Tag Archives: Tres Hombres

Rocks In The Attic #700: ZZ Top – ‘Tres Homres’ (1973)

RITA#700Post number 700. I hope my daughters will read this blog in the future to research my taste in music after I’m dead, but they’re more likely to use it to figure out how much my record collection is worth.

If you’re reading this, girls, here’s a history lesson. The year is 2018, and the world is changing. A businessman, rather than a politician, is in the White House, the new Doctor Who is a lady, and there’s talk of the next James Bond not being a privileged white dude.

RITA#700aAnd most surprising of all, one of the late twentieth century’s most popular pub-facts is no more: drummer Frank Beard is no longer the only member of ZZ Top without a beard.

Studio album number three finds the Texan trio hitting their stride and crossing over into the mainstream. After a low-key, blues-driven debut and a rockier, more commercial follow-up, they really find the perfect mix of grit and soul on Tres Hombres. Its Top Ten success would start to turn to the band into a stadium act in their native country, effectively laying the foundation for their seven-year Worldwide Texas Tour in support of Fandango! and Tejas.

Why do I love this record so much? Because after your Sgt. Peppers, and your Dark Side Of The Moons, and all of the other rock albums that everybody and their cat has heard – Nevermind, Hotel California, Led Zeppelin IV, Back In Black, etc – you’re left with a bunch of great records that are invisible to the casual listener, and this is the jewel of that crown. A truly hidden gem (outside of the United States). Just listen to the stuttering opening groove of Master Of Sparks and try and forget it; that particular earworm has been in my brain for the past twenty years.

Hit: La Grange

Hidden Gem: Master Of Sparks

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 #393: Cheap Trick – ‘Live At The Budokan’ (1979)

RITA#393I bought a great rock magazine in the early 2000s. It was published by one of the established monthly magazines – Mojo or Q, I can’t remember which – but it was a special issue about essential rock albums you might not have heard. So, there was no Beatles, Stones or Floyd in there. No Bob Dylan. No Zeppelin. No Nirvana. Those would be obvious choices for an essential albums list – this was trying to present something a little out of the ordinary.

This one magazine turned me on to so much – ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres, Ted Nugent’s eponymous debut, Blue Oyster Cult’s Agents Of Fortune – as well as a couple of albums I knew like the back of my hand – Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic.

It also turned me onto a couple of albums I’ve still not got my head around. One of them is this, Cheap Trick’s 1979 live album recorded at the Budokan in Tokyo. There are a bunch of rock bands from the ‘70s that never really left a lasting impression in the UK. Cheap Trick, Kiss and Aerosmith are definitely guilty of this. I’m not really sure why – but for some bands I suspect it has something to do with a failure to promote their albums, or tour, outside of their native America. Aerosmith only ever crossed the Atlantic once in the ‘70s, to play the Reading festival in 1977. So it might not be hard to believe that some people thought that they were a new band when they came back from the dead in the late ‘80s (they’re probably the same people who thought that Run DMC wrote Walk This Way).

So when I hear a record like this – effectively Cheap Trick’s greatest hits performed in concert – I have no frame of reference. I didn’t grow up listening to these singles, like somebody growing up in the USA might have done. The radio stations in the UK never played them – so I’m like a blank canvas. Even something as ubiquitous as I Want You To Want Me – now on the soundtrack to every teen flick to come out of Hollywood – was a rare sound in the UK.

I recently watched the Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways episode filmed in Chicago. It’s a great series, and nice to see them paying respect to Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. His guest appearance on the song recorded there – Something From Nothing – does leave me scratching my head though. It’s a great song, with a little funk to it, but Nielsen’s contribution is minimal – and barely audible. A wasted opportunity!

Hit: I Want You To Want Me

Hidden Gem: Hello There

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 #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