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ZZ Top Tag

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A recent report in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science states that music-derived chills, “sometimes known as aesthetic chills, thrills, shivers, frisson, and even skin orgasms … involve a seconds-long feeling of goose bumps, tingling, and shivers” in response to a piece of music, “usually on the scalp, the back of the neck, and the spine, but occasionally across most of the body.”

The report, written by researchers from the University of North Carolina, theorizes that the personality types most likely to receive skin orgasms are those possessing the trait of “openness to experience.” The researchers conducted further studies by giving these personality types a few glasses of peach Chardonnay and assuring them their song selection would be gentle.

“The scientific explanation for chills,” explains Brian Alexander at MSNBC.com, “is that the emotions evoked by beautiful or meaningful music stimulate the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls primal drives such as hunger, sex and rage and also involuntary responses like blushing and goosebumps. When the song soars, your body can’t help but shiver.” And shivering is always preferable to raging, unless you’re shivering because you’ve locked yourself out of your house in the dead of winter, in which case you’re going to be raging.

Handel’s Messiah has been known to give churchgoers multiple skin orgasms at Christmas Eve services (why else do you think the pews are so packed?), and when I asked Johnny Mathis for his autograph in an airport bar five years ago, I made sure to let him know that “your Merry Christmas album never fails to give me skin orgasms.” Boy, you should’ve seen the look on his face. When he said, “Please don’t touch me,” I knew it was only because he’d already been touched by my words.

Have you ever wondered what inspired the images on your favorite album covers? With Uncovered, we discuss the stories behind the artwork with the people who made them. This week, we talk with Barry E. Jackson, the artist responsible for the cover of ZZ Top’s smash hit Afterburner, as well as a long list of other albums.

How did you get involved with ZZ Top? You had already done a number of albums for a fairly wide variety of artists. Was this a label job, or did the band seek you out specifically?

I had done a Neil Young’s Trans cover and Ronnie Dio’s Last in Line cover, both for Warner Bros., and the company decided to hire three different artists to do ideas for ZZ’s Afterburner. The band liked my interpretation the best so I became their artist, not just for Afterburner, but for the ZZ Top Six Pack and Recycler, as well. It was one of the biggest breaks of my career.

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It’s the final week of Bottom Feeders here at Popdose. It’s a sad moment for me in a way, as it’s taken up two years of my life, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I loved going back and hearing all these songs that even I forgot about, and learning a ton of interesting facts from all you guys who read each installment.

Along the way we’ve had our Arthur Baker, Randy Jackson, and Nile Rodgers sightings, y’all, and we’ve spoken to Tia about her career. We also started the way-too-brief Ratt Appreciation Movement (RAM), introduced something called a “meltie,” and listened to hundreds of the worst tunes known to man. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series as much as I have. Keep rockin’ the ’80s tunes!

Be sure to read all the way to the bottom, because we have an awesome giveaway if you just answer a few Bottom Feeders trivia questions correctly!

For the final time, enjoy some more songs that stalled below the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s.

Pia Zadora
“I’m in Love Again” — 1982, #45 (download)

I could definitely do without hearing Pia Zadora ever again, though it’s hard to argue that I wouldn’t like to see her. Known more as an actress than a singer, she started doing both the acting and singing gigs simultaneously around 1982, though she was good at neither. She had four country hits in ’79 and ’80 before “I’m in Love Again,” and her cover of “The Clapping Song” and “When the Rain Begins to Fall,” with Jermaine Jackson, gave her three in a row to hit the Hot 100. She even put out an album called When the Lights Go Out in 1988 with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis behind the boards.

