For many of the classic rock and roll bands of the ‘70s, the change in sound that came with the ‘80s was a sign of trouble. Perhaps no band pulled off this transition more effectively than ZZ Top. With the release of “Eliminator”, ZZ Top proved that not only could they incorporate synthesizers and more electric sound into their music, they also conquered the domain of music television. With several huge hits, all of which came with brand-defining music videos, “Eliminator” was a massive hit and a reinvention for the band. More than ever, you see that ZZ Top is primarily the Billy Gibbons show, as he took over the production and remixed and re-recorded much of the album on his own to add these effects. He sings lead on all but one song, but to their credit, bass player Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard (the only one without a beard) remained a visible component not only in the videos, but also as a really strong live act.
The album opens with “Gimme All Your Lovin”, the first big single and music video release. It isn’t my favorite song on the album, with that and “Legs” there might even be a bit of hit fatigue, but it certainly was a huge hit and set this new act in motion. My favorite song on the album is next, “Got Me Under Pressure”, and it will serve as the central component of some ZZ Top stories to follow. It is a fast-paced rocker, and this really is some of Frank Beard’s best work. The hits continue with “Sharp Dressed Man”, another image-defining song for the band. I have to say though, I can’t argue with the hypothesis of the track. Side one continues with their blues-iest song on the album, “I Need You Tonight”. This takes you back to their roots, and I had forgotten just how good this song is. And to end side one, we get our usual dose of double-entendre from the band, as Dusty Hill takes the lead on vocals for “I Got The Six”. Like most tracks, it is a really good blend of old and new, and it warmed my heart to hear Dusty belt one out. Rest In Peace, Dusty…
Side two opens with “Legs”, another iconic song and video for the band. You have to be a pretty hardcore ZZ Top fan to recognize that the version of this song they put on the album is different than the single. I actually prefer the single better, it has more layered guitars and rocks with a steadier grind than this tricked-up version on the album. Next comes the song “Thug”, which features perhaps the only Dusty Hill bass solo I have ever heard. My other real favorite song comes next, the bizarre but wonderful song, “TV Dinners”. I think only ZZ Top can pull off an ode to the terrifying ingredients of old-school TV dinner meals, and they lay it down, especially near the end of the song, with a groove few can match. The video is just as unusual as the song, definitely out-of-step with their other hot girls and hot cars videos. The last three songs are simple but not quite as memorable, with my favorite being the last track, another high-tempo rocker, “Bad Girl”. This is just a really good album, much better between the hits than I had recalled, and I’m glad I got to enjoy several listens.
So, back to “Got Me Under Pressure”. It is central to three of my favorite nights ever. After two failed attempts to conquer the high school air guitar contest with Rush & Jimi Hendrix, we finally reached the top of the mountain as my friends and I took on ZZ Top our senior year. My friend Chris and I assumed the two bearded roles. One of us found a fake beard, the other just strapped an old wig on our face and it worked just as well. We knew “Got Me Under Pressure” was the perfect up-tempo rocker to synchronize our moves, and we pretty much crushed it. Our second song was “Tush”, from “Fandango”, so that each of us could take lead vocals on one track. With my friend Matt driving the beat on drums as Frank Beard, we finally reached the top of the mountain and claimed the $100 first prize. We each took $20, and claimed we would use the last $40 to buy a keg, which still hasn’t happened yet… Chris, Matt… let’s get this done.
The second night was in 1986, after the first year of college. ZZ Top came to Denver, and while I enjoy pretty much every concert I have ever attended, this one stands out to me as possibly the best time I have ever had at a show. Part of that may be attributable to some of the choices we made in the parking lot before the show, but it was just a great gathering of many of my closest friends after a year away at school. Along with Matt, I was joined by Jim, John, Mike and Shane, and the six of us just lost our collective minds and rocked the entire show on our feet. Words can’t describe how much fun that night was. “Got Me Under Pressure” was the song that opened the show, and I even pre-coordinated stopping at a 7-11 before the show, making a secret purchase so I could pull out my own “Cheap Sunglasses” to surprise my friends when that song came on. As if the show wasn’t enough fun, while Jim & John headed back to Greeley, Matt and I took on Mike & Shane in a midnight game of basketball at Pine Lane Elementary School. I’m pretty sure we dominated the event, and when we tried to explain to the cops that we were really there just to play basketball, the officer replied, “I was born on Sunday, but not last Sunday”. No harm, no foul…
Fresh from the exhilaration of that show, Jim and I headed off towards Florida on our first major road trip, in my ’81 Camaro. As we rolled into Texas, we somehow learned that the same ZZ Top tour was back in their home state, and we quickly realized we had no other choice but to see the “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” in Texas, in Dallas to be specific. We wound up sitting next to two exotic dancers that may have been past their prime, and I’m pretty sure we looked as young, clueless and ridiculous to them as we actually were.
So yes, ZZ Top, “Got Me Under Pressure”, and the entire “Eliminator” album was just another key soundtrack to the crazy decade that was the 1980s. They released several other albums that followed this same electronic sound and music video theme, but none reached the heights of “Eliminator”.