It seems fitting that the last post on a song from the Sixties should be from the last year of that decade and from a guy, born today, whose name begins with “Z.” Hot Rats, like Astral Weeks (from yesterday), is one of the great albums of the Sixties and is rather sui generis. They call it “jazz fusion.” I just call it “Zappa.”
Frank Zappa (December 21, 1944-December 4, 1993) enlists 16 tracks for recording back when 8 was still considered luxurious. This enabled him to record his trusty cohort Ian Underwood playing a host of instruments, seemingly simultaneously. Everything but drums, sometimes bass (though Zappa plays the latter, treated in the recording process on today’s song), and a few notable solo spots for electric violinists Jean-Luc Ponty and Don “Sugarcane” Harris, as well as a very memorable vocal, on one track, “Willie the Pimp,” by Captain Beefheart.
Today’s song opens the album and remains as one of Zappa’s signal compositions. Lively, stately, fun, “Peaches en Regalia” (great title!) gets Hot Rats off on the right foot. Which is to say, the track is a celebration of music for music’s sake and that is much of what the album strikes me as. Zappa albums often explore oddball associations with quirky narratives, but Hot Rats is all about making music happen. The entire raison d’être seems to be the fact that, using multi-tracking techniques, Zappa can orchestrate an album as he sees fit. There are jams on the album, but even they are sometimes edited according to the album’s general aesthetic. In other words, the album isn’t so much about musicians playing together as it is about creating a studio-derived artifact. A party for the ears.
Zappa went on to record many other large-scale musical projects, but none that I’ve heard—and I heard pretty much everything up to the end of the Seventies—gives me the sheer unadulterated pleasure I find in Hot Rats, and in “Peaches” in particular. There are jazz tracks that do—I’ve posted about a few in this series—and there are classical tracks that do, such as “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.” There’s a feeling in such music that the point of music is to give your ears something to do.
There isn’t much I can say about Zappa’s sovereign peaches. From the opening drum roll to the first statement of the theme in the first 40 seconds, to that ultra-cool sounding guitar bit Frank drops in with, about a minute in, it’s just one short excerpt after another that keeps building, blending, and throwing off sparks, and then you get floored by that very regal-sounding bit (probably where the name comes from), at 1:46 to 2:04 (mostly sax I guess), then—zap—into a really cartoonish part—until we get back to the main theme at 2:30ish, with so many little musical sallies on the outro/fade, including percussive percolations.
It’s an amazingly crafted bit of fluff, but it sounds like anything from a perfect meal to a lovely day to a fun outing to a casual stroll to . . . well, you name it. A really tasty peach of a peach.