Category Archives: ZZ Top

Rocks In The Attic #587: ZZ Top – ‘ZZ Top’s Worldwide Texas Tour’ (1976)

RITA#587
I saw this record posted in the fabulous Facebook group On The Turntable Right Now last year sometime. And if there’s something I don’t like, it’s finding out that there’s a classic-era ZZ Top album that I don’t own. Laptop. Discogs. Wait. Postman. Open. Needle. Done.

ZZ Top’s Worldwide Texas Tour is a promo-only radio sampler from 1976, designed to promote the band’s world tour in support of 1975’s Fandango! The tour would last through 1976 into 1977, with 1977’s Tejas recorded during breaks in the schedule.

RITA#587aAs a record, it’s the very first ZZ Top compilation and a forerunner to the band’s first official compilation, 1977’s The Best Of ZZ Top. In fact, the tracklisting is virtually identical, with only a couple of changes. Worldwide Texas Tour opts for six songs per side, The Best Of has only five; the extra songs being Precious And Grace and Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings, while The Best Of opts for Francine over Brown Sugar (presumably with the slow blues quota already filled by Blue Jean Blues).

The Worldwide Texas Tour is where ZZ Top’s glitzy image really started. Prior to this tour, the band’s live shows were minimalist operations, concentrating more on the music than anything else. This time around, they wore studded Western suits and toured with a full stage-set including plants, props and a Texan panorama backdrop.

Say what you want about the spectacle of 21st century concert performances, but would you ever see a band like U2 touring with a longhorn steer, a black buffalo, two vultures and two rattlesnakes?

Hit: Tush

Hidden Gem: Heard It On The X

Rocks In The Attic #542: ZZ Top – ‘Eliminator’ (1983)

rita542I have a love / hate relationship with this record. On the one hand, I might not have discovered the joys of early ZZ Top if it weren’t for the global success of this 1983 multi-million seller. On the other hand, the change in approach to recording the album and its overall sound – vastly different to anything they had recorded previously – is sometimes a little too much to absorb.

The first four ZZ Top records – ZZ Top’s First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Fandango!­ – are, in my eyes, untouchable. Southern-fried, boogie blues, heavily influenced by the three Kings – B.B., Albert, and Freddie – the Texas trio developed their own sound across these records, and by 1979’s Degüello, had complimented this with guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill’s iconic overgrown beards.

Eliminator, taking its cue from New Wave, was recorded with synthesisers, drum machines and sequencers which permeate the record. This wasn’t the first time they had experimented with this sort of technology though. On the band’s previous record, 1981’s El Loco, Gibbons had toyed around with a synth on a couple of tracks, and despite that album selling only half as much as its predecessor, it’s incredible that they utilised synths more, not less, on its follow-up.

Much of Eliminator was recorded at 124bpm, the tempo that considered perfect for dance music by the band’s associate Linden Hudson. An aspiring songwriter, former DJ and – at the time – drummer Frank Beard’s house-sitter, Hudson’s involvement in the recording of the album would come back to haunt them. Despite assisting Gibbons with the pre-production and developing of the material that would end up on both El Loco and Eliminator, his contribution wasn’t credited when either record was released. Not surprisingly, with Eliminator registering such a hit, Hudson sued the band. The case was settled in 1986, awarding $600,000 to Hudson and crediting him the copyright to just one of the record’s eleven songs, Thug.

I’ve written before about whether the approach – and marketing – of Eliminator can be deemed as the band ‘selling out’. When you consider the poor sales of El Loco, it doesn’t actually seem probable that the band were chasing sales by continuing to experiment with technology that was alien to them. Then you see the glossy MTV videos of this era of ZZ Top, and it’s difficult not to judge them on such a 180° change in direction.

Thankfully, the band appears to have left that era well and truly behind them. Over the last couple of decades, they’ve performed yet another u-turn, back in the direction they were originally heading. 2012’s La Futura showed the band returning to the swampy blues of their youth, but complimented by the songwriting maturity that they perfected over their MTV years. Thumbs up, and hitch-hiking thumb out, for this direction of ZZ Top.

Hit: Gimme All Your Lovin’

Hidden Gem: I Need You Tonight

Rocks In The Attic #333: ZZ Top – ‘Afterburner’ (1985)

RITA#333I’m not saying that ZZ Top were old men by the time they recorded this album, but the chorus on the opening track seems to consist solely of Billy Gibbons singing “slippers and my sleeping bag” over and over. A lyric check on Google corrects me – the misheard lyric is “slip inside my sleeping bag.” So Billy Gibbons isn’t just an old man, he’s a dirty old man! Track number three sees Gibbons’ lyrics returning to perversion. Entitled Woke Up With Wood, I’m presuming it’s not about a carpenter who fell asleep in his tool-shed.

Afterburner represents ZZ Top at their worst. If 1983’s Eliminator showed the band taking a sharp left turn in their musical direction, this record shows them much further down that same road, many miles west of their original highway. The album is essentially a rehash of the formula they laid down on Eliminator, without the strength of the songs on that earlier album.

Both albums, and the follow-up Recycler (1990), sound extremely dated now.  It’s not hard to understand why grunge came about to blow away the cobwebs of rock music like this. To think that ZZ Top released their third album of this sort of crappy synthesised rock in 1990, when grunge was in full swing is almost hard to believe.

