ZZ Top's First Album

ZZ Top

Warner Brothers Records, 1970

http://www.zztop.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/23/1998

Who would have thought in 1970 that a little blues band from Texas would become superstars in the mid-'80s?

Certainly not ZZ Top, the band who would use MTV to its maximum potential to make themselves known. But in 1970, Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard were just young men looking at cranking out some modern blues tinged with rock. Their first effort, ZZ Top's First Album, has a few decent moments, but displays none of the sheer genius they'd use to take their careers to the top.

Originally released on London Records, Warner Brothers remixed all the band's old albums just over a decade ago. (My version is on the specially marketed my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 ZZ Top Six Pack, a three-CD set I was lucky enough to snag for $25 new. Don't ask...) But in one sense, this is the first sign of trouble for this disc; I would much rather have heard the gritty sound that the band was cranking out in 1970 than a studio-polished, digitally-doctored one today. This is one of the rare instances I wish I had an old vinyl copy somewhere in the Pierce Memorial Archives.

ZZ Top was still a band in its infancy back then, and the songwriting is much more simple than the numbers we're used to today. Cuts like "Brown Sugar" try to inject a little more than just 12-bar blues, and they are enjoyable numbers. Likewise, "Goin' Down To Mexico" is a shuffling piece that just rolls off the disc and into the listener's brain, refusing to move once it's there. No doubt about it, there are some decent numbers on ZZ Top's First Album - and let's not forget about their first minor hit, "Backdoor Love Affair".

But the majority of the music on ZZ Top's First Album is mediocre, at best - okay for an occasional listen, but not much substance to make you want to return to this disc often. Tracks like "Neighbor, Neighbor," "Bedroom Thang" and "(Somebody Else Been) Shaking Your Tree" are nothing special, and seem to be disposable - not necessarily the first effect you want to have on people.

One could argue that ZZ Top was trying too hard; I would argue the opposite way, and say that they weren't trying hard enough. The overall feel of this disc conveys a rather lazy, casual air in the recordings - and though I don't want to accuse them of not putting their all into this record, there's just not a sense of urgency in the music that gives it any type of an edge. Even on their followup effort Rio Grande Mud, there's more of that edge that sharpens the music and performances... but that's another review for another day.

ZZ Top's First Album is not a required buy, unless you're a diehard fan of the band who has to own everything they've ever done. For the rest of us, just pick up The Best Of ZZ Top - the version that wasn't remastered, if you can find it - and enjoy "Backdoor Love Affair" off that one.

Rating: C+

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.