The collective of vocalist/guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard has been showing what three men with a passion for rhythm (and a fine line in beards) can do for over 50 years. Hailed by fans and critics alike as being some of the finest roots musicians around, ZZ Top has managed to bridge the divide between commercial success and critical acclaim to spectacular effect. They first joined forces (albeit with a slightly different line up) in 1969, with their debut single, Salt Lick, coming out that same year. After signing to London Records, they began pumping out hit after hit, quickly gaining a reputation for their bawdy lyrics, distorted guitar sounds, and humorous videos. Their success continued all the way through the 1980s and 1990s, with albums such as Eliminator and Afterburner racking up phenomenal records sales. In 2004, their contribution to music was given the recognition it deserved when Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones inducted them into the Rock and Roll of Fame; as grand an honor this was, whether it not it competes with having one of their singles(“Flyin’ High, in case you didn’t know) debut in space; being named “Official Heroes for the State of Texas” by the Texas House of Representatives; being presented with commemorative rings by Billy Bob Thornton at the VH1 Rock Honors; or having Paula Abdul choreograph their music video to “Velcro Fly”, who knows. The one thing we do know for certain is that you’re guaranteed to find at least a few of your favorites in this round-up of the 20 all-time best ZZ Top songs.
20. Dust My Broom
In at number 20 we have Dust My Broom, an updated version of I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom by the blues legend Robert Johnson. Johnson may or may not have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads but going by fan’s reaction to this 3.09-minute masterpiece, ZZ Top may well have.
19. I Gotsta Get Paid
Next up we have I Gotsta Get Paid, a revamp of DJ DMD’s 1989 rap hit “25 Lighters” (which, fun fact, is Houston slang for taking a lighter apart and stuffing its innards with crack). Blues and hip hop mightn’t seem the most natural of bedfellows, but if anyone could make it work, ZZ Top could. Which they did. Hence its inclusion at number 19 on our list.
18. Waitin’ for the Bus
Waitin’ for the Bus may never have been released as a single, but as the opening track to Tres Hombres, it occupies a special place in the hearts of fans nonetheless. As Song Facts notes, back in the days before automated corporate radio, stations would follow up Waitin’ for the Bus with the next album track, Jesus Just Left Chicago, making both tracks almost synonymous in the minds of older ZZ fans.
17. My Head’s In Mississippi
Taken from their 10th studio album, Recycler, My Head’s In Mississippi reached number one on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart, and for many, marked a return to form for the band after a few years in the wilderness.
16. Sleeping Bag
Released as a single from their best-selling album from 1985, Afterburn, Sleeping Bag is one of the band’s most commercially successful singles, reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, a first-time achievement for ZZ Top. The video found the band in fine form and proved influential enough to inspire the video to the Foo Fighter’s Everlong several decades later.
15. Rough Boy
Next on the list is the third single from ZZ Top’s 1985 studio album, Afterburner. The song achieved respectable chart success, debuting at No. 5 on the Album Rock Tracks chart and No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, and at No.23 in the UK Top 40. Although Legs and Sleeping Bag (the albums other singles) charted higher than Rough Boy, the slower tempo of the track makes it as close to a power ballad as the band has ever come, making it a firm favorite among fans of the band’s more experimental side.
14. Blue Jean Blues
The 2nd track to side 2 of the band’s fourth studio album, Fandango, is Blue Jean Blues, a 4 minute 43-second slow burner in which the band showed off their expertise at seamlessly tight delivery and locking in some amazing riffs.
13. If I Could Flag Her Down
In 1983, ZZ Top released Eliminator, their 8th studio and their most commercially successful offering to date, certifying diamond and selling over 10 million in the US alone. Buried among the hugely popular singles “Gimme All Your Lovin'”, “Got Me Under Pressure”, “Sharp Dressed Man”, “TV Dinners”, and “Legs”, was this little gem, 3 minutes plus of ZZ Top doing what ZZ 0Top do best.
12. Party On The Patio
With lyrics like “Heard the cops are coming so we tried to jump the fence. Mary didn’t make it and we haven’t seen her since. Connie had another drink, Jimmy simply couldn’t think. Billy G. was passed out underneath the sink. But everybody’s gonna show for another party on the patio”, how could this perfect example of ZZ Top’s love for a good time not make our top twenty?
Released as a single from the diamond selling 1983 album, Eliminator, Legs is one of the band’s most commercially successful singles ever, reaching number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 13 on the dance charts with its dance re-mix. While all members of the band are credited on the single, only Gibbons was actually around for the recording, with engineer Terry Manning creating all the other musical parts. The track has been covered by several artists since its release, including Nickelback in 2011, Trace Adkins in 2002, and Kid Rock in 2002.
Taken from the 1975 album Fandango, Tush peaked at number 20 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and number five on WLS. According to Song Facts, ZZ Top almost changed the title to Bush when they were invited to play the song at fellow Texan George W Bush’s inauguration party. They later, and probably wisely, decided to stick with the original.
9. Gimme All Your Lovin’
In at number 9 is Gimme All Your Lovin’, another track from the hugely successful Eliminator. The track achieved international success, peaking at number 37 on the US Billboard Hot 100, 3 in the Netherlands, 9 in Ireland and 11 in Belgium. In the UK, the initial release sunk without trace, but the later re-release reached number 10, tying with the band’s 1992 cover of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” as their most successful single in the UK.
8. La Grange
La Grange, taken from their 1973 album Tres Hombres, became one of the band’s biggest early successes, peaking at number 41 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 24 on US Cash Box. Since then, it’s not lost any of its popularity, with Rolling Stone giving it a place at number 74 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time and Q placing it at 92nd of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.
7. Whiskey ’n Mama
As one of ZZ Top’s earliest releases, Whisky’n Mama may not be as well-known as tracks such as Legs or Tush, but that doesn’t negate the fact this is 2.27 minutes of ZZ Top perfection. The tight delivery and some truly sublime slide riffs make Whisky’n Mama well deserving of a place on our list.
6. Precious And Grace
The interplay between the band is at its best on this track from the 1973 classic album, Tres Hombres. The track has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including the heavy metal band, Clutch, who choose to feature the track as part of their Weathermaker Vault Series. “It should be fairly obvious by now that Clutch are huge fans of ZZ Top, “ frontman Neil Fallon explained of the decision. “They’re a band that we grew up listening to – and we still listen to them to this day. ‘Precious And Grace,’ from their classic Tres Hombres LP, is easily one of our favorite ZZ Top songs and that’s really the only story behind the choice.”
5. Arrested for Driving While Blind
Released as the second single from the band’s fifth studio album, Tejas (1976), Arrested for Driving While Blind is, as the name suggests, a hymn to the pleasures of drinking while under the influence, something ZZ Top didn’t exactly try to conceal with the frequent references to popular alcoholic beverages scattered through the track’s lyrics. Not that the band would want to encourage anyone to enjoy a tipple before getting behind the wheel, of course. “People think we’re suggesting that people should get drunk and go out and drive,” Dusty Hill explained to Spin. “That’s not it at all. Billy introduces it: ‘Don’t get arrested for driving while blind.’ We’re not saying, ‘Don’t drink.’ We’re just doing a tune.”
4. Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings
If for no other reason than the downright nasty opening riff, Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings deserves a place on our top 10. Heavy, funky, bluesy- the track perfectly encapsulates what’s made ZZ Top one of the greatest bands of the last 50 years. As fellow bluesman Lance Lopez explained to Classic Rock. ‘Frank and Dusty are grooving so hard on this track that it sets up the perfect foundation for Billy to use his unparalleled swagger to use sparse chords during the verse. It sounds like delta blues from outer space!”
3. Cheap Sunglasses
As WMGK notes, the inspiration for the next addition to our list came from the band’s habit of buying up all the cheap sunglasses they could find and then giving them out to their audiences. “We wrote that song when we used to tour in cars,” Billy Gibbons explained. “And every gas station in the world had a cardboard display of the cheapest and ugliest sunglasses you could imagine. I have bought a thousand pairs of them. The hip trip for us was to throw them into the audience as an offering.” Optometrists may have wasted a lot of energy warning people not to ruin their eyes with the glasses, but it doesn’t stop this track being a stone-cold classic.
2. Got Me Under Pressure
The story behind how Got Me Under Pressure got made is a little unusual, as David Blayney, the band’s stage manager for 15 years, described in the memoir of his time with the band, Sharp Dressed Men. Within the space of an afternoon, Billy Gibbons and songwriter Linden Hudson write and created a demo recording without fellow band members Dusty Hill and Frank Beard having any idea. Despite the unusual setup, the track was well received peaking at number 18 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks and in 2000, featuring as the backing track for a Pennzoil commercial.
1. Sharp Dressed Man
Taken from Eliminator, Sharp Dressed Man ranks as one of the band’s most covered tracks of all time, with everyone from Blondie’s Debbie Harry to Alvin and the Chipmunks creating their own versions of the hit single. While the band isn’t exactly considered fashion icons, bass-player Dusty Hill explained the title isn’t as clear cut as it seems during a 1985 interview with Spin magazine. “Sharp-dressed depends on who you are. If you’re on a motorcycle, really sharp leather is great. If you’re a punk rocker, you can get sharp that way. You can be sharp or not sharp in any mode. It’s all in your head. If you feel sharp, you be sharp.” So now you know.