ZZ Top: Something Else! Featured Artist

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After sampling ZZ Top’s return-to-form new 2012 EP Texicali — a four-song outburst of scalding Texas blues rocking and lip-smacking double entendre — we couldn’t help but scurry back to some old favorites.

And not just from the classic run of Fandango, Tejas and Degüello between 1975-79, either. We also dug back into more recent tracks from Afterburner and Recycler

“EL DIABLO” (TEJAS, 1976): One of the things that I’ve always loved about ZZ Top is the fact that, though they were a blues rock act, they never really confined themselves in any way on their earlier records.

They were never afraid to do some weird funky things in the album cuts. After Deguello and “Manic Mechanic,” which came within an eyelash of being one of my choices for this piece, they kind of lost that aspect in their music a little. That’s a shame because with the cool factor that anything by ZZ brings with it, those were some of their best tunes.

“El Diablo,” with its Texican guitars, isn’t as out there as some of the stuff they did, but it’s always been a favorite of mine. The song just drips cool from Billy Gibbons’ guitar licks to the Old West feel to the outlaw storyline of the lyrics to the absolutely infectious vocal melody. Along with “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” it’s this song that really defines for me what ZZ Top did best – pure old school cool.

Oh, and did I happen to mention that the song is just cool? Yeah, thought so. — Fred Phillips

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: With 2012’s ‘Texicali,’ ZZ Top embrace everything that made them interesting in the first place, even while making small changes to keep it from sounding redundant.]

“MY HEAD’S IN MISSISSIPPI” (RECYCLER, 1990): Hey, kids, it’s trivia time! What song talks of an invisible 7-11 and a naked cowgirl floating on the ceiling? You got it, “My Head’s In Mississippi” by ZZ Top! Heard on the Houston, Texas band’s Recycler album, there’s really nothing revolutionary about this tune, except it’s one of my favorite ZZ Top numbers, which is why I chose to write about it.

Like Chuck Berry, the Seeds and AC/DC, here’s a band that discovered a secret recipe early on, and continued milking it to the finish line. Adhering to the old adage, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ZZ Top, since their 1968 inception, have basically been playing the same southern fried, bluesy boogie chords over and over again, but change the lyrics to each of their songs. Ok, so that may be exaggerating things a bit, but after all these years you can’t argue the band has remained fanatically devoted to a certain and recognizable sound. Even when they were MTV stars, surrounded by glitter and glitz, ZZ Top still managed to sustain a salt of the earth perspective.

Gruff, gritty and grubby, “My Head’s In Mississippi” is a great tune. It’s as simple as that. Catchy, funny and funky, the song fully displays the band’s airtight chops and wacky sense of humor in a singular swoop. Big hugs and hearty handshakes to guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard , who of course are collectively known as ZZ Top! — Beverly Paterson

“THUNDERBIRD” (FANDANGO, 1975): I just loved rock music back in the so-called classic era. We didn’t call it “classic” back then. Nah, it was just the loud stuff we took in every day on our turntables, 8-track players, and over the radio. While Fandango had the huge hit “Tush” on its studio side, it was the live side that attracted me the most. This was just three guys, guitars plugged into big ‘ole amplifiers with those curly guitar cords, makin’ a huge, blues-drenched noise. The live material kicks off with “Thunderbird,” a bone-crushing ode to that lovely alcoholic beverage. You can’t turn this song up too loud.

When looking up the exact release date for Fandango, I discovered that “Thunderbird” was written not by ZZ Top but by the Dallas-based garage rock outfit The Nightcaps. I guess that “Little ‘Ol Band From Texas” took a liking to the song and “borrowed” it. Years later, the Nightcaps brought suit against ZZ Top, but lost because they’d failed to apply for copyright. As a famous Texan once said, “Oops.” — Mark Saleski

“ROUGH BOY” (AFTERBURNER, 1985): A slow-burner ballad, “Rough Boy” bears more than a passing resemblance to El Loco’s “Leila,” but I think it can be said that this is one of those rare times when it worked out for the better that the band ripped themselves off. And, beyond that long, grinding build-up, it’s pretty easy to figure out why: the solos blow away what “Leila” had on tap.

While the song is all ’80s drum machines and synths, Billy Gibbons lays down one of his trademark soulful solos that saves the song from being just another faceless piece of glossy MTV-era production. On top of this, it’s long – the main solo just keeps going and going, like a reward for the listener: “yeah, we know there’s all this lifeless electronic crap. Here’s the payoff for making it this far.” But if the ’80s were good for one thing, it was guitar solos.

Add to this one of those great, meaningless videos packed with visuals that simply burn into viewer’s minds: the Eliminator coupe, restyled as a, well, space shuttle of sorts, arcing up from the atmosphere to some sort of orbital car wash (forget the logic of this), where a torso-less lady with amazing legs walks around with a crosswalk sign melded to her waist, and the band’s disembodied parts float around disaffectedly doing various things (floating heads, singing; floating hands, gesturing the “ZZ Top gesture”; floating hands, playing guitar; you get the point).

Hey, I was 12 years old when this came out. I ate this up: MTV and video producers had quickly cued in on what made their audience tick. But the song, plasticine as it comes across, still stands on its own even if the album’s gone more than a bit floppy. It’s kind of a perfect example of mainstream rock in the ’80s, now that I think about it. — Tom Johnson

“SHE LOVES MY AUTOMOBILE (DEGUELLO, 1979): For this number, the ZZ Top trio of Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard are supplemented by another trio: The Lone Wolf Horns, a saxophone section made up of Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard. The vintage R&B flavor added to this basic blues makes this a confidently strutting jump blues number,

Always game for a good double-entendre (occasionally getting a bit too raunchy), one of they’re best such lines comes early in this tune: She said what’s it gonna take for you to lay your top on down?

… to which Gibbons scowls so fiendishly, “I said, now honey, why don’t you ask me when we get to the outskirts of town?”

And then the guitarist proceeds to tear off one of his trademark Texas licks that’s provided the template for every Texas guitar slinger from the Vaughan on down, with a 1950s flair that seems right at home with those Lone Wolf Horns. — S. Victor Aaron

Something Else!

Something Else!

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
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