Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

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Ranking Ted
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Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby Ranking Ted » 24 Jan 2015, 17:55

In volunteering to scribe a thread on the Beastie Boys, an undertaking of sorts, my thoughts were mainly along the lines that a collected list of 260 artists endorsed to a degree by BCB not including them seemed quite wrong. Then, without wishing to be seen as being unkind, I noted that some of the other acts nominated as worthy of such an accolade appeared to me of such "niche" interest that BCB could be in danger of looking even crankier than it already does. Looking at it, the "Beyond" list is a mix of acts that really ought to have been picked already alongside the deeply personal/ headscratchers. I'd say the Beasties are in the former, I guess a good few of you'll only accept them on the latter, so I'll explain my journey with them in that context. That rambling intro done with, why did I insist this trio of middle-class arrivistes deserve inclusion in our BCB hall of infamy.

In winter 1986/87 I was in 5th year at high school and struggling with a confused musical diet of stadium AOR (Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, etc) and the mysterious and scarily grown-up feeling world of NME/MM approved bands (The Smiths, the poppier bits of The Fall & JAMC, the safer haven of Lloyd Cole and Prefab Sprout). In retrospect, it was a fairly monochrome world, brash commercialism and bookish guitar classicism. I was leaning to the latter, getting the strong impression that it wasn't too far to leap to get dragged into the cozy jumper world of Chris Rea and Phil Collins. And I didn't want to go there.

I bought Licenced To Ill in early 87 on the strength of their calling card, the bratty and funny Fight For Your Right. It immediately felt more exciting and alive than a large swath of my record collection. I bought it at the same time as The Joshua Tree, so I still dug a bit of big music but I think that, more than any other record at that time, it redefined what I should be listening to. Me and a couple of mates spent a good part of that summer before I went to Uni listening to LTI in one of my pals' Dad's garage while drinking a lethal cocktail of vodka and Lamot lager we called "Ya Bass". The beer we couldn't drink we sprayed on each other, Beastie style. The music was crude, thumping, funny and relentless. Only random bits of JAMC, The Doors and Back In Black were allowed into that small selection of approved records. LTI was played significantly more often. Now it sounds patchy, some of the tracks are weak and not a little stupid. But it still rocks in the right way:

Having gotten a little more worldly by 1989, the taste of cheap Bud substitute lager had given way to the real thing. I was by now on full receive-mode from planet NME/MM: Pixies, De La Soul, Happy Mondays, Public Enemy, Stone Roses. Still a glorious time in pop music I reckon. And in the middle of that, literally, was Paul's Boutique. I bought it the day it came out, getting the bus to Paisley's Stereo One record shop where I purchased it alongside the Monday's Bummed. The big difference was that I was now on my own. At that time, despite initial cover stories in NME and MM, the Beasties stock was at an all time low. They were that crap Morris Minor and the Majors novelty crew, yeah?

And yet, Paul's Boutique was a revelation. Clever, funky, dense, innovative and painstakingly stitched together, it was a quantum leap from LTI, the band had transcended their one dimensional roots. The samples were of Curtis Mayfield, the Beatles, the Commodores, Johnny Cash, the Ramones. A world of music and every inch as good as 3 Feet High And Rising, the critical and commercial summer smash from De La Soul. And their thanks? They weren't even ridiculed, they were ignored. And that's why I still bang on about P'sB now - I spent months, nay years, arguing its merits among music fans, taking a pounding at the time; it became MY album. It still stands up too, despite my incessant playing of it. The fact it now routinely lauded as a classic album is great but a little part of me misses that feeling that it was a secret record (it was hardly underground stuff, it was just seen as irrelevant). Here's a couple of sample heavy tracks to give a feel if you've never ventured into it:

Part 2 to follow

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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby The Modernist » 24 Jan 2015, 18:02

Great stuff Campbell. I must admit the problem for me is I always found it hard to get past their brattish rapping. I suspect this will always be an insurmountable hurdle for me. But their beats and samples were often great as your choices show.

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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby Phenomenal Cat » 24 Jan 2015, 18:09

Paul's Boutique was my entry point into the world of Sly & the Family Stone and There's a Riot Goin' On, so I will always be thankful. I realize it doesn't take 'white people' to legitimize rap, but The Beastie Boys were first and foremost fans of the genre, so they ushered in a whole new audience and made rap and hip hop commercially viable. It also didn't hurt that they had a punk background. Both punk and rap were initially outsider music ('87 was the year you began to see PE and Run DMC t-shirts at DRI shows), so the Beasties were really riding the crest of a new wave. This shit just didn't exist in 1986. Plus they were funny.
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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby Ranking Ted » 24 Jan 2015, 18:38

So, a few years of occasional rants about P'sB took me up to 1992, where I was now working (training as an accountant, rock n rollers), living in a flat in Glasgow and getting all kind of kicks, musical and otherwise. I was unduly excited when word of a third BBs record filtered through from the music press. Not that they seemed remotely interested by this time. Still, I dutifully purchased the new record Check Your Head on day of release, whisked it home and was completely confounded. They'd spent their three years licking their wounds from the failure of Paul's Boutique building a studio, learning to properly play their instruments (their early punk stuff is rubbish) and came up with an organic, completely "in the studio" sounding piece of eclectic jamming and off-the-cuff rapping (as opposed to the intricate rhymes of the previous record. It was another volte face and another masterpiece. It sold considerably less than even Paul's Boutique. However, in the States it regained them a foothold, one they'd use in their next record. Here's a couple of examples of the new sounds they were bring in from way out in the commercial wilderness:

G - thanks for the nice comments! I'd be interested in your views on the louche sounds of the second track in particular...

