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.
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.
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.
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.
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.