It’s the time of year for saving money!
When Frank Zappa digitized his catalogue in the
late 80s, he — in some instances —
went back to the multi-track tapes to create entirely new mixes. Choices were
made, some good, some less so (released on the Rykodisc label).
This Fall, the Zappa Family Trust began a
reissue program (in conjunction with Universal Music). One of the most exciting
treats in the series is the first appearance on CD of the original LP mix of Zappa’s 1969 classic
“Hot Rats,” a pioneering jazz rock fusion release. “Hot
Rats” was among the most contested of Zappa’s reinventions for CD back in
the day — it boasted additional music (unedited takes) and the overall sonic
focus was dramatically different. Its interesting, but the LP mix is
historically, arguably, “ground zero” for the album. It sounds solid
on the new reissue and works REALLY well when you turn your stereo up loud; the
emphasis is on a group sound and combined instrument resonances.
Here’s how the new old version stacks up against the old new:
En Regalia: Radically remixed, FZ’s manic mandolin-like
guitar work was put way up front on the Ryko CD. Now it is much more subdued as
a texture on the original and overall feels more like an ensemble.
The Pimp: The stark intro on the Ryko CD is followed by
extreme left-right panning effects on the guitar solo. The original mix,
in contrast, opens with the whole band rocking-out; Captain Beefheart’s vocals
are more upfront and FZ’s guitar sound is rounder, more or less stationary in
of Mr. Green Genes: Bathed in reverb, the Ryko mix is very
different and less dramatic, with more bite on FZ’s guitar tone. The original
LP mix features natural sounding drums and unique woodwind blends punctuating
FZ’s round-toned guitar work.
Umbrellas: The Ryko mix focuses on piano not Max Bennett’s
lovely bass work. The new CD reissue returns attention to the bass’ grand
acoustic textures. When the Ellington-hued woodwinds come in at the end, it
Variations: This is the one track on the Ryko CD which
keeps most true to the original, but adds cool studio chatter and extra music
(4 minutes or so). The new CD’s LP mix is more lush, rocking and bluesy, with
Sugarcane Harris’ sax wailing like a mad snake on the attack.
Must be a Camel: The lush original LP mix is like
snoozing in your grandmother’s quilt on a crisp Sunday afternoon in October;
the Ryko version is more like nodding out in a chair in high school detention
on a Tuesday in February.
So what do you do? Unless you have an original
LP pressing or the 2009 Classic Records 200 gram reissue, you should get this
CD. Keep the Ryko CD as a curio or, rip
it to your digital music collection and give the disc to a relative or friend
who might be interested in learning about Zappa. The original mix wins hands
Another issue is that there’s yet another mix that is generally forgotten. The version of “Hot Rats” in the second volume of the “Old Masters” box set, sold only through direct mail order from Barking Pumpkin, was remixed by Frank himself. It’s noticeably different than the original vinyl mix and from the first CD release (I haven’t heard the Ryko version). Also, Warner released a sampler album a year or two after the original vinyl release that included a “Peaches en Regalia” that, if memory serves, had been tweaked further. I’m counting five variant mixes among commercial releases. So collectors who want to have “them all” need to consider more than just the Ryko and this new mix.
I only have the first volume of the Old Masters so I didn’t know about that variant. Thanks for the head up. Sounds like the Zappa family could put out a box set entirely on Hot Rats and its variant mixes. Makes me wonder if there was a Mono mix done for radio at some point… Hmmm…
Uh, somewhere lost in the gumbo is the fact(check) that Sugarcane Harris is a violinist, not a sax player.