AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #240 : BEASTIE BOYS

This is a first in the ICA series.

The download is just one track, but it has a running time of 60 minutes and 30 seconds. If you give it a listen, you’ll find it is made up of 17 tunes as my stab at including the Beastie Boys in the series.

I’ve given it a particular title in homage to both the New Yorkers and to the district of Glasgow in which I have gone to work for the past 12 years.

It is also the 2,500th post on this reincarnated version of the blog.

The rest of today’s words have been sampled.

NO SLEEP TILL BRIDGETON


(a) Check It Out

Acting as the opener to their first album of the ’00s, ‘To The 5 Boroughs’, the band showed no signs of growing up on this bombastic hit. While the mainstream embraced a new generation of rap heroes like 50 Cent and Kanye West, this 2004 hit showed that The Beasties could still hang with the best and have way more fun while doing it.

(b) Shake Your Rump

This is music from another plane entirely, where ideas and sound-pictures collide, shatter and are reassembled into something new, all in an instant. It’s a sample collage, but it’s also a sculpture. There’s no way it should work with those three voices weaving in and around the different fragments of old records, lyrical visions jousting with musical innovations to the point where you feel like the whole thing could be about to collapse in on itself under the sheer weight of the different thoughts that it’s built out of. And yet it’s perfect. Try to work out why by unpicking it and the whole thing unravels.

(c) Make Some Noise

The Beastie Boys’ last truly great song, this was released in April 2011, a year before Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch’s death from cancer. It also acts as a fitting finale for a musical force that could still leave their younger contemporaries in the dust, despite being in their mid-40s. Built around a squelching beat, it’s a feral blast of swagger and cockiness – one they were so happy with that they felt it worthy to create a sequel to their iconic ‘Fight For Your Right To Party’ video for.

(d) Intergalactic

A transfixing space odyssey is crammed full of robotic vocoder and synth fragments that shatter in an astral euphoria. The Beasties fork together a beatific concoction here of lyricality that reroutes their hip-hop into a mesmerizing, head-banging dance groove. Don’t blame me if you’re suddenly in another dimension still humming the non-verbal instrumentals.

(e) Paul Revere

Paul Revere tells the story of the Beasties, complete with early collaborator Rick Rubin on production. Sure, it’s a cheesy story that involves a horse with a historically significant name and ends with robbery and murder that pales in comparison to older records when it comes to skill and creativity, but it also introduced the world to the goofy fun of the Beastie Boys — not to mention that Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, and Adam “MCA” Yauch introduced a lot of people to rap in general.

(f) Sabotage

Sabotage, the seemingly anti-authority anthem was, in fact, inspired by their recording engineer, Mario Caldato Jr being a nag.

The band were totally indecisive about what, when, why and how to complete songs and Mario would blow a fuse and scream that they just needed to finish something, anything, a song, pushing them towards instrumental tracks just to have something moving toward completion. Sabotage was apparently the last song completed on the latest album and went through multiple iterations before it was decided to roast their engineer on track, of how he was trying to mess it all up, sabotaging great works of art.

(g) Get it Together

A Tribe Called Quest’s leader Q-Tip jumps on the mic for perhaps the a rare featured spot in the Beastie Boys catalogue. The Boys’ vocals are typically abrasive, but the mellow delivery of Q-Tip’s bars and subtle production means that both halves of the East Coast rap styles are well represented here.

(h) Hey Ladies

Admittedly, the only hit single from ”Paul’s Boutique” was a return to the frat-boy ethos of ”Licensed to Ill,” but it’s infectious and funny enough that we forgive such sexism as ”Sucking down pints till I didn’t know/Woke up in the morning with a one-ton ho.” It also features the greatest — and possibly only — cowbell break in hip-hop history.

(i) Rhymin’ & Stealin’

The Beastie Boys didn’t invent rap-rock, but on guitar-flooded tracks like ”Rhymin”’ they and producer Rick Rubin invested the hybrid with the energy and (obnoxious) attitude that helped suburban kids develop a taste for hip-hop. Incorporating samples from both Led Zeppelin (”When the Levee Breaks”) and Black Sabbath (”Sweet Leaf”), ”Stealin”’ offers hilariously unconvincing pirate/gangsta fantasies: ”Skirt chasing, free basing/Killing every village/We drink and rob and rhyme and pillage.”

