Songs of 74: La Grange / ZZ Top

This year Radioinfo will take you back 50 years to the songs that were released and charted in 1974. It was a mighty fine year for music.

Alongside the John Denvers, Carpenters, Barbra Streisands, Dolly Partons and Charles Aznavours, 1974 saw the release of three of the greatest out and out driving songs, ever. I can make that statement with a fair amount of conviction. Autobahn by Kraftwerk is literally about the sensation of cruising the German motorway. The one I have yet to feature was voted No 1, twice, in radio countdowns I’ve been involved in of driving songs. This one, La Grange by ZZ Top, is my personal vote. Every time in plays in my car, and my goodness it’s been played a lot, my foot must push that accelerator a little further south.

This is the first 74 song that I’ve been unable to find a cover for, as I’ve found ZZ Top difficult to obtain on vinyl. Instead, I present the double CD that stayed in my various vehicles across my 20s when I was living and working in Gunnedah and did many 10 hour round trips between 2MO & Triple G and Sydney. A couple of mates ended up purchasing this CD too off the back of one of the greatest collections of driving songs ever. ZZ Top is track 5 on CD 1, between the Allman Brothers’ Ramblin’ Man (also turning 50 this year) and The Angels’ cover of The Animals’ We Got to Get Out of this Place. Whichever Australian music / label person created this compilation, I tip my hat, and push my foot to the metal, to you.

I want to be honest that I didn’t know this was about a ‘certain type of establishment’ until I researched this piece, and I certainly didn’t know the lyrics, making up what I thought Billy Gibbons was saying pretty much right up until ‘but now I might be mistaken’. Not once did I even come close to the real first line of:

“Rumor spreading round in that Texas town”

It will be best for my dignity if I don’t confess what I thought he was singing.

That shack outside La Grange was a real place made famous by this song, and then famous-er when it was the inspiration for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which starred Dolly Parton as the head of the establishment, with bassist Dusty Hill saying once that the real head of that establishment, Miss Edna, didn’t look a bit like Dolly.

The song, and its attention, led to that shack getting closed down. It also was part of a copyright infringement lawsuit from the estate of John Lee Hooker who thought the La Grange’s iconic guitar riff, often included in greatest guitar songs of all time, was a rip off of his 1948 song Boogie Chillun. The estate lost the lawsuit on account of Hooker’s music being old enough to be considered in the public domain.

Have a listen to John Lee Hooker below and decide for yourself:

Lastly, and this is a favourite trivia question. ZZ Top were famous for the wonderful long beards Billy Gibbons and the late great Dusty Hill possessed. The third member of ZZ Top, their magnificent drummer, decided not to go down that path. His name?

Frank Beard.

Jen Seyderhelm is a writer, editor and podcaster for Radioinfo.

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