Thirty years ago this week, three New York buddies released the album that would introduce them to, and initiate an undying love affair with, Generation X: Licensed To Ill.
Michael ”Mike D” Diamond (vocals, drums), Adam ”MCA” Yauch (vocals, bass) and Adam ”Ad-Rock” Horovitz, a.k.a The Beastie Boys, would grow tremendously both as people and as musicians down the road. But this album—especially the single and the video “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”—was the first big step toward legendary status. Think seven platinum or better albums, 50 million albums sold worldwide, reinvention of the music video as an art form, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, etc.
To celebrate the album that started it all, we went through the Beastie Boys entire discography. Here’s a bunch of stuff you probably didn’t know about the boys and their beats.
Licensed to Ill
1. The song and video combination most recognized for breaking the band is “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).” What many people fail to realize is that this was the fourth single released off Licensed to Ill and that the video and song was intended as a satire of frat boy party culture. It was not perceived this way as junior high boys all across America rejoiced to the lyrics: Man, living at home is such a drag / now your mom threw away your best porno mag.
2. The sixth single off of Licensed to Ill was “No Sleep till Brooklyn,” which featured Slayer’s Kerry King, who played the guitar riffs and solo (AD-Rock generally plays the electric guitar in the band). King also appeared in the video, a send-up of glam metal. The illustrious Rick Rubin produced both Licensed to Ill and Slayer’s Reign in Blood, considered a landmark in the metal genre.
3. Track 4 off the revered sample-heavy second album Paul’s Boutique, “Egg Man,” features the intro bass line from Curtis Mayfield’s, “Superfly.” It also samples the Jaws and Psycho movie themes simultaneously. The entire album samples 105 different songs. However, no one knows exactly how many different samples are used altogether as they are so seamlessly layered on the album.
Check Your Head
4. “Jimmy James” is the lead song off the Beastie Boys’ third studio album, Check Your Head. It’s a tribute to Jimi Hendrix and they initially planned to use several Hendrix samples including a sample of the classic “Foxy Lady.” At first, the Hendrix estate didn’t give clearance on the usage of any of the legendary guitarist’s songs, forcing the Beastie Boys to use similar-sounding samples on the album (except for the songs “Foxy Lady” and “Happy Birthday,” which were somehow still used). The Hendrix family eventually relented and “Jimmy James” was released featuring all the Hendrix samples as the third single.
5. “So What Cha Want” was the second single from Check Your Head and the video is significant because it was one of the first to feature slow-motion action while the artists’ mouths still synced with the lyrics. The video also features Mike D wearing a Knicks shirt throughout. The Beastie Boys are huge fans of the New York Knickerbockers and lyrics referencing the Knicks pop up in many of their songs. (Our personal favorite, from Hello Nasty’s “Unite”: Would someone on the Knicks please drive the lane!)
6. The infamous “Sabotage” video, often cited as one of the best ever, was directed by frequent collaborator Spike Jonze. Jonze, who got his start shooting skate videos, has since helmed four feature films including Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are.
7. One signature of The Beastie Boys’ style is re-purposing and tweaking other group’s lyrics over fresh beats. An excellent example can be found on Track 2, “The Move,” from Hello Nasty. The Beastie Boys take the lyric from The Sugar Hill Gang’s“Rappers Delight”: I don’t mean to brag I don’t mean to boast / But we like hot butter on our breakfast toast and reimagine it as I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast / but I’m intercontinental when I eat French toast.
To The 5 Boroughs
8. The video for the first single off the group’s sixth studio album, “Ch-Check It Out,” features the gang beaming in wearing Star Trek garb. Years later J.J. Abrams used “Sabotage” in the Star Trek Beyond trailer as well as the movie itself. This marked the third time the Beastie Boys allowed a song to be used by Abrams in the Star Trek franchise; they are notoriously selective about when their songs are used for commercial purposes.
9. The video for “Triple Trouble” is one of the funniest offerings from the Beastie Boys, as they are kidnapped by Sasquatch and go trick or treating with him. It also, once again, showcases their love of hoops. While trick or treating, Sasquatch nearly tears down the rim in a residential driveway with a ferocious dunk and also swats one of MCA’s shots to next Tuesday. The video also features a cameo from Kanye West, who tells a reporter, “I did not realize there were Sasquatches.”
The Mix Up
10. An often-overlooked album from the hip-hop innovators is the all-instrumental offering The Mix Up. Although sales were low compared to their previous albums, it won a Grammy and is characterized by AllMusic thusly, “as idiosyncratic as any old funky soul-jazz LP that you’d find deep in the crates of a second-hand record store.”
Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
11. “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” (Feat. Santigold) off their final album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, is the last single ever released by the Beastie Boys. The video is presented as a serial TV drama titled The Continuingly Ill Adventures of The Beastie Boys. Fittingly it was directed by Spike Jonze and features stop-motion animation. The concept is the Beastie Boys, as action figures, being pursued for assassination by action figures that eventually transform into zombies after being vanquished by the group.
MCA died of cancer in 2012 and the surviving members say they will not continue as The Beastie Boys out of respect. But the group and its music will live on forever in the minds and memories of fans of all ages around the world…