. ZZ Top were the first of many US bands , previously derided in the British music press, to become chart regulars in the eighties. The band could now take their time over a follow-up.
"Fandango !" didn't come out until April 1975 and one side of it was live recordings. It doesn't move any further on than its predecessor but repeated its success. It also gave them their first hit album in the UK reaching number 60.
It was the only one of their seventies albums to chart here and I'm not sure why as they don't appear to have toured here around that time. As usual they took just the one single , the blunt and to the point "Tush" which reached number 20 in the US, their biggest hit of the decade. With Dusty singing, and sounding not unlike David Coverdale it's a straightforward boogie tune and the Status Quo comparison never seemed more apt.
In the early eighties that all crumbled away and by the autumn of 1985 I was rejoicing over the small triumph that Ready for the World's Prince rip-off "Oh Sheila" had become the first US number one for a few years not to make the UK Top 40. A general cultural shift had taken place where the big scale and professional was now accorded higher value than the quirky and quaint. Small was no longer beautiful ; it was just small.
Top of the Pops producer Michael Hurll approved and gave Jonathan King a slot to vent his anti-patriotic spleen and champion the US charts but it would all have happened without them. Moving Sidewalks came to an end when two of its members were drafted and Billy and Dan formed ZZ Top. Their first single "Salt Lick" was released in October 1969, a grinding blues track that sounds like Deep Purple with the Greig's organ prominent.
Immediately after recording it he was ousted and replaced by a bassist Billy Ethridge and Mitchell was bumped in favour of Frank "Rube" Beard. ZZ Top stuck with synthesizers on the next album "Eliminator" ,released in March 1983. There's an ongoing controversy about how much involvement Dusty and Frank had with the album and the role of sound engineer Linden Hudson who won a long legal battle over the copyright to at least one song.
"Gimme All Your Lovin" was the opening track and lead single. Frank is pretty metronomic anyway so it could be him playing alongside the drum machine ; it does sound a synthesised bass line. For all the modern sheen, "Gimme All Your Lovin" is pretty traditional fare, a string of lewd double entendres punctuated by Billy's blues licks but it's difficult to resist tapping a toe to it.
Helped by an iconic video featuring the band's customised Ford Coupe and a Playboy model it reached 37 in the US charts. It took its time in breaching the UK charts and only fulfilled its potential on re-release a year later. That presents me with something of a problem.
As I'm now working longer hours than when I started this blog, I don't have the time or appetite to slog through the lengthy back catalogues of acts I have little interest in so I'm only going to be sampling their pre-chart albums and if that does them an injustice feel free to tell me so in the Comments. Chart peak : 61 ( 10 on re-release in 1984, 28 in re-worked form with Martay in 1999 ) Their commercial breakthrough came with the next album "Tres Hombres". A combination of a burgeoning live reputation and a quantum leap in the quality of the songwriting saw it go gold in the US.
Some of it still sounds pretty dull to me but when it catches fire it's surprisingly good particularly "Master of Sparks" , a lean , dread-laden number about a truly bonkers driving escapade the teenage Billy and his mate got up to on the back roads of Texas which could almost be Kings of Leon. That wasn't chosen as the single ; instead they went for the conventional Southern boogie tune "La Grange" about what else, a local whorehouse. It was based on the same Slim Harpo tune appropriated by the Stones for Hip Shake and reached 41 in the charts. By 1981's "El Loco" , they were aware of the need to diversify if cautiously at first.
The first three tracks are as dull as ditchwater establishing the need for the experimentation that follows. "Leila", a number 77 hit in the US is a country rock ballad about a girl moving on while New Wave guitar sounds start making an appearance on a number of tracks. Synthesisers are used sparingly ( nobody is credited with playing them ) until the eighth track "Groovy Little Hippie Pad" which is one of the most bizarre cross-genre experiments I've heard.
The album improved on its predecessor's showing reaching number 17 which encouraged them to take things a bit further with the next. The follow-up, 1972's "Rio Grande Mud" was slightly heavier but still more of the same. Neither album made much impression on the charts but the latter's single, "Francine", a reprehensible ode to a thirteen-year old that could have come straight off Sticky Fingers put down a marker on the singles charts by reaching number 69.
