I prefer my reviews to be serious and informative. ‘First Impressions’ allow for a more director’s commentary approach. I can be silly and talk bollox, or make points that only a handful of people will understand. Usually I will deliver insights into my history with similar music as well as into how my mind works and how both of these things change over time. You will have to either possess a fairly detailed understanding of Rock and Metal history and Subgenre conventions or have a second tab open at Wikipedia to fully follow every single point that I make, but don’t let that put you off…I’m not honestly expecting you to know every single riff or tone I’ll point out off by heart.
If you want your own First Impressions article done, just suggest it in the comments. I’ll give anything a shot.
This time I’ll be listening to ZZ Top’s eighth studio album Eliminator, from 1983. This is definitely one of those ‘100 Albums Everyone Must Own’ type records. Some of the ‘classics’ in this series might’ve been questionable. I’m sure some readers would like to know if Grey Britain or Hate Crew Death Roll are really applicable to the ‘classic’ label. I don’t think this one is in any doubt though. Well famous innit. Well critically acclaimed bruv.
So what do I know about ZZ Top? I know that Frank Beard is the only one without a big beard thanks to the Metal Hammer Podcast. Otherwise ZZ Top, up until very recently, say two years, weren’t a big band in my mind. I didn’t know much about them other than they had big beards. I remember the joke in the Simpsons where Bart tells some beardy guys who aren’t ZZ top that they rock because he has mistaken them for ZZ Top. I very clearly remember a scene in Marilyn Manson’s autobiography where Twiggy is sleeping with a groupie to the beat of ZZ Top’s Eliminator. I might’ve saw a tiny bit of a music video with the Eliminator car in it back when I was still in School. I remember one of the members guests on QOTSA’s 4th album. Other than that. I didn’t know much about them.
Then about two years ago I heard Mastodon cover ‘Just Got Paid’ which has become genuinely one of my favourite songs ever. Then I heard it again in the movie Friday Night Lights, which is probably my favourite film ever. I’ve also heard both Coheed & Cambria and Motorhead cover ‘Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers.’ Best of all, I saw the youtube video ‘this drummer is at the wrong gig’ which features a band covering ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ (in a church, and the drummer, who is brilliant, plays like he’s at an arena gig) and subsequently noticed Sharped Dressed Man on the speakers in supermarkets or mentioned on podcasts or whatever else.
I also found out, while looking into Southern Rock a lot after falling in love with BlackFoot and already liking Lynyrd Skynyrd, that a song I’d heard all the time, but didn’t know what it was, was by ZZ Top. (That being ‘La Grange’ – seriously if you think you haven’t heard that, listen to it and discover that you probably have. Its like ‘Bad To The Bone,’ ‘Born To Be Wild’ and ‘Wild Thing’ in its televisual ubiquity)
I had considered trying out some ZZ Top records in that time, as well as Molly Hatchet, Outlaws, .38 Special and Black Oak Arkansas, but from the singles I’d tried out on youtube nothing had the same power and bite as Blackfoot and I lost interest before I got around to trying ZZ Top.
But anyway. I bought a boxset of 5 ZZ Top albums last week in a sort of daze and I’m damn well going to give them a shot now that its too late. Afterwards, while looking into the background of this record I noticed it is Diamond (as in Gold Record, Platinum Record) and was looking at what other Diamond records there were to make some point about this and Back In Black being the only two Diamond selling records in the blog series so far or something. One thing I noticed and thought was interesting whilst doing that research is that Kid Rock’s Devil Without A Cause has sold more than Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, which has sold more than…wait for it… Green Day’s Dookie and Nirvana’s Nevermind. Can you believe that? More people own Devil Without A Cause than Nevermind! I’m not making a judgment on quality here, (although I could, and it’d be the one you think I’m making ((ooop I guess I just did make it(((Parenthesis are fun((((Sunn O)))))))) but wouldn’t you think Nevermind had sold more? Nirvana were the biggest band in the world at one point. Kid Rock wasn’t the biggest band in the world at one point. Smells Like Teen Spirit is on Kerrang TV every single day and has been since Kerrang TV launched. Bawittaaba is not in heavy rotation anywhere, and hasn’t been since Cocky came out.
Any old way, where were we? Two Beard and a Beard? Yeah, sounds right.
An unfamiliar beat. Not unpleaseant. Then whoah. ‘Give Me All Your Lovin, All Your Hugs & Kisses Too.’ Damn. That is a famous chorus. I thought that was Money For Nothing era Dire Straits. Nope. Turns out its ZZ Top. Ok. I guess there is another ZZ Top song I’ve heard. I say song; but its only the chorus. I don’t recognize the rest of it. Not the slide sounding breaks, not the great little guitar leads, not the sudden too-short fade out ending.
Next up is ‘Got Me Under Pressure’ which has the exact same guitar tone as the aforementioned ‘Money For Nothing’ to my ears, but a riff that works more like Slash & Izzy, specifically ‘Night Train’ and ‘Double Talkin Jive.’ The synth drums remind me a little of Jethro Tull’s awesome ‘Flying Colours’ but nothing else about the song does.
The song is a big old southern pitcher of fun though. Bouncy as all hell, air guitar mad. One of the longest, simplest and most fun drum fills ever. The whole song sounds like it’s at 1.5 speed and like it should be about a locomotive train powering down a Utah mountain. It brings a real smile to my face.