(j) Jimmy James

Denied permission by Jimi Hendrix’s estate to use a variety of samples from the guitarist’s catalogue, including snippets of Foxy Lady, Still Raining, Still Dreaming and EXP, on this tribute track on Check Your Head, the Beasties’ improvised by crafting sound-a-like riffs in the studio. The song is prefaced with a sample from a live album by Cheap Trick.

(k) A Year and A Day

Paul’s Boutique was audacious, described before its release by one exec at the Beasties’ label Capitol as “the Sgt Pepper’s of its era.” The album’s final track was its most avant stroke, the Beasties’ answer to the medley that closed labelmates the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Across its kaleidoscopic 13 minutes, B-Boy Bouillabaise segued through nine vignettes, fragments and experiments, with their erstwhile home of New York as a loose theme. At its heart lay A Year And a Day, a thrilling showcase for MCA that saw Yauch rapping through a mic rigged to a pilot’s helmet, his verses bragging with a philosophical flair he’d hone on later tracks, over a furious beat chopping up Ernie Isley’s blistering guitar lick from Who’s That Lady?

(l) Too Many Rappers

On June 12 2009, Adam Yauch took the stage at the Bonnaroo Festival for what would prove the Beastie Boys’ final live performance. Their new album, Hot Sauce Committee Pt 1, was scheduled for September, but Yauch’s cancer diagnosis – made public a month after Bonnaroo – delayed its release by almost two years; it finally surfaced in April 2011 as Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two, a return to the more anarchic, gleeful style of yore following their stark post 9/11 album To the Five Boroughs. The Beasties debuted Hot Sauce Committee’s highlight onstage at Bonnaroo that night, alongside guest MC Nas. And while it’s perhaps not Nas’s finest moment, Too Many Rappers caught the Beasties sounding sharper than they had in years, while hearing Ad-Rock and Nas riff on Public Enemy’s Night of the Living Bassheads – for even a bar or three – is an undeniable treat.

(m) Pass the Mic

A tune like “Pass the Mic” does it all: It invokes one of the holiest hip-hop phrases (“yes, yes y’all”), name-drops Jimmie Walker, Clyde Frazier and Stevie Wonder and finds the Beasties both deconstructing, then rebuilding their own mythology. It includes one of the all-time great Beastie lines in which Mike D rhymes “commercial” with “commercial.”

(n) Sure Shot

As the Beastie Boys grew in power and experience, their goofy shtick became incredibly witty jokes and sublimely dada nonsense. The references became knotted and intricate, far more cerebral than details on how to party with some orange juice-based cocktails. From the barking dog at the track’s open through the last couplet, “Sure Shot” is jammed with essential lines, the kind of song that thousands and thousands of teenage boys memorized. It also features a real turning point in their active role as feminist allies: “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through,” MCA begins. “To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end.” But just when you’re afraid that they’ll get all sappy, MCA reminds you that he uses elastic to keep his underwear up — keeping it Beastie.

(o) Shardrach

The Beastie Boys were students — of the genre, of music history, of history in general, of society. On the excellent “Shadrach”, they do a little bit of it all. Musically, the track samples everyone from Sly Stone to James Brown to the Sugarhill Gang, paying homage to those that laid the groundwork. Lyrically, the three Boys dig in and compare themselves to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three Biblical characters thrown into a furnace for refusing to bow down to the king. Both are prominent trios of men with Jewish heritage, and the Beasties had to have seen something they like in the story of men surviving being thrown into a fire. The track also shows the group’s increasing comfort with more experimental beats. Co-written by the Dust Brothers, the track’s slinky guitar, funky horns, and out-of-this-world soul vocal sample are miles ahead of Licensed to Ill, running into far deeper veins of artistry. It also should be mentioned that it reveals just how seriously they took rap.

(p) Triple Trouble

No New Yorker was unaffected by the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the Beasties were no exception. Released in 2004, To the 5 Boroughs was reflective, in part, but just as much a part of their challenge to the darkening mood was to get back to what they do best – revelling in rhyme and having fun with music and words, celebrating New York as the place where all these things became possible, and defending it by carrying on as before. ‘Triple Trouble’ went back to hip-hop’s early days, sampling the opening of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ while the trio traded gallumphing brags and outrageous boasts back and forth over the infectiously bouncing beat.

