Sharp Dressed Man by ZZ Top
By Ron Powers
In 1983 Texas blues rockers ZZ Top released a big hit called “Sharp Dressed Man”. With its strutting beat, stylish guitars, and charming vocals the song ran up the charts around the world and filled millions with the cool and confident feeling it exudes. But the power of this song has reached far beyond the 1980s: “Sharp Dressed Man” has garnered hundreds of millions of spins in the streaming era. The song even reentered the Billboard charts in 2020 after the release of the Grammy nominated documentary ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band from Texas.
The bearded boys get things started hitting on all cylinders. A full arrangement of drums, guitar, bass guitar, and synth blast through the speakers right from the start. We hear an energizing guitar riff rooted in the blues and rock-n-roll. We hear a tight disco-like drum beat with that iconic dead-room sound from the 1970s. We hear a single note bass line adding depth and power. And to top it all off, we hear that growling synth sound sprinkling magic all over the mix.
As the band transitions out of the intro music, drummer Frank Beard leads the way into the verse with a snappy snare fill. This is followed by the raspy and cool sound of Billy Gibbons’ voice delivering a topline melody that mixes with the music to create the rock-n-roll magic that “Sharp Dressed Man” is famous for. Gibbons sings about getting dressed in nice clothes with the intention to impress women. The shallow and fun nature of the lyrics are a big reason why this song works so well. The combination of tough and cool music with the lighthearted lyrics create an experience that simultaneously lifts and stabilizes the spirit.
Next, the progression of the song comes full circle with a short and satisfying chorus. We hear Gibbons sing the lines, “They come runnin' just as fast as they can / 'Cause every girl crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man”. Really this part is more of a tie off to the verse than a full-blown chorus section. The progression that ZZ Top uses is as old as the hills. It’s a classic structural foundation laid down by thousands of past blues and country artists. However, ZZ Top adds their own personal touch. They give new richness and vitality to a tradition of music that reaches back centuries.
ZZ Top has been through a lot in the last few years with the death of longtime bass player Dusty Hill. However, after 51 years with Hill, the remaining members are carrying the band’s legacy forward, adding bassist Elwood Francis to the lineup. Currently ZZ Top has 84 concerts booked for 2024 and many of those shows will be co-headlined by Lynyrd Skynyrd. If you’d like tickets, you can find them at zztop.com. If you’d like to listen to “Sharp Dressed Man” or any of ZZ Top's other great work, you can find it on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and most other places music is streamed or sold. If you’d like to learn more about ZZ Top, you can find them on Instagram, Facebook, X, and Wikipedia.