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Best ZZ Top Albums: The Top 10 Records, Ranked And Reviewed
Allstar Picture Library Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best ZZ Top Albums: The Top 10 Records, Ranked And Reviewed

Taking blues-rock to new heights, the best ZZ Top albums prove that the Texan trio offer far more than beards and boogie-woogie.

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When he inducted ZZ Top into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2015, The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards noted that “these cats know their blues, and they know how to dress it up”. As usual, he was absolutely right. After all, they may style themselves as “that lil’ ol’ band from Texas”, but there’s nothing hokey about ZZ Top. Like the Stones, this hirsute Houston trio never concealed their love of the blues, but they’ve moved with the times, taking their singular Southern-fried sound out of the clubs and juke joints, and – with a little help from MTV – using it to slay the biggest stadiums. Sadly, bassist Dusty Hill died in 2021, but, after 50 years, guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard continue to perform together as one of rock’s most popular live acts, their setlists stuffed with classics from the Best ZZ Top albums, ten of which are celebrated below…

Listen to the best of ZZ Top here.

Best ZZ Top Albums: The Top 10 Records, Ranked And Reviewed

10: ‘ZZ Top’s First Album’ (1971)

Formed in Houston, Texas, by guitarist and frontman Billy Gibbons, the embryonic ZZ Top cut an initial single, Salt Lick, in 1969. However, the band’s classic line-up coalesced at the the turn of the decade, with Gibbons, bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard performing their first show together in Beaumont, Texas, in February 1970.

Despite playing every funky Lone Star joint that would endorse them over the next six months, the trio were largely ignored by US record companies, and they signed to London Records (then the US affiliate of the UK’s Decca imprint) for their debut album. Effectively a reflection of their stage show at the time, the self-explanatory ZZ Top’s First Album proved to be a more than decent start. It didn’t chart, but it offered a heady, tightly-executed mix of tough Texan blues, hard-edged rootsy rock and – on slightly risqué songs such as Bedroom Thang and Backdoor Love Affair – just enough salaciousness to leave the group’s nascent fanbase wanting plenty more.

Must hear: (Somebody Else Been) Shakin’ Your Tree

9: ‘Tejas’ (1976)

Possibly because it came on the back of a killer trio of titles – Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Fandango! – ZZ Top’s fifth album, Tejas, has often been overlooked, with Billy Gibbons even telling MusicRadar, “It’s fair to say that this is a transitional record, although I’m not really sure what we were transitioning from and what we were becoming.”

With hindsight, though, Tejas (the title deriving from the Native American for “friends”) more than deserves to a place among the best ZZ Top albums. Its opening track, It’s Only Love, reflected its creators’ collective love of traditional country music, while the likes of She’s A Heartbreaker, the haunting El Diablo and the rollicking, DUI misadventure tale Arrested For Driving While Blind still stack up favourably against the band’s finest moments.

Must hear: Arrested For Driving While Blind

8: ‘Afterburner’ (1985)

An entirely logical successor to Eliminator, 1985’s Afterburner doubled down on its illustrious predecessor’s electronic filigree and dancefloor-friendly production by throwing drum loops and prominent keyboard textures into the mix. Beaneath it all, ZZ Top’s ribald sense of humour and Billy Gibbons’ inherent knack for infectious, bluesy melodies remained intact on song such as Rough Boy, Velcro Fly, Stages and the ubiquitous Sleeping Bag, fanning the flames for fans who rushed to send the album towards multi-platinum sales figures.

Must hear: Sleeping Bag

7: ‘Mescalero’ (2003)

Though less celebrated than their legend-enshrining music from the 70s and 80s, ZZ Top’s latter-day albums still contain plenty of fine music, with 2003’s Mescalero arguably remaining the group’s most engaging 21st-century release. Broader in scope than most of the band’s blues- and rock-based records, the album explores the trio’s collective love of Tex-Mex music, with accordion, harmonica and marimbas significantly broadening the group’s sound palette on Mariachi-flavoured tracks such as Mescalero, Alley-Gator and Buck Nekkid, and Gibbons trading Steve Cropper-esque licks with pedal steel alumnus Dan Dugmore on the record’s choice ballad, Goin’ So Good.

Must hear: Goin’ So Good

6: ‘Fandango!’ (1975)

Following a significant hit record, Tres Hombres, with an album split between live and studio cuts might seem like a risky move on paper, but as Billy Gibbons later told MusicRadar, it proved to be “a winning combination” for 1975’s Fandango! Recorded in New Orleans, the live half of the album featured a breathtaking ten-minute medley of ZZ Top’s own Backdoor Love Affair, Willie Dixon’s Mellow Down Easy and John Lee Hooker’s Long Distance Boogie, while the studio cuts proffered enduring classics in the shape of the heartfelt border-radio tribute Heard It On The X and Dusty Hill’s innuendo-laden Tush, the latter an endearing throwaway, written in 20 minutes, which rewarded ZZ Top with their Billboard Top 20 breakthrough.

