MP3 Monday: July 10, 2006

I feel a bit guilty about all the musical love I dumped on Dallas a few weeks back. (Not that it did the Mavericks a damned bit of good in the NBA Finals.) There are, of course, other fine major metropolitan areas in the state of Texas, and they shouldn’t be ignored. As always, songs will stay on the server for one week’s time.
HOUSTON: “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” by ZZ Top. Recorded live at the Rockpalast in Essen, Germany, April 19, 1980. Originally on Tres Hombres (1973).
If you’re my age, you probably remember ZZ Top most for their 1980s MTV success, which was driven by videos showing dorky guys snagging hot girls with the band’s aid. (Said aid usually involved access to the band’s car, which looked like an early production model of the PT Cruiser.)
Now, I dig their razor-synth sound in that era — but to this Southern boy, it’s the pre-beard ZZ Top that rings most true. In the 1970s, ZZ Top delivered a Texas gut-bucket boogie that had humor, propulsion, and just a smidge of menace. (They also invented Metallica’s guitar tone a solid decade before James Hetfield.) I spent a fair amount of my childhood summers in Houston, and ZZ Top seemed like the coolest thing about that deeply uncool city.
This is from a German TV performance, of which videos apparently still exist. If you want an early ZZ Top album, Tres Hombres is definitely the one to grab.
SAN ANTONIO: “Football” by Mickey & the Soul Generation. From the album Iron Leg: The Complete Mickey and the Soul Generation (2002).
Texas was a surprising funk hotbed in the early 1970s, as a number of recent reissues have shown. But perhaps the most legendary act was Mickey & the Soul Generation — a San Antonio band whose brief career of shrinkwrap-tight soul would have been completely forgotten were it not for DJ Shadow.
In his endless cratedigging, Shadow came across an old 45 of theirs (“Football” was one of the B-sides) and became obsessed. He tracked down the former members, remastered their never-released tracks, and put out this great album. Some tracks (like “Football”) sound like a garage James Brown, but others mix in a little Latin flavor.
AUSTIN: “Loss Leaders” by Spoon. From the EP Soft Effects (1997).
Spoon is, of course, not just the greatest of contemporary Texas bands; they’re in a pantheon that stretches far beyond El Paso and Beaumont. Their later triumphs have been well chronicled. But this (almost-decade-old!) EP track shows they had their aesthetic together early: the sawing guitar riff, Britt Daniel’s penchant for backup self-harmonies, and the punchy Jim Eno drums.
Soft Effects was out of print for a while, but Merge Records is set to reissue it (with Spoon’s hit-and-miss first album Telephono) on July 25.