Posts Tagged ‘Beastie Boys’

May He Continue to Pass The Mic In the Next Life

May 4, 2012

Sad news today as Adam Yauch passed away from cancer he was diagnosed with in 2009.  I’m bummed.  Compared to other recent musician deaths (say Whitney or Amy), this one gets to me on a more personal level.  Not to lessen their passing, oh gosh, I’m starting to feel like Leslie Knope on Parks & Rec last night…

Anyway, this one feels different for me because I feel like I’ve lost a friend.  I grew up with the Beasties.  They were the musical equivalent of a childhood best friend.

Sometimes you’d fight and not speak.  I had a cassette of Licensed to Ill that got heavy rotation with my other hip hop cassette at the time, Tougher Than Leather.  I loved it, the crazy stories they told through their raps, the booming beats.  But then at some point, at the beginning of high school, I was really getting into stuff like Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix and I made up my mind that Licensed to Ill was crap.  I even thought about tossing the tape, but I didn’t.  So, for about a year and half , it sat there.  We weren’t on speaking terms.  Luckily, my musical horizons starting opening up again as I went through high school, and there was a reunion.

Sometimes, you lose track of them.  As you grow older, sometimes friendships drift apart as interests and personalities change.  After Ill Communication, which has some fine songs but lacked something as an album for me, I started turning attention to other hip-hop in the mid-90s (mostly “underground” East Coast hip-hop) and electronic music.  I paid attention to Body Movin’ and Intergalactic when they came out, but for the first time, I didn’t buy a Beasties release (Hello Nasty).  To the 5 Boroughs garnered even less attention from me.  I’d still go back to their old albums from time to time, remembering the good ol’ times we had.  When Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 came out, I picked it up on a whim and remembered why we’d gotten together so well all those years before.  The friendship was reinvigorated.  I think it’s a testament to how good their last album is that it could bring me full on back into their fold.  Sadly, often when friends start drifting apart, they continue on separate courses and never meet again.

But mostly, you have a hell of a fun time with them.  Listening on headphones to Licensed to Ill in the backseat of the car on long trips with the parents, taking the secret enjoyment of hearing the swearing, raps about beers and girls in the same way you’d snicker with a friend about a dirty joke you’d whisper to each other so your parents couldn’t hear.  For awhile in college me and my friend Marc (who also left us way too soon) were obsessed with Paul’s Boutique and would crank it up in our apartment and just start singing along with the Beasties.  I only got to see them once, at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 98 in DC, a concert series dreamed up by the Beasties, more specifically by Adam Yauch.  Another fun memory, they didn’t disappoint.  Remember crushing up to the front to see them up close.  Hot, sweaty, cramped, and loved every minute of it.  Those moments with the Beasties are what I’m remembering today.

Yauch was the oldest of the Beasties, and I always thought he was the one in their songs who was the glue, the straight man (mostly) to the zany Mike D and youthful Ad Rock.  I also always appreciated the way he was able to come face-to-face with the remorse brought on by his Buddhist faith towards some of the unfortunate lyrics of their early materials.  It’s not often that people are willing to admit their mistakes, moreso in the entertainment industry, so I always thought that was reflective of his character.  With his death, I can’t see the other two Beasties continuing on, but who knows.  As I mentioned above, their last album was genuinely good, a remarkable achievement for a group that’s been around over 25 years!  I think he and the group still would have had some good music left in them.

I had talked today with my friend MeadowMuffins, and we thought in any blog post we’d want to post a song that was illustrative of the Beasties, if not their biggest hits.  Two songs came to mind for me, Egg Man, which originates from the band’s hardcore roots and is full of the humor, beats and varied samples (ranging from Psycho to Cheech and Chong) that exemplify their sound.  Couldn’t find a good video for that clip, so instead I’ll leave you with So What’cha Want from Check Your Head.  Killer riff/beat and rhymes and a simple video (directed by Adam) that showcases the three’s camaraderie.  Thanks Adam (and Beasties) for all the good times, you lived a full life.  You will be missed, friend.

Take Me Back To 1989

May 2, 2012

NME recently posted their thoughts on the top 100 songs of the 80s.  You can find the list here.  I’ve tackled one of their lists before.

