They’d hit the U.S. top 20 once before, singing about “Tush.” On this day in 1984, ZZ Top made the top 10 for the first time by setting their sights a little lower with “Legs.”
The fourth single off their massive Eliminator album was their breakout international hit and one of the first smash videos on MTV, which awarded “Best Group Video” at their first Video Awards in ’84. The band clearly knew they were onto something with the formula of good-looking women, a snazzy car and long beards to get them noticed on TV, this video added the “wait, there’s more!” to the formula – fuzzy, spinning guitars!
The pair of fuzzy guitars (a bass and a 6-string) were made by Dean Zelinsky, a well-known custom guitar maker. He’d known Billy Gibbons of the band for a few years and when Eliminator was nearly recorded, he recalls “one day I’m hanging in Los Angeles, and receive a call from Billy. In his southern drawl he says ‘I’m in the studio using the Dean ML (guitar) and it’s sounding incredible!’” He then flew Zelinsky to Houston so they could drive around and listen to the album, “not a final mix yet”, in Gibbons Mercedes. The guitar maker adds Gibbons “was really a soft-spoken, hospitable southern guy… when he dropped me off at the airport, he insisted on carrying my luggage.” No wonder he couldn’t say ‘no’ when Gibbons called him up at 3 AM one night, told him he’d just gotten Def Leppard to use Dean’s guitars… and “I’m sending you some sheepskins. I want you to put them on some guitars.” No word on how the spinning sheepskins came into play though.
Although all of ZZ Top appear in the video and on the record credits, the “band” recording it was in fact only singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons and studio tech Terry Manning who played synthesizers and did the mixing work. The surprising drum machine rhythm and synths (surprising in context of the band’s rep as a straight-ahead guitar rock band) was played up a bit in the 12″ single which became a hit on dance charts. It also hit the top 10 in Canada and Australia. Amazingly, the almost entirely new sound they created worked both on their traditional markets and new ones. It was hard enough, and “good ol’ boy” enough to fit comfortably on classic rock and metal stations but the synth-driven sound and dance beat put them in unfamiliar territory on dance or college rock stations.
Gibbons says he got the idea for the song when he saw a “real pretty girl” out in the rain one day when he was driving and “her legs were the first thing I noticed.” He turned around to offer her a ride, but she was gone – but the idea for a song was on!