First Album (1971)
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Somebody Else Has Been Shaking Your Tree 9.5/10
Here is the kind of solid hard-rock song that makes listening to this genre enjoyable. The instrumentation is just about as clear and professional as it gets, and the melody is catchy and manages to avoid the cliches. The guitar solo is excellent! If all hard rock songs were like this, I wouldn't care about them all sounding so freaking streamlined. Even that section where they strip the instrumentation to just the drums sounds much more appropriate than when other bands do that. (Seriously, those sections tend to be there merely because the musicians have run out of ideas. Certainly, they might have tried something more creative there, but what can you expect from ZZ Top?)
Brown Sugar 9/10
They try on straight blues for size with this track (and, no, this isn't the excellent Rolling Stones song --- this track precedes that by a year). As you might know, I have a bit of a thing against the straight blues, because the genre tends to be badly generic. ZZ Top don't have anything new to say, but at least they know how to deliver some nice blues licks. This is more of a minimal song at first --- just singing and that cool guitar. That part was nicely delivered! But I don't find any reason to complain when they turn it into a hard blues-rock song in the middle. (The electric guitars deliver some interesting effects in the middle half --- I'm not an expert in the instrument, but as a casual fan it's pretty neat.)
Here is a strange song. Actually, it's just another normal old blues song with that same old chord progression, but it's done so well that it's enjoyable. That drumming is weird. It sounds almost like there's a beat that's out of place, but that manages to suit the song nicely. The guitar licks are fun, again.
Goin' Down to Mexico 8.5/10
Though this is a hit ZZ Top song, I don't find it to be as enjoyable as many of the previous tracks. Why? I cite the melody! I do like that this is a rather complex composition especially with that almost prog-rockish instrumental interlude! (I don't seriously mean to compare these guys with a progressive rock band, but that's what it immediately reminded me of.) Again, this is enormously well played with some really impressive guitar licks. It's no surprise to me whatsoever that ZZ Top has such devoted fans, and I can actually respect that. They do take great care in their work --- especially in this debut, it seems.
Old Man 8/10
This is a relatively more boring blues tune although the guitars are its hero. Those things are playing every which way no matter what the vocal melody would be playing. They're certainly more interesting than that melody anyway! I'm hearing this with headphones right now, and those guitars are almost like hearing birds whistling. This song really isn't supposed to be pleasant, but I'm getting that experience!
Neighbor, Neighbor 7.5/10
Is it just me, or is this album getting less and less exciting? This is a pretty under-enthusiastic experience for me. On the one hand, I do appreciate that this is highly polished blues rock. But the melody and instrumentation doesn't do anything particularly special here. It's solid as a rock, but not greatly inspired this time.
Certified Blues 7/10
Again with the ultra-polished blues. Well, at least they had it checked out by an accredited organization, because it's "Certified Blues!" The melody isn't catchy at all, and I don't think their groove is that great either. Hey, but at least there's that electric guitar. That drummer is a good fellow. I think I'd like to meet him.
Bedroom Thang 8/10
This one is a little better. That boogie riff is a bit catchy to my ears. The whole thing is derivative, and it's not easy hearing the same sort of song for the upteenth time in a row. But anyway. They know how to give this genre some justice. And despite all of it, it sounds as fresh as they could have made it. Extra points for the weird bit in the middle where they change-up the tempo, and more extra points for the especially great guitar work sprinkled throughout.
Just Got Back From Baby's 8.5/10
Now there's a majorly entertaining boogie number, at least. The melody is as derivative as hell, but the instrumentation wins me over. Those bouncy piano chords a a touch that worked nicely. But mostly the guitar solos soar over everything. Yeah... may we all grow freakish beards...
Backdoor Love Affair 9/10
This song title could produce a myriad of unprofessional jokes. But I'm too cool for that. I just wanted to point out that this song title sounds dirty. Anyway, they certainly decided to end their album on a high note. This is one of their more convincing hard rock songs with drums and guitars going nuts all over the place. The melody is certainly among their finer ones. This seems more like a creative effort than some of the others, and it's better for that.
