The constant high hat beat… tap… tap… tap… tap and then the single guitar doing the same three chords in a heavy low note… followed by the almost scream of “Ali Baba and the forty thieves… Ali Baba and the forty thieves” is how I was introduced to the Beastie Boys. “Rhymin’ and Stealin” is the first track on Licensed to Ill… a high school friend introduced me to this magical sound in his basement bedroom. Pleasantly immature… slightly disrespectful to authority… two things that I was feeling in spades at the age of 15.
Rolling Stone reviewed Licensed to Ill with the title of “Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece.” Licensed to Ill would go on to be the best-selling rap album of the 1980s and the first rap album to be No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The Beastie Boys would go on to win 3 Grammys after being nominated for 10 between 1992 and 2010. They also won 3 MTV Video Music Awards, out of 8 nominations. The Beasties would sell 40 million albums worldwide and be the “biggest-selling rap group” since 1991. Pretty damn good for three idiots.
At my first hearing of the Beasties, I didn’t know they were a former (half-way decent) punk band that included Kate Schellenbach… she went on to be a member of Luscious Jackson. I was into heavy metal… so naturally this band and sound appealed to me. “Fight for Your Right to Party” was the song everyone associated with the Beasties… teenagers from the dawn of time have felt their parents were restricting their right to party… providing a link to this song’s video is both an insult to you and me. If you can’t immediately conjure that video in your head… you should probably quit reading this. FYRP is also the second worst song on the album… “Girls” is the worst song on the album… yet it is still a classic simple beat, repeatable chorus, tongue-in-cheek misogyny song… also I am unable to find (on YouTube) an official Beastie Boy music video for it. You can, however, find a number of art school projects on YouTube that use the song… it is almost as if this stupid, but catchy, song disappeared from the official world of film and resurfaced as art. To me, this song and these projects represent what the Beasties were really about… it really is about art… and that is truly in the eye of the beholder. FYRTP and “Girls” are the last two tracks on the album, respectively… once a listener got to them they were already caught… hook, line, and sinker.
“Four and three and two and one, when I’m on the mic suckas run” may not be high-class art… but being a line from “The New Style” is indicative of what the Beasties provided us. The Beasties provided something other than 3rd grade lyrics repeated over and over, with cliche-style heart string pulling… the Beasties were playing something original. Want to know how fucking bad and unoriginal music was in 1986… “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, and Gladys Knight was the No. 1 song of the year! “Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie was No. 2… kill me then, kill me now. Having just seen this list and writing about it now is causing a giant-ass vein to pop up on my forehead and I have the urge to go drive a nail into my eye… seeing the 1986 No. 7 just sent me into cardiac arrest… fucking “Party All the Time” by Eddie Murphy…. aaaarrrrrgggghhhhhh! The “Party all the Time” video’s intro has to be one of the worst use of footage ever put on film… in 1986 the technology was pretty shitty… obviously… because this intro shows a bunch of space shuttle-like sound engineering equipment (giant wires color-coded for the minimally trained) and then footage of Eddie Murphy walking down some steps with a curly-mulleted fat white dude (who would have been the butt… no the asscrack… of every single one of Eddie’s jokes)… we music listeners of 1986 were the idiots… not the Beasties. Before you read further go back and watch all three of these videos… horrible lip synching, stupid footage from stupid 80s movies… and Rick James giving Eddie Murphy the only music cred he would ever had… if nothing else Rick James knew how to party and it only took a hot crack pipe. Fuck you 1986 music hits!
Yes “Brass Monkey,” “Paul Revere,” “She’s Crafty,” and “No Sleep till Brooklyn” are somewhat immature lyric-wise… “… tourin’ around the nation, Beastie Boys always on vacation …” is not poetry… but it was obvious the Beasties weren’t taking themselves too serious (something that would change as they got better). But if there was ever an album, or a group, that should be judged by its complete collection (holistically)… it is the Beasties. What the Beasties were showing in 1986 was what the future of music could (and would) be… the Beasties drew on the old source of punk (angry rock-n-roll) and mixed it with the growing musical and cultural identity of urban sound. Eminem needs to kiss the Beasties’ asses every time he sees them. In 1986, the Beasties made the music, lived the life, and represented everything I wanted. Self-deprecating to a fault, the Beasties in 1986 were not only making fun of themselves, but they were making fun of everyone else… and in the process we loved every minute of it. Selling idiot through rap was a lot easier than selling art through rap… we weren’t ready for the Beasties then.
