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A movie for your ears...

The very idea! An all-instrumental album, except for one vocal cut — and that had to feature Captain Beefheart! He's no singer! Why are you wasting America's precious time with this, you asshole!

Frank Zappa, sarcastically looking back at the bad reception of "Hot Rats" at the time in the USA, in his autobiography The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989)
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Hot Rats (1969) is a mostly instrumental music album by Frank Zappa. It was Zappa's second official solo album after Lumpy Gravy (1968) and was the first to be released after disbanding his original Mothers of Invention band. Ian Underwood was the only former member of the Mothers to appear on this album. The inclusion of Captain Beefheart was a guest spot happening around the same time when Zappa produced Beefheart's album Trout Mask Replica (1969).

Hot Rats is widely praised as one of Zappa's best albums and is generally his most well beloved record for people who aren't really fans of his work. The total absence of many of Zappa's trademarks (political and social satire, comedy, bawdy jokes, sudden experimental interruptions,...) may well explain its popularity. There's only one track with lyrics, "Willie The Pimp", sang by Captain Beefheart, and even his voice disappears after the first two minutes. Back then it flopped in the USA, but it was a top ten hit record in England and the Netherlands. Musically Hot Rats is sometimes categorized as jazz and indeed has elements of this genre. Its most popular track is "Peaches En Regalia", which became a regular concert favorite.

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The album is also the first part of what could be called Zappa's Jazz Fusion trilogy, along with Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo (both from 1972).

Tracklist

Side One

  1. "Peaches en Regalia" (3:38)
  2. "Willie the Pimp" (9:21)
  3. "Son of Mr. Green Genes" (8:58)

Side Two

  1. "Little Umbrellas" (3:06)
  2. "The Gumbo Variations" (12:53) note 
  3. "It Must Be a Camel" (5:15)

Personnel

  • Frank Zappa: guitar, octave bass, percussion
  • Ian Underwood: piano, organus maximus, flute, clarinet, saxophone
  • Max Bennett and Shuggie Otis: bass
  • Captain Beefheart: vocals
  • John Guerin, Paul Humphrey, Ron Selico: drums
  • Don "Sugarcane" Harris and Jean-Luc Ponty: violin
  • Lowell George: rhythm guitar

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Tropes En Regalia:

  • Album Title Drop: "Willie The Pimp".
    HOT MEAT HOT RATS HOT ZITZ HOT WRISTS HOT RITZ HOT ROOTS HOT SOOTS
  • Call-Back and Continuity Nod:
    • Captain Beefheart appears in the sleeve notes holding a vacuum cleaner. Vacuum cleaner imagery would return on Chunga's Revenge (1970), 200 Motels (1971) and One Size Fits All (1975).
    • "Hot Rats" is one of the stars in the sky on the album cover of One Size Fits All.
    • A man in a suit with a "bow-tie neck" is described in "Willie The Pimp". Bow-tie imagery appeared earlier on We're Only in It for the Money (1967) in the song "Bow-Tie Daddy", and later on Joe's Garage in "Packard Goose".
      • Beefheart sings "wanna buy a grunt with a third party check" in "Willie the Pimp". The musician thanks his name to an aborted film project by Zappa named Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People.
    • "Son of Mr. Green Genes" is a Call-Back to, and new version of, the song "Mr. Green Genes" on Uncle Meat (1969).
    • Zappa and the Mothers would perform "Peaches En Regalia" and "Willie The Pimp" live on Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971).
    • The water tub on the cover of Waka/Jawaka (1973) reads "hot" and "rats".
    • Orchestral Favorites (1979) was originally titled "Hot Rats III".
  • Crossover: Captain Beefheart sings at the start of "Willie The Pimp".
  • Dedication: The album is dedicated to Zappa's then new born son Dweezil.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover was designed by Cal Schenkel and John Williams note 
  • Epic Rocking: "Willie the Pimp" (9:21), "Son of Mr. Green Genes" (8:58) and "The Gumbo Variations" (12:53).
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "It Must Be Camel" seems to end after a few minutes, then comes back and goes full phase again. When the ending melodies return for the second time the track is over for real.
  • George Lucas Altered Version / Re-Cut: Like all of Zappa's albums, Hot Rats received remixing and digital effects for its original CD release. In Hot Rats' case, the entire album was drastically changed, including new organ and woodwind sections that were mixed out, as well as four additional minutes on "The Gumbo Variations", bringing it to 16:55. The guitar solo of "Willie the Pimp" was even re-edited to include different material. The original vinyl mix wouldn't see the light of day until its 2009 reissue on vinyl, and its 2012 reissue on CD. Unfortunately, if you prefer the remixed version, the only way to get it now isn't technically legal...
  • I Am X, Son of Y: "Son of Mr. Green Genes".
  • Infrared X-Ray Camera: The album cover was shot in this color technique.
  • Instrumentals: Most tracks are instrumental in nature. Only "Willie the Pimp" has some vocals by Captain Beefheart at the start, and "The Gumbo Variations" has some Studio Chatter at the beginning.
  • Jazz Fusion: Stylistically, the album sounds mostly like this.
  • New Sound Album: Zappa did all kinds of bizarre instrumental overdubbings (especially on the original CD remix), giving the album its colourful, smooth sound.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "Willie the Pimp" was inspired by a real life incident, explained during "The Story of Willie the Pimp" on Zappa's Mystery Disc.
  • Remix Album: The initial CD version used the same tapes as the vinyl version, but drastically changed the overall sound by bringing certain instruments to the forefront and burying others in the mix. And "The Gumbo Variations" somehow got four minutes longer.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Son of Mr. Green Genes" is a shout-out to the character Mr. Green Jeans from the children's TV series Captain Kangaroo. The "Son of" part of the title refers to an earlier vocal version of the song, "Mr. Green Genes", which appeared on the album Uncle Meat. Despite this, the full title of this song led to the Urban Legend that Zappa was really the son of the actor who played this character.
    • "Willie The Pimp" was covered by Alex Harvey on his album The Joker Is Wild (1972).
    • "Little Umbrellas" was sampled by the Belgian rock group dEUS on the track "W.C.'s First Draft" from their album Worst Case Scenario (1994).
    • Former Supergrass members Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey named their side-project band The Hotrats after this album.
  • Special Guest: Captain Beefheart on vocals during "Willie the Pimp".
  • Spiritual Successor: The Grand Wazoo (1972) and Waka/Jawaka (1972).
  • Studio Chatter: Zappa's band instructions at the beginning of "The Gumbo Variations". This is the only instance of this on the whole album, which made Hot Rats more listenable to non-Zappa devotees, who couldn't stand the dialogue snippets on previous albums.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Zappa describes the album in the liner notes as "a movie for your ears".
  • Your Little Dismissive Diminutive: "Little Umbrellas".

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