Aside from the experimental side project Lumpy Gravy, Hot Rats was the first album Frank Zappa recorded as a solo artist sans the Mothers, though he continued to employ previous musical collaborators, most notably multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood. Other than another side project – the doo wop tribute Cruising With Ruben and the Jets – Hot Rats was also the first time Zappa focused his efforts in one general area, namely jazz-rock. The result is a classic of the genre. Hot Rats' genius lies in the way it fuses the compositional sophistication of jazz with rock's down-and-dirty attitude – there's a real looseness and grit to the three lengthy jams, and a surprising, wry elegance to the three shorter, tightly arranged numbers (particularly the sumptuous "Peaches en Regalia").
Official Release #67. As the title suggests, Have I Offended Someone? contains all of Zappa's notoriously tasteless parodies and satires, from "Bobby Brown Goes Down," "Catholic Girls," and "Jewish Princess" to "He's So Gay," "Titties 'n Beer," and "Dinah-Moe Humm." Nearly all of the tracks are presented in new remixed versions, and two songs, "Dumb All Over" and "Tinsel Town Rebellion," have never been released before.
Official Release #65. The full saga of Läther (pronounced leather) is tangled enough to give a migraine to all but committed Zappaphiles. Basically, what you need to know is that this project was originally conceived of as a four-record box set. When record company politics prevented its release in that format, much of the material was spread over the albums Live in New York, Sleep Dirt, Studio Tan, and Orchestral Favorites. This three-CD set presents the album as it was originally conceived, with the addition of four bonus tracks at the end. It mixes previously available material, alternate mixes, and edits, and previously unissued stuff, though only the most serious Zappa fans will have a good grip on exactly what has appeared where (the liner notes are surprisingly unexact in this regard).
Official Release #64. A 30-track compilation of rarities, spanning much of his career, but in the main confined to the 1960s and early '70s (some date from as early as the late '50s!). Much of it's previously unreleased, or extremely hard to locate. It's not just a collection of fan-oriented odds and ends, though. The material, for one thing, is extremely diverse, ranging from collaborations with Captain Beefheart and primitive teenage garage recordings to comic dialog to progressive instrumentals and orchestral pieces.
For all of his many attributes, one thing Frank Zappa most certainly was not is commercial. Presumably, the title of this collection is ironic. Strictly Commercial: The Best of Frank Zappa is a compilation not of the composer's hits – he only broke the Top 40 on one occasion, with "Valley Girl" – but rather, a collection of his best-known material, from "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" to "Sexual Harassment in the Workplace." Zappa's albums often function as individual works, but this disc offers an intelligent selection of songs, serving as an introduction to the maverick musician.
Official Release #52. In his contract with Ryko, Frank Zappa had to put together 12 CDs worth of live material for the series You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore. The fact that he decided to devote two of them (all of Vol. 2) to a Helsinki concert from 1974 illustrates how good and representative he thought it was – and he was right. This two-CD set features the 1973-1974 band (Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Tom Fowler, Chester Thompson) near the end of their tour, in a concert in faraway Finland on September 22, 1974 (there were actually two concerts performed that day and, as usual, Zappa edited the best moments together).