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Pop - Released May 14, 2013 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Hi-Res Audio
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Pop - Released February 24, 2006 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Exceptional sound
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Pop - Released October 28, 1985 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

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Pop - Released January 11, 2011 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

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With their second album, Rio Grande Mud, ZZ Top uses the sound they sketched out on their debut as a blueprint, yet they tweak it in slight but important ways. The first difference is the heavier, more powerful sound, turning the boogie guitars into a locomotive force. There are slight production flares that date this as a 1972 record, but for the most part, this is a straight-ahead, dirty blues-rock difference. Essentially like the first album, then. That's where the second difference comes in -- they have a much better set of songs this time around, highlighted by the swaggering shuffle "Just Got Paid," the pile-driving boogie "Bar-B-Q," the slide guitar workout "Apologies to Pearly," and two Dusty Hill-sung numbers, "Francine" and "Chevrolet." There are still a couple of tracks that don't quite gel and their fuzz-blues still can sound a little one-dimensional at times, but Rio Grande Mud is the first flowering of ZZ Top as a great, down-n-dirty blooze rock band. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released April 17, 2012 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

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Pop - Released March 23, 1983 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
ZZ Top had reached the top of the charts before, but that didn't make their sudden popularity in 1983 any more predictable. It wasn't that they were just popular -- they were hip, for God's sake, since they were one of the only AOR favorites to figure out to harness the stylish, synthesized grooves of new wave, and then figure out how to sell it on MTV. Of course, it helped that they had songs that deserved to be hits. With "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Legs," they had their greatest set of singles since the heady days of Tres Hombres, and the songs that surrounded them weren't bad either -- they would have been singles on El Loco, as a matter of fact. The songs alone would have made Eliminator one of ZZ Top's three greatest albums, but their embrace of synths and sequencers made it a blockbuster hit, since it was the sound of the times. Years later, the sound of the times winds up sounding a bit stiff. It's still an excellent ZZ Top album, one of their best, yet it sounds like a mechanized ZZ Top thanks to the unflaggingly accurate grooves. Then again, that's part of the album's charm -- this is new wave blues-rock, glossed up for the video, looking as good as the omnipresent convertible on the cover and sounding as irresistible as Reaganomics. Not the sort the old-school fans or blues-rock purists will love, but ZZ Top never sounded as much like a band of its time as they did here. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released August 22, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Booklet + Videos Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Pop - Released June 8, 2004 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Since Rhino released an exhaustive four-disc ZZ Top box in October 2003, some may question the appearance of a double-disc retrospective in June 2004, a mere eight months after the box set. The two may be released awfully close to each other, but they do play to different audiences -- in other words, there are a bunch of fans who want all the hits, but not a full box set, and that's what the 38-track Rancho Texicano: The Very Best of ZZ Top delivers. Not that it gets everything right -- there are a few classic album cuts, like "Leila" and "I Got the Six," that probably should have been included, and ending the set with a live version of "Cheap Sunglasses" and 12" remixes of "Legs" and "Velcro Fly" leaves a bad aftertaste -- but it gets it close enough, containing all of their biggest hits and a great cross-section of album tracks and AOR favorites. And apart from the aforementioned bewildering final three tracks, it's sequenced well, with the down-n-dirty '70s material on the first disc, and the MTV hits from the '80s on the second. There's still a need for a single-disc that has all the biggest hits, but until that comes along, Rancho Texicano is the best and most concise overview of that lil' ol' band from Texas. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released June 7, 2013 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Warner's 2013 box set The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990 rounds up the ten albums ZZ Top recorded for Warner Bros over the course of 20 years: 1971's ZZ Top's First Album, 1972's Rio Grande Mud, 1973's Tres Hombres, 1975's Fandango!, 1976's Tejas, 1979's Deguello, 1981's El Loco, 1983's Eliminator, 1985's Afterburner, and 1990's Recycler. Each album is packaged as a mini LP containing the original artwork, but the real news is that the original LP mixes for ZZ Top's First Album, Rio Grande Mud, and Tejas are presented on CD for the first time, a move that will please all hardcore fans. That said, the whole package is quite attractive, and not just from a packaging perspective: this is the prime of ZZ Top, available in one place at a very attractive price (a retail of $59.98, which may be discounted to around $40 by some retailers). ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Blues - Released September 9, 2016 | Suretone Records

