I think ZZ Top must have taken a lot of people by surprise when the band released its first album on this day in 1971 — called, appropriately, "ZZ Top's First Album."
I don't know what the sales were like, but I don't really remember ZZ Top making much of a splash until the third album, "Tres Hombres," a couple of years later.
Consequently, I guess it was pretty ballsy (pardon my French) to call it the band's first album — which implies that there will be at least one more. Vulgar though it may be, the word ballsy is appropriate for the tone ZZ Top established in that debut album — if the implication is bold and not a more negative synonym.
That first album was raw, uneven at times, but the band served notice that it was a bluesy, Southern rock band with a sound all its own.
The only single that was released from that album was "(Somebody Else Been) Shaking Your Tree," but it was a cornerstone for the ZZ Top sound. It just never made it onto the Billboard charts.
As I say, the album was uneven. It certainly had its moments, though — moments when certain tracks just worked, you know?
And on those tracks that did work — and "(Somebody Else Been) Shaking Your Tree" was one of them — the future was revealed.
Part of that future was a song that became a staple in the band's concerts — "Backdoor Love Affair." I saw ZZ Top perform in Dallas — as a warmup band. No, it wasn't before ZZ Top became famous. In fact, it was long after that. ZZ Top was the warmup band for the Rolling Stones — and even the best of bands take second billing to the Stones.
Both acts were great, and I distinctly remember hearing ZZ Top play "Backdoor Love Affair."
Wow, I thought to myself. It's like the live side of "Fandango!" Well, except for the fact that the studio version was played a bit slower.
Another song that gave listeners a peek at what was to come with ZZ Top was "Brown Sugar" — and I am definitely not speaking of a cover of the Rolling Stones' song. This was an entirely different song with an entirely different kind of attitude.
And another song that I thought worked was called "Goin' Down to Mexico."
It had the sensation of ZZ Top — a sensation that hasn't really changed that much even as the band went through a rather extended synthesizer phase, during which ZZ Top introduced elements of new wave and punk rock to its sound.
I'm sure most ZZ Top fans were relieved — as I was — when the band returned to its guitar–driven roots in the early '90s.
But on this day in 1971, the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career was just getting started.