After re-releasing "Salt Lick" on London at the beginning of 1970 the new line up made its recording debut in 1970 with "( Somebody Else Been ) Shaking Your Tree" which as the title suggests is written from a cuckold's point of view. The imaginatively titled "ZZ Top's First Album " soon followed at the beginning of 1971. At this point they were clearly in thrall to Fleetwood Mac although Billy is Jeremy Spencer rather than Peter Green as a songwriter with the unimaginative songs chock full of sexual innuendos.
It established their sound of an unflashy rhythm section providing a rock solid platform for Billy's blues guitar. Early in 1980 they came to the UK and appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Also on that episode were Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and the Texans were much impressed Number of hits : 15 Frank started out in a band called The Cellar Dwellers who released a single "Bad Day" in 1967 which sounds like Revolver-era Beatles.
They played the same venues as another Texas-based outfit The Warlocks led by the Hill brothers Dusty ( bass ) and Rocky ( lead guitar ). Their first single in 1966, "Splash Day", sounds like The Byrds doing a Beach Boys song. The second "If You Really Want Me To Stay" still sounds like The Byrds but has a much darker and heavier vibe.
In 1968 the two bands merged into American Blues They released one single, a wigged-out version of "If I Were A Carpenter " which isn't bad. The brothers then fell out over which direction they should follow and Rocky, a blues purist, quit the band. When Ethridge got cold feet about signing a record deal, Dusty ( real name Joseph ) followed Frank into ZZ Top.
Their success plateaued for the next few years with the downbeat "Tejas" LP reaching number 17 in 1976 and its lead single, the humdrum "It's Only Love" distinguished only by a tuneless harmonica break, peaked at 44. They released a second single , the more interesting "Arrested for Driving While Blind" which aroused controversy for appearing to endorse drunk driving and it only scraped the bottom of the US chart. In 1977 The Clash released a song called "I'm So Bored With The USA" which criticised American culture as well as foreign policy and we lapped it up.
American culture might feature fairly heavily on our TV schedules but at least as far as pop music was concerned glam rock and then punk had kept most of the would-be invaders locked out of the chart and this despite the fact that many of Radio One's daytime DJs - Emperor Rosko, Paul Burnett, Noel Edmunds, David Hamilton - paid more attention to the Billboard chart than our own. That same year Pat Boone's daughter Debby recorded the best-selling single of the seventies in the US, ten weeks at number one with "You Light Up My Life". Here it reached a derisory 48 which was at least better than Foghat or Grand Funk Railroad ever managed. Previously pithily dismissed as a Southern Status Quo with comedy beards , "Gimme All Your Loving" was from their eightth album. They were formed in Houston, Texas in 1969 by guitarist Billy Gibbons , keyboard player Lanier Greig and drummer Dan Mitchell.
Billy and Dan had previously been in the psychedelic band Moving Sidewalks. They released a number of singles starting with Billy's song "99th Floor" in 1967 which makes all the right noises , acid-fried guitar, Farfisa organ, druggy lyrics but does sound a bit stiff next to the likes of Jefferson Airplane. This was followed by the heavier , less tuneful "Need Me" and then a Joe Cocker-inspired assault on "I Want To Hold Your Hand".
The final single was "Flashback" in 1969 which sounds like Eric Burdon and the Animals. This was from their one album "Flash" which effectively charts the transition from psychedelia to less appealing blues rock sludge and lacks any memorable songs. Moving Pictures toured as a support act to Jimi Hendrix who rated Billy as a guitarist.
With their record contract fulfilled, the band then took an extended break during which Billy and Dusty grew their famous beards before returning with the album "Deguello" in 1979 on Warner Brothers. The album trod water musically. A neat cover of Sam and Dave's "I Thank You" got to number 34 in the US but there's nothing else to interest the unconverted including follow-up single "Cheap Sunglasses".