Wednesday, March 5, 2008

No. 396: Eliminator

Band: ZZ Top
Album: Eliminator
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Eliminator" sold 10 million copies based on the easy guitar riffage, hot rods and long beards of ZZ Top. Trust me, you know the songs and you know the beards. As a bearded person, I salute their beards.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Let's not get crazy. It's not exactly Beethoven.
Best song: Any of the three singles are good.
Worst song: Every other song stinks.
Is it awesome?: Not really, but, hey, beards!

Here's my contention: ZZ Top is wildly underrated as a cultural entity. I don't think ZZ Top is the do-all and end-all of a particular phenomenon, but when this particularly phenomenon hit them (and they exploited it with the three videos from this album), that meant it was mainstream.

I am, of course, speaking of the triumph of the cool person inside the nerd (or loser). The '80s were full of this storyline.

ZZ Top's videos from this period have a very similar storyline. Someone is a big dork and is having a hard go of it. In "Gimme All Your Lovin'," this guy has a tough job fixing cars. ZZ Top comes in (with their hot rod) and gives him an awesome hot rod and he suddenly has scores of women. Loser no longer!


In "Legs," the main character is having a tough go of it as a big nerd. Glasses, shapeless clothes. Everyone hassles her. But, then, ZZ Top comes in and gives her the famous keys to the hot rod. She then gets a makeover, new clothes and, boom! Nerd no longer.


"Sharp Dressed Man" features, of all professions, a valet parker. He's a real weenie in his misfitted tux. The rich people are all harassing him. He is toiling at his job until (you guessed it!) the hot rod shows up and the women all love him. They even get him a top hat and a scarf. Weenie no more!


One of my favorite music anecdotes:

Guided by Voices and Superchunk toured together in the fall of 1999, when I was training to become a DJ at (what would become) my beloved college station, KCOU. I admired the older DJs at the station and I saw one of them at the show. I asked him which band he was looking forward to seeing and he said "Each of these bands have been playing the same song for 10 years, I just like the Superchunk song better."

The same could be said for two bands on this list, ZZ Top and AC/DC. Like Superchunk and GBV, ZZ Top and AC/DC occupy the hearts of similar fans (pseudo-metalers) and come from the same time period. But, of course, ZZ Top and AC/DC each have a very strict template and almost never deviate from it.

For ZZ Top, "Eliminator" is where that template made them millions. Each song is based on a pretty easy blues guitar riff, has a couple of verses and turns into an extended Billy Gibbons guitar solo. They're are pretty simple. They're all in 4/4. They're all about pretty classic rock and roll topics (hot rods and women).

Really, there's not a lot to it. That doesn't necessarily make it bad. It's just thumping white guy rock.

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