Time Machine: ZZ Top – Eliminator

By the time Texas blues rockers ZZ Top released their eighth studio album Eliminator in 1983, the trio was a well-oiled machine. The group had yet to chart a No. 1 single or album, but songs like the top 20 “Tush” (from 1975’s Fandago) and the top 5 “Tube Snake Boogie” (from 1981’s El Loco) had garnered them a solid following.

When Eliminator dropped, guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons, bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard were already a household name, but fans who’d grown accustomed to ZZ Top’s raw blues rock sound had a huge surprise waiting for them when they popped Eliminator into the stereo.

ZZ Top had begun to incorporate keyboards into their music by the time they released Eliminator. While this type of left curve might have spelled the end for most bands, ZZ flourished. Songs like the disc-opening stomper “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” along with greasy rockers “Legs,” “Got Me Under Pressure” and “Sharp Dressed Man,” became radio staples (and later rock classics).

The band hit all the right notes on Eliminator. The songwriting was exceptional, as was the production. Even non-singles like “I Got The Six” and “Bad Girl” were topnotch. There wasn’t one dud among the eleven tracks, a rare feat for an album in the ’80s. The disc sold over ten million copies in the United States, while four of the albums five singles were top 20 hits. Only “TV Dinners” failed to break the top 20 (it stalled just inside the top 40).

Eliminator was named one of the 100 Greatest Albums of The ’80s, and still finds its way into this scribe’s deck often.

Shipwreck Music

We’ve all read them, the Desert Island Discs lists. And although I’ve often wondered exactly how one would play these discs while stranded on an island, I have come up with my own list. The only difficulty here is the fact that my favorite albums often change from one week to the next. So with that in mind, and pretending there’s going to be a mysterious power portal of some sort on this desert island, here’s what my list – in no particular order – would look like if I headed out today with plans to be shipwrecked (how else would I know to bring my top ten albums?).

ZZ Top – Rancho Texicano: The Very Best Of

No desert island stay would be complete without some ZZ Top. Rancho Texicano contains all of the bands best recordings, from early blues-heavy tracks like “Brown Sugar,” “La Grange” and “Blue Jean Blues,” to ‘80s mainstream material like “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” and “Got Me Under Pressure,” the two disc set has it all (including about five songs that could have been left off). If there’s a cooler blues-rock trio on the planet, I haven’t come across them yet.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

One of the best-selling albums of all-time, Rumours has spent long stretches in my car stereo, at first in cassette form and then years later, on CD. Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Christine and John McVie and Stevie Nicks crafted a true pop-rock masterpiece, one they’ve never duplicated. No shipwrecked life would be complete without Fleetwood Mac. “Songbird” has to be one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Jackson Browne – Running On Empty

Jackson Browne has released so many great albums over the years, but my absolute favorite has to be Running On Empty. Made up of songs that were recorded in hotel rooms, backstage at various venues, on a tour bus and in front of a live audience, Running On Empty is an inspired disc that can spin for hours straight without ever becoming boring. It was years before I clued in to what the song “Rosie” was really about.

Eagles – Their Greatest Hits (1971-75)

Being stranded would be bad enough, but being stranded without the Eagles’ first Hits disc would just plain suck. One of the best-selling albums of all-time, Hits captures the golden moments from the band’s peak years. Songs like “Take It Easy,” “Tequila Sunrise” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” are timeless classics that I never tire of. I almost chose The Very Best Of collection from the group, but there are just way too many throw away tracks on that package.

Lynyrd Skynyrd – One More From The Road

This live album from the original lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd got me through some really low times when I was in my early ‘20s. Even thinking about it now makes me a bit misty-eyed. A little over a year after it was released, several band members, including singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines, died in a plane crash (along with both pilots and the band’s manager). Still one of my favorite live albums all these years later.

Hank Williams – 40 Greatest Hits

For those blue days on the island, I would need some Hank Sr. There hasn’t been a voice in music that has been as haunting or as sorrowful as Hank’s. 40 Greatest Hits contains pretty much every song from Hank’s catalog that a person needs. Hopefully I’ll be stranded with a few dozen cases of whiskey as well, cause Hank and whiskey go good together. On second thought, I better let the whiskey go down with the ship.

AC/DC – Back In Black

I can slip this album into the stereo, close my eyes and be transported back to the early ‘80s when my love for hard rock bordered on obsession (my mother once told me that “Problem Child,” off AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds album, was about me). Another album that sits on the best-selling discs of all-time list, Back In Black is a timeless collection. I love driving with this album blasting. There will be no driving on the deserted island, but at least I’ll be rocking.

Steve Earle – Train A Comin’

One of my absolute favorite albums from the ‘90s, Steve Earle’s Train A Comin’ is perfect for those times when you want to listen to music that has been stripped down to the bare essentials. The first album Earle released after a brief stint in prison, and after he had cleaned up from his well-documented drug problems, Train A Comin’ is one of the best acoustic albums from the last twenty years. Earle’s songwriting and vocals are as raw and real as they come.

U2 – Achtung Baby

I was never a big U2 fan until Achtung Baby knocked me sideways and onto my ass. At the time it came out, I was listening to a lot of Guns N’ Roses and Gordon Lightfoot (a strange combination, I admit). My buddy came over one day and played Achtung Baby for me, and I was floored by songs like “One” and “Mysterious Ways.” Few bands have reinvented themselves (and achieved an even higher level of success each) like U2.

Bruce Springsteen – Greatest Hits

Like most of my choices, Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits is one of those albums I can listen to over and over again, beginning to end, without skipping any of the tracks. From the opening rattle of the testosterone fueled “Born To Run,” to the final notes of the jangly folk-rock blast “This Hard Land,” there isn’t one bad song on Greatest Hits. I’m sure Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway had some Springsteen on the island with him.