Life Comes In Phases Take The Good With The Bad

Back in the mid- 90s when the Beastie Boys were the best band in the world they release a run of albums- Check Your Head, Ill Communication, Hello Nasty- that were effortlessly brilliant. Mixing rap, funk, punk, dub, scratching and sampling with live instruments, adding Money Mark on keys and their own particular, cockeyed worldview- anything from science fiction films, late 60s/ early 70s fashions, golf visors, ramen, the mullet hairstyle, Lee Perry- they had a golden streak where it seemed like everything they did was a brilliant idea and that you were in on the joke even if you only got 25% of the references. Anyone else from the same period that could be considered for the ‘best band in the world’ title had nothing on the Beastie Boys.

Their golden phase was heralded in 1989 by the album they made when they took themselves away from Def Jam and off to Los Angeles and re- thought everything they did. Hooking up with the Dust Brothers (the real Dust Brothers) they rented a villa with a pool and the owners wardrobes, stuffed full of 70s clothing, and made Paul’s Boutique. This album showed they were not the one- joke frat boys of Licensed To Ill and that they were not going to be one hit wonders. Paul’s Boutique is a rich, complex- but- simple, layered record, samples from one hundred and five different records sprinkled over backing tracks The Dust Brothers had already created. On top of this multi- coloured, vibrant album where songs are constructed with split second timing, the three Beasties placed their three way rhymes, adding another layer to an already dense record. Not that it sounds too dense, it’s all done with amazing beats, a sense of humour, innovation and a lightness of touch that draw you in from the moment the needle finds the groove (and this is very much an album that should be listened to on vinyl).

Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun is one of the most straight ahead songs on  Paul’s Boutique, a dusty rock drum beat (borrowed from Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band and their song Last Bongo In Belgium) rumbles away for a couple bars before the heavy guitar riff comes in, sounding like it’s on a turntable that is slowing down, and then the Beasties and their whining NYC rapping and smothered in echo describing the stupidity of violence…

‘Rolling down the hill snowball getting bigger
An explosion in the chamber the hammer from the trigger…’

There’s a Pink Floyd sample in there, the piano chord from Time, clanging away. The super heavy Black Sabbath rock vibes continue through til the tension snaps at one minute fifty…

‘Looking down the barrel of a gun
Son of a gun son of a bitch
Getting paid getting rich’

A pause, then the drums beat doubles and a guitar chord crashes in- both stolen from Mississippi Queen by Mountain- and the second half gets underway. Rambo, Bruce Willis, Son Of Sam and Clockwork Orange get name checked and the crunching riff and rolling drums carry us through…

‘You’re a headless chicken chasin’ a sucker freebasing
Looking for a fist to put your face in
Get hip don’t slip knuckle heads
Racism is schism on the serious tip’

The vocals finish at that point but there’s still a seriously deranged guitar riff to deal with, circling down the plughole, before the drum beat comes to dead stop.

Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun

Remote Control

Two different songs with the same name.

In 1977 The Clash’s debut album came out. It opened with the jerky, amphetamine rush of Janie Jones and was followed by Remote Control, a Mick Jones song written in response to the Anarchy Tour. Over a crunching, sped up Kinks style riff Mick complains about civic hall’s bureaucrats, grey London town, the police in the panda car, pubs closing at 11pm, big business, being poor, money men in Mayfair, parliament and people who want to turn you into a robot. All good punk stuff. Unfortunately the song became unmentionable when CBS released it as a single without their consent, which for Strummer, Jones and Simonon symbolised everything they stood against. In a way through it all worked out well- Mick went away and wrote Complete Control, one of their finest moments, which opened with the lines ‘They said ‘release Remote Control’, but we didn’t want it on the label’. In truth Remote Control isn’t by any means a bad song and Mick says they always liked it, they just couldn’t play it on ideological grounds.

Remote Control

Back to the band I started the week with for the second Remote Control. In 1998 The Beastie Boys released their fifth album, Hello Nasty, a twenty song tour de force that Adam Horowitz reckons is their best album. The third song is Remote Control, kicking off with a super catchy riff and Mike D leading on the mic, finding links between satellite dishes, videos games, chain reactions, diamonds from coal, rainy days, Don King and ‘cameras on Mars on space patrol, controlled on Earth by remote control’.

