The Essentials – ZZ Top Share
In “The Essentials” series, our official blogger, singer/songwriter/journalist Mike Ethan Messick, dives into the catalog of one of the Texas Music Scene’s brightest stars or biggest legends and comes up with a handful of essential songs to recommend. Alternately he might tackle a theme, regional scene, or subgenre and list off just enough highlights and personal favorites to fill up your next mix CD.
- “I’m Bad I’m Nationwide” – One of the finest distillations of ZZ Top’s low-ridin’, skirt-chasin’, good-time ethos, their greatest song to these ears celebrates not only a simple but indelible blues riff but also the little details of the sort of ladies that do it for the ‘Top. “Wearin’ short dresses sportin’ spike heeled shoes/They’re smokin’ Lucky Strikes and wearing nylons too”. Horndog poetry at it’s finest, off of 1979′s Deguello and before their multi-platinum but less-gritty MTV era.
- “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” – Even good blues-rock runs the risk of coming off trite or lazy, but in their prime ZZ Top had the sort of breakneck dynamics and world-class chops to rival almost any prog-rock or metal band. A simple party song turned into something complex, sublime, and enduringly rocking in the hands of the best three-piece band in the world (sorry, Rush fans).
- “La Grange” – Probably their best-known song, and arguably one that waves their Texas flag the proudest, this iconic piece of the classic rock hotwires a Jimmy Reed guitar riff with Billy Gibbons’ signature muscularity and Frank Beard’s rattling-dice percussion before going full-tilt rock & roll. The signature “ah h’yaw h’yaw h’yaw” vocalizations effectively fill in the gaps for what couldn’t be said explicitly in an ode to a legendary Texas bordello, at least on the radio.
- “Waitin’ On The Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago” – Typically served up as a double-shot on classic rock radio from now until the end of time, the boys from Houston flex some thick-but-nimble guitar funk muscle on a charmingly light ode to public transit before breaking it down into some gloriously muddy electric blues. If only all Christian rock could be as compelling as Top’s “Jesus as bluesman” scorcher …
- “Mexican Blackbird” – Swapping his usual gravelly tenor for an almost cartoonish baritone drawl, Billy Gibbons actually sounded more country than the average urban cowboy back in 1975 when this came out on Fandango. An adept, boozily funny blend of blues, honky-tonk, and sex-obsessed novelty, it’s among the great faux-country tunes by rock & roll giants (in league with the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” Creedence’s “Looking For A Reason,” Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” et al.)
Rounding things out …
- “Nasty Dogs & Funky Kings”
- “I Thank You”
- “Blue Jean Blues”
- “Sharp Dressed Man”
- “She’s Just Killing Me”
- “Cheap Sunglasses”
- “My Head’s In Mississippi”
- “Sure Got Cold After The Rain Fell”
- “Got Me Under Pressure”
Also highly recommended, even if it hasn’t had a chance to sink in just yet: the new Texicali EP recorded with legendary producer Rick Rubin and released earlier this month. It’s loud, gutsy, and emphatically rocks. Plus the oddly Otis Redding-ish “Over You” may be the best out of the very short list of “slow” ZZ Top songs.