(q) So What’cha Want

The only Beastie Boys song covered by The Muppets.

mp3 : Beastie Boys – No Sleep Till Bridgeton

JC

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 20)

Johnny Ryall is the bum on my stoop
I gave him fifty cents to buy some soup
He knows the time with the fresh Gucci watch
He’s even more over than my mayor Ed Koch
Washing windows on the Bowery at a quarter to four
‘Cause he ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more
Livin’ on borrowed time and borrowed money
Sleepin’ on the street there ain’t a damn thing funny
With the hand-me-down food and hand-me-down clothes
A rockabilly past of which nobody knows
Makes his home all over the place
He goes to sleep by falling down on his face
Sometimes known as the leader of the homeless
Sometimes drunk, man the kid’s always phoneless
Sleepin’ on the street in a cardboard box
He’s better off drinkin’ than smokin’ the rocks
Johnny Ryall, Johnny Ryall
Kickin’ uptown, kickin’ downtown, kickin’ crosstown
Johnny Ryall, Johnny Ryall

He drinks where he lies
He’s covered with flies
He’s got the hand me down Pumas and the tie dyes
Well, you go upstate and get your head together
Thunderbird is the word and you’re light as a feather
Detox at the flop house no booze allowed
Remember the good old days with the rockabilly crowd
Memphis is where he’s from (out in Tennessee)
He lives in the street but he’s no bum
He’s the rockabilly star from the days of old
He used to have teeth all filled with gold
He got platinum voice but only gold records
On the bass (was Boots), on the drums (was Checkers)
Louis Vuitton with the Gucci guitar
Johnny Ryall
Who do you think you are?
Johnny Ryall, Johnny Ryall
Takin’ the night train, drinkin’ O.E
Johnny Ryall, Johnny Ryall
One, two, three, four
One, two, three, four
One, two, three, four
One, two, three

Donald Trump and Donald Tramp living in the men’s shelter
Wonder Bread bag shoes and singing “Helter Skelter”
He asks for a dollar you know what it’s for
Man, bottle after bottle he’ll always need more
He’s no less important than you working class stiffs
He drinks a lot of liquor but he don’t drink piss
He paid his dues playing the blues
He claims that he wrote the Blue Suede Shoes
Elvis shaved his head when he went into the army
That’s right y’all his name is Johnny
Kick it
Johnny Ryall, Johnny Ryall

Track 3 from Paul’s Boutique, and one the most extraordinary parts of an extraordinary album.

Worth recalling that the prior to the release of their second album in 1989, Beastie Boys were regarded by many as one-trick ponies. The album caught just about everyone out in that it wasn’t anything close to a re-tread of Licensed to Ill, and indeed the past 30 years have only seen it grow in stature, partly from the recognition of its ground-breaking nature but also from the fact that many have since tried but failed in their efforts to replicate it. And given just how expensive it would be nowadays to get clearance for that amount of samples (over 100 were used on the album), it never again will be attempted.

The idea of the these three early-20s rappers writing something making reference to the plight of a homeless man on the streets of NYC would have seemed ludicrous to those who were part of the initial journey from hardcore to hip-hop, but what you have here is one of the earliest examples of the band increasingly making use of their profile and platform to make significant sociopolitical statements.

A book dedicated to an in-depth analysis of the album reveals that Johnny Ryall was the name given to a vagrant who had hung around the outside of Mike Diamond’s apartment building in NYC a few years previously. The vagrant was also given a back story of being a down-at-luck rockabilly star who had been friendly with Elvis Presley. The source for the name and the back story was Mike D’s flatmate, who was Sean Casarov, previously a member of the inner circle of The Clash before he upped sticks and moved to the States. The Beastie Boys book also reveals that neither Mike nor Sean regarded the vagrant as a source of fun or amusement and indeed would provide him with clothes when it got particularly cold. The irony of the song is that the lyric was pieced together in Los Angeles where the band had relocated to and the inspiration was long gone. Nowadays, the power and reach of social media would likely have tracked him down for a reunion with Mike D.

mp3 : Beastie Boys – Johnny Ryall

Oh and I bet nobody involved would have thought the person referenced in the first line of the final verse would one day be PoTUS.

JC

THE BEASTIE BOYS BOOK

Santa was really good to me…but then again she always is. A sackful of music and books greeted my awakening on 25 December, and everything on the wish list was able to be ticked off.

I then spent the best part of a full week engrossed with the near 600 pages of The Beastie Boys Book.

I’ve always considered myself more an admirer than fan of the band, owning some but not albums, grateful that they had gone on to prove there was so much more to them than the cartoon antics and childish japes that were associated with their breakthrough album and tour back in the mid-late 80s.  The reason I was keen to get my hands on the book was the near universal positive reviews, from critics and fans alike, with many saying it was as good a rock/pop/music bio as any.

