Sunday, July 24, 2016

A New Direction for ZZ Top

ZZ Top's "El Loco," which hit music stores this month in 1981, marked a departure from the ZZ Top the band's fans knew and the emergence of a different ZZ Top, a new wave ZZ Top that, starting with this album, used synthesizers on many of its tracks.

That was a rather startling development for fans who had been listening to that little ol' band from Texas for a decade or so.

The most noteworthy difference in the album's production from the ones that preceded it, according to guitarist Billy Gibbons, the band's lead vocalist, was that, for the first time, the three members of the band recorded their parts separately instead of recording together.

By itself, I didn't detect a huge difference in the music because of that tactic. More likely, the synthesizers were responsible for that.

"Tube Snake Boogie" was the biggest hit on the album, climbing to #4 on Billboard's "Mainstream Rock" chart. It was a satirical sort of song, almost like the band was making fun of itself. Still it had more of a traditional ZZ Top sound to it than the first single to be released from the album, "Leila."
"Leila" was a good example of the direction a lot of music would take in the 1980s. It was just never a very good example of ZZ Top music, either before or after.

When I first heard it, I had to look at the album a couple of times to be sure I was listening to ZZ Top. In fact, the first time I heard it I thought it was Christopher Cross. I kid you not.

I didn't have that problem with "Pearl Necklace," which had a decidedly more ZZ Top feel to it.

The double entendres in "Tube Snake Boogie" and "Pearl Necklace" were impossible to miss, even if you didn't know for sure what the lyrics were saying.

And "Pearl Necklace" clearly showed listeners where ZZ Top would be heading with its next album.

Perhaps no other song on the album better exemplified the direction ZZ Top would be taking in future albums than the synthesizer–heavy track "Groovy Little Hippie Pad."

This wasn't your big brother's ZZ Top.