Rio Grande Mud (1972)
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Everything I start listening to "Francine," I think it's an Iggy Pop song. Isn't that weird? I guess Dusty Hill has that same sort of feeling in his voice even though it doesn't have quite the body. Anyway, I love this enormously tight and spirited track! As you might expect, it's ultra-polished hard-rock, and it also features a catchy pop melody. This track fits in neither blues nor boogie rock --- maybe that's why I like it so much. It's just straight rock music. Well this belongs on a mix tape I'll be making soon.... I really enjoy this.
Just Got Paid 9.5/10
This is more bluesy and the melody is much more derivative, but that's hardly its downfall! This one is even more guitar heavy, and they seem to love showing off their chops. Who wouldn't if you could play like that? This is better than apples.
Mushmouth Shoutin' 6.5/10
Oh no!! They lost me pretty quickly now. This is such a derivative blues song that I don't think these guys should have given themselves the songwriting credit. The pace is so sluggish, that it might leave you screaming at it to pick up pace. I don't even find the guitar that enjoyable --- it's just doing what it does on all these types of songs. Man!!!
Ko Ko Blue 8/10
Here is an enjoyable track although there's nothing particularly wonderful about it. I miss the polished texture and the menacing attitude. They also manage to produce a strange groove here that doesn't really capture me.... I like this song, but it's more boring than I would want from them!! At least it isn't repetitive like I would expect most hard-rock bands would be. I also like that there's no fade out. They have a real ending, and it's an interesting one.
This is just a little bit better although perhaps not as exciting. The hooks are stronger this time --- that manages to make up, somewhat, for the instrumentation being a little, um, too bare. The groove they use in here is so derivative --- geez! Well, I guess they're using time-tested ideas...
Apologies to Pearly 7/10
This is another DERIVATIVE track. I find it a bit disheartening that they don't steer even an inch away from formula! Anyway, this instrumental is meant to showcase the guitar. Yes, you have the skills, but there's nothing wrong with penning tunes and chord progressions that are just a little bit more unusual!!
Nicer and more original. Although, I'm basically only saying that because of a really peculiar, stripped-down section they undergo in the instrumental interlude! That guitar performance otherwise is sloppy and glorious! They do continue to use that same chord progression that a billion bands in the '50s and early '60s already used to death, but the guitar performance continues to save it.
Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell 6/10
This joins the ranks of "Mushmouthin' Shoutin'" as being played too freaking slow! Now, I like the fact that they're trying to write slower tracks, but that's quite clearly not their strength. This is boring, and there aren't any captivating hooks!!! The chord progressions are boring and --- gasp --- even the instrumentals are relatively dull. (Of course, we still get a nice guitar solo, but it's too little too late!!!!) And the last nail in the coffin: This is seven minutes long. Yawn!!
Whiskey N' Mama 7.5/10
This is OK, but it fails to capture much of anything. The melody isn't that hooky, and I could be less enthusiastic about the guitars! I do wish these guys would get away from the cliches, but .... whatever.
Down Brownie 8/10
And now, they end it with the straight-ahead blues rock song. It's another enjoyable one although they're still not doing anything above the norm. The guitar crunches are great, as usual, but the melody is so normal --- I don't even think it's fair to say they really wrote this melody. That's how original it is! But anyway, the guitar licks are what's selling the tickets, and I'll buy one.
Tres Hombres (1973)
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Waiting for the Bus 9.5/10
This track features a nice, catchy and fresh blues riff. It's not only catchy but crystal clear in the production and solidly executed. Billy Gibbons delivers a fun vocal performance and even sings a hooky melody. Everything is just right. They use kind of a usual chord progression, but it's how they use it that counts. Dine on this blues delicatessen like a real connoisseur! Who said ZZ Top was only for the everyman? I'm pretty strange, and I like it.