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Assembled from various shows from various tours from around the world, 2016's Live: Greatest Hits from Around the World is billed as ZZ Top's first "full-length live album" -- a matter of dispute considering how Eagle Rock released three CD/DVD/Blu-ray combo sets between 2008 and 2014. There is no visual component to Live: Greatest Hits from Around the World, which may be how it skates around the first live album distinction -- if there's no video, this is a pure album -- but the record mines a similar musical vein, collecting highlights from latter-day ZZ Top tours. During the 2000s and 2010s, ZZ Top released an excellent studio album called La Futura, but that's ignored here in favor for all the songs that are classic rock staples. Older, the Lil' Ol' Band from Texas sounds thicker and heavier -- and Billy Gibbons' growl is so gruff it seems tattered -- but that helps distinguish these versions from the spit and polish of the studio versions; not better, per se, but certainly the work of a band whose members happily settle into their advanced years, not wishing to change a thing about how they do things. Nevertheless, the undeniable highlights are the two tracks featuring cameos from Jeff Beck: he contributes lyrical solos to "Rough Boy" and helps with the heavy-footed boogie of "Sixteen Tons," pushing the trio just far enough out of its comfort zone to provide some crackle. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released September 17, 1996 | RCA Records Label

ZZ Top's long-awaited return to the blues finally arrived in 1996, well over a decade after they abandoned their simple three-chord boogie for a synth and drum machine-driven three-chord boogie. Like Antenna before it, Rhythmeen is stripped of all the synthesizers that had characterized the group's albums since Eliminator but the key difference between the two albums is how Rhythmeen goes for the gut, not the gloss. It's a record that is steeped in the blues and garage rock, one that pounds out its riffs with sweat and feeling. Though ZZ Top sounds reinvigorated, playing with a salacious abandon they haven't displayed since the '70s, they simply haven't come up with enough interesting songs and riffs to make it a true return to form. For dedicated fans, it's a welcome return to their classic "La Grange" sound, but anyone with a just a passing interest in the band will wonder where the hooks went. [The CD was also released with a bonus track.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released November 1, 1979 | Warner Bros.

ZZ Top returned after an extended layoff in late 1979 with Degüello, their best album since 1973's Tres Hombres. During their time off, ZZ Top didn't change much -- hell, their sound never really changed during their entire career -- but it did harden, in a way. The grooves became harder, sleeker, and their off-kilter sensibility and humor began to dominate, as "Cheap Sunglasses" and "Fool for Your Stockings" illustrate. Ironically, this, their wildest album lyrically, doesn't have the unhinged rawness of their early blooze rockers, but the streamlined production makes it feel sleazier all the same, since its slickness lets the perversity slide forth. And, forget not, the trio is in fine shape here, knocking out a great set of rockers and sounding stylish all the time. Undoubtedly one of their strong suits. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released February 24, 2006 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

