The Greatest Texas Rock Album of All Time

Song for song and pound for pound, what is the greatest Texas rock album of all time? Well, grab a Lone Star or three and let's discuss.

Old-timers would no doubt cast their ballot for something like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators' Easter Everywhere, Sir Douglas Quintet's The Sir Douglas Quintet Is Back! or Edgar Winter's Frankenstein. Though they verge on country, Joe Ely's Musta Notta Gotta Lotta and Honky Tonk Masquerade deserve consideration, as do the Fabulous Thunderbirds' first two, Girls Go Wild! and What's the Word? For the handful of people who have actually heard it, the self-titled 1987 LP by True Believers — Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham's Televisionesque mid-'80s band — has to rank pretty high.

New wave boosters can rally behind the Judy's Washarama, punks say "Oi!" for the Big Boys' The Skinny Elvis/The Fat Elvis double whopper and headbangers would probably kick your ass for saying anything besides Pantera's Cowboys from Hell. Youngsters might go for the Toadies' Rubberneck or (cringe) Blue October's Foiled, while their more indie-minded brethren could well select Spoon's Girls Can Tell or Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy. And everyone can agree that not at least nominating ZZ Top's Tres Hombres and De­guello would be outright blasphemy.

Great albums, all of them (well, except Foiled), but Noise respectfully votes none of the above. His choice seldom (if ever) comes up in this conversation, but it's another ZZ Top album — the one that has probably outsold all those others combined. Furthermore, in terms of pop-culture impact upon release, the album trails only Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, U2 and maybe Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys among its contemporaries. It's 1983's Eliminator, 25 years old this year and reissued by Rhino last month in the usual two-disc expanded format with extra tracks and a bonus DVD.

Certified diamond — domestic sales of 10 million-plus — by the Recording Industry Association of America more than a decade ago, Eliminator does have its defenders; All Music Guide calls it "irresistible as Reaganomics." No kidding. Maybe the reason Eliminator hasn't fostered more consideration is that it's been part of popular mythology for so long (the beards, the red Eliminator hot rod, the keychain), people have forgotten it's even an album. Allow Noise to correct that.

In High Fidelity terms — wherein an album's merit is determined by the potency of its opening track — Eliminator ranks up there with The Clash ("Janie Jones"), Sticky Fingers ("Brown Sugar") and Nevermind ("SmellsLike Teen Spirit"). Frank Beard's drums shuffle in, ­cocksure and metronome-precise, for a few bars before Billy Gibbons's guitar and Dusty Hill's bass enter with a tandem modern-blues riff as sleek and low to the ground as that hot rod. Ladies and gentlemen, "Gimme All Your Lovin'." It ain't a request.

Eliminator's other four singles are just as fierce. "Under Pressure" marries an unrelenting riff to one of the band's ­funniest-ever lyrics, a vivid account of a party girl with a mean streak a mile wide ("She might get out a nightstick and hurt me real, real bad"). The swaggering "Sharp Dressed Man" is one of the few songs of the '80s (or any decade) equally at home in a Pasadena roadhouse or Post Oak ­discotheque.

As for "Legs," its seamless fusion of driving Texas boogie with ultramodern — even today — synthesizer flash, if anything, overshadows the song's surprisingly heartfelt sentiment. "TV Dinners," Eliminator's forgotten single, is a sick slice of swamp-rock with a taunting organ lick that recalls both SDQ's "She's About a Mover" and Don Henley's "Dirty ­Laundry."

The true measure of any album's greatness, however, is not the singles but the songs commonly referred to as "deep cuts." Eliminator passes with flying colors. "I Need You Tonight" is as slow and tender a blues as anything the band has done, while "I Got the Six" is the exact opposite — unadulterated raunch (think "Pearl Necklace") that melds punk and AC/DC.

The mysterious "Thug" isn't exactly Ultravox, but wouldn't be entirely out of place on David Bowie's Let's Dance, either. The closing trio of rockers — "Dirty Dog," "If I Could Only Flag Her Down," "Bad Girl" — can't help but echo what's come before, but would still make fine singles for lesser bands or even on lesser ZZ albums.

Naturally, Eliminator wouldn't have been nearly as huge without the accompanying videos, which made perhaps the most non-photogenic band in rock among the biggest stars on MTV. Note, however, that ZZ Top always assumed supporting roles in its videos, playing either the guardian angels with the keys to the magic hot rod — and thus the three well-heeled Texas babes who always seem to pile out — or simply playing the band. Without the videos, Eliminator would occupy a significantly smaller spot in the popular imagination, but it would still be a killer album. Is a killer album.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray