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ZZ Top: Fandango! - Album Of The Week Club review

One half recorded live, one half in the studio, ZZ Top's Fandango! felt like a compromise but still shone

ZZ Top - Fandango!
(Image: © London Records)
Thin Lizzy - Nightlife

ZZ Top - Fandango!

(Image credit: London Records)

Thunderbird
Jailhouse Rock
Backdoor Love Affair
Mellow Down Easy
Backdoor Love Affair No. 2
Long Distance Boogie
Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings
Blue Jean Blues
Balinese
Mexican Blackbird
Heard It on the X
Tush

Texan legends ZZ Top were a huge live draw in the States, prompting the release of Fandango!. Side A was recorded live at The Warehouse in New Orleans, and Side B was laid down in the studio. 

It’s got Tush. And another ZZ masterclass in Heard It On The X. But there's perhaps something slightly unsatisfying about Fandango. What fans would have surely preferred is a full live album, or to see the quality hinted at with the studio tracks developed into a complete new record. While it’s (half) an excellent gig souvenir, maybe it’s also a sign of a band in crisis, short of both time and songs.

The live material motors nicely, fuelled by the usual ZZ stage charisma and energy: Jailhouse Rock blitzes, while the Backdoor Medley is neatly realised. But just when you’re getting into the stride of this ’ere live thang, ZZ pull the plug and go into studio mode. 

And if you don’t know what Tush is all about, ask your granny – you really need to get out more. 

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in April 1975

  • Journey - Journey
  • Will O' The Wisp - Leon Russell
  • Toys in the Attic - Aerosmith
  • Fish Rising - Steve Hillage
  • Stampede - The Doobie Brothers
  • Ain't Life - Grand Black Oak Arkansas
  • The Beau Brummels - The Beau Brummels
  • Beautiful Loser - Bob Seger
  • Diamonds & Rust - Joan Baez
  • Hair of the Dog - Nazareth
  • Hokey Pokey - Richard and Linda Thompson
  • Ian Hunter - Ian Hunter
  • Jamaica Say You Will - Joe Cocker
  • The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table - Rick Wakeman
  • New City - Blood, Sweat & Tears
  • Playing Possum - Carly Simon
  • The Snow Goose - Camel
  • Straight Shooter - Bad Company
  • Subtle as a Flying Mallet - Dave Edmunds
  • Survival - The O'Jays
  • Tomorrow Belongs to Me - Sensational Alex Harvey Band

What they said...

"The studio side is a worthy successor to the all-fine Tres Hombres, driven by Tush and Heard It On The X, two of their greatest songs that build on that album by consolidating their sound and amplifying their humour. If they had sustained this energy and quality throughout a full studio album, it would have been their greatest." (AllMusic)

"Fandango!, in retrospect, may now seem quaint to some in comparison to what came later. But taken on its own, it’s ZZ Top’s most concise, powerful statement of purpose and time has not diminished its power, vitality, or glorious tomfoolery one iota." (Albumism)

"ZZ Top doesn’t re-invent the wheel on Fandango but they sure as hell do light it on fire. A rock solid rhythm section with a deep understanding of the blues leave all the space in the world for one of rock’s greatest guitarists to shine. Witty lyrics and blazing solos make this album undeniably fun and musically stunning." (Mike Maggot)

What you said...

Brett Deighton: You know when you’re a hardcore fan and you get cranky because radio only plays the same few songs and people buy the greatest hits instead of the studio albums? Well in the case of ZZ Top, I’m on the other side for once. I tried listening top to bottom in the hope I would love every track, but I don’t. I like most of the tracks and I must admit I did change my mind hearing Blue Jeans Blue again. But as for most of their albums, the track that really grabs me is the one track you are definitely going to hear on mainstream radio, Tush. It’s a fine album, but I suspect I will score it a little lower than many. I do absolutely adore that greatest hits album though.

Marco LG: I admit I arrived to ZZ Top only a few years ago. They are one of those bands I knew of, especially given their image with the long beards and the cool motors, but I never explored, not even casually. It was only a couple of years ago, when I got the chance to purchase a CD box set with all their studio albums up until 1990, that I finally listened to the majority of their output.

