ZZ Top- Tres Hombres (1974): 6 April 2020

ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (1974)

Welcome back to YDCS! We’re going south again this week with ZZ Top’s third release, Tres Hombres. Released during a peak in the Southern Rock movement, Tres Hombres was a standout release for the band and featured their first Top 40 Hit, “La Grange.” Contemporary reviews found that while they were clearly competent rockers, the album didn’t stand out from other acts of the time, particularly ones like the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Time looks much more favorably on this record, with modern reviews noting that it was a landmark album in the genre and for featuring one of the biggest hits of classic rock.

This is the second ZZ Top album that I’ve reviewed, the first being 1983’s Eliminator. The first thing that I noticed was that I drastically prefer the older ZZ Top sound over the newer, more keyboard driven one on Eliminator. Eliminator has some great songs, but ZZ Top were always a blues/southern rock group, and Tres Hombres features some of the dirtiest blues rock that you’ll hear. With blues rock, simplicity in terms of production and instrumentation is key, so to make the album stand out, both of those need to be high quality, and Tres Hombres features both a high degree of musicianship and excellent production value. I hope you enjoy this genre-defining classic!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Waitin’ for the Bus: We open Tres Hombres with one of my favorite ZZ Top songs, “Waitin’ for the Bus.” (I sing this song to myself every time I’m actually waiting for a bus too!) It’s not a complex song but it plays into the simplicity of the genre well and features the only harmonica solo on the album. It really hits the nail on the head for what hard blues rock sounds like and is a definitive example of the early ZZ Top sound. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Jesus Just Left Chicago: The transition from “Waitin’ for the Bus” into “Jesus Just Left Chicago” is really smooth. Do you remember how I mentioned that production is one of the things that can make a southern rock album stand out? That’s what I’m talking about. That attention to detail is what an album in this genre needs. Looking at the song musically, it initially appears to be a standard blues rock song, but it features a screaming solo that is definitely worth checking out and is a great display of the band’s musicianship. Good song! Dad’s Rating 6/10

Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers: We have our first of two ‘hidden gems’ in a row in “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers.” This is a more traditional rock song than the bluesy-er songs that have come before it and shows that the band had plenty of rock in them; they weren’t just a one-trick show. “Beer Drinkers” is a fun rock track, despite being short on substance. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Master of Sparks: “Master of Sparks” is a song I can say that I’ve never heard before this review but fits the term ‘hidden gem’ perfectly. This is a bluesy, dirty song and it’s one of my favorites on the album. The track is heavy and has the right mix of rock and funk and makes you feel so cool for listening to it. I feel like I need to invest in a pair of sunglasses and a black leather jacket after listening to this song. Don’t skip this track! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Hot, Blue and Righteous: We’ve hit the midpoint in the album and it’s time to slow things down a bit. My first thought when I listened to “Hot, Blue and Righteous” was that ZZ Top seemed to be taking inspiration from the Eagles but put a Texas twist on it. There’s an attempt at vocal harmony, but everything is a little rougher in Texas so it doesn’t come across smoothly. I actually appreciate the fact that it’s slightly unpolished since it just feels more like the cowboys that ZZ Top are, and anything less would be a discredit to them. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Move Me on Down the Line: The B-side starts weakly with this song, “Move Me on Down the Line.” I kept waiting for something to come out of this song, but it starts as quickly as it ends and doesn’t add anything to the album. It lacks the hard rock sound of earlier songs and omits the blues sound. Go ahead and skip this one. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Precious and Grace: Starting the B-side with this track, “Precious and Grace” would have been a better decision in my mind. It fits more smoothly with the theme of the rest of the album and hits the middle ground between blues and heavy rock well. I would listen to this song again, but don’t think it’s quite good enough to be called a hidden gem. Dad’s Rating 6/10

La Grange: I can NOT believe that “La Grange” was buried on the B-side! One of the most significant songs to come out of the southern rock movement was relegated to a B-side! This is a great song and the best on the record. The quiet, tapping drum section combined with raspy vocals is the perfect intro to a rocking track, and I love the reprise of that section after the solo; that run is my favorite part of the song. I know that I just talked about how “Precious and Grace” shows a great split between blues and rock, but “La Grange” does it best. Rock on! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Sheik: For as high of a high as “La Grange” is, “Sheik” is the lowest point of the record and deserves to be buried on the B-side. I kept waiting for it to do something and it never did anything. They were clearly trying for a stripped back, blues rock track but it didn’t work. The whole song feels very out of place, it’s both too soft and not bluesy, it features a weird chime section, and it doesn’t do anything. Dad’s Rating 3/10

Have You Heard?: We close Tres Hombres with a slow burning blues track that features some pretty good guitar work in the solo. The guitar work in particular seems to have a stronger Delta Blues influence than on some of the other blues-y songs on the record. “Have You Heard?” isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s a good song and adequate way to finish. At the very least, it sums up what the album was all about. Dad’s Rating 5/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

ZZ Top- Eliminator (1983): 8 April 2019

ZZ Top – Eliminator (1983)

