Tag Archives: Rio Grande Mud

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 #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 #69: ZZ Top – ‘Rio Grande Mud’ (1972)

Rocks In The Attic #69: ZZ Top - ‘Rio Grande Mud’ (1972)Rio Grande Mud is ZZ Top’s second album, and to this day is one of three of their early albums that are yet to be released digitally in their original mix. In the mid-80s when bands were transferring their back catalogues onto CD, somebody at ZZ Top headquarters decided to take the opportunity to tinker with the recordings. The currently available version of this, ZZ Top’s First Album and Tejas feature a very 80s drum sound over the top of the original recordings made back in the day. So if you want to listen to any of those three albums in their original form, you have a choice – vinyl or cassette. They’re probably available on 8-track too. Thankfully I own all their 70s output on vinyl, but it would be nice to be able to listen to this digitally.

You can see Rio Grande Mud as a clear stepping stone for the band between their very bluesy first album, and the all-conquering third album Tres Hombres. This one is still steeped in the blues, but it shows the direction that the band was moving towards – what we would now call classic rock.

Francine may have been the big hit, and attracted listeners of the pop charts to the band, but it’s very throwaway. Just Got Paid is a well-overlooked rock riff, and for me the highlight of this album.

Hit: Francine

Hidden Gem: Just Got Paid