The sonic journey offered by the 10 albums included in that box set is quite remarkable, but this week's pick threw quite an odd ball at me. I struggle to even consider Fandango! an album, let alone Album of The Week material. Yet I am called to score it in this club, and so I shall.

Let's get the record straight: I am not very keen on the live side. It is a typical 1970s show, where the jams go on for a little too long and the covers make up the majority of the material. Had I been there I would probably have enjoyed it, but I wasn't and on record it just doesn't work.

Luckily Fandango! also contains six studio tracks, which make it worth the trouble to insert the CD in the player from time to time. At least three of those songs are belters, but we are still talking about less than 18 minutes of music...

In short, just because it is a ZZ Top release and it contains Blue Jean Blues, Heard It On The X and Tush it doesn't mean it deserves a great score. 5 out of 10 from me.

Rocky Taylor: You can't really go wrong with the Top up through Eliminator. They've earned their ranking as one of the all-time power trios for a reason, and have made plenty of the sickest boogie rock known to man.

Fandango! is a fun one, although I'd be lying if I would go for it over Tres Hombres. Still, it's a good time, and you get plenty bang for your bucket in a little over 30 minutes. The mostly live first side is well-paced and offers a lot of fun, but it's the studio tracks in side B that leave a lasting impression. Obviously Tush is the song people remember, and for good reason, but everything else is just as rockin and fun.

A damn good time, all in all.

John Edgar: When this initially released I was completely unaware of the first two albums and I had only heard a select few songs from Tres Hombres. Also, a lot of people, even in Texas where I grew up, had not yet had a chance to see ZZ Top play live. Their growing legend was just beginning to get a some real attention, so during the promotional period leading up to the initial release of Fandango! the live side was an anticipated thing, and at the time of release was considered to be a real 'Barn Burner'. I heard Mellow Down Easy at a lot of parties that year. Add to that the fact that Side B is just killer (Heard It On The X is ridiculously good) and you have what I consider to be one of the best ZZ Top albums.

Uli Hassinger: First of all ZZ Zop are living legends. Is there any other band around with the same line-up for over 50 years ? And they are still kicking ass. I saw them 2019 the last time and it was a blast.

So let's move to Fandango! It's a very odd album. It appears to me that they had to fulfil a contract and had to release an album without enough songs written. So they fill it up with a live recording.

The live side starts very strongly with Thunderbird, which is a powerful rock'n'roller and a perfect song to start a live gig. But the cover songs combined with a song from their first album are superfluous. Sounds like an ordinary cover band from the pub around the corner.

With side b we are back in the game. Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings is a song which sums up all what ZZ Top is about. Great rock guitar riffs and solos blended with blues and country. Blue Jean Blues certainly belongs to the 10 best blues-rock songs ever. Balinese and Mexican Blackbeard couldn't catch up with the two previous songs. Not bad, but nothing remarkable. The last two songs are again ZZ Top as it's best. The guitar riff from Tush is one of the riffs you recognise from the start. Epic, especially when covered by Motorhead.

The the album contains five strong songs, two average and two totally superfluous songs. It can't compete with Trés Hombre and Rio Grande Mud at all. Because the strong songs are real killers it still get's 7/10.

Brian Carr: Hail, the almighty ZZ Top! Interesting pick, this week with Fandango!, a ZZ Top album that I haven’t listened to much because I figured it was a live release, based on the album cover. And I think that was my ultimate takeaway from the album: “Is 'Fandango' the Spanish word for identity crisis?”

As other reviewers have mentioned, the album begins with a live portion that doesn’t seem to represent such a classic band very well. It starts exceptionally with Thunderbird, loses a little steam with a cover (they do well with Jailhouse Rock, but I’ve really grown to bristle at most covers) and fizzles with a directionless medley that was almost certainly better in person with a couple of cervezas and a full concert context.

The studio tunes on Fandango! work so much better. Tush is almost certainly the first ZZ Top song I ever heard and I will never tire of it. Blue Jean Blues is exquisite slow blues with perfect Top feel and Heard It On The X and Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings absolutely rock. Mexican Blackbird is the kind of goofy throwaway I’ve heard multiple times from ZZ Top; it’s irritating to me, but if they dig it, then great.

