ZZ Top – Cheap Sunglasses

The main reason I like ZZ Top is the tone that Billy Gibbons gets on his guitar…especially in the 1970s. The song is on Degüello released in 1979 and the album peaked at #24 in the Billboard Album charts. The song peaked at #89 in the Billboard 100 in 1980.

The inspiration for this song came when ZZ Top would tour in cars. When they stopped at gas stations they would see cardboard displays of cheap sunglasses. They ended up buying a lot and throwing them into the crowd.

The band wrote the song on a trip to Austin, Texas as they were passing La Grange. He came up with lyrics to all three verses in the span of 20 miles.

Billy Gibbons: “The hip trip for us was to throw them into the audience as an offering. We ran out and we couldn’t get any more. So we now have to make to do with Sanford Hutton’s creations out of New York. The Ray Ban Wayfarer was the original cheap sunglasses. You could buy a pair for six bucks originally. I saw a catalog from 1959, and by then they were up to eight bucks. We had to take a bad rap from an optometrist who said ‘Don’t wear ZZ Top’s cheap sunglasses. They’re bad for your eyes.’ There was an optometrists’ convention in Hawaii and there was a huge poster – this woman with a pointing finger saying, ‘Don’t wear cheap sunglasses.’ I suppose I’ll have to agree. There is a cutoff point where optical considerations must be taken into account. At that point in time, they are not intended to be used for negotiating the entire afternoon.”


ZZ Top took some time off after their 1976 album Tejas. When they returned to action in 1979, punk rock had emerged, emboldening the band to cut loose, with less concern about what FM radio might play. That attitude led to songs like “Manic Mechanic” and “Cheap Sunglasses.”

The band also came back with a new look: Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill had their long, flowing beards for the first time with the album. Gibbons and Hill claim they didn’t consult each other before growing them.

Billy Gibbons played the main guitar line through a 200-watt Marshall Major amp with a blown tube, which gave him the “bulbous, rotund sound.” He told Guitar World: “There’s also a little bit of digital delay for that Bo Diddley impersonation at the tail out, and a Maestro ring modulator, which produces the strange tag to each verse. It appears three times, and it’s a pretty funny sound. That is one insane effect put to good use.”

Cheap Sunglasses

When you get up in the morning and the light is hurt your head
The first thing you do when you get up out of bed
Is hit that streets a-runnin’ and try to beat the masses
And go get yourself some cheap sunglasses
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah

Spied a little thing and I followed her all night
In a funky fine Levis and her sweater’s kind of tight
She had a west coast strut that was as sweet as molasses
But what really knocked me out was her cheap sunglasses
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah

Now go out and get yourself some big black frames
With the glass so dark they won’t even know your name
And the choice is up to you cause they come in two classes
Rhinestone shades or cheap sunglasses
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

10 thoughts on “ZZ Top – Cheap Sunglasses”

  1. Great stuff Max
    I’m currently reading I Want My MTV and its amazing to read all the backstory on the making of those clips from Eliminator.
    I know Cheap Sunglasses is from another album but the ZZ thing kinda ties in with what I’m reading.
    The best is when the producer says that back in 1983 the combined age of all 3 ZZ guys was 99 years old. lol He goes on to add that they had to figure out a concept.


  2. ZZ Top are just cool dudes. Like you I’m more drawn to their early work. I think “Tush” is one of the best blues rockers I know – super tight in and out! I also like this tune.

    That being said, I will say I was a bit disappointed when I saw ZZ Top in May 2018 during their Blues & Bayous tour with John Fogerty. While the music was great, they came across as pretty distant. It really felt a bit like they were on autopilot doing a routine. The pairing with John Fogerty, who showed he was having a ball on stage, made that even more obvious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In Tush…what makes that work is the bass by Dusty. If he would have been busy on bass…it wouldn’t have worked…he holds that bottom end of the song.

      I saw them on the Eliminator tour and it was a fun show but…yea that was many shows ago. With ticket prices now…no band should be on auto pilot. If you are not enjoying it…dont’ do it. That is why money should never be a motivator and they shouldn’t need it at this point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Couldn’t agree more with you. I guess when you are ZZ Top, you still remember when records were selling well. Now, of course, it’s mostly a joke and concerts are where the money is. Still, performing should never be degraded to become a routine.

        Perhaps, they simply had a bit of an off night. Plus, Fogerty was very outgoing, so the contrast became very visible.

        Liked by 1 person

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