IN THIS IMAGE: The album cover for the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique (1989)/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
National Album Day: The Album I Will Be Listening to at That Time This Afternoon
THE decision wasn’t all that easy…
PHOTO CREDIT: @luana_dmc/Unsplash
because I was also toying with Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill. That album is one I fondly remember - and the reason I was considering it for a special spin was because of the perfectionism exuded by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker – two fastidious and masterful writers/composers who ensured, even at their loosest, the songs had layers and fine details. I love the whole album and you can go from the crooned and ‘professional’ vocals of David Palmer on Dirty Work and Brooklyn (Owes the Charmers Under Me) to the exhilarating riffs on Reelin’ in the Years; the underrated gems of Kings and Midnite Cruiser and the sheer perfection of Do It Again. I would chose Steely Dan over Beastie Boys in a fight over material – whose records I would like to listen to – but, on National Album Day, we are being asked to select a record that will be played at 3:33 P.M. – an iconic and appropriate time if you know your vinyl and why the ‘3s’ are important! To be fair; I will play Can’t Buy a Thrill in its fullness later today and end the day with a beer and a fine listening experience but, when singling it down to one record, I had to go for the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. Everywhere on social media, people are nominating the albums they will be playing. I can imagine the sort of disruptions and concentrations being vibrated across the land as 3:33 comes and we all fall silent for specific amounts of times!
IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I am not sure whether a double-album (is it strictly a single album?!) is allowed but, as it IS an album, I am going to spend that bit longer letting the Beastie Boys’ masterpiece unfold and unfurl. You might ask why I am choosing this record – even if you couldn’t care less I am going to explain anyway – and why not someone like Kate Bush…who I adore beyond words and is an artist who loves albums to death! I could go with The Kick Inside or Aerial but I feel, as I play them a lot, there is not a special reason to select one of them. I chose Paul’s Boutique because, to me, it is the definition of what an album should be. You cannot choose a single song and leave things there: you are so engrossed by all the samples, cutting lines and wonderful images to leave things alone! The only problem being where I am right now is the fact I do not have the vinyl and a record player available. I could run somewhere in the vain hope someone will but that is a remote possibility I am not willing to entertain. Instead; I am hunkering by a laptop with my headphones on and will spin the album on Spotify. It lacks a certain romance and purity but, as I have no choice, it is better than nothing!
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I first encountered the album not that long after its release. Paul’s Boutique came out in 1989 and I was about six at the time. I think I encountered it in the early-1990s and a lot of my school friends were getting into U.S. Hip-Hop and it was seen as THE thing to listen to! I was aware of the Beastie Boys and, looking back, License to Ill, their 1986 debut, remains my favourite. The reason I plump for Paul’s Boutique is because of its fullness and how daring it is! Look at a song B-Boy Bouillabaisse and you have a distinct nine-part suite that unfolds throughout the hypnotic swansong. I will come to explain why the album is going to be my choice for today’s celebration but it seems people cannot get enough of Paul’s Boutique. When it was released in 1989; many critics were put off because it was unlike the Beastie Boys’ debut. Those expecting Fight for Your Right or No Sleep Till Brooklyn – accessible and easy-to-understand songs – were in for a shock. Shake Your Rump and Hey Ladies are, I feel, the equivalent songs on their follow-up albums. Maybe the Paul’s Boutique cuts are more complex and sample-laden but they are still quite easy to digest and get on-board. The remainder of Paul’s Boutique gets inside your head and soul with its multiple samples and insane world...
