Movie: Few musical groups last very long these days. Either the singer gets the idea that he'll be more successful on his (or her) own, the personalities of artistic expression conflict, or the fans stop coming to concerts. Whatever the case, it's unusual for a band to have the same members for any length of time. One band that has beaten the odds is a Texas band known as ZZ Top. The band is comprised of three men, Guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard, each contributing to the blues style of hybrid rock that became especially popular during the 1980's with the advent of MTV. Like some of their contemporaries of the MTV age (before it was taken over by goofy reality shows), including Pat Benatar, Kylie Minogue and Berlin, the band made the best of the visual nature of the music video, propelling it far beyond the audience it had built by it's excellent music alone. Most people watching music videos in the 1980's will remember the gorgeous gals the band employed to spice up their tunes, with the first three on the list below remaining on many people's all time favorite lists (including mine).
In 1992, the band released a collection of their music videos, now on DVD for the first time, ZZ Top: Greatest Hits: The Video Collection. To this day, their formulaic videos hold up due to the women, the music and the visual mini-stories that became all the rage twenty years ago. Many of their videos would have a group of three gorgeous guardian angels driving around in a classic red car, righting wrongs of all sorts as they wielded the unseen powers of hot women while the band played in the background, encouraging them. The band itself has that distinctive look too; both Billy and Dusty sporting long beards and Frank (who's last name is Beard) the manly mustache so many women seem to appreciate, dark sunglasses, and rugged clothes that true Texans like to wear.
That said, if you liked one video, you generally liked them all since the music they played sounded very much alike and the look of the videos, with a few exceptions that departed from the norm, had a sameness that a few critics didn't seem to understand. Personally, I think their earlier music was better crafted (some of their newest stuff is excellent too) but the Eliminator and Afterburner albums sold by the millions when released (and even today I'm told), in large part due to the videos this collection contained. If the videos hooked some fans in that later came to find out what great music the band made before MTV, so much the better.
Okay, as far as this collection of videos is concerned, it had some major limitations for me. First of all, with under an hour of videos, the whole show fell kind of short. Don't get me wrong, I like the videos, especially the first three, but there were no extras, no interviews or behind the scenes, no rare live performances (and they've had many), and nothing beyond the initial release of the collection that first hit the market over ten years ago. The technical limitation of the videos themselves was a bit of a letdown too and I suppose I expected a lot more from such a great band. Here's a list of the videos included, along with their directors, noting that all of them were made long before the DVD format was a consideration:
1. Gimme All Your Lovin'… Director: Tim Newman
2. Sharp Dressed Man … Director: Tim Newman
3. Legs … Director: Tim Newman
4. TV Dinners… Director: Marius Pinezner
5. Sleeping Bag… Director: Steve Barron
6. Stages… Director: Jerry Kramer
7. Rough Boy… Director: Steve Barron
8. Velcro Fly… Director: Daniel Kleinman
9. Give It Up… Director: Steve Barron
10. My Heads In Mississippi… Director: Tim Newman
11. Burger Man… Director: Adam Bernstein
12. Viva Las Vegas… Director: Tim Newman
As much as I liked the videos here, I think a rating of Rent It is the fairest thing I can give the DVD. After Legs came out, the band seemed to rely too heavily on the formula and directors after Tim Newman were never able to capture a solid slice of life that he could get out of the band. Even his later efforts proved unable to capture the visual magic of his earlier efforts. In retrospect, the band itself isn't really designed for a visual medium so the initial success they had with video proved something of a limiter to it in later years, especially for a band that doesn't need videos (due to great music).
Picture: The picture was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color that the videos were shot in. There were a lot of minor problems with the picture in this set of videos, including major amounts of grain, too much video noise and moiré effects. The earlier videos looked worse than I remember them with soft focus and some print scratches that became bothersome. The fleshtones looked pretty solid but this is not the DVD to showcase your high-end system with.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either a 2.0 or 5.1 Dolby Digital track or a 5.1 DTS track. The three tracks sounded very much alike, although the two 5.1 tracks sounded a bit better mastered, neither had the kind of separation newer releases are capable of (of course). It had some soft spots here too and I doubt Warner remastered the audio with any more care than they did the video portions of the release.
Extras: The release had absolutely no extras.
Final Thoughts: I really like the music of ZZ Top and the first three videos the band made were groundbreaking in terms of increasing the awareness of the band but this collection suffers from the same affliction many other older re-releases do; a company unwilling to cater to fans and provide an updated release, better extras or a cleaned up audio/video track. By all means check out the DVD but get ready to buy some of their CDs if you've been in a cave for the past thirty years.