“La Grange” by ZZ Top
ZZ Top’s “La Grange” is quite terse lyrically. And what it centers on is not the city of La Grange, Texas, of which it is named after. Rather there was once a well-known brothel located there, commonly referred to as “the Chicken Ranch”.
And even though the vocalist never flat out identifies the venue he’s referring to housing such a profession, the innuendos are all there. For instance, he identifies it as a “shack” which houses a “lotta nice girls”, “have mercy”. Also he makes the listeners aware that you need a “10 to get yourself in”, which we would say most adults would logically and rightfully assume is a reference to money.
Also, “most every night” the place is reputedly “tight”, i.e. jam-packed. And as adults we also know, based on the reference to the ladies above, that said visitors would most likely be a bunch of aroused dudes.
The Iconic Chicken Ranch
And you may be saying to yourself that it is a bit unconventional for a well-known band to drop a song about a whorehouse. But the Chicken Ranch was an accepted pillar of the community. In fact by the looks of things, even ZZ Top’s own Dusty Hill lost his virginity there, as did many other boys in the area.
Moreover, if you’ve ever seen Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds’ The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), this is the establishment upon which the musical is based.
But unfortunately for the Chicken Ranch, ZZ Top showing it this type of love ultimately backfired as shortly thereafter a reporter forced the government to close the establishment down.
However, based on the thesis sentiment expressed in La Grange, it was thoroughly enjoyed when it was actually open.
When was “La Grange” relased?
This track is from ZZ Top’s third album, Tres Hombres. London Records made it public on 26 July 1973.
The trio of musicians which the membership ZZ Top has traditionally been composed of – Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard and the late Dusty Hill – played on this track. In fact all three have been down with the crew since 1969, with Hill’s retirement eventually coming by force in 2021 due to him passing away that very year at the age of 72. And in his place the band has hired another bassist, Elwood Francis.
ZZ Top is a band you’re likely familiar with, even if not via their music than their trademark long beards. But in terms of music they have been one of the most-successful acts ever. For example, they have sold in excess of 50,000,000 albums as of the writing of this post.
They’ve also had quite a few hit singles, with “La Grange”, which charted in a handful of nations, being amongst them. This also recharted in 2020, reaching number 12 on Billboard’s Hot Rock & Alternative Songs listing, which is the highest it has ever peaked stateside.
“La Grange” also holds the distinction of having been deemed one of the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” by Rolling Stone in 2008. Q magazine granted it a similar accolade in 2005.
The aforementioned trio of musicians which made up ZZ Top at the time are credited with writing this song. And its producer was the late Bill Ham (1937-2016). Bill has been acknowledged for giving the trio their unique image.
The instrumental to La Grange relies heavily on a song dating back to the late 1940s entitled “Boogie Chillen”, by one John Lee Hooker (1917-2001). In fact it does so to the point that the owner of the copyright to that tune sued the band in 1992.
However, the judge ruled in favor of ZZ Top. According to the ruling, “Boogie Chillen” is part of the public domain, and therefore ZZ Top were allowed to use it for free.