The live/studio flip is just so jarring that it screams to me “contractual obligation” and makes Fandango! a difficult album to rate. But there’s enough quality and swagger to get me to a seven. 

Gary Claydon: A four track E.P. comprising Nasty Dogs..., Blue Jean Blues, Heard It On The X and Tush would be a stone cold 10/10. Chuck them in with a dull as ditchwater live side plus a couple of 'meh' tracks on the studio side though and you end up with a distinctly average, albeit brief, album.

Has there ever been a better song for the 'Getting Ready To Go Out' playlist than the magnificent Tush though?

Mike Canoe: Woohoo! First club appearance by ZZ Top, the national band of Texas.

Nowadays, ZZ Top is a mythology unto themselves, but on Fandango!, they're still that little ol’ band from Texas. The live side showcases the band as a rowdy and rockin' boogie blues trio, heavy on cover songs, but equally heavy on fun and energy.

The six originals on the second side showcase the continued growth of the band’s mythology. Their fried blend of boogie, blues, funk and rock'n'roll with just a touch of psychedelia borrowed from fellow Texans, the 13th Floor Elevators, is a genre unto itself. Mexican Blackbird is the only real dud. I realise this is the same band that gave us the cathouse anthem La Grange but Mexican Blackbird is surprisingly mean-spirited for an otherwise genial band.

ZZ Top is Texas to the bone, a state that knows a thing or two about myth-making. It's about style and guile (Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings), dancing the night away (Balinese), Wolfman Jack and the Mexico "Border Blaster" radio stations (Heard It on the X), and pretty women on a Saturday night (Tush). And, of course, it’s the blues (the blisteringly beautiful Blue Jean Blues). ZZ Top may have spoiled me at an early age for any other band playing the blues.

ZZ Top had already made at least one better album than Fandango! and would go on to make two or three more, but Fandango! has all the fun that the album title implies.

Hai Kixmiller: What can you say about ZZ Top other than, nobody serves up a better dose of Tex-Mex country-fried-blues-based-rock n' roll than they do.

Step right up folks because Fandango! Is a rock'n'roll carnival, with something for everyone. You like live music, that captures the raw essence of a power trio? You got it here. You prefer your music from a studio? You got it here. You like your blues slow, sweaty, and sultry? Or maybe you like it chuggin' along like a run-a-way "loco" motive. You got it here. You want music with a lot of groove? Fandango! has more grooves than a battle ship's big guns. You say you dig music with a lot of cool and catchy guitar hooks, licks, and riffs? Well, Billy Gibbons' guitar work has got more hooks than a fisherman's tackle box, more licks than a puppy, and legendary riffs that could pass as song titles. That's right, no words necessary, just hum the guitar riff and people will instantly know the song.

While Fandango! has a lot going for it, and it's an entertaining and fun listen, in the end, it's just an album with two songs on it, good enough, that I would record them to make a mix tape. So it is like a carnival, It was fun but I forgot most of it.

Greg Schwepe: Fandango!: Is it a live album in need of a longer set? Or is it a studio album in need of more material? 8 out of 10 on this one from the not fully bearded (yet) trio from Texas. I know there are other “1 side live/1 side studio” albums out there (none come to mind at the moment), so it gives you the best of both worlds.

The live side kicks off with a totally frenetic, amped up band kicking into high gear. You can almost feel the heat of the club as they pound through the set. Because you’ve only got one side of an album; hit the listener over the head with a 2 x 4. Only downside is that you wouldn’t get a full on live ZZ Top album until years later.

Studio side of the album is an amalgam of what ZZ Top is about; some slow blues (Blue Jean Blues), quirky tongue in cheek stuff (Mexican Blackbird), and then the flat out ZZ classics: Heard It On The X and Tush.

Short and sweet review!

Roland Bearne: These days ZZ Top and Rev Gibbons resplendent in soup-proof beard and Hat D'Afrique is a beyond cool, smooth groovin' legend on supercharged wheels. Side one of Fandango! is a great time capsule back to a lil' ol' band in full fire cracker mode, (master of) sparkin' there own left field savvy over some high energy blues. Covers largely but very much made their own. \

Side two, just lovely, the band in evolution rather than revolution territory but a superb 20-odd minutes of new music. Love the energy of Heard It On The X, love BG's back-to-first-album feel on Blue Jean Blues, and Tush is of course the stuff of legend. Mexican Blackbird grates a bit decades later, but Balinese is just huge fun. Let's face it, it's a side of ZZ near perfection. 

