Sunday, January 4, 2015

ZZ Top - Stages

ZZ Top may have been the most surprising success story of the 1980's.  True, the blues-rock trio had landed five albums in the top 25 from 1973 - 1981, and even had two top 40 hits ("Tush" and "I Thank You.")  Still, the success of 1983's Eliminator, which launched the band into superstardom, was stunning.  In retrospect, this success was largely driven by two factors ... but more on that in a minute.

The group formed in Houston in 1969 (!) and has remained intact to this day, with guitarist/singer Billy Gibbons, bassist/co-singer Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard (ironically the only member of the group without the trademark Rip Van Winkle facial hair).  From the start, the band's sound incorporated elements of the blues into modern rock songs.

On Eliminator, the group updated their sound even further, adding synthesizers and drum machines to their blues-rock sound.  Though this sounds like a recipe for disaster, the results were spectacular.  It was this updated sound, combined with a shrewd use of videos, that drove ZZ Top's massive success.

1985's Afterburner continued in the same vein, albeit with results that did not hold together quite as well.  Still, there were highlights, such as "Stages," which is our favorite cut off the album.  The song reached #21, while the Afterburner LP went to #4 (thus becoming the highest charting ZZ Top album ever).

The band released one more synthesizer-influenced LP, 1990's Recycler, before returning to a more traditional sound.  While their mainstream popularity gradually declined from the 1980's highs, they remain active in the music industry to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  The ZZ Top name came as a tribute to blues legend B.B. King.  The band was originally called ZZ King, but decided that this was too similar, and changed it to ZZ Top.