The early, bluesy years
The ZZ Top of this set is a very different group from the one that achieved worldwide stardom the following decade with Eliminator, on which Billy Gibbons attempted to find perfect time using MIDI technology. Here they are very much a trio, looking into a groove together without the aid of computers. They were, though, a little too fond of locking into a groove, at the expense of songwriting. The first two discs – ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud – have their moments (“Brown Sugar”, “Francine”), but 1973’s Tres Hombres is where they find the combination of silty blues and top-notch songwriting, not just on the blistering John Lee Hooker boogie of “La Grange”, but especially on the mesmerisingly spooky “Master Of Sparks”. The half-live/half-studio Fandango was an oddity, but did bequeath the world the fabulous radio tribute “Heard It On The X” and their other defining boogie, “Tush”. The fifth album, Tejas (1976), is the underrated gem – the standout opener, “It’s Only Love”, is the best song Jagger and Richards never wrote. The following year, Gibbons would take a Laker Skytrain flight to London, discover the “energy event” of punk, and ZZ Top would begin to change. For those who want them at their bluesiest, these five albums are the motherlode. Extras: 6/10. Packed in a box designed to resemble a Nudie suit.