The tale of two sides format is deserving of a raised eyebrow. Whilst the quality is there it does make one wonder if the label was pushing for their pound of flesh and touring pressures meant they just didn't have a full (Modded Model A naturally) trunk of new material? These days bands would drip feed tracks and videos onto YouTube and the socials then either release as an EP or include on an eventual full album. But deliberate choice or format compromise under duress, it sho' is memorable. A curate's egg of interesting and absolutely blooming great!

David Cichocki: What a great album to chat about! Not ZZ Tops' best but an important stepping stone. The live side I never understood when I bought this after Eliminator in 1984. Made some sense a little later when I had the full collection about 12 months later.

But side 2? Every one a pearl. A classic in the Smoke On The Water list of classics in Tush. Blue Jean Blues will set me off as Rough Boy does perfectly now. This second side built the bridge to Tejas.

I Heard It On The X. I heard it just before Tush.

Thick House: If ZZ Top were a Tex-Mex restaurant, this album would be the chips and salsa – enough to whet your appetite, but not enough to satisfy. The live portion is disappointing. We get a nine minute directionless jam filled with spoken word bits and some kind of weird cattle auctioneer bit, but only about two minutes of Jailhouse Rock? These live tracks don't do the band justice, especially compared to the much better bonus live tracks on the 2006 reissue. 

Similarly, the two best songs on the studio side, Heard It On The X and Tush, are barely over two minutes long. Blink and you'll miss them. Mexican Blackbird is a novelty track that feels vaguely racist (no, I'm not saying that ZZ Top were bigots); Balinese, Nasty Dogs and Blue Jean Blues are solid, but I keep skipping to Heard It On The X and Tush. To me, this album is a release for the hardcore fans only. People new to ZZ Top are recommended to skip this appetiser (except for X and Tush) and go straight to the delicious entrees that are Eliminator and Tres Hombres.

Clay Halford: A mini concert followed by a bunch of killer licks is a recipe for brilliance.

How Billy Gibbons can go mellowdowneasymellowdowneasy like that without water is incredible, and the rest of the live side punches hard.

Then you've got Heard It On The X, Balinese, Mexican Blackbird and of course Tush. Who doesn't get hyped hearing that initial YEEP!? Fandango! isn't quite at the level of Tres Hombres but damn if it isn't the closest thing ZZ Top ever did to it.

Philip Qvist: Not their best but still a very good album. Half live, half studio with a running time of around 35 mins, Fandango! starts off with a rousing live version of Thunderbird and ends of with their iconic single Tush.

And in between those songs? Well, the other highlights for me would be their live Backdoor Medley, Blue Jean Blues and Mexican Blackbird.

It's not a Tres Hombres or an Eliminator, but it's still a great, fun album. Well worth a listen, but avoid the 80s remixed album where possible. 8/10.

Alex Hayes: "He thinks he's real bad. He thinks he's badder than Shaft, Superfly, James Bond and Kung Fu all put together. But I've got news for him. They don't call me the Texas homewrecker and heartbreaker for nothin'" - The Reverend Billy F. Gibbons, live onstage at The Warehouse, New Orleans on April 12, 1974. Please tell me who in the hell is ever gonna argue with a statement like that!?

I made a comment in last week's review about how incompetent the music industry can occasionally be. Well, for nigh on 20 years, the ZZ Top back catalogue was the victim of a musical crime so heinous that it makes All Saints' insipid cover of Under The Bridge look like a minor offence by comparison.

In the late 80s, after the colossal successes of Eliminator and Afterburner, Warner Records made the decision to reissue all ZZ Top's London-era albums on CD for the first time. Sounds great, only an immense spanner ended up getting thrown into the works. See, some genius there had the bright idea of also giving those older albums a sonic makeover, adding extra reverb and echo to the drum sound in particular. I guess the thinking was that these 'enhanced' new versions would resonate better with younger fans of the band, only familiar with the then current, synthesised, Eliminator-era Top.