If you think that I’ve got a smile on my face for that though. You should see me now. ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ bursts out of the speakers and I feel like dancing topless on top of my computer desk like I’m in some 80s tinged remake of Coyotee Ugly. What a fun, fun song. Especially the double hi-hat chup (chup!) followed by the dumb sounding tom tones that follow in the roll. (I think they’re synth toms, and in any case sound like Mario jumping on something) This is another 1.5 speed song. I feel sorry for Twiggy. His hips must hurt pounding away at this speed. Jeez Lousie. This is what it would sound like if Ministry covered Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Next up, ‘I Need You Tonight.’ It’s a slower, very 80s sounding, night time rainy song (even the lyrics confirm this) and it sounds like Dio would be quite appropriate singing over it. One of those ‘Dio-Ballads’ that aren’t really ballads but are just a bit slower and sadder than his normal ‘rockers.’ The guitar solo is very sexy. Very sexy indeed. Its got that Dave Gilmour slow notes for big emotions approach. Its pretty brilliant, although I think the song goes on for about two minutes more than its amount of parts can sustain, even with such good lead guitar. Its like, they should do that live, but have the record version punchier…like Coheed do on ‘The Final Cut’ live.
‘I Got The Six’ comes in next. It really sounds like AC/DC to my ears, but 1.5 speed again. And the drums are too synth to be AC/DC. But, you get my point, the riff and the vocal patterns work along AC/DC logic. Something about the speed and guitar tone reminds me of Mario Kart 64. No idea what it is though. As a side note, this song is so fun, that if you played it at my funeral, I’m pretty sure my corpse would get up out of the coffin in Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt and groove its way down to the beach like Weekend At Bernie’s 2 (remember that film?).
Legs. Legs is next. Wikipedia says it was a big hit. Never heard it. I remember some woman, in some tv show or film, somewhere, singing ‘She’s Got Legs, She Knows How To Use Um’ but I don’t know who it was. Janice from The Sopranos? The stripper from The Wrestler? Sharon Osbourne?
Legs. Legs sounds so 80s. Legs sounds like the very first day of MTV that you always see referenced in documentaries and stuff. It sounds like GTA Vice City. It is a bit of a one trick pony, but its fairly decent. It actually reminds me of the film Scarface too. I could imagine a scene where the main couple go shoe shopping and this is in the background.
Next up comes ‘Thug’ which is the biggest change of pace on the album so far. Its all over the place. A series of funk bass breaks. Drums that sound like a boss fight in a NES game panning all around your head. It also sounds like driving around at night in the rain. But this time you aren’t depressed, this time you are out trying to find a place to buy roast chicken and sunglasses for tomorrow, because you know its going to be sunny as hell. Sometimes the bass reminds me of King Crimson’s Sleepless. FUCK. I just got an electric shock on my foot by touching a loose USB cable. Ouch. I don’t even see what the damn thing is plugged into.
Next thing I know, ‘TV Dinners’ has slithered its way onto the speakers. It’s a bit unremarkable. I miss the 1.5 speed bangers from the start of the record now. My foot still hurts. Oh. It all stopped and a really cool bass lead happened. Ok. You’ve got my interest now TV Dinners. Nice solo. Hmm. I’m noticing a recurrent lead guitar thing here. Are ZZ Top famous for that? I guess that’d explain the QOTSA thing. The end, they start putting in some variety to break it up. Its too little too late really, but, it’ll have to do.
‘Dirty Dog’ comes in. It is exactly what I imagined would come on next. In a good way. It reminds me of ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ with ‘On The Run’ by Pink Floyd playing underneath. It goes on way too long for the amount of ideas it has though. I’d say more about it but it doesn’t really give me the chance. Just imagine the sort of music that probably plays in a denim jeans store in a Texan mall, then put it through a Miami Vice sort of filter.
‘If I Could Only Flag Her Down’ comes in next. It sounds like it’s a 12 bar blues. But with the production of Eliminator. It’s a lot more fun than the last two. Its shorter too, so should be more satisfying, since its simplicity won’t be spoiled by being dragged out too long. The bits in the pre-chorus when the snare drops twice is very bouncy. It reminds me of American Diners. I could see the Fonz from Happy Days dancing in that Weezer Video having this song playing instead of the Weezer one (‘Buddy Holly’ its called). I can imagine a lot of 50s kids dancing to this.
Next up is ‘Bad Girl.’ It reminds me a bit of Kiss for a moment. Its just more of the same really. Its brief and not unenjoyable. Not up to the standards of the first half of the record. And then that leaves the record finished.
Man. That album started off brilliant and just sort of died in the second half for me. I wonder is that because its 1.48 in the morning and I’ve been lifting weights for two hours before I started, so the tiredness kicked in around the time ‘Legs’ came on, or if its because the album just has a much stronger 1st than 2nd half.
Side note. When looking through the soundtrack to GTA Vice City and GTA Vice City Stories to see if there was any ZZ Top in there, I noticed that Queensryhce’s ‘Queen Of The Reich’ was in Vice City Stories, which means I heard it back in 2007 and didn’t rush out and get into Queensryche immediately. What in the hell is all that about. I absolutely love that song now. I wonder how the hell it passed me by. Also, I noticed that Quiet Riot’s ‘Metal Health Bang Your Head’ is on there. Which I later also began to enjoy. I wonder if its just because the game was so disappointing compared to the brilliant Liberty City Stories that I overlooked the soundtrack? Or if I never really heard those songs because I didn’t like all the talking on the radio stations or whatever? Mystery.
Anyway. Yeah. ZZ Top. Take home message Buy ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ individually on iTunes. Dance around. Possibly learn to twirl drumsticks around your neck and forearms without loosing the beat. Maybe give the second half of the album a miss.
I imagine I’ll enjoy the earlier, less synthy stuff a lot more. I mean, I like Foghat’s New Wave influenced Tight Shoes record, but I like Energizer and Fool For The City a lot more. I can see the same thing happening with ZZ Top.
Got a suggestion for what I should listen to next? Let me know.
Side note – this is my 700th post.