Happy 30th: ZZ Top, RECYCLER
30 years ago today, ZZ Top released an album which is probably better known for its first single's ties to the band's guest appearance in Back to the Future Part III than for anything else on the album, including the single itself.
(That would be “Doubleback” we're referring to, in case you were wondering.)
After reinventing and somewhat de-blues-ifying their sound for the MTV generation with their 1983 album, ELIMINATOR, ZZ Top gained numerous new fans, but they also fell victim to the mantra that drives so many other artists into the ground: “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” Now, granted, the fact that 1985's AFTERBURNER earned the band four additional top-40 hits - “Sleeping Bag” (#8), “Rough Boy” (#22), “Stages” (#21), and “Velcro Fly” (#35) - makes it hard to argue with their decision to stay the course through that album, the same can't necessarily be said for RECYCLER, the title of which was a dream come true for any critic who felt that the band's '80s sound was becoming too same-old, same-old as they entered the '90s.
Of course, the band had enough new fans by 1990 that RECYCLER still proved to be a pretty big hit, with “Doubleback,” “Concrete and Steel,” and “My Head's in Mississippi” all ascending to the top of the Album Rock Tracks chart for multiple weeks each, and you certainly can't call a platinum-selling album a failure. When you consider, however, that AFTERBURNER had gone platinum five times over, it becomes clear - much as it did to the members of ZZ Top themselves - that the time had come for a change.
So they made one: when ZZ Top released their next album, 1994's ANTENNA, it was on a new label (RCA) and featured material which – to the relief of the band’s old-school fans – was far more bluesy than pop.
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