The boys lost none of their wit and intelligence but stepped things up in terms of sonics and storytelling. Paul’s Boutique is named for a fictional clothing store that was suggested by band member Mike D. It is ‘located’ on Manhattan’s Lower East Side – the location for ‘Paul’s Boutique’ was an existing clothing store on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow Street called Lee’s Sportswear. Featuring production by the Dust Brothers; the album was recorded in Matt Dike’s apartment and the Record Plant in Los Angeles. Aside from the vocals themselves; Paul’s Boutique is composed of samples and people did not know what to make of it back then! When the Beasties started work on their second album, they were in self-imposed exile in L.A. and were being written-off as a novelty act. They were seen as a joke and many were not expecting a second record. In any case; it was an opportunity for Ad-Roc, Mike D and MCA to throw out the rulebook and make the record that they wanted! Back in 2009; Pitchfork – who usually crap over every album! – gave the twentieth anniversary reissue of Paul’s Boutique a perfect ten! Although I am listening to the original version – albeit, through Spotify… - the review makes some excellent observations:
“It’s impossible to hear the vast majority of this album as anything other than a locked-tight group effort, with its overlapping lyrics and shouted three-man one-liners, and it’s maybe best displayed in the classic single “Shadrach.” After years of post-Def Jam limbo and attempts to escape out from under the weight of a fratboy parody that got out of hand, they put together a defiant, iconographic statement of purpose that combined giddy braggadocio with weeded-out soul-searching. It’s the tightest highlight on an album full of them, a quick-volleying, line-swapping 100-yard dash capped off with the most confident possible delivery of the line “They tell us what to do? Hell no!”
“As reissues go, the 20th Anniversary re-release of Paul’s Boutique is relatively bare-bones. There’s a richer, cleaner audio mix remastered by the band, a tracklisting that splits “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” into its separate parts, and a sharp mini-gatefold package highlighting the iconic cover photo. That so little has been changed is more of a relief than a problem; between the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd samples, you’d think the clearance issues would be prohibitive. Just the fact that this album’s being reissued with all this care and attention should be enough. After Paul’s Boutique failed to move units, it wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that the Beasties would wind up like the protagonist of “Johnny Ryall”—with “a platinum voice/But only gold records,” reduced to obscurity while their most ambitious work faded into cutout-bin purgatory. As it turned out, they created an album we’ll probably never hear the likes of again—good thing it’s deep enough to live in forever”.
The reason I love the album and feel it is perfect when it comes to this special day; I can understand why it was a bit overlooked in 1989. At the time – and even now – music was a lot more accessible and had never seen an album as dense with samples. The Beasties were on full-on attack-mode when it came to jokes and vocals but it is the samples and the way they spliced them into the songs that excites me. One ca say albums like Paul’s Boutique inspired other sample-heavy masterpieces from DJ Shadow, The Avalanches and Beck but, to me, Paul’s Boutique is the ultimate combination of Hip-Hop confidence; brilliant jocular and memorable songs and sounds that blow your mind! The Vinyl Factory, last year, wrote an excellent piece that looked at the samples used on the album and broke things down:
“At the time of its release Paul’s Boutique was a relative commercial dud for the Beasties, given that the success of Licensed To Ill had taken the trio from middle-class punk kids to rap poster boys overnight. In Licensed To Ill the Beastie Boys came to disturb the peace, at least for the white, middle-American music market Def Jam were looking to break into. They succeeded in that. “I’m real mad at the Beastie Boys, they definitely messed up a lot of things for me,” said LL Cool J in a 1987 interview. But the Licensed To Illformula was not built to last. You can only play the teenage rebels for so long.
Anything from “100 to 300” samples lie within Paul’s Boutique according to one of its creators, Mike Simpson of The Dust Brothers. With production partner John King the duo crafted Paul’s Boutique from their LA studio armed with an MPC and a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of funk, soul, rock, rap, jazz and everything in-between. For the Beasties, Paul’s Boutique was their unabashed ode to ’70s funk and bravado, an album as lyrically potent as it was tongue-in-cheek and one that helped set the tone for rap music throughout the ‘90s.
Marking 28 years of Paul’s Boutique, we scratch the surface of the samples that epitomised this landmark LP from one of Brooklyn’s greatest exports”.