Some times you have to give in to nostalgia, which is why I found myself at a St. Louis area casino a few weeks ago to see Foreigner. A note had been left with our complimentary tickets letting us know that we were in for a good night of music. We were assured that although Foreigner guitarist/founder Mick Jones is the only remaining original member, these guys still put on a kick ass show that is worthy of the Foreigner name. And indeed, having seen the new lineup a year prior, I was very aware that this lineup of Foreigner, with veteran singer Kelly Hansen replacing Lou Gramm on vocals, did in fact have the goods. The rest of the Foreigner lineup in addition to Hansen and Jones fills out with veteran players that include former Dokken member Jeff Pilson on bass and vocals, journeyman drummer Brian Tichy, longtime multi-instrumentalist Thom Gimbel (with the band since 1995), and Michael Bluestein on keyboards.

Out of all of the bands touring with “replacement singers,” the revitalized Foreigner deliver an experience that is as close as you’ll come to seeing the original band “back in the day.” When I interviewed Night Ranger’s Jack Blades a few years ago, he spoke of playing a show with Journey after they added vocalist Steve Augeri, himself filling the big shoes of iconic vocalist Steve Perry. Blades watched the crowd sing the “nah nahs” in “Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’,” and said that in that moment, “they didn’t give a shit who was on stage singing.” The statement from Blades is something that sticks with me and resonates when I see a band like Foreigner trying to carry on minus their most visible and well known member. The fact that they’re able to pull it off and present an experience that feels completely authentic is impressive. New music? They’ve cleared that hurdle as well with the release of last year’s Can’t Slow Down, a new Foreigner album that sounds like it could have been released in 1985.

This long-distance dedication goes out to Jon Grayson, host of Overnight America, friend of Tha ‘Dose, and all-around cool guy and decent human being. Last time I represented this fine publication on Jon’s show, we engaged in a bit of banter about the power ballad arts, and he singled out one particular song as being the nadir of both the band that created the song, and of the genre in general.

His exact words, more or less, were, “I still point to a lot of those power ballads as ‘Songs that Any Given Band Should Never Have Recorded,’ and my favorite example of that is ZZ Top’s ‘Rough Boy.'” To bolster his point, Jon revealed that he comes from the “Jesus Just Left Chicago” school of ZZ Top fandom, hinting that something as ballady as “Rough Boy” is anathema to such a fan.

I concede that listeners who fly the flag for the band’s early blues/boogie/livestock-on-the-stage work may have a problem with the synthy slow burn of “Rough Boy.” Their vision of ZZ Top was a vision of blues-bustin’ rodeo escapees, chugging around the dusty back roads of Texas’ roadhouse circuit, soaked in mezcal, tuned in to border radio, and exhaling barbeque smoke. Their band is the one that started their recording career with a song called “Somebody Else Been Shakin’ Your Tree” (still my favorite Top track) and loaded albums like Deguello, El Loco, and Tres Hombres with odes to cheap sunglasses, tube snakes, tushes, and ejaculating on prostitutes.

zztopbw7[1]Every day for two weeks, I had heard the song rise from what must have been a pair of seriously powered speakers, floating out over the hills of Hollywood like some sweetly-scented audio pollen. The music had to be screaming from those distant monitors because Billy’s guitar scuttled the birds in the trees and the vocals came down from the heavens like the very voice of God himself — if the Lord had spoken in a southern dialect and had a preoccupation with modified racecars. Precisely at 11 A.M., ZZ Top’s “Manic Mechanic” was spit out into the ether, signaling to the inhabitants of Laurel Canyon that it was time to start the day — and what better way to greet it than with those tres little hombres from Texas? Today, in another hour, I’d be doing just that, driving to Beverly Hills to meet up with Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard. And as the world’s greatest alarm clock woke up every other late sleeper in the gently sloping foothills, the song’s third verse took on even more serendipitous significance:

Showdown
You bet
And I haven’t saddled my pony yet

Well, I wasn’t heading for a showdown, exactly, more like a stimulating and witty exchange of musical theories; and, no, no pony to speak of, but there was some horsepower under the hood of my RX7 and the truth was, I hadn’t yet saddled up. I mainlined a cup of coffee, gathered up my cassette player and the band’s Deguello album, jumped in the car and as Horatio Alger urged, headed west.