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Top 10 ZZ Top Songs of the '80s

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Though there were certainly longtime ZZ Top fans puzzled and possibly enraged by the trio's increasingly electronic sound during the '80s, there can be no denying that the group's two smash albums during the decade made the band one of the era's most distinctive superstar ensembles. Ultimately, the "Little Ol' Band from Texas" stayed partially true to its straight-ahead blues-rock roots, but the group's increasing pop sensibilities proved lucrative. Here's a chronological look at some of the band's most memorable '80s songs, which helped launch the band to an entirely new pop culture level.

1. "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.
This is ZZ Top's latest track that serves as an obvious transitional point between the band's previously rugged, simple arrangements and its newly mechanized sound to come. It's true that the trio followed up 1979's Deguello with another record, El Loco, in 1981, and that "Cheap Sunglasses" from the former album is a more well-known track than this tune. Nonetheless, the overall sound of this song clings more intimately to the group's straight-blues past than anything that would follow. It's also a tasty blues jam filled with style and passion, the kind of music that would continue to inform ZZ Top's changing sound.

2. "Gimme All Your Lovin'"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Billy Gibbons took his masterful monster riffing into the new decade on this tune, the lead-off track from the trio's breakthrough 1983 album Eliminator. One of the reasons the song sounded fresh at the time was the jarring combination of big, tough guitars and synthesizers, a bold move that really set the group apart from both its hard-rocking peers and the pop establishment that ZZ Top would soon successfully raid. This track may have merely scraped the Top 40, but it set the stage for the band's brilliant crossover while staying true to its strengths: Gibbons' vocals, riffing and fine, bluesy lead playing.

3. "Sharp Dressed Man"

ZZ Top clung to its previous formula (which really wasn't a formula at all but more of a smartly conceived pop/rock aesthetic) for its next single, this firmly rocking track that helped cement the group's developing image. By now, the long beards, the sunglasses, the vintage car and the stylized pointing from the group members had become staples of ZZ Top. Luckily, these rather superficial elements never seemed to overshadow the music, which still shines through cleanly and simply as prime good-time rock and roll. Gibbons once again takes center stage on this one with his virtuosic riffing and tasty leads.

4. "Legs"

As the unexpected success of the Top 10 smash Eliminator carried over into 1984, ZZ Top was set to enjoy its biggest pop hit yet, again on the strength of a stylish, memorable music video and the band's propulsive, newly popular contemporary sound. Of course, these elements do seem extremely dated today, which is a key problem with listening to the track now: the use of synthesizers tends to overpower the organic nature of Gibbons' riff here and the trio's overall blues-rock sound. Nonetheless, the listener can still easily access Gibbons' smooth vocals and this No. 8 pop hit's fine melodic and lyrical hooks.

5. "Sleeping Bag"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.
At the start of this track, it's clear that ZZ Top got a taste of its '80s success and eagerly wished to keep going. The song's opening, after all, with its electronically produced sounds and almost dance-oriented beat, has basically nothing to do with the earthy sound that brought the band to prominence during the '70s. Nonetheless, when Gibbons' guitar blazes its trail and the rhythm section of Dusty Hill and Frank Beard kick in behind him, this music's status as dirty rock and roll somehow still seems convincing. Also, don't forget how much Gibbons' soulful vocals helped take this tune to another Top 10 showing.

6. "Stages"

Although this song embraces the mainstream '80s sound so much that it almost sounds like Bryan Adams, it qualifies as one of ZZ Top's sleeper classics of the era. That is to say, what we have here is very much a pop song, but since it's built on a great verse melody it turns into quite a decent listen. And for ZZ Top fans who need a bit more than pop accessibility, Gibbons once again delivers some tasty lead guitar that follows through on his typically precise sonic approach. This one didn't quite crack the Top 20 on the pop charts, but it probably should have as a top-tier example of mainstream pop/rock at the time.

7. "Rough Boy"

If ZZ Top was going to operate effectively during the '80s, the blues-rock trio was going to have to make some concessions to the time. Ultimately, Gibbons, Hill and Beard became quite flexible on that front, a move that earned them stratospheric success but perhaps seemed to compromise their status as genuine rockers. This slow-dance favorite from 1986, one of the several standout tracks on 1985's Afterburner, certainly fits into that willingness to adapt, but even better, its synthesized foundation coexists beautifully with some impressive, textured lead guitar from Gibbons that more than keeps things interesting.
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