REVIEW: ZZ Top – The ZZ Top Six Pack (1987)

ZZ Top – The ZZ Top Six Pack (1987 Warner)

What a strange time the dawn of the compact disc was.  Even at the end of the 1980s, vast catalogues of music had yet to be released on CD.  It was a hit and miss affair, with some early discs sounding wonderful and others sounding like a thin, tinny facsimile of the original vinyl.  The longer running time of CD was a bonus that many bands took advantage of, while other heritage groups were considering the ways they could re-release their music on this new format.

Before Jimmy Page took his first crack at remastering the Led Zeppelin catalogue for CD, ZZ Top took a different route.

Now, granted, ZZ Top’s music spans a longer time period than that of many of their rivals.  They’re also notable for starting the 1970s as a dirty raw blues and ending the 80s as clean space-age rock.  While this took them from one success to an even more massive one, it unfortunately meant that the ZZ Top camp felt it necessary to “update” their music for the CD age.  Make the catalogue sound more on an even keel with Eliminator and Afterburner.

And so the six ZZ Top albums that were so-far unreleased on CD were remixed:  First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, Fandango!, Tejas, and El Loco.  Only Degüello was spared, having been released on CD earlier.

Apparently, updating the ZZ Top catalogue for CD was of “overriding concern” for all parties involved.  ZZ Top were aware that there were complaints about early CD transfers for classic albums.  The goal was “return to the original analog tapes and consider what steps were needed to render the music appropriate to  contemporary digital playback equipment without compromising integrity.”

The answer was none.  No steps were necessary.  The remixes were not what the old fans wanted to hear on their brand new CD players.  Rhythm tracks were updated with sequencers, drums treated digitally, and the whole thing came out sterile and flat.  Adding echo didn’t add depth.  Doing an A/B test with a remix vs. an original track makes you wonder why you even own the ZZ Top Six Pack.*  It just…doesn’t sound right.  Like a disorienting time displacement.

As of 2013, you can get all the original ZZ Top albums on remastered CD as they should have always sounded.

While it is nice to have six ZZ Top albums on just three CDs, and there is no denying the booklet is hot, you do not need the ZZ Top Six Pack anymore.  The charm of the originals is that they are a document of those hot Memphis studios where ZZ Top laid down the original tracks fast and dirty.  The remixes sound like a digital mixing board trying to tame a wild animal.  Wrong, and unnecessary.  “Francine” is actually awful.

The booklet is truly valuable (nonsense justifying the remix aside) and worth a point on its own.  The ZZ Top songs in and of themselves are always incredible, so they too are worth a point.

2/5 stars

* It was a gift from Kevin.  He also rates it 2/5 stars.  I asked him for a quote for this review.  All he had to say about the ZZ Top Six Pack was:  “I’m glad Mike took this crap off my hands.”  

34 comments

  1. I really do love Afterburner so, you know, this could be my sort of thing. It might also help that I haven’t heard any of the songs before

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was 1987. Time to cash out. Recall seeing this in the stores back in the day but maybe it was the price or what not but I will add it was a real cool thing to call it ZZ Top 6 Pack.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. True I’m sure the ones who jumped aboard with Eliminator like myself would have never known but the diehards from Tres Hombres were probably like WTF lol

          Like

  3. Here’s a thing – and I may have told this story before, so feel free to stop reading at any time – a good few moons ago a couple of good friends were talking ZZ Top and how great they were. I thought “they’re on the noise up” cause I always considered them a novelty band given the videos. Now, that was pure ignorance, as we know. But y’know, I was 10 years younger than I am now, so let’s let me off with that, right?

    Anyhoo, one of them threw Tres Hombres and Fandango! my way and told me they were game changing albums for him. So I gave them a whirl and that was me. Head turned. Mind blown. All aboard the ZZ Top bus. I loved them. Anyhoo, I obtained copies of some other albums from someplace… and thought “nice one”.

    Now, I will tell you this… I did not know any other ZZ Top music outside of Tres Hombres and Fandango! but I knew the minute I hit play that what I was listening to was absolute junk. Those mixes were absolutely not a good way to spend money or time. I got a mix of vinyl and the reissued proper mix CDs shortly after and it’s fucking criminal what they did and in a just world those responsible would not work again. Absolutely horrific.

    Like

      1. He has good quotes that’s for sure!

        Yeah I don’t know many remixes I actually like. When Justin Bieber came out with a remix for “Somebody to Love” featuring Usher, I didn’t care for it. I almost forgot about the remic for “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” huh, not sure how I feel about that one yet.

        Like

  4. Little corrections: El Loco wasn’t remixed, just remastered (it already sounded 80s enough to begin with), and same goes for the live side of Fandango! (probably no multi-tracks available or it would’ve sounded too stupid).

    But…. yeah, awful idea. I would’ve breathed a sigh but let it go at that if it had been confined to the 3CD set (even if it is known that Frank Beard hates those remixes, and understandably so, since they replaced his original drumming with an imprecise drum machine “triggered” by the original!!)

    But the real crime? Releasing those mixes on the standalone CDs and effectively making them the standard versions for YEARS to come. I think they might have been replaced with the 2013 masters by now (it’s getting hard to find the remixes on Spotify and YouTube) but for a long time, those were the only versions available on CD. Gah!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Jules! Thanks for the corrections. I wish I cared enough about the Six Pack to have done that research in the first place!

      It seems bizarre and surreal that for so long, the default versions of these ZZ tracks were remixes. The Greatest Hits that sold a bajillion copies in 1992. That was my favourite ZZ Top for a long time!

      Like

      1. On that CD – and only on that one – I can kind of understand the usage of the remixes. Greatest Hits leans heavily towards the 80s and early 90s sounds, and having the very earthy originals slap dang in the middle of those rather synthetic tracks could have been jarring. (Although this makes the Degüello tracks sound the oldest, when that album actually represented a jump forward at the time…)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. True, I suppose the remixes make most sense on the Greatest Hits. I am pretty sure I did not realize they were actually remixes when I first got it. That was actually my first ZZ Top purchase, aside from the cassette single for Doubleback which I got when it came out.

          Like

Rock a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s