Top 15 ZZ Top Albums Ranked Worst to Best
ZZ Top are commonly referred to as the “little old band from Texas.” Such an unassuming designation doesn’t really convey how much these guys have rocked for decades. The trio of Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard endured for over fifty years before Hill’s death in 2021.
So today, I have ZZ Top albums ranked from worst to best, which will hopefully do a great job in showcasing just how much great music these musicians gave to the world. So if you’re a fan of hard, driving blues rock with a bit of Texas boogie thrown in, you’re in for a treat.
ZZ Top Album Rankings
15. Mescalero (2003)
Coming in last is the band’s 14th effort, Mescalero. I’m not sure what was in the water at this point in ZZ Top’s career, but this is a scattered album with ideas coming in from all over the place but never quite meshing. The Tejano and country influences are admirable, but the execution falls flat. The album is also in serious need of an editor, clocking in at over an hour.
Favorite Song on Mescalero: “Punk As* Boyfriend” is one track here that sounds like classic ZZ Top. This is a bluesy boogie that keeps my attention the whole time and lacks some of the “experimental” flourishes that derail the other tracks.
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14. XXX (1999)
The actual songwriting here isn’t terrible. What brings this record down is the bizarrely modern production. While ZZ Top used the digital age of recording to their advantage during the 1980’s and early 90’s, XXX sounds like the band was listening to Kid Rock or nu-metal. Frank Beard’s drums are usually a highlight for the band, but they’re just an annoying distraction here.
Favorite Song on XXX: “Poke Chop Sandwich” starts off the record with the classic blues and the trademark sense of humor that marks the best Top material. Sadly, the whole thing is downhill from here.
13. Rhythmeen (1996)
While the album does deserve some praise for doing away with the synthesizers that colored a good chunk of the band’s output, returning to a raw sound doesn’t mean much when the material isn’t too strong on its own. Still, there are a few heavy hitters here, like the title track and “Loaded.” The album is a bit too long as well.
Favorite Song on Rhythmeen: “Vincent Price Blues” is a blues epic that clocks in around six minutes, and it never once loses my attention. Billy Gibbons is my type of virtuoso guitarist. He has dazzling skills, but he knows exactly how to exercise restraint in service of the song.
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12. Antenna (1994)
Another transitional album in the catalogue, Antenna suffers largely the same flaws as its successor. It’s ZZ Top by numbers. There are a few gems here, such as the opening single “Pincushion,” and the closer “Deal Goin’ Down.” Still, the band sounds a bit disinterested throughout the album.
Favorite Song on Antenna: “Lizard Life” is the standout track here. The longest song on the record, it’s got a heavy groove that won’t quit. I wonder why this wasn’t the single, as it’s the most memorable track here.
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11. Tejas (1976)
Tejas sadly doesn’t match the greatness that came before or would come after. Described as a transitional album by Billy Gibbons, Tejas has all the chops and groove you would expect from a 70’s Top album, but result feels unsure of itself. Still, songs like “Arrested for Driving While Blind” and “Ten Dollar Man” retain the magic the group is known for. Other tracks like “She’s a Heartbreaker” are sappy and dull, and especially uncharacteristic for the band.
Favorite Song on Tejas: “Pan Am Highway Blues” is a classic ZZ Top rocker. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it easily could have fit in on albums like Tres Hombres and Rio Grande Mud.
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10. Afterburner (1985)
After accomplishing then unheard-of levels of commercial success for the band after 1983’s Eliminator, it makes sense ZZ Top would have wanted to stick to the same formula. Afterburner is like a watered-down version of the 1983 hit, and the synthesizers and electronic drums are taken to new extremes. As a result, a lot of this material is cheesy. Yet it’s still a ZZ Top album, so there are some hard rocking gems, and Gibbons shreds like a heavy metal hero throughout the duration.
Favorite Song on Afterburner: “Woke Up With Wood” is about exactly what you think it is. It’s impossible not to crack a smile listening to Gibbons’ not-so-subtle innuendos backed by tasty blues guitar and a driving 80’s-style beat that reminds me of Judas Priest’s music from the same era.
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9. La Futura (2012)
This album is far better than it had any right to be. The final studio album by ZZ Top, La Futura quite easily smokes all the albums released since 1990’s Recycler. This is raw like 70’s Top, and Gibbons utilizes distortion in a way that makes me think he must have been digging out the old Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix albums when he was writing these songs.
Working in its favor is its 39-minute runtime, a refreshing change after a string of albums that were way too long. This record keeps my attention the entire time.
Favorite Song on La Futura: “I Gotsta Get Paid” is a sludgy, raw blues track that opens the record, one of the heaviest songs the band ever wrote. It’s hard to believe they were all in their sixties when this was put on record. It was also inspired by a hip-hop song, demonstrating the band’s diverse influences.
8. Recycler (1990)
While still retaining the synthesizers and electronic drums that marked Top’s 80’s work, Recycler brings back some of the rawness and heaviness that marked the band’s 70’s material.
An overlooked release in the band’s catalogue, this one seems to find the sweet spot between the glossiness of Afterburner and the raw rock of Deguello. The songwriting isn’t quite on par with Eliminator, but it’s an enjoyable release throughout.