Must hear: Tush

5: ‘El Loco’ (1981)

Rather like Tejas, 1981’s El Loco is another title deserving of greater respect among the Best ZZ Top albums. Simply for arriving between the triumphant Degüello and the all-conquering Eliminator, it’s generally regarded as a bit-player in the band’s wider story, yet its importance shouldn’t be overlooked. Indeed, revisited today, El Loco reveals hidden depths. Its rich and varied tracklist includes several of the band’s quintessential Southern boogie workouts (Tube Snake Boogie, Pearl Necklace) alongside the hauntingly melancholic ballad I Wanna Drive You Home, but it also finds room for some fascinating left-field diversions (Groovy Little Hippie Pad, Party On Your Patio) which stemmed from experiments with a newly-acquired Fairlight synthesiser which Billy Gibbons would soon deploy so decisively in the creation of the chart-busting Eliminator.

Must hear: I Wanna Drive You Home

4: ‘Rio Grande Mud’ (1972)

ZZ Top’s First Album certainly had its moments, but its immediate successor, Rio Grande Mud, is the one where Gibbons, Hill and Beard really began to morph into the lean, mean, blues and badass-boogie machine which has been firing on all cylinders ever since. With their non-stop gigging having honed them into a near-perfect live act, the Texan trio were able to let loose on a slew of fantastic hook-laden rock songs such as Francine, Just Got Paid, Chevrolet and Whiskey’n Mama, all of which still rank among the best ZZ Top songs. Released as a spin-off single, Francine also rewarded the group with their first Billboard Hot 100 success and access to a much bigger audience – something they would capitalise on with their next record, 1973’s potent US Top 10 hit Tres Hombres.

Must hear: Just Got Paid

3: ‘Degüello’ (1979)

The Spanish title of ZZ Top’s sixth album loosely translates into English as “no quarter given” – fitting for a band that took no prisoners on the record which arguably stands as the noisiest and most animated in their discography. The belated follow-up to 1976’s Tejas, the popular, platinum-selling Degüello captured the band sounding refreshed after a lay-off during which Billy Gibbons spent some time in Europe and discovered the burgeoning punk scene. However, while the aggression of that movement seeps into several of the album’s rockers (Cheap Sunglasses; I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide), the record’s wry humour suggests that Gibbons, Hill and Beard swerved the nihilism of punk and instead let their own freak flag fly high.

Must hear: Cheap Sunglasses

2: ‘Tres Hombres’ (1973)

ZZ Top’s major commercial breakthrough came with their third album, 1973’s potent Tres Hombres, which smashed into the US Top 10 and rewarded the Texan trio with their first gold disc. With hindsight, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving record, for Tres Hombres was – and remains – the most complete of the band’s 70s albums. Powerful, tight and full of what Billy Gibbons referred to as “the grit and grunge” of the blues, it was stuffed with classic tracks such as Move Me Down The Line and the anthemic Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers (later covered by Motörhead), but its tracklist showed that Gibbons, Hill and Beard also had the chops to pull off set-pieces as daring as the Thin Lizzy-esque Master Of Sparks and the yearning, Stax-style soul of Hot, Blue And Righteous. The much-loved La Grange (a tribute to the real-life “best little whorehouse in Texas”) was the record’s spin-off hit, but Tres Hombres was a study in consistency, and it remains a refreshingly filler-free entry among the best ZZ Top albums.

Must hear: La Grange

1: ‘Eliminator’ (1983)

ZZ Top had been experimenting with new technology as far back as 1979’s Degüello, when they added pitch-shifting effects to the song Manic Mechanic. However, as the 80s rolled on, Billy Gibbons became increasingly determined to move with the times and create a unique hybridised sound which respected his band’s Texan blues and boogie roots while also enabling them to remain relevant in a new era.

His persistence paid off, for the group cracked it in style with 1983’s Eliminator, a truly epochal record which spawned four massive hit singles (Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man, TV Dinners and Legs) and went on to obliterate the competition. Arriving right on time to embrace the arrival of MTV, its hits were promoted by a series of cars’n’girls-themed videos which led to the album receiving a diamond certificate (for sales of over ten million) in the US, turning ZZ Top into a household name. The sound of man and machine in perfect harmony, Eliminator remains one of the greatest albums of the 80s, and it pretty much places itself at the top of this list of the best ZZ Top albums, too.

Must hear: Gimme All Your Lovin’

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