By Steve Newton
In 1987, blues-rockers ZZ Top released a three-disc compilation of their early work titled The ZZ Top Sixpack, which included such stellar mid-’70s albums as Tres Hombres, Fandango, and Tejas. If you own that collection, you’ve already acquired most of the trio’s best music, though not many of its biggest hits. It wasn’t until 1983’s Eliminator that the “little old band from Texas” hit it huge with its MTV-approved image of good ol’ (play)boys with long beards, shades, fuzzy guitars, and hot cars.
The four-CD Chrome, Smoke & BBQ does a fair job of integrating the band’s earliest work—plus three late-’60s tracks from guitarist Billy F. Gibbons’s pre-ZZ group, the Moving Sidewalks—with chart-topping ’80s hits like “Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man”. The abovementioned trio of top albums from the ’70s is also well represented; no fewer than seven of Tres Hombres’ 10 tunes made the cut. Disc 4 also sports six “medium rare” tracks, including a Spanish version of “Francene”, a live version of “Cheap Sunglasses” recorded in New Jersey in ’82, and extended remixes of “Viva Las Vegas” and “Velcro Fly”, if you like extended remixes. I don’t.
The boxed set comes with an 88-page booklet that includes a historical essay on the band and insightful commentary from the members about each song. Among the revelations: back in ’73 it cost US$10 to visit the Texas whorehouse ZZ celebrated in “La Grange”; the saucy 1975 hit “Tush” was written in five minutes at an Alabama sound check; and Premier Gordon Campbell’s theme song, “Arrested for Driving While Blind”, was inspired by drummer Frank Beard’s memories of bad behaviour in Houston.
Nothing from ZZ Top’s last four BMG albums is included on Chrome, Smoke & BBQ, which is just as well, because apart from a few tracks on 1994’s Antenna, the group hasn’t delivered anything worthwhile since leaving Warner Bros. in ’92.