Jesus Just Left Chicago 8/10
False. Jesus was never in Chicago. I don't even think that was mentioned in The Da Vinci Code, but I haven't seen that movie yet. Anyway, I hate to say that all those wonderful advances the group seemed to make with "Waitin' For the Bus" has escaped them here. Likewise, they use a simple blues chord progression, but they don't make it sound fresh. Well, the old cliches can still be fun --- and there's a certain bit of oddness here. An electric guitar solo that sounds a bit muted in the mix. Gibbons gives a strange and whiny vocal performance (in general, his new style), which turns out a fun effect.
Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers 9/10
I don't drink beer, and I never raise Hell. Well, I think this song is pretty good! The melody is catchy though rather simple, and so is their chord progression. Perhaps not the most inspired thing they've ever done. What I do actively enjoy is the vocal duet between Gibbons and Dusty Hill. Very unique, especially for a blues track. The instrumentation is clear and crisp. You hear the rhythm crisply --- just perfect. Last but not least, the electric guitar solos are gold. ...These guys have something going. You can't deny that.
Master of Sparks 10/10
An odd introduction starts things off right with. I can't describe it, but the off-beat rhythms is strictly unconventional for blues music. Actually, this whole track is pretty dang unconventional. The instrumentation is probably the album's showcase example. You hear a solid, heavy riff playing through one speaker; and in the other speaker, you hear a drunken, muted, soprano guitar counter-playing. Wonderful!!! That really distracts me from listening to Gibbons' singing, which is also great. He continues to wail in those crazy, strained vocals. Naturally, they stop everything and deliver a trademark electric guitar solo. Yes!
Hot, Blue and Righteous 7/10
Just when they had everything so right with "Master of Sparks" they go and deliver something like "Hot, Blue and Righteous." Not that it's necessarily bad, but it's what's keeping this album away from 'legendary status' as I see it. Ah well. For starters, this track is played way too slow. Again, it proves that these guys are not cut out for ballads. Maybe they'll prove me wrong sometime later in their discography. I hope so. The melody is rather decent, but the instrumentals don't pop out at me like they've been known to pull off brilliantly.
Move Me On Down the Line 8/10
Back to the upbeat stuff, this is one of their better songs with a tight, poppy beat and a nice melody. This is a little poppier than they usually try giving us, but I guess that means it's not based on their regular bluesy progressions. Somehow, this track isn't that memorable and too middle-of-the-road. It's pretty stale, but still perfectly enjoyable for at-the-moment entertainment. (That's how I lightly dismiss songs --- I call it 'at-the-moment entertaining'.)
Precious and Grace 9.5/10
Well, here's something. Darkly toned guitars are playing a catchy riff, and Beard plays a wholly enjoyable drum beat! (It's rare that I point out drumming, but there you go.) The guitars are perfect. This dark 'metal' music usually isn't my thing, but I'm enjoying it wholly here... They can be really awesome when they put their minds to it...
La Grange 9.5/10
Everybody in the world knows this light, acoustic riff from about eight billion television commercials. This is, as they say, ZZ Top's breakthrough single. It charted at #41. Just one away from a Top 40 single. Well, surely most of the other 40 tracks aren't featured on about eight billion television commercials. Honestly, this isn't any better than "Master of Sparks," but you know what pedestal I put that one on. This famous riff isn't original (they have Slim Harpo to thank) but their use of it was definitely worthy of such fame!
Here is a bit of an overly repetitive track although I appreciate its uniqueness. The stripped down, robotic feeling of this song was generally pulled off well, and it's strange (especially for the era). But that three-note riff gets overplayed to a bad point. The twinkly ending is almost psychedelic --- hugely strange considering that contrasts with the bulk of the track. (I love it when I can describe a song as "strange" --- that usually means I like it.)
Have You Heard? 8/10
This is a usual bluesy track with a little bit of gospel undertones, and that ends the album in appropriate mood. However, the songwriting here just isn't so special. It doesn't catch my ear --- capture my imagination --- or anything. The melody is rather dull and derivative, and the instrumentals, while solid, aren't any better than they've been previously. Sad to say, this was a little weak.
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Everybody likes to see ZZ Top live. A few members of the audience seem pretty riled up about it. They're whistling and screaming... and then somebody says "Get ready for ZZ Top!" And I'm, like, "OK." And then ZZ Top starts to play. Mightily wicked guitar licks. A very usual and generic blues chord progression, though, and that's certainly one of this group's general downfalls except in the times when they actually feel like stepping out of that box. The live production sounds OK though nowhere near as clear as it would have been in the studio. The playing is tight and must have been a treat to watch. Listening to it is fine, too, but you get the show-offey stuff shoved in your face. They're not that awe-inspiring... some of this sounds like they're biding their time......
Jailhouse Rock 7/10
A cover, as you probably know, is the song that Elvis sang! Who knows why they wanted to cover this song. They don't do anything too revolutionary with it. I don't get invigorated listening to it --- it's not exactly brimming to the edge with energy. This is OK. Nothing more.
Backdoor Medley 10/20
Here is the grand tamale. A nine-minute 'medley' of songs they wrote and covers of other songs. It's a shame they had to dawdle so much, because I really enjoyed the way this one started. The intro is so nice, melodic and energetic. But then they have to bring down the volume and take away the guitars and start rattling off these silly lines... Who cares??? This is something like trying to watch an un-neutered male dog trying to show off..... Of course the audience loves it. Who knows if they're prancing around like they do... That was certainly easier to watch than it is to hear.... and this consists of nearly half of this whole thing.... for the love of..... Look, I'm just going to space out until this thing is over....
Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings 8/10
Now that the freaking live side is over, we get to those more restrained and crystal-clear studio tracks. And they deliver what's surely the most heartwarming song they've ever performed ---"Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings." OK, just kidding about that. Actually, this is a rather enjoyable, mid-tempo boogie song. The electric guitar performances beat their live work by a mile. The groove is nice and dark --- a little bit like lite-Black Sabbath. It's fun to hear but nothing more.
Blue Jean Blues 8.5/10
The weird thing about this is that you're going to think it's boring and slow blues rock. Well, it is a little bit boring and slow, but you can eventually force yourself to get caught up in it. Don't listen so much to that plodding beat, but that noodling. The noodles will set you free...
And they follow that up with a good ole pop-rocker. It's a shame the melody isn't that catchy and neither is the riff. As somebody who is not a big fan of this 'blues,' I'm perturbed. (Or, maybe I actually *am* a blues fan, and I'm not in the mood to admit that to myself. Well, whatever the case...) This is middle-of-the-road. Nothing much to get out of it...
Mexican Blackbird 9.5/10
Those goofy cow-poke vocals make this sound like They Might Be Giants. It's hilarious! No surprise that Dusty Hill sings this... He's so entertaining whenever he takes the vocals. Almost without fail. Not that I don't like Gibbon's performances. Melodically, this thing is very catchy, and the instrumentation is a tad nicer. Again, the noodling is fun, and I like the guitar they choose. Hah! This is great!!
Heard it on the X 9.5/10
Oh, and this is why everybody got out of bed this morning. I guess I'm kind of weird because I like "Blackbird" slightly better. Well, the instrumentation is tighter than ever. That's really the song's main attraction. This is certainly drummer Frank Beard's best performance on the album... I like their riff, and the melody is OK!
This is a fun though inessential song. The chord progression is just a usual blues thing again, and they don't do anything particularly unique with it. The instrumentation is the highlight again though not nearly as great as it was on the previous track. The noodling is still great, you know...
