Sunday, December 2, 2018

The First REAL Beastie Boys Record

This is a record I've been meaning to get for a long time, and then, after I finally scratched it off my Want List, it's a record I've been meaning to cover here for an even longer time.  It's a fairly famous record, even legendary in fan circles, but also not quite so rare as it's often made out to be.  It's the kind of record people probably wind up overpaying for.  It's the Beastie Boys first record for Def Jam, even predating "She's On It" from Krush Groove and the MCA solo single, "Rock Hard."  It's so well known because it's the song that wound up getting left off of the album, or any wide release, because they got sued by AC/ DC for sampling their song "Back In Black."  So it's a semi-unreleased classic Licensed To Ill-era Beastie Boys song, and it's good.

Now, I call it the first "real" Beastie Boys record because it's not actually, strictly speaking, their first record.  They put out two indie singles on a tiny little punk rock label called Rat Cage Records: "Polly Wog Stew" (1982) and "Cooky Puss" (1983), later repackaged with a couple unreleased demos onto a compilation album aptly titled Some Old Bullshit (1994, on their own Grand Royal label).  "Polly Wog Stew" is a pure baby punk band record, straight out of The Decline of Western Civilization (part 3).  Then "Cooky Puss" is a silly "Buffalo Gals/ Hobo Scratch" parody, with the famous "all that scratchin' is making me itch" line becoming, "these pussy crumbs are making me itch."  They're at least starting to venture into Hip-Hop territory, but it's just a cheap novelty record (without any rapping) where a few copies were pressed up to make a local teenage crowd smirk for a hot second and that's it.

But 1984's "Hard Rock" sounds exactly like the Beastie Boys we know and love.  Sonically, it would have fit right into Licensed To Ill, and even have been a popular track.  Admittedly, though, I've always been a "Dope Beat" (a.k.a. "Hope Beats") man myself.  That's the early Boogie Down Productions record that chops the same "Back In Black" sample in pretty much the exact same way.  I generally prefer Krs-One's more natural voice and flow, and I love the way the beat strips itself and breaks down throughout the song.  I know everyone focuses on AC/ DC's guitar licks, and the song certainly wouldn't work as well without them, but I just love how they freak the drum machine on that joint.  Compare it to Stretch Armstrong's remix of Eminem's "My Name Is," for example, which also uses "Back In Black," and that's just a simple loop that repeats and repeats almost to the point of irritation.  "Dope Beat," on the other hand, keeps pulling out elements until sparse bass hits are just floating out there by themselves.

Other noteworthy uses of the same "Back In Black" licks include Hard Corps, a short-lived rap/ rock hybrid group who did a straight up rap cover of the song in the early 90s, and of course the great MC Player.

Anyway though, if you go back and revisit "Rock Hard," it actually does a lot of dope, percussive tweaking like "Dope Beat."  Those massive, bassy beats lifted off the AC/ DC record.  That's probably Rick Rubin's influence, because yes, he was already down by then.  In fact, during this brief period, The Beastie Boys were officially a four-man group, with Rubin the fourth member going by DJ Double R.  He does some scratching on this record, and he's no Mixmaster Mike, but for 1984, hey, it at least jives with the rest of the music.  In fact, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on instrumentally, with some flavor no doubt being added by editors The Latin Rascals.  Plus, there's a lot of live guitar on here, besides just whatever they lifted off the AC/ DC record, probably being played by Ad Rock, who brags "I can play guitar - not just B-boys but real rock stars" in the lyrics.

And that's another thing about this record, the lyrics are, for a Beastie Boys record, strangely cohesive.  Usually, when I think of Beastie Boys lyrics, I think of an endless string of Greg Nice-ish non-sequitors.  Not that all of their songs are like that... "Fight For Your Right To Party" is a very simply themed, direct song.  But you know, they're generally credited for throwing in a million references, but they're almost never substantive, just throwing in arbitrary mentions of old movies and their girlfriends.  Like, "I'm as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce; you've got the rhyme and reason, but got no cause. But if you're hot to trot, you think you're slicker than grease, I've got news for you crews, you'll be sucking like a leech. Well I'm Dr. Spock, I'm here to rock, y'all; I want you off the wall, if you're playing the wall..." and so on.  That's from "So What'cha Want," but it could be from almost any of their songs, right?  Most of their records are just like a lyrical stew, where one sentence doesn't connect to the next or previous one.  Why bring up "Spock" except that it's an obvious rhyme with "rock?"  Anyway, that's my general little Beastie Boys rant.  I only bring it up to say this record isn't like that.  It's no epic poem like "The Illiad" set to music - the guys are basically just telling us how awesome they are at rocking the show - but it's at least a cohesive song that flows together.