Welcome back to YDCS where we’re going into the 1980s this week for the most commercially successful album by ZZ Top, Eliminator. First though I’d like to apologize for posting 23 hours later than normal. It was bound to happen eventually, but I got caught up this past week and didn’t get finished in time. Your regularly scheduled post will be back next week on time! Comprised of the trio of Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard, ZZ Top’s lineup has remained consistent since 1970, so by the time 1983 rolled around, the band knew what their sound was and had established themselves in the pop/rock music scene. In fact, Eliminator was not the band’s first experience with a hit album. The band previously released 1973’s Tres Hombres which featured tracks like Waitin’ for the Bus and the mega-hit La Grange, and 1979’s Deguello which featured I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide and Cheap Sunglasses. The difference between Eliminator and their other two hits was the introduction of MTV in 1981. The band created a trio of music videos for Sharp Dressed Man, Gimme All Your Lovin, Legs that relied heavily on the sex appeal of models, which naturally resulted in heavy airplay on MTV and increased album sales. You can’t forget to mention the custom, fluffy, spinning Dean guitars. I’m sure that had something to do with the album sales too…

Eliminator draws heavily from the blues rock origins of the Texas natives with some emerging elements of synth rock from the New Wave movement, and in particular, drum machines. Listen carefully to songs like I Got The Six or Got Me Under Pressure and you can hear that bit of synth and those drum machines that were rushing onto the scene during the early 1980s. Eliminator is a perfect road trip album for me. Every song on his record can be turned up and rocked to while driving on the highway with the windows down. This album makes me want to go road tripping through the mountains of West Texas, where there’s miles between towns, and just feel free. I this album makes you feel like rocking out too! Enjoy!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Gimme All Your Lovin’: We’re starting off the album with a classic song that still receives heavy airplay on classic rock radio. Freewheelin’ guitars and solos a-plenty, Gimme All Your Lovin’ is quintessential ZZ Top track because it’s timeless! You can never turn away from a song that you can turn up and rock out Dad’s Rating 8/10

Got Me Under Pressure: I had never listened to all of Eliminator before this review, and Got Me Under Pressure was one of the tracks that surprised me the most. I particularly enjoyed the usage of the drum machine and how it gives the song a chugging drive. This is a song I would put on any of my driving playlists for road trips and would listen to again! Definitely a hidden gem here! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Sharp Dressed Man: You know exactly which song this is from the first three notes on the guitar and the introduction of that synthesizer. I can’t think of a better song to epitomize the early 1980’s rock scene other than maybe Jump by Van Halen. Memorable lyrics and a rocking guitar riff characterize this song. The only reason I’m not rating it higher, and the issue I have with most of the songs by ZZ Top, are that they’re not musically or lyrically challenging. While this song does characterize the early 1980s rock scene, it didn’t push the boundary of what that could be. Dad’s Rating 8/10

I Need You Tonight: The guitar play a much less prominent role on this track than on the rest of the album to let the vocals shine through. Dusty Hill wasn’t known for his vocal prowess but he didn’t disappoint here! The guitar sits back and play a more haunting, supporting role but still comes out after the second verse for a solo that elevates the song and doesn’t overshadow it. Dad’s Rating 7/10

I Got The Six: I Got The Six is the shortest track on the album and feels like a classic rocker. This track is very guitar forward in exactly the same way that I Need You Tonight was not. I feel like I’ve heard about 300 different songs that all sound like this one. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this song, but it doesn’t stun in the way the next track does. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Legs: There’s an emerging pattern on this album where whenever the band began incorporating synthesizers and drum machines, those songs seemed to push the boundaries of what rock could do. This is the second song that I’ve rated highly that featured this “new technology,” and I believe that it really does add an extra layer of depth to the song that makes ones like I Got The Six slightly boring to listen to. As far as Legs is concerned, this is a rocking solo with a catchy riff and a shredding solo that contrasts the guitars role in the rest of the song nicely. I would add that this song is elevated by the fluffy guitars from the music video. Keep on spinnin’! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Keep on Spinnin’

Thug: This is one of Dusty Hill’s best performances on the bass that I’ve listened to. Thug is so different from the rest of the album, and that makes the whole product much stronger for it. Gibbons took a major back seat here to let Hill rock out on bass and his popping technique fits the song well and shows some skill that I hadn’t really heard from him on other tracks where he was taking a supportive role to Gibbons on lead guitar. Dad’s Rating 8/10

TV Dinners: Thug flows very smoothly into TV Dinners, but this is the most absurd song on the album. I’m not sure why the band felt the need to write a song about the merits and demerits of TV dinners, but they did. This falls squarely in the same musical realm as I Got The Six, where I feel as though I’ve listened to 300 songs exactly like this except the subject matter is so much more bizarre that I KNOW I’ve never listened to another song about TV dinners. Weird… Dad’s Rating 4/10

Dirty Dog: Dirty Dog sounds very similar to Got Me Under Pressure at first and I’m really glad that they didn’t pair one right after the other, otherwise it would have felt like one long song. I prefer the riffs throughout the verses in the latter of those two songs, but think that the solo is much better in this song than it is in Got Me Under Pressure. For that fact, I rate both songs equally! Dad’s Rating 7/10

If I Could Only Flag Her Down: We’ve got a little something different going on with this track! There’s a little bit of a rockabilly/country feel to this song but with a hard rock twist. I think this really benefits the album to break up, what can at times, be almost a drone from songs that sounds too similar. This is a great little hidden gem that’s worth giving a listen!  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Bad Girl: The album closes strongly with another song that has great drive and would be suitable for any road trip. By this point though, because there have only been two instances where the band really showed off different styles, this feels like any other song on the album. Dad’s Rating 6/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.