It was not without relevance that, in the late 1960s, Frank Zappa recorded for the Bizarre label, distributed by Reprise. Even by then, chiefly under the collective moniker of the Mothers of Invention, he had been challenging every convention known to the burgeoning American rock scene. He took that even further with his second release in his own name, the largely instrumental Hot Rats.
Zappa had only once before appeared on disc as himself, so to speak, with 1967’s characteristically experimental Lumpy Gravy, credited with the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra & Chorus. Incongruously appearing on the Verve label, that instrumental work had reached No. 153 in America in 1968, following the emergence of the Mothers as leading representatives of the counter-culture of the day.
Zappa, way ahead of his time as ever, continued his embrace of new technology on Hot Rats by recording it on the newly-available 16-track equipment. The record’s sonic collage was well suited to such treatment, with its satirical, esoteric and often surreal take on the social and musical landscape of the end of the ’60s.
Captain Beefheart was on hand to add vocals to the album’s best-known “song,” ‘Willie The Pimp,’ while other contributors included French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and multi-instrumentalist Shuggie Otis, still not yet 16 at the time of the album’s release. The album managed a No. 173 peak in a six-week stay on the US chart.
Just ahead of its appearance, a Warner/Reprise advertisement for its upcoming releases in Billboard laid out the following entertaining game plan for the album: “The Bizarre-Reprise release will get unconventional hypes, like posters on metropolitan garbage trucks and like delights. Plus a heavy poster-radio-newspaper promotion aimed at undermining the morals of students at America’s majorest colleges. Promise her anything, but give her Hot Rats.”
Hot Rats can be bought here.