What with all of this “Fight For Your Right Revisited” hoo-ha, it appears as if the Beastie Boys are coming to terms with the full arc of their career. For the Beasties, their first mega-smash hit used to occupy the same cultural dead zone as the Star Wars Christmas Special: Yes, of course it existed, but you weren’t going to get them to admit it.
But now, with an increasingly long lag time between albums and Adam “MCA” Yauch’s health issues throwing the group’s future into doubt, maybe it’s time to settle old scores.
So, in honor of both the Boys hitting the quarter-century mark and this week’s release of Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2, Paste presents our 20 favorite Beastie Boys tunes of all time. Plus: 5 instrumentals!
The limp To The 5 Boroughs was a big letdown when it came out. Well, except to Rolling Stone’s editors, who apparently appreciated all of the jabs at good ol’ Dubya. But “An Open Letter” works as a passionate aural collage and tribute to the Beasties’ hometown. Ostensibly, the song is a post-9/11 pep talk. But it’s more a portrait of the Big Apple as three men once knew it, and the ideals that the city still represents.
Quotable: “Dear New York, / I know a lot has changed / Two Towers down / But you’re still in the game.”
Okay, enough serious crap. Here’s the Beasties doing that three-headed braggadocio thing we all love so much on this non-album track.
Quotable: “I’m selling sex rhymes by the pound.”
Maybe it’s because MTV played them to death, but I have little love for the big singles on Licensed To Ill. It’s like listening to three junior high school boys grunt over bad hair metal. Give me this instead, any day: a hard, skeletal beat, with each Beastie jockeying to out-schlock the others.
Quotable: “I’ve got money and juice, twin sisters in my bed / Their father had envy so I shot him in the head.”
Because they have such beautiful chemistry collectively—and such interchangeable flows individually — there aren’t a lot of Beastie Boys songs like this one: each guy gets a verse all to himself. Adrock riles up the crowd, Mike D plays the easygoing philosopher, and MCA absolutely grinds rival MC Serch down to the cuticles.
Quotable: “Professor… what’s another word for pirate treasure?”
A live favorite. That harpsichord interlude is such a double-take moment for first-time listeners.
Quotable: “I don’t mean to brag / I don’t mean to boast / But I’m intercontinental when I eat French toast.”
A gem tossed off between two-on-two basketball games, “Get It Together” features a freestyling Q-Tip at the peak of his powers and the Beasties riding his verse’s coattails.
Quotable: “‘Cos she’s the cheese and I’m the macaroni!”
These guys don’t do enough story songs. Who could top this cautionary tale of a scheming party girl?
Quotable: “The girl is crafty like ice is cold.”
Does anyone else get a Public Enemy vibe from this beat? What a statement to open Check Your Head. And it became the namesake for an excellent NewsRadio character.
Quotable: “People how ya doing there’s a new day dawning.”
The night of 1,000 steel drums!
Quotable: “Like a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape / I’m fine like wine when I start to rap.”
We easily could have packed another two or three Paul’s Boutique deep cuts onto this list, but this track wins for its sheer, spaced-out L.A. vibe.
Quotable: “Buy my cheeba from the cop down the street / The only cop with the rope chain when he’s walking the beat.”
The exotic flute and MCA verse that open this track signal a new direction for the trio: a bit more introspection, but still plenty of bump to the beats.
Quotable: “Everybody rapping like it’s a commercial / Acting like life is a big commercial.”
An inescapable banger in ’94. The sound of summer. Driving. With all the windows down. Who cared if the guys had gray hairs at this point?
Quotable: “I wanna say a little something that’s long overdue / The disrespect to women has got to be through.”
For all the inspired beat tapestries they sewed together on Paul’s Boutique, the Dust Brothers’ greatest decision might have been handing the reins to Sly & The Family Stone on this cut. And lyrically, this was like a quantum leap for the three Beasties. Biblical allusions, tight tag-team wordplay, and “equinox symmetry.”
Quotable: “If I had a penny for my thoughts I’d be a millionaire.”
The Beasties at their most nasal, which is saying something. (The vowel sounds in the song title don’t help). But one can see why this jam took off in ’92, amidst the grunge explosion. It’s distorted, spiky, and perfect for young moshers. And dig that organ.
Quotable: “I’m as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.”
Yeah, no wonder Paul’s Boutique tanked commercially. This single, both sonically and in its accompanying video, recast America’s favorite frat boy lunkheads as a bunch of psychedelic space pimps with a disco fetish. But damned if it isn’t a masterpiece. The Beasties aren’t exactly saying anything here that they weren’t on Licensed to Ill—they still want your daughter in the backseat. But it’s how they’re saying it, with dense pop-culture asides and atop a luscious Dust Brothers beat, that makes all the difference.
Quotable: “Vincent Van Gogh go and mail that ear!”
Every rap group needs an origin story, and this one is a barnburner. With perhaps a minor embellishment or two, the Beasties recall that magical day when they first met—a day of gunplay, robbery and plenty of booze, of course.
Quotable: “I did it like this / I did it like that / I did it with a Wiffle ball bat.”
Just a seismic comeback single. On an album (Hello Nasty) bursting with weird tangents and bugged-out beats, this miniature space odyssey might have been one of the weirdest things on there. But it kicks like a Klingon—especially at Bar Mitzvah parties.
Quotable: “When it comes to beats, I’m a fiend / I like my sugar with coffee and cream.”
Bass for your face. The greatest groove in the Beastie Boys’ library.
Quotable: “The original nasal kid is doing damage!”
Bam! Right out of the gate, the first proper track on Paul’s Boutique is firing on all cylinders with a huge drum fill. It only gets juicier from there. Which part do you rock hardest to? The funky scratch guitar? The gooey synth bass? The bong hit in the middle? How about all of the above?
Quotable: “Running from the law, the press and the parents / Is your name Michael Diamond? / Naw, mine’s Clarence.”
Even after they became all “mature” or whatever, the Beastie Boys have always been about getting the crowd amped. And nothing in their repertoire gets fist pumping and heads banging like this raw, fuzzed-out slab of aggro-funk. A song so hard, it apparently will inspire no less a badass than James Tiberius Kirk in a few centuries.
5. “Sneakin’ Out the Hospital”
3. “Groove Holmes”
2. “In 3’s”
1. “Ricky’s Theme”