Does this count as Trillwave? Via Matt Sonzala’s Austin Surreal, via wherever the hell he spotted it: A wacky beer ad featuring ZZ Top inside one of those walk-in beer fridges, blasting out a rawk-and-blooz cover of Screwed Up Click classic “25 Lighters” by DJ DMD feat. Lil Keke and Fat Pat. As Sonzala also discovered, thanks to a Hollywood Reporter transcript of a press conference for Peter Berg’s upcoming movie Battleship, “25 Lighters” will appear on the soundtrack to the board game turned blockbuster, plus ultimate rap-rock fusionist Rick Rubin has something or other to do with it. Here’s Peter Berg talking about the origin of ZZ Top’s “25 Lighters”:
“I approached Rick Rubin…[and] I asked him if he wanted to help and be a part of the music and help create a tone for the film, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, sure, what are you interested in?’ So I played him a couple of AC/DC songs that I liked, and he said, ‘You know I produced both of those?’ Great! And then I played an old ZZ Top song that I really liked and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good, but listen to this,’ and he played me this crazy song called ’25 Lighters.’ It’s this old gangsta hip-hop song about drug dealing, but it sounded like a rock song. I was like, ‘This is insane, who made this?’ and he said, ‘ZZ Top; it’s new.'”
So, Peter Berg wanted to score his big dumb post-Michael Bay action movie with the same stuff that every big dumb action movie’s scored with, and for some reason needed help, so he asked Rick Rubin. Then, Rubin’s like, “Try this dawg,” and gives Berg exactly what he wants in the form of a crunchy new ZZ Top song. The side effect is cleverly sneaking Houston underground rap into a major Hollywood event. How perfectly Rubin-esque! ZZ Top and Rubin have been working on an album since 2009 and given Rubin’s shtick of suggesting over-the-hill artists do out-of-the-box covers, this probably started at the urging of the rap-rock fusionist.
Remembering Dusty Hill
The cover does make a weird kind of sense: ZZ Top are a Texas institution, as is the S.U.C. And “25 Lighters” sounds like something ZZ Top might take to. With its lived-in, weary, very catchy hook, in which all the pain and suffering of the narrator is projected onto a single object (lighters hollowed out and used as covert crack vials), it isn’t all that different from a blues classic that sounds innocuous enough, but reveals itself to be regional classic with caves of meaning, once you understand the slang and the subculture from which it sprung. In addition, ZZ Top always seemed like one of those super-white, black rock-influenced groups that should’ve been responsible for some Ultimate Breaks & Beats shit, like Aerosmith or John Cougar Mellencamp. However, the only notable example of the Top penetrating rap is EPMD’s “You’re A Customer,” where the drums from “Cheap Sunglasses” are wedged between the doot-doot-Doot-DOOTS of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and the funk shouts of Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.”
How these guys, between 1981’s El Loco and 1983’s Eliminator, transitioned from a solid blues-rock band to a bizarro new-wave southern-rock group, and still kept all the dads nodding their heads, never made much sense to me. ZZ Top “sold out” (adding synths and electronic drums, growing long-ass gimmicky beards), and then made the kind of music that the rest of the world’s ears have yet to catch up to. I’m not calling for a Museum of Modern Art week of ZZ Top performances, but I’d pay a lot of money to attend one.
For real, what an exciting group to be doing hip-hop covers! Can we get a whole album of these? Call it ZZ Does S.U.C.. In addition to their Zappa-esque tendency to be both goofy and really good at what they do, they’re early electronic-pop pioneers, with hooks and beats that hit as hard as Mantronix. And as campy objectifiers of women mining a lower-class white-trash aesthetic (“TV Dinners,” “Velcro Fly”) before that was really a thing, and not being afraid of dick jokes (“Tube Snake Boogie,” “Pearl Necklace,” “Woke Up with Wood”), they’ve got some commonality with hip-hop’s ignorant side. If someone is going to transport Houston rap into a Hollywood blockbuster soundtrack, I’m glad it’s these weirdos.