First up, let me say that the early reviews are bang on as it is a superb book – entertaining, engaging and incredibly informative.  It is, in the words of the promotional material issued by the publishers:-

“…their story, told for the first time in the words of the band. Adam “AD-ROCK” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond offer revealing and very funny accounts of their transition from teenage punks to budding rappers; their early collaboration with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin; the almost impossible-to-fathom overnight success of their debut studio album Licensed to Ill; that album’s messy fallout; their break with Def Jam, move to Los Angeles, and rebirth as musicians and social activists, with the genre-defying masterpiece Paul’s Boutique. For more than twenty years, this band has had a wide-ranging and lasting influence on popular culture.

With a style as distinctive and eclectic as a Beastie Boys album, Beastie Boys Book upends the typical music memoir. Alongside the band narrative you will find rare photos, original illustrations, a cookbook by chef Roy Choi, a graphic novel, a map of Beastie Boys’ New York, mixtape playlists, pieces by guest contributors, and many more surprises.”

It’s also something of a love-letter to the late Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, the member of the band who passed away from cancer in May 2012, without whom you get the distinct impression very little of what happened and how it happened would have ensued.

The Beastie Boys Book was an expensive gift, with a cover price of £32 (albeit you can get it discounted from many places) but the reason is immediately with a high-quality design, layout and lavish production to be enjoyed.  It is, indeed, like no other rock biography I’ve ever come across (and I’ve about 200 of the things lining shelves and taking up space in Villain Towers) with dozens of chapters/short stories/montages covering every aspect of their career, some of which, as indicated above, come from guest contributors.

The early part of the book, before they became famous, was a particularly superb read.  It is a recollection of teenage life and events in NYC in the late 70s and early 80s in which I imagined blog friends Echorich and Jonny the Friendly Lawyer were privy to have been part of.  Indeed, I half-expected both of them to have their names appear in the appendix at the back.  The amount of info and detail constantly led me to put the book down and pick up the i-phone to find out more, whether it be a venue, a person who was central to the particular part of the story or the neighbourhood in which it was set.  Indeed, this continued to be the case throughout the book, which is why it ended up taking six days to read.

I went into the book knowing the basics about the band.  I ended it with a huge admiration for them, genuinely believing that they were bona-fide geniuses (and Yauch in particular) with an uncanny ability to look beyond what was happening in the now and to be at the forefront of what was about to happen.  The book sheds light on all this, and it pays credit to those who brought certain things to their attention, such as the nerdy fan who helped them be among the first musicians to grasp the significance of the internet.

There is also a great deal of self-deprecating humour, including what must be the best and funniest review of an album ever committed to paper (pages 384-386 on Ill Communication), and the opportunity is also taken to say sorry for a few wrongs that have been committed throughout the course of the career.

It is a very entertaining book, packed with words and photos that will make you smile and laugh out loud. It is also very moving in places, none more so than the words which deal with the death of their great friend and colleague:-

“Getting into details of what was going on personally after the record (Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, 2012) came out is a heavy thing to write about. It was unintentionally our last record. The band didn’t break up. We didn’t go our separate ways. No solo project fucked things up to cause animosity. This was our last record because Adam got cancer and died. If that hadn’t happened, we would probably be making a new record as you readd this. Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way. Sadly. Sadly. Too fucking sad to write about.”

And that is the only reference to what happened….nothing about how unjust it was, how angry it made them feel or how bitter they are are having a career abruptly come to a halt.

I cannot recommend The Beastie Boys book highly enough.  I’m sure, as is the case with all biographies, there will be some who were part of or close to the scene who will find things to nitpick about or point out inaccuracies in the stories being told, but I’m more than happy to take this is as the definitive version.

Oh, and it is also has given me hints and pointers for a few new posts at this little corner of t’internet as well as making me determined to make sure that I get all of their albums into the collection at some point over the coming years:-

mp3 : The Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out

JC

 

 

BB.C.FF.

BeastieBoys_3part-7-80s-chic4franz-ferdinand

I know….today’s heading is on the cryptic side. But it’s all to do with these three great tunes:-

mp3 : Beastie Boys – Triple Trouble
mp3 : Chic – Good Times (12″)
mp3 : Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out

A few years back, someone out there had the idea of mashing these three up. It’s a style and format that has a lot of critics which is understandable as many of its proponents took liberty with one or more of the tracks, speeding it or them up or down a shade to make things fit. But today’s example does work out well with the minimum of jiggery-pokerey.

mp3 : BB.C.FF – Check Me Out 4 Good Times

Freaky Friday indeed.