In the next installment, our heroes again went to ground. However, this time, they re-emerged with the raw materials of Check Your Head honed into sharper focus on Ill Communication. The record was a huge success, crashing back into the alternative mainstream on the back of the brash Sabotage and its genius Spike Jonze video. The dense rhymes and humour returned too, but with an different edge - they'd recanted their old sexist and violent lyrics, even getting into eco-consciousness and Buddhist spiritualism. No matter, the record was a blast, a fantastic culmination of their journey to that stage. These are a couple of the stand outs:

After that, they released another 4 records, one of which - Hello Nasty - was their biggest success since Licenced To Ill and NME's album of the year in 1998. The records are largely great (I love them all, although the instrumental The Mix Up is hardly essential) but don't necessarily add much to the first four - if you like the Beasties, you'll dig Hot Sauce Committee or To The 5 Boroughs but they're not breaking new ground. They campaigned for a number of righteous causes, launched a magazine, record label and clothing range and were generally the cool elder statesmen you'd never have predicted back in 1986. I saw them 6 times over the years, a fantastically entertaining band, full of energy and adrenaline. And now they're no more.

Two years ago, Adam Yauch or MCA as you'd have been introduced to him, died after a three year struggle with cancer. The tributes were wide and heartfelt. The remaining Beasties, Adam Horovitz - the King Ad Rock - and Michael Diamond - Mike D - have been largely silent, emerging from time to time, most notably in winning a court case against the use of a Beasties track in an advert. They promised their pal they'd never do that and they've kept to their word.

For me, I don't listen to them anywhere near as much but picking the youtube tracks this afternoon has reminded me how ace they were. Deservedly in BCB's 260? Hell yes.

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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby der nister » 24 Jan 2015, 22:11

very nice write up, Ted

I think the Beasties mark a generational divide
like Guns N Roses they marketed the recycled (ala samples) as new
they had a New Yawk frat boy attack that was about having fun
but they were travelling territory that the 80s RHCP had already claimed
maybe it was some kinda East Coast vs. West Coast thing
It's kinda depressing for a music forum to be proud of not knowing musicians.

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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby funky_nomad » 25 Jan 2015, 09:10

Guid stuff, Campbell.

Although your 1980's were DRASTICALLY different from mine, we'll always have The Beasties... :D
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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby Brother Spoon » 25 Jan 2015, 16:27

Great stuff. Ill Communication was kind of a gateway album for my 14 year old self. Played to death at the earliest parties me and my friends went to. One of those records that's etched into my brain, every detail, every lyric. I still think it's some of the catchiest hiphop around. (Since I'm not much of a hiphop fan I don't care how real or 'skilled' they were.)

In the middle and second half of the '90s they were everything a great popband should be. I don't really care for anything after the 1999 Sounds of Science comp, but the run from Paul's Boutique to Hello Nasty was quite a feat.

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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby Lemon Yoghourt » 25 Jan 2015, 22:24

Great posts Campbell. I love Paul's Boutique, but I've found the rest a bit hit and miss - I normally stick with Sounds of Science and PB... I'll be revisiting...

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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby Rayge » 15 Jan 2018, 18:51

In timeless moments we live forever

You can't play a tune on an absolute

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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby sloopjohnc » 15 Jan 2018, 19:10

I saw their first big tour on the back of Licensed to Ill. House of Pain and L7 opened for them. I went with a buddy of mine, who was reviewing them for a local metro paper, and didn't get them at all because he couldn't hear their lyrics (he didn't have their album or EP) and I said he should just consider their raps as part of the overall sound and beat. Lots of rock lyrics are incomprehensible - just think of vocals as another instrument.

One of their big jumps is when they hired Mixmaster Mike as their DJ and dumped Hurricane.

He came from the turntablist group, Invisible Skratch Piklz, which had won numerous worldwide DJ competitions. They are largely considered the best DJ group ever with Mike, Dan the Automator, DJ QBert, who's part of Gorillaz, and couple other DJs.

What I like about them is every album has a distinct personality. Any group that can get a lyric into a song about Japanese home run legend, Sadaharu Oh, is okay with me.

There's more to me than you'll ever know
And I've got more hits than Sadaharu Oh
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Re: Beyond the 130: Beastie Boys

Postby The Write Profile » 16 Jan 2018, 04:36

It's all about the first two LPs for me, with the other hits nicely compiled on their Sounds of Science anthology. Paul's Boutique is a real kaleidoscope, not just in terms of the samples, but also in the way the group cross-references everything from baseball to soul and reggae. It's one of those records where everything seems slapped together and yet somehow it totally coheres. It's probably because their actual rapping, such as it is, really leaped up a quantum from the debut, where they were essentially just being crude and shouty. Don't get me wrong, I think that approach works superbly on Licensed to Ill: and that's because Rick Rubin's production removes any extraneous material whatsoever, and just goes for pure brute force. It still leaps from the speakers even today. But of course, the guys must have known they wouldn't be able to repeat the same trick twice, and that probably explains why they veered off in some many different directions subsequently. Mind you, maybe it was also the fact they "grew up" and discovered other kinds of music. Whatever the reason, there's something irresistible about the Beasties at their best: they just take a whole swathe of musical and lyrical references and throw them together with speed and ebullience.
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