ZZ Top Discography
He’s oversimplifying a bit. While the Texas trio has kept one foot in the blues (to quote one of their compilation titles) during its career, the band has also managed to consistently push and expand the boundaries of the genrer.
The most obvious example of ZZ Top’s experimental ways, of course, was the synth and drum machine-heavy multi-platinum 1983 masterpiece Eliminator. The group spent much of the next two decades attempting to reconcile their old and new ways of making music. The road got bumpy sometimes, but the results were almost always interesting and entertaining. Here’s our look back at each album in ZZ Top’s acclaimed discography, complete with links to our expanded stories on nearly every record.
‘ZZ Top’s First Album’
With ZZ Top’s First Album, the band went a fair way toward demonstrating its own growing grasp on — and ability to add to — the blues, serving up a rough-hewn platter of 10 originals (including the particularly fantastic “Brown Sugar”) that were faithful to the group’s obvious influences, without being too afraid to add their own stamp to them.
‘Rio Grande Mud’
Best known for the longtime concert favorite “Just Got Paid,” ZZ Top’s second album finds them moving closer to the distinct sound that would soon make them superstars. It’s also home to one of their best ballads, the aching “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell.”
Everything seemed to come together for ZZ Top with the release of Tres Hombres: the irresistible stripped-down songs, the cheeky sense of humor and even the unapologetic Texan image, which helped set the group apart from other Gulf Coast rock bands (like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band) that were defining southern rock at the time. The opening tandem of “Waitin’ for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” is worth the price of admission.
The opening live half of this snorting bull of an album proved that ZZ Top’s stage shows translated perfectly to record. The studio side – featuring new songs such as “Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings,” “Heard it on the X” and, most memorably, “Tush” – demonstrated that ZZ Top were just getting started, in terms of expanding and refining their winning formula.
Apart from emphasizing the country side of their influences more prominently than previous efforts, ‘Tejas’ finds ZZ Top in a bit of a holding pattern. That said, tracks such as “El Diablo” and “Arrested for Driving While Blind” show off their songwriting craft and trademark humor.
A planned 90-day vacation following the tour in support of Tejas somehow turned into a two-year break for the road-weary band. Besides giving Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill the chance to independently grow their famous chest-length beards, the time apart clearly re-energized the group. They returned with their strongest and most diverse collection of songs yet, featuring horns (which they learned to play themselves!) and keyboards – which, of course, would lead to much bigger things in the next few years.
ZZ Top get looser, lighter and a bit more weird on their second post-vacation album. Highlights include the sultry, insistent “I Wanna Drive You Home,” the winkingly naughty and totally infectious “Tube Snake Boogie” and “Pearl Necklace” and the psychedelic synth boogie of “Groovy Little Hippie Pad.”
Few classic rockers went through a transformation as jarring, or as triumphant, as the one ZZ Top experienced with Eliminator. Old-timers scoffed at the band’s decision to go digital on its eighth album, dismissing the synth drums and other electronic elements as incongruous with the Texas trio’s scuzzy boogie rock. But the kids who fed on a daily diet of MTV ate it up. Eliminator and its accompanying videos took the band to an entirely new level of fame; it’s sold more than 10 million copies to date.
Naturally, ZZ Top doubled down on what made Eliminator so successful with the follow-up LP, Afterburner. Hit singles “Sleeping Bag,” “Stages,” “Rough Boys” and “Velcro Fly” made liberal continued use of mechanized drums, stabbing keyboards and various computerized loops. This kept the band’s commercial hot streak going, but over time the album’s era-specific sound hasn’t held up as well as their earlier efforts.
Apparently sensing they were at risk of pushing their computerized sound too far, ZZ Top began moving back toward their early blues sound. As the next few albums would prove, it wasn’t an easy transition. Overly slick songs like “Doubleback” show they hadn’t fully escaped the gravitational pull of their former digital world yet. But the jaw-dropping “My Head’s in Mississippi” showed that there was still some exciting new sounds to be found in this clash between the past and present.
Grunge music completely took over the music world during the four years between Recycler and Antenna, giving ZZ Top another reason to wean themselves off the glossy production of their multi-platinum ’80s albums. As with its predecessor, Antenna doesn’t fully commit to the change — the drums still sound have a noticeable digital “whomp.” But “Pincushion” and “Fuzzbox Voodoo” benefit from this extra snap, and rank just under “Mississippi” in terms of later-day ZZ Top classics.
ZZ Top’s third attempt to escape the digital era was their most successful, as they almost completely shed their recent slick production tricks and got back to their original low down and dirty approach on energetic songs such as the title track, “She’s Just Killing Me” and “What’s Up With That?”
This wrongly overlooked little gem finds ZZ Top expanding on the success of Rhythmeen by adding extra muscle and weirdness. Highlights include the fuzzed-out cyborg rock of “Poke Chop Sandwich,” and the cinematic “Made Into a Movie,” their best blues song in years. They also help themselves by keeping the studio portion to a compact 30 minutes, and adding a bonus Fandango!-style live section.
ZZ Top’s last RCA album adds a spicy dash of roots music styles such as Tejano and country to their familiar mix. But unlike the wisely economical XXX, at 17 songs and more than an hour long, Mescalaro winds up overstaying its welcome. Still, there are treasures to be found here, including the thrilling instrumental “Crunchy” and a lovely and oddly hidden cover of “As Time Goes By.”
The long-gestating La Futura found ZZ Top teaming up with producer Rick Rubin to create a potent new update of their vintage sound — one that didn’t ignore the group’s experimental streak, but instead used it to deepen its core sound. They also used those extra years to hone their sharpest collection of songs since Eliminator, best demonstrated by the opening trio of “Gotsa Get Paid,” “Chartreuse” and “Consumption.”