Frank Zappa, “Dame Margaret’s Son to Be a Bride (1969 Quick Mix)” (Zappa/UMe)
Frank Zappa's first solo album, Hot Rats, is receiving a 50th anniversary box set reissue, with six CDs encompassing a slew of rare mixes, work mixes, previously unreleased archival material, and a 28-page booklet accompanying the original six songs that appeared on the 1969 LP. (Heck, there's even a board game. Note: A single-vinyl version on translucent hot pink wax is also coming out today.) If you want a granular exegesis of this jazz-rock magnum opus (including the relentlessly sleazy blues-rock jam, "Willie the Pimp"), this box will sate all of your curiosities about it.
Nearly 50 years ago, the perceptive critic Lester Bangs wrote of Hot Rats in Rolling Stone: "This recording brings together a set of mostly little-known talents that whale the tar out of every other informal 'jam' album released in rock and roll for the past two years. If Hot Rats is any indication of where Zappa is headed on his own, we are in for some fiendish rides indeed... The new Zappa has dumped both his Frankensteinian classicism and his pachuko-rock. He’s into the new jazz heavily; same as Beefheart, and applying all his technical savvy until the music sounds a far and purposely ragged cry from the self-indulgence of the current crop of young white John Coltranes."
With the Mothers of Invention recently defunct, Zappa embarked on a mostly instrumental odyssey on Hot Rats, calling it a "movie for the ears." He and his formidable band mates—including violinist Don "Sugarcane" Harris, keyboardist/reeds player Ian Underwood, drummer John Guerin, 15-year-old Shuggie Otis (bass on "Peaches en Regalia,"), violinist Jean-Luc Ponty (on "It Must Be a Camel")—really stretch out and flex the sort of chops that make serious folks stroke their chins thoughtfully and inspire the short-attention-spanned to sprint for the exits. Some virtuosity's only for the headstrong.
What we have with "Dame Margret’s Son to Be a Bride (Quick Mix)" is an outtake from the Hot Rat sessions recorded by FZ, bassist Max Bennett, pianist Ian Underwood and drummer Paul Humphrey. The rhythm tracks ended up forming the foundation for "Lemme Take You to the Beach" off 1978's, Studio Tan. "Dame Margret’s Son to Be a Bride" lacks that tune's lush lunacy; rather, it almost sounds like something from Canterbury, England's early-'70s prog-rock scene—think Soft Machine, Caravan, etc. It has a lightness and jauntiness redolent of those British groups' cerebral and pastoral jazz-rock fusions. Therefore, it's essentially the polar opposite of "Willie the Pimp"'s leering lubriciousness and filthy funk. To paraphrase the '60s British psych-rock band Blossom Toes, it is ever so clean. Some nitpicky Zappa fans may wish it had stayed sealed in the vaults, but I for one am glad it's finally officially available.