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Rock

ZZ Top

The Very Baddest of ZZ Top

[Warner Brothers, two discs]

3.5 stars

OK, we can practically hear you from here: “by now, we ought to make it a contest – which record label has most mercilessly recycled the same hits over and over and over again? Even if no one is ever going to exceed what RCA has done to squeeze every drop of the lemon out of Elvis Presley’s recorded legacy, should Warner Brothers’ constant versions of the ZZ Top catalog be right up there?”

Which, by all rights, should consign this newest two-disc collection of ZZ Top to the realm of the splendid but unnecessary.

Not so fast, Private Wojiewski in the words of the old joke. Something is happening on this double-disc anthology that has never happened before, no matter how familiar greatest hits compilations have become for ZZ Top.

What this does on its selection of 40 ZZ Top favorites is compile the best from all of the band’s three labels – London, RCA Victor and Warner Brothers.

The ancient purist argument about ZZ Top – that it was best as a blues-riffing boogie machine before “Eliminator” made it one of the monster bands of the MTV era – will always be a bit of a crock. But no other double disc greatest hits set is able to give that proposition as much of a thorough test as this one, where the endlessly collected “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and “Tush” sit in the same double disc set with “Just Got Back from Baby’s” (from 1970), “Blue Jean Blues” (1975), the single version of “Viva Las Vegas” (1992), “Jesus Left Chicago” (1973) and “Just Got Paid” (1971).

What’s here, then, is the evolution of a boogie-down bar blues band to a pop-music behemoth and then arena rock holding action.

When it’s all over but the shouting, the greatest of ZZ Top’s greatest hits still sound like some of the best stuff rock ’n’ roll has ever done with three-chord grandiloquence.

– Jeff Simon