March 1983: ZZ Top Released "Eliminator"

ZZ Top Eliminator
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(Warner Bros)

In 1982, ZZ Top was ready for change. They'd gotten experimental with 1981 release, El Loco, to a muted response. It would sell about half as many copies as the band's previous full-length, Deguello.

RELATED: November 1979: ZZ Top Release Deguello and "Cheap Sunglasses"

Where many bands would turn tail and return to their signature sound to get things back on track, ZZ Top rolled the dice, and leaned into their newfound love of high-end studio technology. During a European tour, guitarist Billy Gibbons would find himself in a nightclub with a packed dance-floor moving to the sounds of the Rolling Stones' 1980 single, "Emotional Rescue." That's when the light bulb went off.

"He’s extremely philosophical, a deep thinker and musically very aware. He started to analyze why ZZ didn’t get played in dance clubs, and concluded that they were not up to the required rhythmic capabilities," explained the band's long-time engineer, Terry Manning, to Louder Sound. "He asked me what we could do. I started going to clubs and studying beats. The market had changed quite a bit from blues-based rock’n roll. So I came up with some ideas we could implement to make a very different album.”

In a case of timing really being everything, ZZ Top released Eliminator on March 23, 1983, which is when fledgling cable channel MTV was exploding onto pop culture. Using Gibbons' custom red 1933 Ford coupe with a Corvette engine from the album cover as the centerpiece of the videos, ZZ Top would launch a whopping five singles from Eliminator--three would come with bombastic music videos that would be played in heavy rotation on MTV.

Blasting out of the gate with "Gimme All Your Lovin,'" ZZ Top's first Eliminator single would crash the top 40 to peak at #37. But those countless spins on MTV would help sear the band's new image of hi-tech hot-rods, headless guitars and turbo-charged blues-rocker onto public consciousness.

“Tim was a great director,” Gibbons said of Tim Newman, who handled the band's video's for "Gimme All Your Lovin,'" "Sharp Dressed Man" and ""Legs." “By which I mean to say he told us we weren’t much to look at and so we’d need some pretty girls in the mix to sweeten up the story. He brought along a picture book of models to our first meeting. I said to him: ‘Well, slow down here and let’s take this page by page.’"

"Sharp Dressed Man" would be next in the video trilogy. While the song stalled at #56 on the Hot 100, the video was a massive hit, helping it reach #8 on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart.

"Legs" would complete the Eliminator video trilogy with the epic clip for "Legs." The song would cruise up the charts to peak at #8 on the Hot 100. It's also the video where the band would debut their fuzzy guitars.

“When Legs popped, everything went kind of fast and furious,” revealed bass player Dusty Hill. “As Billy likes to say, some people put on a false beard as a disguise, but we couldn’t do that. Frank pretty much stopped hanging with me, because I would draw crowds wherever I went. But you can either enjoy a thing like that or let it eat you up. We decided to enjoy it. And it was a hell of a ride.” Eliminator would peak at #9 on the Billboard 200 for the week of November 11,1983. The #1 album in America that week: The Police's Synchronicity.

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For a time in the ‘80s, it seemed like the most popular songs in the U.S. were being made by perhaps five people: Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Lionel Richie.

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It was the duo's last album in North America and Japan.

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