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It's Only Love 8/10
Hear the ultra-polished and crisp sound of the drums. This marks the much-desired return to their slick roots-rock that made this band famous!! ... But to be honest, I'm not a big fan of this. The melody is bland and derivative, and the mid-tempoed pace of it doesn't inspire. All I can really do with this is nod my head politely and say: "Oo! That drum sound is so crisp!" Guitar nuts will say: "Oo! But look at Billy Gibbons' guitar work!" And I'd say: "Alright, thanks."
Arrested For Driving Blind 8/10
Yay! More ultra-polished derivo-blues! (Alright, I'll never use that term I just made up again... I'm sorry...) This is another nice-sounding song that you can nod to politely. They're not being so creative here, musically speaking. Gibbons' guitar solo is what has all the fans raving... and it's pretty good. This is another mildly enjoyable song
El Diablo 9.5/10
This is an interesting tune and tons more creative than the previous two tracks. It's pretty atmospheric, and the riff is catchy. Not so much the vocal melody, because it doesn't do much... but the vocal tone is definitely interesting. Anyway, the melody isn't the main attraction; it's the neat atmosphere that works. You also get to hear some of Gibbons' modest guitar noodling which gives the song more of its atmospheric depth. (At the very end, there's even some atmospheric tones that's either from a souped-up guitar or synthesizer. I have no idea which.)
Snappy Kakkie 9/10
At least this track is far from the usual blues cliches. The chord progressions are pretty weird, and that groove is very off-kilter. You'd wonder why they even bothered with those two generic opening tracks if they're going to follow them up with something that's so obviously superior. Who knows--- maybe they were just catering to their bluesy fans.
Enjoy and Get it On 9/10
This is a return to the bluesy riff-rock although I don't want to suggest that it's unwelcome. The riff is catchy and the production is so clean that it sparkles. Gibbon's vocal wailing performance is as fun and enjoyable as ever. This isn't such a unique song, except for that interesting instrumental discourse in the middle of this, but it's as fun as hell to listen to!!
Ten Dollar Man 8.5/10
You've got to love that drumming ... Why is it that I'm always singling out the drumming with all the reviews I've been writing? Could it be that I like this drummer more than I like most drummers? I suppose that'd have to be true! This is another bluesy song, but it's also wonderful. The riff isn't quite as catchy than the other songs, but they do a few interesting things with the guitar solos and Gibbons' vocal performance is also awesome. ... But really, it's that involved drum beat that steals the show!
Pan Am Highway Blues 8/10
This is less enjoyable this time only because the song structure is traversing into pretty generic blues territory, and I'm not impressed at all with the melody. But this is still a good song, and I'll tell you why. It's the guitars. They're wild and varied, and you have to love the sound of that slide guitar they're using. Plus, the drumming is sweet.
Avalon Hideaway 8.5/10
This is another fun and involved bluesy song. The riff is pretty tight and catchy, and that's all it really has going for it. The good news is that it had enough inertia to keep it going for quite some time! The melody isn't so wonderful, but Gibbons is sure singing it with some passion. The guitar licks are pretty interesting... Guitar fanatics probably should own all these songs...
She's a Heartbreaker 8/10
Dusty Hill return with his lazy cowpoke vocals in this fun song. That riff is interesting and catchy, but the melody is generic in a bad way. They sort of redeem themselves when they bring in those creepy sounding violins mid-way into the song. All in all, this is my least favorite song from the album, but that only goes to show you how good this album is!
Asleep in the Desert 8.5/10
I can't say I don't like their idea of trying out atmospheric instrumental rock (approaching elevator music), and they prove to be pretty good at it. This is a sensitive song that showcases their impeccably clean and tight guitar skills. This is a nice song you can nap with ... in the desert.