Favorite Song on Recycler: “Burger Man” is another humorous rocker featuring a sexual euphemism. It might make “Woke Up With Wood” seem like Shakespeare in comparison, but it’s one of Top’s best tracks.
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7. El Loco (1981)
This is where the band started to incorporate synthesizers into their sound. ZZ Top were aware of the changing musical landscape and have cited bands like Devo and The B-52s as influences on this album. The material is still hard-hitting, but a little more fun and less raw than some prior outings. “Tube Snake Boogie,” “Pearl Necklace,” and “Ten Foot Pole” are all essential rockers. The one weak track is “Leila.”
Favorite Song on El Loco: “Party on the Patio” is a great rocking closer. It’s so short, you’ll immediately want to play it again.
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6. Fandango! (1975)
This half-live, half-studio release is the last full-on blues rock album of the band’s early era. It’s raw and stripped down, especially on the live side of the album, which features improvisational jamming and medleys unusual for the band. The studio side doesn’t work quite as well, but it does give us a couple of classics.
Favorite Song on Fandango!: “Heard It on the X” is a short and heavy track that displays an almost punk-ish energy, before there even was such a thing. While there are some other standout originals here like the immortal hit, “Tush,” this song is one you can play over and over.
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5. Eliminator (1983)
This is the album that made ZZ Top an international household name. While younger readers might know the image of the band more than their music at this point, the songs here still hold up to this day.
The synthesizers and drum machines dominate these recordings, but the songwriting is so good there’s not much to complain about. “Gimme All Your Lovin,” “Legs,” “TV Dinner,” and “Sharp-Dressed Man” are all enduring radio hits for a good reason, and the rest of the songs aren’t slouches either.
Favorite Song on Eliminator: “I Got The Six” isn’t one of the radio hits from Eliminator, and I can’t figure out why. Maybe it’s because it’s the fastest, most aggressive track on the album. This is a short one with a blistering riff and solo by Billy Gibbons, and simple, pounding drums by Frank Beard. This is probably the closest to AC/DC the band ever sounded.
4. Rio Grande Mud (1972)
Traveling back a decade from our last entry in the list, this is raw, unadulterated blues rock. Tracks like “Just Got Paid” and “Down Brownie” are steaming hot slabs of Texas blues. The band was not as groove-oriented at this point, so we get a lot of instrumental showboating, but it totally works.
Favorite Song on Rio Grande Mud: “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell” is one of the band’s longest tunes, clocking in at seven minutes. It’s a slower, melodic piece where Billy Gibbons really shows his knack for tasteful guitar-playing.
3. ZZ Top’s First Album (1971)
This is an underrated one in the catalogue, and possibly the heaviest Top ever sounded. This era of the band is reminiscent of what guys like Jimi Hendrix, Grand Funk, and Led Zeppelin had been doing a couple of years prior, but ZZ Top inject their own brand of Texas boogie into the mix.
Favorite Song on ZZ Top’s First Album: “Brown Sugar” is five minutes of a young ZZ Top showing the world what they’re capable of. The tight interplay and undeniable chemistry between Gibbons, Hill, and Beard puts most power trios to shame.
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2. Deguello (1979)
After taking a three-year hiatus following 1976’s disappointing Tejas, this record came hot out the gates destroying everything in its path. Unlike other 70’s arena rockers who could not adapt to the changing musical landscape, ZZ Top took notes from punk rock and experimental artists and began utilizing the studio to their advantage.
While “I Thank You” and “Cheap Sunglasses” are classic radio hits, there’s also hidden gems like “Manic Mechanic,” which sounds almost like the group had been listening to Frank Zappa.
Favorite Song on Deguello: “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” is a groovy, mid-paced blues rocker like many ZZ Top songs, but the renewed energy on this album gives it a unique feel. It doesn’t sound at all out of place, even though 1979 was the era of punk and new wave.
1. Tres Hombres (1973)
This is not only at the top of the list of best ZZ Top albums, but it’s also a perfect rock ‘n roll record. If aliens came to Earth and asked for an album that encapsulated the spirit of rock ‘n roll, I’d give them a copy of Tres Hombres. Clocking in around 33 minutes, every song is succinct and powerful.
“Master of Sparks,” “Move Me on Down the Line,” and the one-two opening punch of “Waitin’ for the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago” all make it extremely clear why this album has been cited as an influence by everyone from Phish to Guns N Roses to the Melvins.
Favorite Song on Tres Hombres: “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” is an immortal anthem, acting essentially as the band’s mission statement throughout their career. This is simple rock ‘n roll on the surface, but the musicianship is tight and extremely clever. The main riff approaches the intensity of speed metal but has far more groove.
Wrapping It Up
Well, we made it—a complete guide to ZZ Top albums ranked from the worst to the best ever! Hopefully this list has helped you realize that these guys are far more than just the old, bearded gentlemen you might have seen on TV. They’re a band that’s stayed true to their sound while never being afraid to change things up and experiment. And that’s rare for a 70’s rock band, especially one that maintained the same lineup for fifty years.
This article was written by Avery and edited by Michael.
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