July 21 – Those Legs Ran Up Texan Trio’s Biggest Hit

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!

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10 thoughts on “July 21 – Those Legs Ran Up Texan Trio’s Biggest Hit

  1. Badfinger (Max)

    I saw them on the Eliminator tour with Sammy Hagar opening up. I loved it at the time but they really loved that sound because they really never moved away from it afterwards. It was almost like Eliminator I, Elimainator II etc.
    I still love the Cheap Sunglasses period lol.

    I was talking to someone the other day… U2 has probably been together with the same members longer than anyone…in a major band thats still going now. I bet ZZ Top would be the top in that category as far as long term with original members?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I liked ‘Eliminator’ a lot, it really had a different but catchy sound. After that,you’re right, seemed like they just kept trying to copy that again and again…I got the next album they put out too and thought it was OK but nothing really jumped out at me…it seemed like it was rejected songs from ‘Eliminator’, or a collection of b-sides.
      U2 are pretty amazing going I guess 44 years now with no lineup changes. ZZ were right up there,maybe the leader for that until Dusty died. I guess they did at least 50 years with the same trio. Pretty amazing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Badfinger (Max)

        Yea they found that formula and didn’t let it go. I do believe they released something later that had the old sound…this was after they completely wore out that one.
        I do think ZZ Top are the top ones…I believe they formed in 1969…just incredible.

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  2. While I’m more into ZZ Top’s early, more traditional blues rock like “Salt Lick”, “Brown Sugar” and “Waiting For the Bus” and think “Tush” is perhaps the ultimate blues rocker, “Legs” is definitely cool as well despite the more commercial ’80s sound. Also, that video with the rotating guitars is a classic!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. it really had everything , the rock, the new wave, the video. I know a lot of people who do like their old blues-based stuff better though…not me, honestly, but as I’ve probably said, bluesy music sometimes is great if I’m there taking it in live, but isn’t something I can listen to at home, in car, etc very much

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with max. I only have a Greatest Hits album of theirs, an every time I stick it on, full of enthusiasm for some high energy boogie, I kinds get a bit bored with the sameness half way through. That said – if ever there was an archetypal ‘singles’ band, I reckon they were them.

    Liked by 1 person

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