Welcome to a new feature here at The Metal Minute, "Notes From the Old School." The premise should be self-explanatory: To share a few personal anecdotes focused upon noteworthy albums of hard rock, metal and punk of yesteryear.
This morning I was writing a contribution piece for my English friend and colleague, Neil Daniels, who is currently working on a book about ZZ Top. While I'm most fond of ZZ's early-to-late seventies classics Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Deguello, there's no denying their commercial breakout Eliminator from 1983 is a force in itself.
You're either copasetic with or put off by the zippy synthesizers that accompany most of the pimp swinging pop rocks driving Eliminator like a sweaty mongrel in heat. The Wookie shags of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill that were remiss back in their knuckle-down blues and boogie years became part of their French-tickling circus of blues-fueled debauchery. ZZ Top molded themselves into overnight sensations tailored for a then-fledgling MTV market. Riding high on mack daddy strides and coagulating testosterone from the pistons of their trademark '33 cherry Ford Coupe, ZZ Top put the thrusters to the max on Eliminator for a generation of kids spending their pre-teen years blasting asteroids and trying to hide their wanking addictions.
Most Generation X'ers were already familiar with the dirty business behind "Tube Snake Boogie" on ZZ Top's preceding album, El Loco. We sung the sleazy bits of that naughty cut under our breaths at home and then boldly amongst our friends in school cafeterias. How ripe we all were for the impending sight of babes in bangles, leather minis and teased curls sliding out of that fiery coupe. "The Eliminator" was four steel wheels of sin yielding the inherent promise of gratification within. All set to the meat bopping grind of "Legs," "Gimme All Your Lovin'" and "Sharp Dressed Man." ZZ Top altered their everyman's roughneck image into dukes of dirt with their grubby overcoats, prospector's duds, perfecto shades and electric instruments outtrageously lined with fur, all as if the rodeo circuit had turned glam. Tools for inevitable success, ZZ Top mined gold three decades ago with Eliminator, becoming ratty poster boys of the rock video age.
I personally favor the street tough "Got Me Under Pressure" and "I Got the Six" to the prime movers of Eliminator. "Pressure" was a minor hit behind their groin-pumping trifecta and it might've fared even better with a stronger push. Still, what "Gimme All Your Lovin'" alone accomplished for ZZ Top and hard rock in the early eighties is understated, particularly when you consider their subsequent album Afterburner was likewise a pop culture phenom.
Thirty years later, all of these songs on Eliminator still sound horny and breathless. Eliminator seldom keeps its upright boner in check, even when the pace slips out of the prevailing dance-crazed electro throb on "I Need You Tonight" and "T.V. Dinners." In the case of "I Need You Tonight," the scaled-back, shuffling tempo carries even more tension and sexual angst than the payoff songs on Eliminator. Rounding off with the jacked-up (or jacked-off, if you will) pounding of "Bad Girl," it's almost surprising an album this raunchy punched through the mainstream.
Of course, this was the eighties, already embracing an attitude of decadence and party-mindedness that's well-fulfilled by Eliminator. Frank Beard is forced into downplaying his beat patterns to the point of near-redundancy. Earlier albums show Beard expressively decorating his percussive talents with rolls and backbeat signature slides. Eliminator all but pushes him into economy mode, albeit the point can be made that this album gorges itself on groove, which is why it holds up remarkably well today.
--Ray Van Horn, Jr.