It is shocking noticing the major acclaim and recognition the album has received after its release – it is seen as one of the most influential and best albums ever – compared to the muted and dismayed response it garnered back in 1989! It is a surprise the boys had commercial backing and a label to support them for their third album: 1992’s Check Your Head was a critical success and gained huge reviews! Beastie Boys changed directions again but they did not drop their ambition and continued to keep the samples flowing and thick! There were some reviewers, back in 1989, who loved Paul’s Boutique and realised it took a while for it to settle. Maybe it was a bit complex and deep to please those who want something easy and straight-forward but I am glad people gave the album a chance and it has been so important. Another interesting article looked at the situation Beastie Boys were in after their debut and how Paul’s Boutique was received:
“By the time Beastie Boys convened to record the follow-up to their debut, Licensed To Ill, they’d painted themselves into a corner. That first album boasted rock hooks, hard raps and explosive singles that helped push the record to platinum status in no time flat. But MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock’s send-up of frat-boy culture threatened to become a self-sabotaging millstone heavier than the Volkswagen chain Mike D wore around his neck. Three years later they’d left Def Jam, signed with Capitol, and pitched up at The Dust Brothers’ place looking to create a follow-up that would shake the one-hit wonders tag they’d been lumped with. As luck would have it, the production duo had been working on a complex patchwork of beats, songs, dialogue snippets and anything else they could lay their hands on. Beastie Boys saw their future in its gleefully anarchic collage: the basis of what would become Paul’s Boutique.
“A lot of the tracks come from songs they’d planned to release to clubs as instrumentals,” Ad-Rock later told Clash magazine in the UK. “They were quite surprised when we said we wanted to rhyme on it, because they thought it was too dense.” The Brothers offered to strip the tracks to their bare beats, but the Beasties demurred and quickly got to work writing additional songs with their new collaborators”.
“Released on 25 July 1989, and named after a fictional clothing store, Paul’s Boutique (actually Lee’s Sportswear, located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side; the vinyl sleeve folded out to reveal a panoramic photo of the corner at Ludlow and Rivington Streets) initially confused punters looking for more of Licensed To Ill’s jock bravado. In the years since, however, it’s been rightly hailed as one of the cornerstones of hip-hop.
Gleefully racing through samples by everyone from The Beatles to Johnny Cash (the album has spawned entire websites devoted to tracing the sources, variously estimated at between 100 and 300 samples), Paul’s Boutique made clear exactly what was possible with hip-hop at a time when the number of lawsuits issued by disgruntled songwriters was on the rise. Though everyone involved is adamant that the samples were cleared, the $250,000 allegedly spent on doing so is nothing compared to today’s licensing fees. Just as soon as the Beasties and co opened the floodgates, they were pushed shut again. It would be impossible to make Paul’s Boutique today”.
New York Post wrote an article that explained how Paul’s Boutique changed Hip-Hop and changed the game. It showed white guys could rap – in a genre that was largely composed of black artists at the time – and sampling was taken to the next level! The Dust Brothers (who would become The Chemical Brothers) came to the fore and music videos were reinvented. The Beastie Boys, again, broke ground and released these stunning and immersive videos. Artists sampled on the record – including The Beatles – were brought into a new genre and, for others, new generations were discovering music they would not have otherwise have heard.
I love Paul’s Boutique because you cannot skip a track and do not want to leave any tracks out! Hey Ladies and Shadrach were released as singles but, given the length of some songs and how dense they were, it was never going to be a record with loads of singles and radio-friendly cuts! From the casual and modest opener, To All the Girls, you settle in and experience an album like no other – the only sample on the song is Loran’s Dance (Idris Muhammad). Shake Your Rump starts a brilliant 1-2-3-4-5 that is busy and addictive; crammed with samples a perfect combination between Beastie members trading verses and disparate samples aiding and abetting their mischief! Johnny Ryall, Egg Man and High Plains Drifter, among them, sample Pink Floyd, Jean Knight; Curtis Mayfield and Ramones – it is staggering how many diverse and unconnected artists seamlessly blend and collaborate! Hey Ladies arrives in the middle of the pack and welcomes a second-half display that mixes short snatches (5-Piece Chicken Dinner is twenty-three seconds of magic) to the twelve-minute-plus finale! Car Thief ingeniously fuses Donovan with Trouble Funk (naturally!) and Shadrach – my favourite cut – has everyone from James Brown and Rose Royce at the table! You listen to the fifteen tracks are dizzied and exhausted. You come back time and time again and it is one of those records you keep picking new stuff from. I have been excited by the album since I discovered it as a child and now, in 2018, I am going to mark National Album Day with a special play. Other people are celebrating and marking 3:33 P.M. in their own way but, for me, there is only one album I could play: the majestic and divine…
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images