Playlist #11: Songs for MCA

Tough to write but easy to listen to, the latest playlist remembers Adam Yauch and the music he created with his band, The Beastie Boys…

There’s an unwritten rule about playlists, mix-tapes or whatever we want to call them. They should only ever feature one track per artist. You can circumvent this by being clever and putting related bands’ tracks on there – a nice little in-joke to yourself. But never should one band or artist feature more than once. In the case of this latest playlist though, we thought it only right to mark the passing of Adam Yauch, or MCA if you prefer, with a mix dedicated to him and his band, the Beastie Boys.

Shortly after the news of Yauch’s death broke on Friday, a friend remarked how it was funny that ‘three guys took a jokey one hit wonder and became some of the most important musicians of their generation’. That song, Fight For Your Right, described by Yauch as ‘a goof on all the “Smokin’ in the boys room”/”I wanna rock” type songs in the world’, became the Beasties early calling card, paving the way for a media frenzy and moral panic when they hit these shores to tour debut record Licensed to Ill.

For many it remains the song the band is best (or worst) known for, but a real feature of the band’s career is their versatility. Perhaps Adam Yauch in particular personifies the transformation they underwent. From callow youth to founder of the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organisation promoting awareness into the plight of Tibet in the shadow of Chinese occupation, he embodied best the evolution they went through.

“Adam Yauch in particular personifies the transformation they underwent”

Along with Mike Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock), the Beastie Boys first came to light on the NY hardcore scene, forming in 1979. Egg Raid on Mojo, an early favourite, captures the frenetic energy that marked this period in their career. Featuring on the EP Polly Wog Stew, Egg Raid is one of a handful of hardcore-era tracks the band continued to play live.

With Licensed to Ill the first rap/hip hop album to top the US Billboard charts, its follow up Paul’s Boutique was considered a relative commercial failure. However, it proved a sleeper hit, and eventually secured double platinum status. Paul’s Boutique also shored-up the Beastie’s critical standing. Marking a departure from those Fight For Your Rights headlines, and highlighting their versatility, it arguably set the Boys on the road to their standing as Hip Hop hall of famers.

Check Your Head and Ill Communication followed in relatively quick succession, the latter confirming their crossover appeal; by this point, commercial and critical acclaim was practically a given for the old school friends. It was also around this time (particularly with Ill Communication) that we were bitten by the Beastie Boys bug. The long gone (but not forgotten) Mardi Gras club, just off Bold Street, regularly played Sure Shot. A fiendishly danceable and cathartic track, Sure Shot cemented the band’s place in our triple CD-playing hifi.

Something of a departure, instrumental release The In Sound From Way Out! was released in 1996. An interesting aside to the band’s most obvious skills for well delivered verse, the record is a collection of the group’s instrumentals from Check Your Head and Ill Communication; it also serves as a perfect show-case for the dynamic, low slung command on bass of Yauch.

Approaching their forties, Yauch, Diamond and Horovitz were showing no signs of slowing down, and in 1998 released Hello Nasty. Their fifth studio album, Hello Nasty shifted over half a million copies in its first week, debuting at number one on the charts. Just as importantly it was another progressive step for the band. Demonstrating their adroit knack of adding to the crew at the right time, Mix Master Mike was welcomed on board, bringing a new dimension to their repertoire on record and on stage.

The video for Intergalactic, one of the standout tracks on the record, was directed by Nathanial Hornblower, Yauch’s directing pseudonym. A broad homage/pastiche of Japanese monster flicks, and borrowing heavily from the likes of Spike Jonze (who directed Sabotage), it nonetheless continued the now-established Beastie’s tradition for great promos as events in and of themselves. Another talent discovered, Yauch went on to direct the 2006 Beastie Boys concert film, Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! and co-founded the indie film distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, through which he released documentary film Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot, his paean to basketball.

Following Hello Nasty, there was a six year wait until next long player, To The 5 Boroughs. After which came a second instrumental record – The Mix Up – and then 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. The album’s third single, Make Some Noise, performed well, no doubt aided by the Hornblower directed video, laced with references to where it all started for them. There had been a Part One, the release of which was delayed indefinitely when in 2009 Yauch was diagnosed with cancer. Who knows what will come next from the remaining Beastie Boys, but theirs and Adam’s legacy is secure. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a month before his death, their influence is likely to outlive us all.

Posted on 07/05/2012 by thedoublenegative