After "Rock Hard" is "Party's Gettin' Rough," which is basically just a crazy, extended dub mix of "Rock Hard."  It extends the instrumental, adds a lot of ad-libs, including a long shout and call sequence of random syllables, but no actual rap verses or anything.  It's cool if you're digging the instrumental enough that you want it stretched out into a ten minute song, but it doesn't stand on its own.

More interesting, though, is the B-side, "Beastie Groove."  In fact, one curious aspect about it right off the bat, is that it doesn't feature any AC/ DC riffs, but was still left off of Licensed To Ill or any subsequent official release, including the bajillion times that album's been officially reissued.  Why?  I don't know!  Maybe they just didn't like it as much, possibly thought it sounded a little too old school?  It does feel a little rougher than most of their Def Jam work, but it's pretty solid with just classic early 80s beats and a hook that throws back to The Treacherous Three's "Heartbeat."  They really sound good over the track, and again, they're just doing standard braggadocio rhymes, but they're not on that random non-sequitor tip.  Ad Rock even flexes an impressive "New Rap Language" inspired flow for his verse.  But the Beastie Boys definitely give their record an updated, tougher edge, especially for its time.  "Beastie Groove" might not be Greatest Hits worthy, but I'd take it over most of their post-"Pass the Mic" indie rock junk, that's for sure.

The 12" wraps up with the instrumental.  So this was an early Def Jam 12", so it's a little on the rare side.  Like, you won't find it in a 99¢ bin.  But it's not like copies were recalled from record shops after the lawsuit, so copies are out there.  And it's been bootlegged plenty, sometimes with slightly altered track-listings, with fake Grand Royal labels.  And there's even a European Def Jam repress that came out in the late 2000s (music licensing laws seem to be a little different over there), all of which probably helped bring the original 12"'s market value back down to Earth.  So yeah, it's not that impossible to find an O.G.; you can own it if you want it.  And I think it's definitely worth it.  I've only sprung for a small percent of Beastie records over the years - most of it just feels like hipster bait to me - but this single is one of the essentials.

1 comment:

  1. Yo, great piece of writing Werner. Love this write up as it brings back great memories...Like many others I guess, The Beastie Boys were the group that were responsible for getting me into hip-hop in the first place...a lot to answer for! Licensed To Ill was the album to kick things off for me in 1987 (first put onto a tape for me by a mate until I eventually got my own copy and played to the tape was worn out) and will always be a precious hip-hop gem because of that. I mean Brass Monkey, Hold It Now Hit It, Slow Ride, crafty, Paul Revere, Brooklyn, Slow & Low, The New Style etc, every track was a winner. You knew them off by heart. Then I heard Rock Hard on my first LP purchase - it's the opening track on a Def Jam compilation called Kick It! The Def Jam Sampler Vol.1. And it's a solid banging opener and a great track to start it off. It's stuck with me to this day and always takes me back to my first hip-hop vinyl. Like you, when I heard Rock Hard I wondered why it wasn't on Licensed To Ill? Did puzzle me a bit. Thought it would fit on there. But it does make Kick It! a much more unique and worthwhile cos of it's appearance. Actually, Kick It! is a fantastic dope album and made for an excellent introduction to the art form in Autumn '87. It contains some of the finest early Def Jam productions like Jazzy Jay 'Def Jam', Original Concept 'Can You Feel It?' & 'Pump That Bass', LL Cool J 'I'm Bad' - that made a big impression! as did Public Enemy's 'You're Gonna Get Yours'. A 98 Oldsmobile? Wow! Exotic or what? Never ever heard of that over here! I was way too young but I thought that would be a cool car to own! Sounded like THE car to have...But one track stuck out as rather different but equally's by The Junkyard Band and it's called 'The Word / Sardines' and I love it still to this day. It's hip-hop with a Go-Go flavour to it and it totally and completely works to the max. Dope? Oh yes, indeed. Don't really know much about them or what else they did...perhaps their only Def Jam release? Time to do some digging on the JYB front! I think from what I can gather this 'The Word / Sardines' 12" is pretty hard to get in decent condition and it goes for some good money too. Also, will now have to find a copy of the 'Rock Hard' 12" after reading this. Great post yet again, Werner! Thanks for shining a light on these lost gems, it's a pleasure to read. RIP MCA.