Remote Control

The two bands are linked by Sean Carasov, known to the Beastie Boys as The Captain. Sean started off as part of The Clash’s entourage, selling t-shirts on tour and working his way up to become tour manager Kosmo Vinyl’s right hand man. He’s also in Joe Strummer’s Hell W10 silent film. Sean moved to the USA and became part of the Beastie Boys’ circle, eventually becoming their tour manager in the Def Jam days. Later he became an A&R man and signed A Tribe Called Quest to Jive Records. Mike D and Adam H both write fondly about Carasov but also the feeling he left something heavy behind him and the issues he had with alcohol. Sadly Sean took his own life in 2010.

Something’s Got To Give

I’ve had a lot of Beastie Boys going on in January- the book, a 550 page joy, was the starting point. I’ve gorged on 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, the sampledelic album recorded in Los Angeles with the Dust Brothers, Yauch, Diamond and Horowitz on the run from their Fight For Your Right To Party days and Def Jam. I’ve played 1992’s Check Your Head and 1998’s Hello Nasty in the car to and from work. Ill Communication (which I think may be their best, just pipping Paul’s Boutique). The 1999 double cd anthology The Sound Of Science, a round up of hits, singles, B-sides and unreleased songs. A double DVD with allmnner of videosa nd experts that someone bought me back in the early 2000s. I’ve begun thinking about an Imaginary Compilation Album for The Vinyl Villain’s long running series. It’s been Beastie-tastic.

In 1992 they moved into a property in the then unfashionable Atwater Village and built a studio/offices/live rehearsal space/basketball court they called G-Son (after what was left on the sign on the front of the building after some of the letters had fallen off). It was accessed up this flight of stairs…

Having started out as a punk/hardcore band the Beastie Boys set up their guitars, drums and bass and set about making an album with live instruments rather than samples. Joined by producer Mario C they spent 1991 making what would become Check Your Head, a twenty track soup of hip hop, funk, punk, soul and rock that laid out the template for much of what would make the 1990s. Half way through the record comes this laid back piece of space rock, led by some killer MCA fuzz bass, a rotating Leslie speaker on the vox and a lot of echo, a plea for tolerance and understanding.

Something’s Got To Give

‘I wish for peace between the races
Someday we shall all be one
Why fight yourself?
This one’s called Rectify
There’s something coming to the surface
There’s fire all around
But this is all illusion
I’ve seen better days than this one
I’ve seen better nights than this one
Tension is rebuilding
Something’s got to give
Something’s got to give
Someday, we shall all be one
Jesus Christ, we’re nice’

Now That’s A Record Buddy

In 1995 lots of bands made claims about being The Best Band In The World. After the more self contained, internal world of 80s indie, it became a sign of ambition and achieving best or biggest status was something all groups should strive for. But all those groups who said such things were all wrong because The Best Band In The World in the mid 1990s was actually Beastie Boys. This track from their 1994 double album Ill Communication is Exhibit A. Made up solely of a few samples (a killer bassline, drums, the crackle of vinyl, some organ from Jimmy Smith’s live album of the same name as the song and some deeply funky wah-wah guitar) over which Ad Rock, Mike D and MCA spit out lines and rhymes, coming together for the chorus. Two of the standout lines here are Ad Rock’s ‘everybody know when I be dropping science’ line and later on the sudden stop that leads into ‘oh my God, that’s the funky shit!’ They make it sound like anyone could do this but that’s clearly not true. They also make it seem like fun- serious but also fun.

Root Down

The Beastie Boys make double the amount of sense when you have the visuals to go with the music.

There’s a book coming out shortly called Beastie Boys Book, co-written by Ad Rock and Mike D with contributions from many of their friends and collaborators, and by the sounds of it it will not be your standard rock biography. During the 90s they expanded into clothing (X-Large), magazine publishing (Grand Royal), owning a record label (also Grand Royal), toured at length and also headlined Lollapalooza, put together a massive fundraising concert for human rights in Tibet, made some of the best pop videos ever (Sabotage and Intergalactic for two) as well as no less than 4 vital hip hop albums- Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, Ill Communication and Hello Nasty.