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I Thank You 8.5/10
Hey listen to this! It's an Issac Hayes cover! ... Um I can't seem to locate the original version, but I can picture Hayes singing this. ZZ Top usually plays soul songs, so this fits in perfectly with their image. Gibbons delivers a fun and gritty lead performance. The instrumentation is solid and the production is crystal clear. They're not trying to do anything to impress... and I almost wish they would. There's not even much to the guitar licks although they're certainly appreciated in this "limited' facet. Maybe something a little more thunderous and/or danceable would have been nicer for an opening, but I like this cool, soul song just fine!
She Loves My Automobile 8/10
A mid-tempo boogie-rock song... Just what you'd expect to hear from them except it's a tad more boring than you'd hope. The guitar lickage plays a more central role, and that is the main highlight here. Generally speaking, the blues chord progression isn't interesting whatsoever, because they almost never are. What I do like about the texture is that droning trumpet sound!
I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide 8/10
This seems to be a fan favorite although that might just be for the charming song title. It certainly wasn't a big hit at the time, and it's not a big hit with me to be honest. Back to the old bluesy riffs that have been done eight trillion times. Well, I guess it's OK the eight trillionth time as long as they do it solidly. At least Gibbons delivers a very fine electric guitar solo! Redemption comes in the final third when they finally up the tempo and start capturing my imagination.
A Fool For Your Stockings 8/10
Dang they must have a sock fetish... The smell usually turns me off, but each to his own I guess. This is another laid-back boogie groove. The chord progression is a little more interesting --- they're not just adhering to the cliches. I hate to say that the song is still not that enticing. I hate to sound like such an everyman, but where's the upbeat stuff??? Anyway, let's not let those emotions get in the way. This is a solidly produced song that doesn't get boring, and it's mightily tasteful. There's some really excellent guitar licks, and that's the redeeming factor.
Manic Mechanic 8/10
Well I must say I like these song titles. This is the third great one in a row. Musically, this is also quite strange. After all that genre-pandering, here's a decidedly experimental song. They use a strange time signature for part of this, and the other notable section includes Gibbons speaking in an echoey voice. It perks up the ears, but I can't say that it's unabashedly enjoyable.
Dust My Broom 8/10
Hm. Back to the old boogie rock. This time it's a cover from ancient blues artist "Elmore James." Dusty Hill delivers some gritty vocals, and he continues to prove that he is a good singer. (He's so diverse too... He's the same guy who delivered those powerful, smooth vocals on "Francine.") This is another well-delivered tune, but I'm feeling a bit frustrated now. It's been six songs already, and everything has been of the same, "above average" quality. I haven't even been able to change my ratings much. Well I can't claim they're not being consistent!
Lowdown in the Street 8/10
Grr!! Another B-grade song! What's with this?? This has to be the most unexciting ZZ Top album of all time. I'm to the point where I'm even longing for something bad so I can take a dump on it just for a change. But I have to be honest and say that this is another good song. The guitar riffs are nice --- but not too nice. Gibbons delivers a solid vocal performance.... Yeah, it's more of the same old stuff. The chord progression isn't so generic, but it's kinda flat.
Hi Fi Mama 8.5/10
FINALLY here's a... slightly better B-grade song. Dusty comes in with an extremely spirited vocal performance in this otherwise standard boogie-rock song. Although they bring back that droning horn section from "She Loves My Automobile," and I like that.
Cheap Sunglasses 9/10
Either I just want some excitement, or I genuinely think this is a pretty good song. Well it must be a pretty good song, because the Wikipedia entry someone wrote about it reports that it's "famous." Who am I to argue with that? Well I can safely say that I like this riff. It's much more upbeat and memorable than anything else on the album. All that plus some wicked licks from Gibbons is enough to make me wet my pants with delight. Their ending is pretty funny. They slow it down like a train slowing down. Cool!
Ester Be the One 8/10
What's this? A funny ballad? GIMME, GIMME, GIMME! I wish this was slightly more fresh sounding, but I guess you have to take what's coming to you. Again, this is so tasteful that it automatically deserves a high score. I like the melody although it tends to grow stale after the first minute or so. Anyway, I do like this song, and it makes an OK ending.
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