ZZ Top were never considered sex symbols or fashion icons, but they were convincing in this song about how rich, well-dressed men are irresistible to women. This being the '80s, a silk suit was considered fashionable, although ZZ Top were much more comfortable in denim.
In a 1985 interview with Spin magazine, bass player Dusty Hill explained: "Sharp-dressed depends on who you are. If you're on a motorcycle, really sharp leather is great. If you're a punk rocker, you can get sharp that way. You can be sharp or not sharp in any mode. It's all in your head. If you feel sharp, you be sharp."
According to Billy Gibbons
, he got the idea for this song when he saw a movie and a character was listed in the credits as "Sharp-Eyed Man" (possibly the 1981 film The Amateur
The music video was the first that was a sequel. It picked up the story from the "Gimme All Your Lovin'
" video of the down-on-his-luck gas station worker who is swept away by three beautiful women. In "Sharp Dressed Man," he's a valet, and he encounters the same three girls and is once again given the keys to the Eliminator, Billy Gibbons' 1933 Ford Hot Rod.
This was one of the first ZZ Top songs to use synthesizers. Mixed with Billy Gibbons' distinctive guitar, it gave them a new sound without alienating their old fans. It also helped that ZZ Top used their synths for bass, keeping the sound more heavy and less Human League. Gibbons called it "a successful marriage of a techno beat with bar band blues."
After the second chorus, Billy Gibbons solos on guitar for over a minute before the third verse appears. He filled this section with lots of twists and turns to keep it interesting, and layered two guitars to create a compound track. For one of those guitar lines, he played a Fender Esquire with a slide; the other he played on his 1959 Les Paul ("Pearly Gates") in standard tuning.
The final chorus ends three minutes into the song, followed by another minute or so of instrumental outro.
These instrumental sections were truncated on the single, which was cut down to 3:01 from the 4:13 album version. The video used the full song.
This song attracted a slew of new fans to ZZ Top when the video ran constantly on MTV. Their long beards made them instantly recognizable and the babes certainly helped, but the car was the real star.
Previous ZZ Top albums had a Tex-Mex vibe, but when it came time to sort out visuals for the album, the hot rod was finally ready - Gibbons had been working on it for years. It was good timing, giving them an MTV-friendly focal point just when they needed it. They had never made videos before and had no acting experience, but their videos provided everything MTV's target audience craved: girls, rock and roll, and a really sweet ride.
ZZ Top performed this at the 1997 VH1 Fashion Awards while male models walked the runway. In order to keep up their strictly heterosexual image, a bunch of beautiful women danced around the band during the performance.
The video vixens were Jeana Tomasino, Kymberly Herrin, and Danièle Arnaud. Tomasino would later become Jeana Keogh and star in The Real Housewives of Orange County.
Eliminator was one of few albums that have sold over 10 million copies in America, earning Diamond certification.
TV series to use this song include:
Twin Peaks ("Part 15" - 2017)
Duck Dynasty ("Redneck Logic" - 2012)
King of the Hill ("Hank Gets Dusted" - 2007)
Ugly Betty ("After Hours" - 2006)
Cold Case ("Greed" - 2004)
Full House ("Bachelor of the Month" - 1991)
Miami Vice ("Whatever Works" - 1985)
It also shows up in the 2007 movie Evan Almighty.