So, I thought I’d give you 5 songs that I think that should be on their list that didn’t make the cut.  I tried to approach this as my musical opinions would have been in 1989.  A mere 15 year old, my musical tastes were a little rough around the edges so some of these wouldn’t probably make it if I was looking at this through my current musical state of mind.

To get in the mood as I drove to pick up some dinner tonight, I popped on the XM 80s channels to see if I’d get any inspiration.  Instead I got a reminder that there was some bad music in the 80s.  First, a Glass Tiger track.  I don’t remember Glass Tiger and I think that’s a good thing.  Next up, Arcadia.  Again, don’t remember them but they do a passable imitation of Duran Duran.  Then, the famous Styx with Mr. Roboto.  Now this song is awesome.  Awesome in the way the Charlotte Bobcats were awesome this year.  They are both bad, but it’s a spectacle of bad that must be seen (or heard).

Now back to some songs I’d have included in a top 100 at the end of the 80s:

1) Guns N’ Roses – Paradise City.  Now this is one I’d argue even today still belongs in any top 100 of the 80s.  I feel like this better encapsulates the ferocity of their debut than Sweet Child O’ Mine which came in at number 60 on NME’s list.  And the video is pretty cool too.

2) Beastie Boys – Paul Revere.  No Beasties songs on NME’s list and Paul’s Boutique was released in 1989!  I went back to their debut because I didn’t really get into Paul’s Boutique until at least a year later.  The laid back beat and the ridiculous story the three Beasties spin is a reminder of how sometimes simple is better when it comes to hip hop.

3) Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer.  Toss up between this song and In Your Eyes, but one of the two of those has to make that list because those are quintessential 80s songs (not in the same way that Mr. Roboto is).  Also, the video for Sledgehammer is also most likely burned in the memory of anyone who grew up in the 80s.

4) Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams.  This is the first time I remember liking anything so full of synthesizers.  Annie Lennox’s delivery perfectly plays off those synths.  That a song that’s so melancholy could have been such a big hit is a testament to its greatness.

5) Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight.  Ok, this one probably doesn’t make it today.  But I thought that the song was so good in the 80s, and when those drums kick in, I think I can still make an argument today.  My 80s self would also have the positive reinforcement of this song playing prominently in a show I’d never miss, the great Miami Vice (ok, it hasn’t aged well either).  Enjoy:


Looking Back at 2011

December 19, 2011

It’s been a good year for listening to music.  I felt like I listened to a lot more new artists (at least to me) this year than I have since I was a teenager.  I also rediscovered a lot of old albums that I hadn’t heard in awhile.

Best (and worst) music platform – Since it came to our shores earlier this year, I’ve been a big fan of Spotify.  One of my recurring posts this year revolved around recounting what I’d been listening to on Spotify.  Easy to use with a huge library, it was a great way to listen to new albums in their entirety as well as catch up on old albums I haven’t heard since I had a cassette player.  So why’s it also get a worst nod.  A few weeks ago, it started crashing my computer any time I tried to run it.  Like total freeze-up crash, have to manually power down and restart the machine crashes.  In trying to find an answer, I’ve uncovered a wealth of problems others have with the app.  I also found that customer support is spotty (sorry).  I finally found a customer support email; I did finally get a response after two weeks, asking me what version of Spotify I was running.  We’ll see if they can come up with a solution.  Wonder if the expansion to the US has overextended the service and its employees?  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, I’m going to be checking out and rdio to see what they have to offer in 2012.

Best Concert – Ben Folds at The Wiltern.  I loved the stage banter, the energy, and the music was phenomenal.  I went in with only a little bit of knowledge about his music, but I left wanting to hear more and learn more about him.  That’s the mark of a good concert.  Honorable mention to Portishead and to John Vanderslice.  I didn’t write about the Vanderslice show, but I’ve seen him three times now and each show has been distinctly different.  And his drummer, Jason, was amazing to watch.  I ended up missing the Bon Iver show, but Sarah told me that it was very good (I believe her).

