Tag Archives: ZZ Top

Rocks In The Attic #732: Billy F. Gibbons – ‘The Big Bad Blues’ (2018)

RITA#732I was looking forward to this. After the out-of-the-blue brilliance of ZZ Top’s La Futura in 2012, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a follow-up. The band have been touring since – they never seem to stop touring – but there’s still no new studio album. It seems Billy has given up waiting too, recording two solo albums during this time – 2015’s Perfectamundo, and this, The Big Bad Blues from last year.

The record feels very under-produced. Now, while this may have been a good thing for a blues album from yesteryear, it just makes this record feel cheap and rushed. The production, by Gibbons himself, alongside Joe Hardy, sounds like it was all recorded in one take (again, another plus point for an old blue record), and there’s just nothing interesting to differentiate the tracks from each other. It makes me wonder how much of Rick Rubin’s input was responsible for La Futura.

Missin’ Yo Kissin’, credited to Billy’s wife, is just a retread of La Grange (itself an appropriation of John Lee Hooker) and sounds too much like an old man trading on former glories. Only on the covers – Muddy Waters’ Standing Around Crying and Rollin’ And Tumblin’, and Jerome Green’s Bring It To Jerome – does the record kick into another gear.

Hit: Rollin’ And Tumblin’

Hidden Gem: Standing Around Crying

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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 #653: Various Artists – ‘Trainspotting (O.S.T.)’ (1996)

RITA#653V/O:      Choose life. Choose scoring tickets to the New Zealand premiere of T2: TRAINSPOTTING, with Danny Boyle in attendance. Choose taking along your Trainspotting soundtrack in the hope that you *just might* get it signed. Choose being in the right fucking place at the right fucking time. Choose having a chat with Danny and telling him you’re so glad he didn’t film the second Trainspotting novel (‘Porno’). Choose Danny replying “Yeah, it’s not one of his best novels at the end of the day”. Choose mentioning that Hollywood has done that story since anyway. Choose him catching your drift and saying “Yeah, you’re right, a couple of years ago there was a glut of films with a similar premise, like ‘We Made A Porno'”. Choose a firm handshake. Choose walking away a very happy man. Choose it all!

My favourite moment of 2017 was meeting director Danny Boyle at the New Zealand premiere of T2: Trainspotting. I’ve come a long way in twenty or so years of record collecting, from having nothing autographed aside from a Clint Boon LP, to having a couple of early ZZ Top records fully signed by the band, the soundtrack to The Hateful Eight signed by Quentin Tarantino and Zoe Bell, the soundtrack to Death Proof also signed by Zoe Bell, and now this – the soundtrack to Boyle’s 1996 breakthrough, Trainspotting.

I’m not 100% sure how Newmarket’s Broadway cinema manages to attract these big-name Hollywood directors – it was the same venue at which I met Tarantino a year earlier – but I hope they continue the trend.

The Tarantino event was advertised as a meet and greet, so getting something signed was almost guaranteed, but the T2: Trainspotting event was only supposed to be a showing of the film introduced by Boyle. I took my copy of the soundtrack along, just in case.

When we arrived at the cinema, Boyle was being interviewed by the local TV station at the entrance to the foyer. The place was packed, with people making good use of the free drinks and food that were being offered by hospitality staff. Our small group – myself, my wife, my brother and a friend from work – found a spot among the crowd.

I glanced over at Boyle – now being interviewed by a different TV station – and thought that the chance of getting an autograph was slim. But then I saw him autographing something for somebody, and I took my chance.

I approached with my soundtrack and Sharpie in hand, expecting to be shooed away. A member of his team turned to greet me.

“Hi there, would you like Danny to sign that for you?”

This was going to be easier than expected.

“Yes, please!”

She tapped him on the shoulder just as he was wrapping up an interview with Kate Rodger, the TV3 film critic who pronounces Gal Godot as ‘Gal Gad-eau’ as though she’s French (Rodger is seemingly incapable of doing any basic research, let alone use the fucking internet).

RITA#653bDanny turns around.

“Hi there,” he says in his soft northern drawl.

We have our quick chat and he signs my record. The best thing about being with friends is that they all got their phones out and so I have a good photographic document of the moment.

Of course, in my nervousness, I forgot to tell Danny I was from Oldham, just a dozen miles away from his native Radciffe. I also forgot to tell him how much I appreciated him for reinventing the zombie genre with 28 Days Later, or how if you watch 127 Hours in reverse it turns into a lovely film about an amputee who finds his missing arm in the desert.

Most importantly, I didn’t tell him that his opening ceremony to the 2012 London Olympics was one of the few things that has made my heart truly ache with homesickness.

Hit: Lust For Life – Iggy Pop

Hidden Gem: Deep Blue Day – Brian Eno

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

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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 #577: The Village People – ‘Cruisin’’ (1978)

RITA#577On Saturday mornings in Manchester, we would hit the local record stores; usually Kingbee in Chorlton, followed by Sifters a little further afield in Fallowfield. Of the two, I always preferred the selection in Kingbee. Even though the shop looked like it was never blessed with direct daylight, the rock and pop section was pretty good, although pretty pricey at times.

It was always a bit harder to navigate around the shop in Kingbee though. It isn’t the largest record shop in the world, and with only four or five racks of rock and pop – usually a record store’s most popular section – you’d always be fighting to get back into the L to R section after another buyer ruined your alphabetised digging.

RITA#577aIf pickings were not rich enough in Kingbee, we’d jump in the car and go to Sifters, the record store made famous by Noel Gallagher’s lyrics in Shakermaker. Sifter’s was such a different experience to Kingbee. It was always a bit quieter and not populated with the usual serious record buying types you would see in Kingbee.

I filled a lot of gaps in my record collection in Sifters. It seemed to be the record store where popular rock records ended up. My copies of Hysteria and Brothers In Arms probably came from Sifters, and I think I picked up the whole of ZZ Top’s pre-Eliminator output there once I figured out how good their early material is. My copies of Thriller and Bad were from there, and while I already owned Frampton Comes Alive by the time I first set foot in Sifters, I reckon I would have been able to pick up a copy there every week if I needed to.

RITA#577bOne of the records I always saw in Sifters was a copy of the Village People’s third studio album, Cruisin’, from 1978. I have a soft spot for Y.M.C.A. – it’s such a banging tune that I don’t really care about anything else the song – or the band – symbolises. The album just refers to the band’s collective love of driving around, right? And the visual gag concerning the band’s attire in Wayne’s World 2 puts such a big smile on my face that I just have trouble taking them too seriously.

It was always on my agenda to pick up that copy of Cruisin’ in Sifters. I never got around to it for one reason or another. I must have picked it up a few times, but had to put it back once I’d figured my other records had easily surpassed my budget. I always regretted this after I left Manchester, but I was lucky to pick up a beat-up (or should that be ‘rough trade’?) second-hand copy here in New Zealand last year.

I wouldn’t want to suggest that the Village People were a one-hit wonder, but nearly every song on this record sounds like a reworking of Y.M.C.A. There’s a really tasty horn break in I’m A Cruiser which I’m having major trouble placing. Either it’s lifted from something else, or it’s been samped since (it’s at 02:50 here, if you can help me out).

Hit: Y.M.C.A.

Hidden Gem: Medley: The Women / I’m A Cruiser

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 #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