quick drum line kicks things off and then you are sort of surrounded by different sounds. A smooth guitar riff comes into the scene along with a beautiful piano arpeggio to back things up. More guitars come into the mix, playing a funky/pop riff. At this point things start getting extremely groovy and you will be guessing what is coming next. Out of nowhere three different brass instrument come in by themselves. A clarinet, saxophone, and an oboe are presented and this is where the huge jazz influence beings. The three brass instruments are extremely high-pitched, playing a jazzy and extremely simple riff. They sound like something that would be playing at an extremely formal restaurant. Back come some guitars only this time they are playing a more wobbly and unstable funk line. Soon another guitar comes in and repeats a simple riff while Zappa goes into a short 15 second funk solo. It really makes you want to get up and dance, his guitar playing is just so smooth and creative. An electronic keyboard comes in very briefly churning out some smooth electronic effects. Quickly following the keyboard line are the three brass instruments that I already mentioned. They play another high pitched line in the same rhythm, sounding like something that would be played at a wedding. Out of nowhere a mini 15 second saxophone solo takes you by surprise it is extremely precise and sharp. After this the song really starts winding down for the last minute or so. Guitars play simple melodies accompanied by the three brass instruments. A keyboard riff also takes place which carries most of the rhythm. The keyboard riff is extremely goofy yet simple. I takes control for the last thirty seconds while a clarinet and saxophone aimlessly weave in and out of the song. All in all I think this is one of Zappas most imaginative and intriguing songs. It’s main influence is jazz, mixed in with some funky guitar riffage. Peaches En Regalia is the most well done track on the album. It incorporates about nine different instruments into the song and is so smooth and slick that it could be an acceptable theme song for Fonzi.
Willie the Pimp
With a song title like this you know that things will be entertaining to say the least. The track kicks off with a soothing, upbeat, and extremely groovy violin line. A guitar comes in and matches the exact same rhythm as the violin creating a funky, retro feel. This same riff goes on for about one minute. Willie the Pimp is the only song on the album that features any vocals at all, and they are sung by Captain Beefheart. He has a rough, raspy, and tough voice, he sounds like a sixty year old blues singer that is way past his prime. His raspy voice works well as he spits out the words singing about a pimp. At about one minute an electric guitar plays some short, choppy lines and Beefheart is still shouting out lyrics. The solo begins, but Beefheart is still singing about ‘Hot Rats.’His voice fades away quickly and the solo begins.
The guitar solo is slippery, funky, bluesy, psychadelic, and sloppy. At about two minutes you can hear Beefheart yelling, but it is overpowered by the solo. For about the first two minutes the solo is quick paced and as groovy as it gets. It won’t get you up and dancing or anything but you will be quite surprised by how well a goofy person like Zappa can play the guitar. At about four minutes things get a bit heavier and start to slow down. The influence of psychadelica comes in and takes you away. The grooves and hooks are still present, it’s not like the solo comes to a halting stop but you can tell that things are sort of slowing down. Around six minutes drums start to accompany the guitar, and it sounds excellent. The drumming is solid and fairly melodic, but it doesn’t really match up with the guitar. The solo picks up again and Zappa is playing extremely quick paced and it seems like he is avoiding the drumming and just going off on his own. At eight minutes the solo goes into a sloppy funk mess and it’s probably the most amazing part of the solo. The groovy nature of the solo will just make you feel like an old pimp. The last twenty seconds of the song is a repetition of the violin and electric guitar playing the same riff as the song started out with. As Willie the Pimp comes to the end the guitar solo will be swirling around in your
Son of Mr. Green Genes
After the seven minute guitar solo the third track off the album kind of takes you by surprise. A quick drum roll kicks things off and than you are shoved in Son or Mr. Green Genes. A clarinet and a saxophone play a high pitched line that match up with each other. The sound is similar to Peaches En Regalia only things are a lot more laid back. The saxophone sort of fades out the clarinet takes control, backed up by some dreamy keyboard playing. Then after a keyboard crescendo a brief guitar solo comes into play. The guitar work is pretty basic, it is backed up by a simple piano chord and some melodic drumming. The guitar quickly fades into the background of the music, and then a catchy trumpet line appears. At this point the guitar takes over again, accompanied by some glistening effects. The trumpet sounds like something that would be playing in a high school marching band. Zappa’s guitar solo goes on, backed up by some rough and sort of heavy drumming. This is one of those guitar solos that are effective if you kick back and relax, the drumming and frequent piano chords keep things extremely jazzy and laid back. At around six and a half minutes the sparkly effects come back into the song and Zappa takes you away to a mystical world. Son of Mr. Green Genes ends with a huge array of twinkly keyboard effects, along with some muted trumpet riffs. I suppose it sounds like something that would come out of a Mickey Mouse movie. The song finally comes to an end a piano chord and a quick drum line. Overall I see this as another key track off the album. The guitar solo isn’t jaw dropping yet the electric keyboard playing adds a whole new-wave feel to the song.
This is the shortest and jazziest song off the album. It sounds like something that be belong in a Pink Panther movie, it has sort of a sly, and sneaky feel to it. The song kicks off with some simple piano chords, along with an extremely groovy and snake like trumpet line. This lasts for about a minute or so, and than some soft drumming comes in along with some soothing electric keyboard effects. The trumpet line comes to an end and the song is quickly taken over by various electronic effects, piano chords, and some chiming noises. At about two and half minutes into the song a flute solo appears out of nowhere. It is well done and fits in with the tune sounding like something that would be in a Robin Hood soundtrack. The song ends with the same trumpet line it started with, along with a smooth saxophone riff.