Hit: Rough Boy

Hidden Gem: Stages

Rocks In The Attic #316: ZZ Top – ‘ZZ Top’s First Album’ (1971)

RITA#316At some point in the past 12 months, some bright spark at ZZ Top Headquarters (Z.Z.H.Q.?) decided to finally release ZZ Top’s initial run of albums in its original, untouched, format. I’ve complained about this – many, many, many times before – but the wait is finally over: you can now walk into your local record store and purchase The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990). This CD box set features all their studio albums between those years, with the original mixes of ZZ Top’s First Album, Rio Grande Mud and Tejas all seeing the light of day for the very first time in a digital format.

That might not sound like a big thing, but for a ZZ Top fan, it’s a revelation. Until now, if I’ve ever wanted to listen to one of these albums outside of my house and away from my record player, I’ve had to listen to it on tape. Now five or ten years ago that wasn’t too hard, but it’s been a while since I’ve driven a car with a tape-deck. These days, it’s either CD or my iPod via an AUX lead. So, choices of listening to early ZZ Top on the move have been very limited.

And who would ever want to listen to those horrible 1980s remixes? They just sound wrong. The guitar, bass and vocals have been left pretty much untouched, but the drums have been treated to give it a little more reverb and presence. The end result: early ‘70s rock n’ roll, all viewed through a late ‘80s filter, like the Pet Shop Boys covering AC/DC. For a big band, it must rank as one of the longest waits for a set of albums to be released on CD. Disgusting!

Still, it’s okay now; I can cruise along in my car and listen to ZZ Top’s First Album without needing to install my car with a turntable. I can just flick the album on my iPod and turn my car stereo up. Sweet!

ZZ Top’s First Album is a little gem of an album. It suggests everything that the band were going to do with their classic run of albums in the ‘70s – blues boogie all wrapped up in a tight three-piece: dirty guitar, driving bass and a shuffle beat on the drums. There’s a natural progression across their first three albums, but this first record probably has the most charm of the three.

Hit: (Somebody Else Been) Shakin’ Your Tree

Hidden Gem: Backdoor Love Affair

Rocks In The Attic #303: ZZ Top – ‘La Futura’ (2012)

RITA#303I bought this the same day I bought Aerosmith’s latest record, Music From Another Dimension! Both are lavish releases – Aerosmith’s offering is on double cherry red vinyl, with a CD of the album included; ZZ Top’s is also a double, but nicely on 45RPM due to the much shorter running time of the album (thirty nine minutes, compared to Aerosmith’s hour and nine minutes).

There’s one other key difference too. ZZ Top’s record is a great listen, managing to look both forwards as well as backwards, while Aerosmith’s is toss on toast – with a large dollop of toss and not much toast.

ZZ Top have been making their records sound dirtier and dirtier ever since they spent the ‘80s and early ‘90s producing synthesiser rock; now it seems they’ve finally made a record that sounds as genuinely greasy as something like Rio Grande Mud or Tres Hombres.

There’s a section of I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose, You, where they shift from the verse into the chorus, that just sounds like the ZZ Top of old. It’s my favourite moment on the record, and proof that the old dogs have got some life left in them yet.

With this album, and their back catalogue now fully available in a digital format (see here for an explanation of this twisted – but thankfully now resolved – affair), ZZ Top are now very much back in my good books.

Hit: I Gotsta Get Paid

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose, You

Rocks In The Attic #157: ZZ Top – ‘Tejas’ (1976)

Of ZZ Top’s first five albums, this one – their fifth – has always been the one I’ve found hardest to get into. It’s not a radical departure from the earlier four albums – production-wise it sounds very similar to their brand of down and dirty blues, but the songwriting and tempo is very laid back. If Tres Hombres was a whiskey album, this one sounds like it was made whilst high on peyote. Possibly, startled by their own success, they thought they’d dial it back slightly for this album. By the last track, the flamenco lullaby of Asleep In The Desert, they almost sound like they’ve passed out.

This is also another one of ZZ Top’s albums that is yet to see a faithful digital transfer of the original mix. The CD version, available since the mid-‘80s, is marred by a horrible remix – as though it’s been remixed by Kraftwerk. Although most of the Tejas tracks have turned up on compilations in their original Terry Manning mix, there are still a couple that are yet to receive this treatment. Even worse, the version of the album available on iTunes mixes tracks with the original mix, with other tracks featuring the ‘80s CD remix. Ugh.

I’m playing this album today because on the first day of daylight savings, with the sun streaming in through the ranch-sliders, it feels good to play a bit of Texas whilst sat in my shorts.

Hit: It’s Only Love

Hidden Gem: El Diablo

Rocks In The Attic #111: ZZ Top – ‘Degüello’ (1979)

Rocks In The Attic #111: ZZ Top - ‘Degüello’ (1979)ZZ Top’s first album after their beard-growing hiatus is a gem. I guess this is where that clean production sound on blues albums of the 80s (eg. Stevie Ray Vaughan) started. On Degüello, it’s very noticeable that the band sound very different to their earlier albums. The guitar tone is very clean, and both the bass and drums sound clearer, with more separation than on their five earlier albums.

It’s more of a transition album really – bridging the gap between their earlier, dusty, swamp blues, to the more electronic – and contemporary  – work on their 80s album. The album after this, El Loco, would hint further towards the New Wave sound they would employ to great success on Eliminator.

During the sessions for this album, a couple of songs required a horn section. Instead of doing what most bands would do, and employing a group of studio musicians, they recorded the horn parts themselves, calling themselves The Lone Wolf Horns. A photo of the trio as the horn section on the album’s inner sleeve shows Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill showing off their new chest-length beards, standing next to Frank Beard displaying a decent bit of facial growth himself, putting the dampener on that oft-recycled fact that he’s always the clean-shaven one.

Hit: Cheap Sunglasses

Hidden Gem: I Thank You