Graham Reid | | 2 min read
When you hear the answer you'll go; “Oh yeah”. But you need to know the questions first: What would you get if you cross-bred the Ramones with denim-clad and simple-formula Status Quo, then brought the offspring up on a diet of Texas blues?
Oh yeah: Z.Z.Top
There's something in our genes which
attaches itself to the simple stuff: dramatic Phil Spector pop,
flat-tack Sex Pistols punk, the straight-ahead proto-punk Ramones,
Iggy-rock, Slade, head-down boogie Status Quo . . .
But add a brittle bluesy guitar part from the tough bars of Texas and some swivel-hip moves and you've got . . . Oh yeah: Z.Z. Top.
Then factor in hot rods – which makes sense – and long beards (which actually doesn't, but boy is that a distinctive and significant image) and you have . . .
The Top became a brand long before any
clean-shaven, non-rock guy in an ad agency thought up the idea. Billy
Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard hold the patent on Texas blues,
bar-band boogie-rock, beards, cheap sunglasses, and big breast in
tube-tops. The Top were unashamedly into “the ladies” (especially
those with leeeegs) and they didn't give a damn about political
correctness in a couple of decades when so many humourless people
Which is why they were so loved, enjoyed and successful – even with the ladies.
Z.Z. Top aimed for the bottom line -- the bit above the low edge of a bikini – and were always ridiculously reductive while the PC police howled about it. But Top beat them at their own game because they were also funny (Tush is a two-minute-plus bar-band classic which nods to John Lee Hooker). They consistently delivered simplicity which connected with their audience (the Stones-like Francene on their debut album), had serious blues credentials (Jesus Left Chicago on the same album) and knew how to drop a mood (Blue Jean Blues on Tres Hombres, their third album).
And that was also the thing about Z.Z. Top: they might have been a Texas-bred Status Quo for the casual listener (“Yeah, but it all sounds the same”) but there was also remarkable diversity in what they did. Gibbons is one of the great Texas blues players. Just check how they play with the blues on I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide on their Tejas album of 79. They connect with the 30s as much as the 60s and 70s. And they have fun with it.
Thankfully their new box set – their first 10 albums which includes the original of their early albums mixes not that 80s cleaning up which ripped the grit and dust out of them – stops in 1990 before things got silly: Not many could be interested in the dull self-repeating that was Rhythmeen, XXX and so on.
Z.Z. Top are still out there and doing it – which might be yet another but more cynical “Oh yeah” response – but they were captured in their blues, humour and rawness in their first two decades from 1970.
Jeez, there's gonna be a lotta listening on that 100-song 10 CD 1970-1990 box set but I'll give it my best shot because for every serious shot (Heard it on the X) there's a grin-inducing Pearl Necklace or Legs. And they sound like no one else because they are . . .
Oh yeah: Z.Z. Top