Tuesday, June 27, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1654: Beastie Boys

Greetings and welcome back. Let’s get to the music where I’ve been enjoying my second 5-star album in my last three!

Disc 1654 is…Licensed to Ill

Artist: Beastie Boys

Year of Release: 1986

What’s up with the Cover?  The tail of a jet. That jet looks pretty sleek, but when you fold out the cover photo the front of it is smashed into a cliff face, which is decidedly less sleek.

Fun fact (that I learned – in unimaginative fashion – from Wikipedia) the registration number spells “Eat Me” when held in a mirror.

How I Came To Know It: I was aware of this record from the hit single “Fight For Your Right” but it was more of a dull awareness around the edge of my consciousness. After all, this was rap and I was not yet a rap convert back at that time.

Then some time in the mid eighties I was crammed into a tiny Toyota pick up truck with my buddy Tony and his brother, heading to Tony’s bachelor party. The tape deck was belching out the sounds of “Licensed to Ill”. That was it, I was hooked. I bought it the next week, and for many years it was my only Beastie Boys record (like I said, I was a slow learner when it came to rap).

How It Stacks Up: I eventually did figure it out, and now have (or have had) a total of eight Beastie Boys records and this is the last one for review. As such, we now get the long-awaited recap. Here it is:

  1. To the 5 Boroughs: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 997)
  2. Paul’s Boutique: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 1602)
  3. Licensed to Ill: 5 stars (reviewed right here)
  4. Hello Nasty: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 96)
  5. Ill Communication: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 1329)
  6. Check Your Head: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 545)
  7. The Mix-Up: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 185)
  8. Some Old Bullshit: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 104)

 Quite a span reflected there, dating all the way back to 2010.

Rating: 5 stars

Ad-Roc, MCA and Mike D were three Brooklyn boys who helped change the face of music. “Licensed to Ill” may only rank third in my overall list, but it was the album that did the deed more than any other.

Listening in the mid-eighties to “Fight For Your Right” I had no idea I was already under the influence of this record’s unique alchemy. I loved the song, which rocked out and featured a bunch of raucous, partying knuckleheads. The idea that this was some form of hip hop was discussed on music channels and in the media, but it didn’t really resonate. How could hip hop possibly rock this hard?

Therein lies the trick this record plays on you. It takes two heretofore disparate styles – hard rock and hip hop – and melds them so completely you can’t see the stitches. It is easy today to see how these genre busting songs could work, but in 1986 this shit was revolutionary.

All that’s well and good, but it wouldn’t mean a thing if the album wasn’t any good. But “Licensed to Ill” is not just good, it is one of the greatest records ever, rock, rap, or other.

The heavy hitter tunes like “Fight For Your Right”, “She’s Crafty” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” will have you moshing in your Toyota pickup (or whatever vehicle you’re in). The artfully selected samples give you a taste of that rock and roll lifestyle; the raps adding that urban flair that turns those same riffs on their heads. The Beasties don’t just use great samples, they artfully repurpose them to create a new sound. This is how God intended rappers to sample music. Don’t steal a riff if you aren’t gonna give it a push into something new.

The record also tells great stories. “She’s Crafty” is one of the best tunes, the Beasties taking turns (as is their wont) telling tales about a new girl in the neighbourhood who is getting the better of the locals. The tune isn’t just rock riff sample, it also has the tapping of empty glass for percussion and some old school snare samples for good measure. Here we see the helpful hand of Rick Rubin’s production, taking the brilliance of the Beasties and letting them walk their creativity right off the cliffs of insanity.

In other places the Beasties get playful, with the silly fun of “Girls” and the lascivious fun of “Brass Monkey” which takes the seemingly uninspired rhyme of “Brass Monkey/That Funky Monkey” and turns it into an expression I still use to this day. The raps on this tune are also brilliant, and while fairly straightforward in structure, complex enough to be the harbinger of more complicated forms to come on future records.

It feels like every time I listen to “Licensed to Ill” there is a new song that grabs my attention. This time around it was “Slow and Low” which has the perfect mix of all the sounds that make this record great, and encouragingly encourages us to

“Let it flow,
let yourself to go
Slow and low
That is the tempo.”

I gladly did so, absorbed for the thousandth time in the brilliance of this record that showed the world you could hit hard and still be funky as hell. Mosh, breakdance, or do both at once, as the spirit moves you.

Best tracks: All tracks

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