Back Tracks: The Beastie Boys
With the heartbreaking news of the passing of Adam “MCA” Yauch of The Beastie Boys, who’d been battling cancer for several years, we invite you to enjoy this Back Tracks special from October 27, 2010, in which we revisited the band’s discography and its reissues.
The slightly bizarre news that The Beastie Boys’ upcoming album Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2, slated for release this coming spring, will feature virtually every track recorded for the delayed Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 1 is classic Beastie Boys. It’s a specifically off-kilter announcement that reflects the humor we’ve come to expect from the Brooklyn rap trio over the past quarter-century.
Naturally, news of a new album warrants a rediscovery of the band. Adam “MCA” Yauch, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-rock” Horovitz have been rhymin’ and stealin’ since the mid-’80s, after a brief stint as a hardcore punk outfit. Their fanbase has extended from urban white boys, to suburban white boys to anyone with a good appreciation for rap-rock stylings.
After the jump, take a look at the many releases, reissues and compilations of The Beastie Boys. It’ll sound so soothin’, we promise.
Licensed to Ill (Def Jam/Columbia, 1986)
The only classic Beastie Boys album that hasn’t been expanded (likely because its the odd one out on the group’s otherwise Capitol-owned discography), the Beasties’ debut LP is different from the others for a few reasons: Rick Rubin’s chunky rap-rock production, the trio’s braggadocio, Brooklynese rhymes (perhaps more sneering than ever) and what may be some of their poppiest tunes, including “She’s Crafty,” “Brass Monkey,” “Hold It, Now Hit It” and, of course, the immortal “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party).” With the Def Jam catalogue now in Universal’s position, they’d be the ideal candidates for reissuing the disc (possibly for next year’s 25th anniversary?). Worthy tracks for inclusion would include the tracks from 1985′s “Rock Hard” 12″ single, withdrawn after AC/DC refused to clear a sample in the title track.
Paul’s Boutique (Capitol, 1989 – reissued 2009)
After a fallout with Def Jam and a self-imposed exile in Los Angeles, the most logical step for The Beastie Boys was not Paul’s Boutique. The dense, sample-heavy production from The Dust Brothers (who’d produced LPs for Tone-Loc and Young MC) and cohesive flow from one track to another didn’t necessarily spell out hit status for a group everyone already considered a bunch of frat-boy rappers. But that was the funny thing about Paul’s Boutique – from the rhymes to the enormous, panoramic album cover, there was more to it than meets the eye or ear. Critical acclaim was universal even if album sales weren’t as strong as Licensed to Ill, and the album earned a spot on many best-of-all-time lists.
For its 20th anniversary in 2009, Paul’s Boutique was remastered and reissued alongside the rest of the band’s Capitol LPs. Though this album wasn’t expanded, it was supplied with a downloadable commentary track from the Boys.
Check Your Head (Capitol, 1992 – reissued 2009)
After the sampling smorgasbord of Paul’s Boutique, The Beastie Boys took a different tack: they strapped on their instruments and played through the record. Though it sounded different from its predecessor, listeners were enthusiastic, thanks to tunes like “So What’cha Want” and “Pass the Mic.” If nothing else, Check Your Head proved that the guys were something other than a frat-rap group or fleetingly artistic hip-hop outfit. The 2009 reissue adds the usual B-sides, remixes and live cuts.
Ill Communication (Capitol, 1994 – reissued 2009)
And the rock influences were even more present on Ill Communication. Who could forget the hard-rockin’ “Sabotage,” with its hysterical, Spike Jonze-directed video parodying ’70s cop shows? Hard-hitting tracks like “Sure Shot” and “Root Down” further added to the mystique of the album, and it quickly became another jewel in the Beastie catalogue. Remixes, B-sides and a few live tracks from the band’s Root Down EP rounded out the bonus disc.