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Pop - Released February 29, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Prior to 2003's Chrome, Smoke & BBQ, ZZ Top's catalog was crying out for a comprehensive retrospective. Not that the band hadn't been anthologized before: they had two hits collections, with notably different track listings, and in 1987's Six Pack, they even had a makeshift box set, but all three of these were hampered by limited focus and haphazard execution. Chrome, Smoke & BBQ addresses both of these concerns by focusing on the trio's 20 years at Warner -- from 1970's ZZ Top's First Album to 1990's Recycler -- picking the best 70 or so songs from these ten albums and spreading them over the course of a lavish four-disc, 80-track box set. This is the first logical approach to ZZ Top's career yet, and while it isn't a perfect collection, it comes tantalizingly close to that ideal. The primary problem is that by the time the fourth disc rolls around, the collection has lost considerable momentum -- and that's without even touching any material from the forgettable albums the band waxed for RCA in the '90s. With its robotic beats and flattened production, Recycler pointed the way toward those RCA records, yet it did have some excellent songs -- "Give It Up," "My Head's in Mississippi," and "Doubleback" -- that harked back to the group's strengths, something that would have been more apparent if these songs appeared at the end of disc three, after the Afterburner material. Instead, they're stranded on the fourth disc, along with four other songs from Recycler, for a grand total of seven of ten songs from that album, to which are added six "Medium Rare" tracks -- the obligatory obscurities that are included on each box set, this time being a pretty cool Spanish version of "Francene," an OK live take on "Cheap Sunglasses" from a 1980 promo single, and four 12" remixes, none of which are very good. This disc is required listening only for diehards. Fortunately, the other three discs are damn near perfect, containing six to seven songs from each of their albums except their debut (nearly all of those records had a mere ten tracks, making this a very generous sampling) along with three tracks from guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons' first band, the Moving Sidewalks, and a single, "Miller's Farm"/"Salt Lick," from the "embryonic" ZZ Top, before bassist Dusty Hill or drummer Frank Beard joined forces with Gibbons. All the hits and classic rock radio staples are here, of course, along with a wealth of album tracks that illustrate that even if the band didn't have much range -- whether the production was raw and greasy as it was on "La Grange" or clean and sleek, like the Police playing the Rolling Stones, as on "Pearl Necklace," they rarely strayed from either fast blues boogie or slow blues -- they did have strong songwriting chops, witnessed by such buried treasures as the raucous "Brown Sugar" and "Just Got Paid," the monster groove of "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide," the sweet "Leila," the crawling "Blue Jean Blues," and the unspeakable sleaze of the oozing "Mexican Blackbird" and smirking "I Got the Six." All this and more (including a radio commercial for Deguello) spread out over three addictive discs that truly do condense ZZ Top's records to their very best. It would be nice to have the good Recycler songs sandwiched onto the third disc and top the set off at three discs -- it would have been a nice symmetry, with one disc for each band member -- but it's easy enough to ignore the last disc and revel in how good the rest of the set is. Basically, Chrome, Smoke & BBQ is all the ZZ Top you'd ever need. [Chrome, Smoke & BBQ was released in two editions, both containing a terrific book, filled with great photos -- including early shots of Gibbons in the Moving Sidewalks, without the beard -- testimonials by the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Ann Richards, and of all people, David Lynch (who immortally proclaims "ZZ Top = the fast track to cool"), an excellent history by Tom Vickers, and track-by-track notes by Gibbons, Hill, and Beard, as told to Bob Merlis. The limited edition is quite fancy in its own right, encased in a mock roadhouse shack and containing a booklet shaped as a menu, a sheet of ZZ Top paper dolls (no perforations, however; this is for display purposes only), and a flipbook that finds the trio doing their signature twirling guitars and hand gestures. It's a little elaborate, but it's fun, particularly because the four discs are in jewel cases and can be transported while this sits on the set, next to the other impractical, oversized box sets, such as that Charley Patton box designed as a fake album of 78s, in your collection.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released January 11, 2011 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

ZZ Top's First Album may not be perfectly polished, but it does establish their sound, attitude, and quirks. Simply put, it's a dirty little blues-rock record, filled with fuzzy guitars, barrelhouse rhythms, dirty jokes, and Texan slang. They have a good, ballsy sound that hits at gut level, and if the record's not entirely satisfying, it's because they're still learning how to craft records -- which means that they're still learning pacing as much as they're learning how to assemble a set of indelible material. Too much of this record glides by on its sound, without offering any true substance, but the tracks that really work -- "(Somebody Else Been) Shaking Your Tree," "Backdoor Love Affair," "Brown Sugar," and "Goin' Down to Mexico," among them -- show that from their very first record on, ZZ Top was that lil' ol' blues band from Texas. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released November 18, 1994 | Warner Bros.

