Cars, Long-Legged Babes, and Oh Yes, Beards!
Fifty years ago, ZZ Top created an aesthetic universe all their own, and guess what? It still holds up.
ZZ Top are auteurs. The Texas rock trio recently celebrated their 50 th anniversary, and in the early days of MTV, the band’s catchy singles spawned a run of music videos that may just be pop art masterpieces. Through their videos, ZZ Top established a distinctive aesthetic built on a combination of visual comedy and horniness—the perfect complement to the raunchy, swaggering playfulness of their songs. Many years after their videos debuted, they offer not just giggles but a fabulous source of outré style inspiration from the oft-maligned era.
ZZ Top’s videos are defined by an element of magical realism. The band, with iconic facial hair, sunglasses, and hats, fades in and out of sketchily defined narratives like a jaunty apparition. All ZZ Top videos exist in the same cinematic universe, with the band mugging and playing tasty riffs as they suddenly appear, shepherding characters with a toss of the ZZ Top-branded keys to a fancy red car (known as “Eliminator”). The band always seems to be winking behind their sunglasses, aware of the silly spectacle. The most important element of the ZZ Top Cinematic Universe, even more so than big beards or guitars, is the consistent presence of groups of video vixens.
This Cinematic Universe is built on straight male fantasy, like so many music videos of the time, but the women of ZZ Top videos—while they always travel in packs and represent an ideal of Reagan-era pulchritude—are far more vivacious and good-humored than, say, the pouting, perpetually bored-looking girl gang of contemporary Robert Palmer videos. Having begun their musical career well before the MTV era, and not looking like the pretty boys of the new wave, ZZ Top branded their videos as breezy vehicles for pop storytelling, with the band meme-like in how they randomly show up with deadpan gestures, ceding power to a trio of sassy models out for a good time.
Eliminator—“Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Legs”—spawned the most memorable videos, the ones which are the pure essence of le cinéma du Top. In “Gimme All Your Lovin’” the ladies get out of Eliminator at a gas station and instantly start posing, stocking-clad legs and Flashdance-esque off-the-shoulder shirts (one in bright Eliminator red) on full display. As is their wont, they tempt a guy, and then kick him out of the car—they’re the ones behind the wheel and they can do whatever they want. In their tendency to suddenly appear and their status as a trio, the ZZ Top babes are the feminine mirror image of the band itself. Crucially, they too have a sense of humor—while the songs may be lusty, and there may be voyeuristic shots, the women always strut into the videos like they own the place, bringing the party wherever they go.
“Sharp Dressed Man” features some choice casual looks. The ladies roll up to a fancy venue dressed in tank tops and tight high-waisted denim (which—yes—looks totally on-trend today). They’re underdressed, but do they care? Absolutely not. They shimmy their shoulders and lead a man by the necktie. Quick close-up shots at the end show their impeccable hair and makeup. Even in jeans, they descend upon the scene with a confident sashay that makes them seem like the sharpest-dressed people around. “Legs” is the apex of ZZ Top babe fashion. In a delightful show of positive female relationships, the video vixen cabal helps a slightly less glamorous girl working in a shoe store get a makeover. One vixen wears a white sweater, miniskirt, slouchy boots, and gloves. Another wears a black ruffled dress and a leather biker vest. The last wears a red shirt (reminiscent of that in the “Gimme All Your Lovin’” video), a black miniskirt accessorized with red belts, and black mesh gloves and stockings. This ZZ Top girl (played by Playboy’s Miss March 1981 Kymberly Herrin—she and the other ladies of “Legs” spoke positively about the video in interviews) stamps her glossy red pump directly on a brutish man’s hand. ZZ Top appear amused by how the women come to dominate the scene, and when the lady trio take their new friend shopping, trying on all manner of '80s club wear, it’s both objectifying and oddly heartwarming. Dressing up is a fun escape, and the more demure woman’s pivot to a purple pastel outfit and frilly socks with pumps (a cute sweet-but-sexy look that’s due for a comeback) imbues her with the confidence to tease men and run with the ZZ Top girl gang. The allure of an exposed shoulder, formfitting miniskirt, or on-point '80s accessory is just as powerful as an aggressively catchy riff, and both the band and the babes know it.