Favorite Album – Rome by DangerMouse and Daniele Luppi.  I feel like a lot of year-end lists become top heavy with material released toward the end of the year, which I understand since the songs are fresh in reviewer’s mind.  Rome came out in May, which is a long time ago in today’s millisecond attention-span world.  I also am also only basing my choice on albums I actually listened to in their entirety, which I admit isn’t a lot.  But, I come back to this one because, like his collaboration last year as Broken Bells, as an entire album, the songs meld into a cohesive unit and he can just really create a vibe.  Here, he’s wisking you away to the set of spaghetti westerns with a tribute to the soundtrack sound of that era (most notably Ennio Morricone).  Honorable mention to Little Dragon’s Ritual Union, for the same reason basically.  A lovely arrangement of electronic music that makes you stop thinking of individual songs (much better than the sprawling and Pitchfork-loved M83 album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming).

Biggest Surprise – The Whole Love by Wilco.  After Sky Blue Sky, I kind of lost interest in Wilco and didn’t even bother to listen to their next album.  They seemed to have lost a lot of their bite, both lyrically and musically, from previous records.  I had heard nothing of their new album, but decided to give it a listen when NPR was doing a free preview of the album.  To my amazement, I heard the rockin’ Wilco from Summerteeth days.  I’ve seen Wilco twice, now I have a new reason to go see them a third time other than Jeff Tweedy’s amusing stage talk.  Honorable mention to the Beastie Boy’s new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2.  Another group that I had just lost some interest in, but this re-ignited interest.

Best Music Book – Read the super comprehensive history of the Velvet Underground put out by Rough Trade.  Not knowing much about the band other than the songs on their greatest hits albums, this was a good and thorough introduction to the band, as well as the solo careers of all its members.  Can be a bit overwhelming, but overall a good read.

I’ll try and come back with a few more year end thoughts before the year actually ends, but if not, have a great new year filled with good tunes and good times.

Beastie Trio

June 28, 2011

Jimmy James/Funky Boss/Pass The Mic – Beastie Boys from Check Your Head

As I continue my quest to shuffle through, and rate, every song in my ever-expanding Itunes library, I’m getting closer to getting full albums rated in their entirety.  As I was scrolling through my library, I came across the Beasties’ Check Your Head and noticed I had a first.  I had rated all three opening songs with 5 stars.  I knew that I held a fond spot for this album given it came out when I was 18 and right in the wheelhouse demographic for the Beastie’s music.  But listening to it almost 20 years (!) later, it’s a super-strong opening to an important album for the Beasties.

While it was a commercial failure, Paul’s Boutique, had gathered a following and begin to get props from music criticdom.  So among the fans who had “gotten” their sophomore album, there was great expectations about what the Boys would do with this album.  Would it be a continuation of the pastiche wild style of their previous album, a return to the hard rock sampling of their debut, or something entirely different.

A little bit of all three, with the entirely different being the focus on live instrumentation.  From their roots as pretty bad punk rockers in NYC, the Boys had a desire to play instruments.  The cover of the record gives us a hint of what’s to come, as they sit curbsite with their guitars.  They play their instruments and do so well.

The opening track, Jimmy James, does what a good opener should do, it grabs you immediately.  Screaming fans and Ad Rock (?) announcing this is the first track on their new album introduce some fierce scratching of Jimi Hendrix guitar samples.  A nod to Jimmy Hendrix, it contains several samples of Jimi’s music throughout the song, the most recognizable being a sample from Foxy Lady at the end of the song.  It’s a fitting tribute, at the beginning especially, makes you wonder if Jimi had lived a longer life, at some point would he have incorporated vinyl scratching into his music.  It has some of the best elements of the Beasties’ first two albums, on the one hand the classic rock samples and hard edge of Licensed to Ill and the multi-layered soundscape and funky bounce of Paul’s.  This is one of my favorite Beasties songs.  At the end of that first song, you’re thinking “ok, this is awesome, I see what they’re doing, I’m going to love an album full of this amalgamation of these two distinctive styles.”

Then, Funky Boss comes on and you realize what is really going to be new about this album.  Here are the three MCs playing instruments in a conventional song structure unlike anything they’d done.  The song is a funk number, with a slight Afro-Caribbean bent with the bongos and a sample of a reggae piece at the end.  They still incorporate some sampling and scratches into the mix, but the drums, bass and keyboards are more of the main attraction here.  It’s a short song, but it really is funky.  And now you’re even more excited than you were after hearing the first track.  What’s next?