Before they sweated their image down to beards, babes and hot rods, ZZ Top were a down 'n' dirty blues-rock trio with a bonafide hot guitar player in Billy Gibbons. On this 14-track offering, Warner goes back through the back ZZ catalog and cobbles together an interesting collection of the Texas trio's bluesier sides that originally appeared on their earliest albums. Highlights include "Brown Sugar," "A Fool for Your Stockings," "My Head's in Mississippi," "Apologies to Pearly" and Gibbons' storming stringwork on "Bar-B-Q." ~ Cub Koda
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Rock - Released January 18, 1994 | RCA Records Label

Like precious few bands from the '70s whose best work is mummified daily thanks to classic rock radio, ZZ Top just keeps rolling on into the next decade. There's much to love here, from the downright nasty stomp of "Fuzzbox Voodoo," the powerhouse slow blues of "Cover Your Rig," the bass-pumping looniness of "Girl in a T-Shirt," to the slow grind of "Breakaway." While Billy Gibbon's guitar tones on this album are highly reminiscent of Tres Hombres (an early high-water mark for the band), the high production sheen from their '80s albums remains intact. But Gibbons hasn't played with this much over-the-top abandon since their pre-beard 'n' babes days, and that's what separates this album from the three that came before it. ~ Cub Koda
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Pop - Released June 19, 2012 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

The continuation of Eliminator's synthesized blues boogie made sense on Afterburner, since it arrived two years after its predecessor. ZZ Top's choice to pursue that direction on Recycler is puzzling, since a full five years separates this from Afterburner. It's not just that they continue to follow this path; it's that they embalm it, creating a record that may be marginally ballsier than its predecessor, but lacking the sense of goofy fun and warped ambition that made Afterburner fascinating. Here, there's just a steady, relentless beat (Frank Beard is still chained to the sequencer, as he has been for a decade), topped off by processed guitars turning out licks that fall short of being true riffs. Put it this way, apart from "Doubleback," a continuation of the arena pop of "Stages," the other number that really works here is "My Head's in Mississippi," the closest they'd come to the greasy boogie of "La Grange" since Degüello. When it arrives halfway through Recycler, it not only sounds refreshing; it puts the rest of the album in perspective, showing how tired the once-bracing synth-blooze-boogie has become. And the worst thing about it all, it doesn't seem like the band realizes how uncomfortably ironic the title of Recycler is. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released July 1, 1981 | Warner Bros.

El Loco follows through on the streamlined, jet-engine boogie rock of Degüello, but kicking all the ingredients up a notch. That means that the grooves are getting a little slicker, while the jokes are getting a little sillier, a little raunchier. The double entendres on "Tube Snake Boogie" and "Pearl Necklace" are barely disguised, while much of the record plays as flat-out goofy party rock. Not necessarily a bad thing, but much of it is a little too obvious to be totally winning. Still, the most telling thing about El Loco may be the rhythm of "Pearl Necklace," its biggest single and best song, which clearly points the way to the new wave blues-rock of Eliminator. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released October 28, 1985 | Warner Bros.

Well, if you just had your biggest hit ever, you'd probably try to replicate it, too. And if you were praised for being visionary because you played all your blues grooves to a slightly sequenced beat, you'd probably be tempted to not just continue in that direction, but to tighten the sequencer and graft on synthesizers, since it'll all signal how futuristic you are. While you're at it, you might visualize how space age this all is by turning your signature car into a space shuttle. If you look at things that way, then Afterburner, ZZ Top's follow-up to their blockbuster Eliminator, makes sense -- they're just giving the people more of what they want. Problem is, no matter how much you dress ZZ Top up, they're still ZZ Top. Sometimes they can trick you into thinking they're a little flashier than usual, but they're still a lil' ol' blues band from Texas, kicking out blues-rockers. And blues-rock just doesn't kick when it's synthesized, even if ZZ Top's grooves always bordered on robotic. So, Afterburner, their most synthetic album, will not please most ZZ Top fans, even if it did go platinum several time over and reached number four. That's all just a sign of the times, when even hard rock bands had to sound as slick as synth pop, complete with clanging DX-7s and cavernous drums. As an artifact of that time, Afterburner is pretty good -- never has a hard rock album sounded so artificial, nor has a nominal blues-rock album sounded so devoid of blues. Apart from the chugging "Sleeping Bag," not even the singles sound like ZZ Top (though "Dipping Low (In the Lap of Luxury" is a blatant "Gimme All Your Lovin'" rewrite): the terrific post-new wave rocker "Stages" is the poppiest thing they ever cut, the ballad "Rough Boy" is far removed from slow blues, and the full-fledged synth dance of "Velcro Fly" is a true mind-bender. All this means that Afterburner is merely a product of its time -- the only record ZZ Top could have made at the time, but it hardly exists out of that time. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine