CLASSIC TRACK: ZZ Top – Sharp Dressed Man (1983)
The early ’80s were a time of reckoning for many veteran rockers. The future for a hirsute boogie blues trio from Texas might’ve seemed as bleak and foggy as a Cure song. Especially since Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard looked like 18th century prospectors.
But in one of the greatest surprise reinventions ever, ZZ Top added a few drops of new wave and romanticism into their brew and struck gold. Or rather platinum with its third single from ‘Eliminator’, Sharp Dressed Man, leading with a heavyweight synth bass line. The track, produced by Bill Ham, mixed Top’s crunchy distorted guitars with a Euro-rhythm weave of drum machine and synth bass, a new twist on their signature sound.
“You know who was popping at this time?” remembers Gibbons. “Depeche Mode. I went to see them, and it was a mind-bender. No guitars, no drums. It was all coming from machines. But they had blues threads going through their stuff. I went backstage. I had to meet these guys. They were surprised, like ‘What brings you here?’ I said, ‘Man, the heaviness.’ We became friends. Martin Gore was a guitar player trapped behind the synthesizers. He was like, ‘Man, let’s talk guitar.’”
Equally unlikely was ZZ Top slotting into MTV stardom, assisted by the band’s coaching of an innocent chap in the ways of fast cars, fashion and three ladies in scoop-neck leotards. “Pretty girls and fast cars... a good combo,” notes Gibbons.