Pass The Mic veers back toward the opener, though it is even a little harder than Jimmy James.  Though, behind the bombast is a haunting synth or organ line that hangs like a wispy cloud.  It’s little touches like this that take a straight forward banger and give it the depth that keeps me coming back to listen again.  The rapping also is on par with some of their best efforts from their first two albums.  It also includes the line that cracks me up every time I hear it, when Mike D “does anything he likes” and rhymes the word commercial with… commercial.  While some might view this as lazy and bad MCing, I see it another way.  It’s the sign of ultimate confidence in your abilities, he’s saying I don’t give a crap, yeah that’s right, I just “rhymed” a word with itself.

And it’s got a sweet silly totally 90s video…

Music in Book Form

April 18, 2011

Recently I read my first two volumes in Continuum Publishing’s 33 1/3 series.  Each volume deals with an important album in popular music written by a variety of authors.  I’d given a couple books from the series to people as gifts and had gotten positive reviews.  So, I picked out two volumes that I thought I would enjoy and got to reading.

I chose books about two artists I’ve been huge fans of beginning in middle school and keep coming back to over the years.  First, I read Dan LeRoy’s take on the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique.  This was a really great read, chronicling the making of the followup to their wildly successful Licensed to Ill.  Leaving the confines of their home in NYC and the rock/rap fusion genius of producer Rick Rubin for the foreign soil of Los Angeles and an unknown production team (that would become known as the Dust Brothers) was a big gamble.  Add in the fact that they had left Def Jam for Capitol, there was a lot riding on this record for the Beasties’ career.

The book has a very personal feel, as a lot of the people on the inside of the record’s creation were interviewed, including the Beastie’s themselves.  Those interviews capture the tension that present due to the factors mentioned above.  They also show how the laid back, funky beats the Dust Brothers were creating, but didn’t have a place to put them, were just what the Beastie’s were looking for.  Through happenstance, they met, and the rest is, as they say, history.

The book’s first half chronicles that meeting, the recording process, and the release of the record to middling reviews and paltry sales (compared to Ill).  The second looks track by track at the album and some of the myriad samples used on the tracks.  The short epilogue recognizes the lasting legacy of the album and its now vaunted stature in the history of hip-hop.  Having really worn this album out, especially during college, this was a very satisfying and comprehensive history lesson to give context to a classic.  A must-read for fans of this album.

The second book I read was John Cavanagh’s look at the making of Pink Floyd’s first album, Piper At the Gates of Dawn.  This book had much more of an academic feel to it.  None of the band members were interviewed by the author, with the first-hand anecdotes coming from a mix of engineering folks involved and various hangers-on to the “scene” that evolved around Pink Floyd and psychedelic music in London.  Much of the attention in the book is focused on Syd Barrett, who was the major creative force behind the album, and his greatest musical legacy, as he faded into self-imposed obscurity soon after Piper.  While this makes sense, at times the writing seemed to fall into hero-worship, as Cavanagh makes clear that Barrett is a hero of his.

The book does explore each track in great detail, though he flips back and forth between the tracks and the more general history of the Floyd and their rise from bar blues band to the top of the psychedelic music pyramid.  I liked the more linear structure of the Beasties book.

The author’s focus on Barrett is illuminating in places.  One of the things that drew me to this album was the wide scope of the music on it.  Wide-ranging opuses about the abyss of space butt up against the whimsy of songs about gnomes.  Barrett’s fascination with space and also with the more simple earthly pleasure of nature (trees, rivers) partially explains the variety on this album.  Also, as an avid follower of folklore, mythology and likeminded literary works, those influences are readily apparent in the lyrics of Barrett.

Overall, I was a little disappointed in the Floyd book, but it was still a pleasant and quick read.  It may be more of a reflection on the fact I read it immediately after reading the Beastie’s book, which I thought was so good and structured the way I guess I prefer to read.

Anyways, if you have a favorite album or two, check out Continuum and see if they’ve written a volume about it.  I think you’ll enjoy what you read, and even gain some new insights into said album.