“Sabotage” from their 1994 album Ill Communication is when the Beasties turned from a joke to a movement. Prior to the release of Ill Communication, the Beasties had released Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head… both are great albums. “Hey Ladies” is what most remember from Paul’s Boutique, and “What’cha Want” is the identifier of Check Your Head. “Hey Ladies” was received as old school Beasties… but “What’cha Want” was something completely new. WW wasn’t a joke, WW wasn’t stupid costumes and lyrics about beer and girls… WW was art. Paul’s Boutique was the moment Beasties learned how to sample and layer music… Check Your Head allowed the Beasties to turn to other genres like funk and jazz… Check Your Head was also used by the Beasties to return to their punk roots and use driving guitar sounds. Neither album was a real commercial success… only those who heard (and saw through videos) the Beasties’ potential were listening. “Sabotage” and Ill Communication changed all this… it debuted at No. 1 in 1994. The Beasties headlined Lollapalooza that year. The Beasties were back to those that had forgotten about them… most had thought they had outgrown the Beasties… now listeners were back… or their younger brothers and sisters were now listening.
From there the Beasties released Hello Nasty in 1998 which was more techno than anything… “Intergalactic” was THE song on Hello Nasty. In 2004, To the 5 Boroughs was released… “Ch-Check It Out” is what we remember. Being typical artists… in 2007 the Beasties did something new… they released a purely instrumental album The Mix-Up. It won a Grammy for “Best Pop Instrumental Album”… if you aren’t a hardcore Beastie fan… you probably had no idea this album even existed. “Electric Worm” and “B for My Name” are two of the beats and grooves. Finally, in 2011, the Beasties released Hot Sauce Committee Part 2. “Make Some Noise” was the first single off the album… the Beasties were back in full form… the video shows the Beasties leaving a party were “Fight for Your Right to Party” is playing loudly… as the Beasties exit the party… stumbling down the stairs and out into a NYC street the viewer realizes the video doesn’t show Adrock, MCA, and Mike D… instead it has Seth Rogen as Mike D, Danny McBride as Adrock, and Elijah wood as Mike D… the clever video almost distracts from a pounding and revetting beat and funky groove. Cameos abound… everyone is on the joke… more cowbell. “Make Some Noise” is a mature funkadelic groove and the video shows that no matter how artistic or talented the Beasties may be… they still understand how they moved from 1986 to 2011. They not only tell the joke… they are the joke… but they aren’t joking. They are men who have performed for the past 26 years.
It is easy for me to explain that the Beasties have spoken to me through the past 26 years. Almost too easy, all of us look back and fondly remember things… music, movies, fashions, friends, and family. Smell supposedly is the sense that triggers memories the most… with me it is music. I have always been a Beasties fan… obviously. My desire to listen to them has ebbed and flowed though… there has been significant passages of time before I cue up a Beastie song on my iPod/iPhone. I have no favorite Beastie song… but “Sabotage” would be my answer if I was forced to give one… it’s my phone’s ringtone for callers who haven’t ranked high enough for an individual one. I often say that me and heavy metal grew up together… that’s a lie. Heavy metal suffered a premature death about the time I was bouncing between college and the military… Nirvana and Kurt Cobain killed heavy metal the same way Kurt would kill himself… shotgun blast to the head. The Beasties are one of the few bands that still get played… old and new mixed together… overlapping and flowing from bad to good and back to good… I’m sort of fond of them. I am not fool enough to think that this enamored feeling for 3 Jewish guys from Brooklyn are that identifiable to me… but I am wise enough to realize that art and life move along and must be appreciated because they both fade so quickly. Adam “MCA” Yauch died last Friday after battling cancer… he was 48… this saddens me in a very selfish way… the Beasties have lost a third of their sound… I don’t know if the Beasties will ever record anything again. 48, seven years older than I am now, is way too young to die.
As I was typing this post I had my iPod playing my Beasties’ playlist… it stopped a few minutes ago… my phone rang… didn’t think the caller wanted to hear the Beasties cranked up in the background. When I returned to this blog I saw that I was getting serious and discussing some bullshit about life and art fading… what the fuck do I know? … well, maybe this… we are all individuals that have things that stir our soul. We have all had moments when we have looked out on our lives… the past, the present, and the hopeful future… these moments cause us to stop and ponder. You might think it is odd that the Beasties make me stop and ponder… but they do. The Beasties have made a lot of music, some of it was okay, some was good, some sucked… some was downright shitty… a good bit was amazingly great. Yep sounds like my life…