It was an air-headed move, and turned out to be one of the cruellest acts of musical sabotage in rock history. Eliminator itself is an absolutely fantastic album of course, but it benefited from the fact that it's synthesised and drum-machine led production had been planned that way from the very beginning. The older Top albums? Not at all.

For anyone unfamiliar, just imagine grafting a gated drum sound similar to 80s Phil Collins on to a riff as gritty as Tush or La Grange. That's just a total mismatch, right? It really is as godawful as it sounds and was a decision that rendered ZZ Top's back catalogue pretty much unlistenable for two decades.

I was the target audience for this bullshit too, an 80s kid that discovered ZZ Top through Eliminator and it's singles/videos. Luckily, fate rescued me. A friend of my Dad lent me the genuine articles on vinyl and I was spared growing up believing that Blue Jean Blues had always been intended to have elements of XTC or Duran Duran thrown into the mix.

Thankfully, from around 2006 onwards, common sense prevailed and the original Terry Manning mixes found their way back into favour and mass market consumption, allowing fans to hear these superb albums the way they were originally intended. 1973's Tres Hombres is probably the pick of the bunch, outstanding album, but Fandango! is also a personal favourite.

That Billy Gibbons quote above has been lifted from the first side of the album. A blistering live set recorded in New Orleans in April 1974, the highlight for me here is the turbo-charged brilliance that is the Backdoor Medley. The most famous track from Side 2's studio set would obviously be Tush. Although still brilliant after all these years, the other tracks here, like the stomptacular Heard It On The X, are easily its equal. The whole album seeps with quality though. This is proper ZZ Top for me, raw and genuine blues-rock that gives me 'the feels'.

Tres Hombres still leads the way overall when it comes to 1970s Top, and Tejas and Deguello are also well worth an hour and a bit of anyone's time, but there's always been something special about Fandango! for me. It's nothing short of quintessential ZZ Top. Fucking fabulous stuff and a 9/10.

Greg Schwepe: Totally agree on the drum sound on the remix/re-release. Bought The ZZ Top Sixpack on CD and about freaked out first time I heard it. But finally kind of got over it. Now, was listening to same album on Spotify yesterday and did not hear the reverb'd drums at first; "did they go back and undo and the streaming services have the "good" version?" Nope...next song kicked in and there's the redone drums. Oh well.

Tito Lesende Galán: Oh, man. I don't think this is the most balanced album by ZZ Top. But it's got Tush (and that single's great B-side, Blue Jean Blues). You know, Tush is so spectacular a monument that it seems to have existed from Day One.

John Davidson: A tale of two sides. I'll be honest and say I really didn't find the live set on Side 1 all that interesting. Fairly standard blues covers with some unusual vocal work , but nothing that set my pulse racing. Side 2 however was great.

Straight off the bat with Nasty Dogs, my feet started tapping and my head nodded along to the groove. Add to that a fantastic guitar solo and bingo. It hits the spot. Blue Jeans Blues conforms to the template of fairly standard blues guitar lament but it's a good example of its kind.

Balinese is another up-tempo blues rock that hits the ticket. Mexican Blackbird has country overtones and some dirty bottle slide guitar. Heard It On The X and Tush are again cracking little blues rock numbers.

So: about 18 minutes I don't care for and <20 that I do. It's a hella short album (not a problem in itself) but this is going to be hard to score.

Richard Cardenas: Might be my favourite ZZ Top record. I got this on eight track the year it came out and wore it out. This, to me, was the Top. Raw, bluesy and full of energy. I never really cared much for any of their stuff after this. Partly because I got into punk but, really, because they got too poppy. However, I will never begrudge anyone from pursuing life as they see fit.

Larry Finch: I thought the live side was just OK. But, really loved the studio side. Mexican Blackbird is a different type of song from them, but I always really liked it. It’s always on my playlist.

Andrew Cumming: Classic ZZ Top - love it, great album. Such a pity there don't appear to be any decent live recordings of mid 70's ZZ Top (especially the World Wide Texas Tour). Side 1 gives a flavour of how great they would be. Side 2 is a classic early ZZ Top and as strong as anything they've done. Great choice for album of the week.

Final Score: 7.82⁄10 (190 votes cast, with a total score of 1486)

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