The Gumbo Variations
You can hear Zappa saying “take two” before the song begins. An extremely soft bass-line kicks things off along with some maraca jingles. Out of nowhere comes a snake like guitar line along with a manic saxophone solo. This may be very hard to listen to since the saxophone sounds like an elephant that is having a spas attack. The guitar quickly disappears and it is just the saxophone and some more basic drumming. This saxophone solo lasts for about five minutes so brace yourself. It is a jam session, only the main instrument is not an electric guitar. The sax goes through some interesting loops and lines, hitting some tough notes while still remaining fresh and jazzy. Sometimes the solo can be hard to listen to, it can get very high pitched and just gets on my nerves if I’m not in the mood. That being said it sounds like something that would be played by a man on the streets of New Orleans, only much more advanced and experimental.
At 5:47 everything stops except for the saxophone, and a bass-line appears. The bass is simple, yet groovy enough to make you know that the song is going into a more slow and detached pace. Somehow the saxophone keeps on chugging only this time it is playing more detached and broken up melodies. A guitar and drums come back into the scene after the mini jam session and the saxophone is finally done. At this point the electric guitar and bass accompany each other with pure excellence. Both instruments weave in and out of the drum beat so well that you will just drop your jaw at how excellent the music is composed. It has a classic rock feel to it as the instruments mesh together so well with the tight groovy feel to them.
We are now at 8:20. Another extensive guitar solo comes out of nowhere as the same soothing bass-line keeps on playing over and over again. More guitars back up the guitar solo that is already going on, so now the sound is sort of crowded and crammed full of different noises. Zappa’s high pitched solo goes on for a while and it doesn’t even sound like a regular guitar, it is very high pitched and sort of annoying at points. This lasts for four minutes, and the solo goes through many different progressions and softer tones.
12:24 is the time we are at as of now. As Zappa’s odd sounding guitar solo fades out guess what we have next" Yeah, another solo comes into play and by this time you are wondering how many guitar solos will be in this song. This is possibly Franks most low, and bass sounding solo on the whole album. It has sort of an abrasive and deep sounding feel to it. The bass line slows down into a more groovy style but this solo is extremely fast. The swirling and whirling funk effects turn this into Zappas most unique guitar work featured on ‘Hot Rats.’ I really dig this part of the song just because the guitar work is so quick and psychadelic yet it is flawless. I wish I could see a close up on Franks fingers, because it is extremely interesting how he can play so many notes in such a short period of time.
For the next forty five seconds or so is just a brief drum and bass riff. This is extremely enjoyable because it gives you some time to relax and is probably the most laid-back part of the whole song. The drum beats aren’t to difficult but they are simple and catchy. Matching the same melody are some soothing bass licks. This brief section of the song is simple yet groovy and effective.
The last two minutes of the song are pure chaos. Another frantic guitar line comes onto the scene along with some quick paced drumming. I suppose this sounds like the section solo featured on the song, it has a high pitched, screechy feel to it, almost like a noise that would come out of a vulture. Yet another bass-line comes in and shows off the bass playing quite well. Throughout the song the playing is soft, soothing, and groovy and it shows off well at the tail end of the song. I wish the song would have just ended with the funky bass-line, but another panicky guitar line comes in and finally ends this seventeen minute jam.
It Must be a Camel
‘Hot Rats’ comes to an end with a piano driven tune. The song kicks off with some easy going drumming, a soothing bass-line and some simple piano chord progressions. This goes on for about forty five seconds, and it really is a fresh of breath air after the long jam session. A saxophone line comes into play, starting off extremely low and just playing a quick scale. It repeats itself a few times, and then goes on into some neat loops. We are quickly taken back to the piano chords and some mystical electronic effects back up the sound creating the most atmospheric sound on the album. A twinkling keyboard chord is held down and some Zappa messes around with some xylophone sounding arrangements. At this point the song is completely driven by a piano and keyboard effects. At 2:30 the piano and bass get back into the song. The piano plays some quick chords and the bass also picks up the pace with its slick riff. A guitar comes into the scene along with the piano and they both go into a little solo, weaving in and out of the song. It sounds really mellow and chilled out, almost like Zappa is making some nice elevator music. A flute begins to play softly and winds up taking over for a little bit. It matches up nicely with the piano chords and the simple drum beat. At 4:22 the song starts to wind down again with the same saxophone scale that was played at the beginning of the song. The sax plays some more easy going jazz music as the song begins to wind down. A few piano notes are played for the last fifteen seconds of the song and than ‘Hot Rats’ goes out in style.
Perhaps I overloaded you with too much info about the album, so I’ll keep things simple as I rap things up. ‘Hot Rats’ features many guitar solos, along with many brass instrument that find their way into the music along with pianos, and electronic keyboards. The music presented hear is very jazzy but it doesn’t have much direction, especially the frantic jam session. I don’t really know if this is a good place to start if you want some Frank Zappa, all of his albums are just so different. I do know that this album is very well composed and put together, if you want to listen to some crafty guitar work and interesting songs than you should pick this up.
‘Hot Rats’ proves that you do not need a lot of vocals to make good, interesting music. The album is filled with different instruments, arrangements, and frantic soloing. It is an entertaining and interesting trip through music. My man Frank Zappa takes you into another world with his relaxing, funky, fresh, and smooth playing. While ‘Hot Rats’ can be hard to listen to at points, it makes up for it in creativity and composition.