Fight The Power

Dreadzone’s 1993 single Fight The Power was a timely piece of protest against the Criminal Justice Bill. It’s peppered with sampled speech, a vocal snatch borrowed from the Beastie Boys too, a pumping keyboard riff and bouncing bassline and it doesn’t sound any less relevant today- it’s just the specific target has changed. Amusingly the person who added the captions for MTV had them down as Deadzone.

Fight The Power ’95

Well I Got A Little Story To Tell About A Hairstyle That’s A Way Of Life

Various people and happenings from the early to mid-90s have happily re-emerged into my life in recent days via social media. And I found myself singing this. Circa 1994 the Beastie Boys were a cultural colossus- music, clothes, magazines, record label. This B-side is an immense slab of punk rock celebrating the most derided haircut of all time and name checking its celebrity wearers.

Mullethead

I Like My Sugar With Coffee And Cream

There used to be a Bank Holiday festival in Manchester called D Percussion, largely free, based around bars and other venues in the Castlefield and Deansgate area. I remember seeing A Certain Ratio in the Castlefield basin and maybe 808 State too. A different year we saw Vini Reilly playing in Atlas. But mainly it was dj sets and hanging around outside bars (on the occasions we got some sunshine). D Percussion started in 1997 as a response to the IRA bomb that blew the city centre apart the previous summer and ran through to 2007. It folded largely because it was, for the first eight years, free. One year, mid-afternoon, a large-ish number of people milling around and whoever it was playing records stuck on Intergalactic- the effect was a bit like one of those viral flash mob videos you see on the internet. Almost everyone started bobbing a bit, mouthing the words, singing/rapping along. The Beastie Boys made a real impact with people and by the time of Intergalactic and Hello Nasty (1998) they were for a while pretty much in charge of left of centre pop culture. Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head and Ill Communication may all have stronger claims to be their best album but their threeway wordplay was never better or funnier than on this song. And the video is a hoot.

Deep Shag

Last week we had Parquet Courts and parquet floors. Drew left a comment about missing a good deep shag pile carpet during the winter months. Which led to Dirk leaving a related comment and deep shags and rugs and me pondering other possible songs about flooring. And then driving to or from work this week I remembered Luscious Jackson and their song Deep Shag.

Luscious Jackson were the first signing to The Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label. Deep Shag is the only record of theirs that I own. I don’t know why I own this one and not any others because despite not having listened to it since 1994 or thereabouts I still quite like it. There are 70s funk and soul vibes, with 90s beats and scratching, and a cool laid back vocal about deep shag. Seeing as shag doesn’t have the connotations in the US it has here, I’m assuming it is indeed a song about carpet.

Deep Shag

And now sitting here typing this I have recalled Stereolab’s The Noise Of Carpet, a short lived Weatherall project called Lino Squares and Weller’s From The Floorboards Up too. This series could run and run.

Adam Yauch R.I.P.

>Beastly Brothers

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Posting the Beastie Boys’ Egg Man the other day led me to dig out Hello Nasty, the follow up to their crossover Ill Communication album. Hello Nasty has got plenty of the ‘three men shouting funny stuff over a funky break with a clever sample’ thing that they do so well (Super Disco Breakin’, Intergalactic) but it also shows them spreading their wings- there’s some loungecore, the beautiful ballad I Don’t Know, the spooky and minimal Instant Death and this track- Dr. Lee PhD. Recorded with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry it’s a lo-fi, low key, shuffly, dubby, reggae tune- just a drumbeat, some organ, some funny noises and a load of Lee Perry’s profound nonsense lyrics, which finish with ‘it’s the beastly brothers, and the beastly boys, with their beastly toys’. It’s a groovy, addictive little track. I also realised that this record was released in July 1998, the long summer before the birth of our first child and listening to it, the album seemed like a glimpse into a former life.

21 Dr. Lee, PhD.mp3#2#2