Some Old Bullshit (Capitol, 1994)
Years before making rap accessible to suburban America, The Beasties were in fact a punk rock outfit, with guitarist John Berry predating Ad-rock’s involvement. This disc collated the group’s first two EPs, 1982′s Pollywog Stew and 1984′s Cooky Puss, plus two demos of Pollywog Stew tracks, including “Egg Raid on Mojo,” one of the band’s best-known tracks from the early days. (It’s still played at live shows.)
Aglio e Olio (Grand Royal, 1995)
Perhaps inspired by the release of Some Old Bullshit, the Boys quickly convened in a studio to tackle some hardcore tracks (and we do mean quickly – it’s a 13-minute EP that was possibly recorded in as much time). It’s sloppy as anything, but a pretty captivating listen for hardcore fans.
The In Sound from Way Out! (Capitol, 1996)
Think of it as another bonus disc to Ill Communication: a set of partially remixed instrumentals from the 1994 album and some relevant singles.
Hello Nasty (Capitol, 1998 – reissued 2009)
The Beasties’ first album in four years featured something extra: a new member of the group. He wasn’t rapping, but Mix Master Mike’s prowess on the turntables (replacing DJ Hurricane) significantly beefed up the sound of Hello Nasty, which also featured forays into electronica, soul and Latin stylings. Pair that with some moderate hits (“Intergalactic” and “Body Movin’”) and it was easy to see why so many critics were quick to put it on their year-end best-of lists. Along with the other albums in the band’s ’90s discography, Hello Nasty was reissued with a bonus disc of rarities in 2009. They’re mostly inessential for casual fans, save the remix of “Body Movin’” by Fatboy Slim.
Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds of Science (Capitol, 1999)
This double-disc set is arguably the most comprehensive Beastie set on the market, including all the hits up to that point plus B-sides and tracks from EPs and other sources. The rarity of most of the material combined with the liner notes drawn from discussions with Mike D., MCA and Ad-rock make it a winning set for new and old fans alike.
The Beastie Boys Video Anthology (Criterion, 2000)
A smashing two-disc collection of the Beasties’ often-stunning videos (including perennial candidate for greatest video ever “Sabotage”) loaded with bonus content, including remixes, a cappella tracks, alternate edits and commentary by the group’s mysterious longtime director Nathaniel Hornblower, who bears more than a passing resemblance to MCA. If there’s a bad thing to say about the set, it’s that it excludes videos from the Def Jam days and earlier, including their punk-rock concert short Beastie, which was shot from the perspective of audience members with 16mm cameras.
To the 5 Boroughs (Capitol, 2004)
Possibly (and paradoxically) the group’s most mature album, To the 5 Boroughs sees The Beastie Boys taking a back-to-basics look at the state of both hip-hop and their beloved New York City, having been affected by the devastating September 11 attacks three years earlier. The simpler production, done entirely by the Boys themselves, and convincing recast of the Beasties as hip-hop elder statesmen proved surprisingly effective.
Solid Gold Hits (Capitol, 2005)
Though The Sounds of Science is the better buy in terms of depth, those looking for a simple, relatively up-to-date hit set for The Beastie Boys need to seek no further than Solid Gold Hits, a 15-track compilation of the band’s biggest hit singles. (A version for more in-depth collectors exists that features the music videos for every song on the set.)
Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! (Lionsgate, 2006)
One of the most unique concert films released in a long time – and a reprise of an idea first constructed by the band in the early ’80s – this 2004 stint at Madison Square Garden was captured by 50 lucky fans, given Hi8 cameras and told to shoot whatever they pleased at the show. Not only is the set strong (dig the guest spots by artists including Doug E. Fresh), but the concept is unique and well-executed. (One fan even finds actor Ben Stiller in the audience!) The DVD release is loaded with additional extras, making this set a strong buy from start to finish.
The Mix-Up (Capitol, 2007)
In a surprise move, the Beasties went back to their roots for their latest album, an all-instrumental set. Some will surely miss those distinctive voices, but the set was pretty successful, selling some quarter-million copies worldwide and winning a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. (A bonus digital EP of outtakes was also released a year later.) Hopefully, though, it’s not too long before Hot Sauce Committee (Part Whichever) gets those classic voices back in action.