FEATURE: Just WHO Was Johnny Ryall? Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique at Thirty



Just WHO Was Johnny Ryall?


Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique at Thirty


YOU get these albums that come along…

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys in 1989/PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Rider

and they sort of pass under the radar without too much fuss. Although the Beastie BoysPaul’s Boutique is regarded as a classic now, it was not revered as such back in 1989. Recorded in Mike Dike’s apartment and at Record Plant in Los Angeles between 1988 and 1989, Beastie Boys’ second album was a chance to prove that they were not one-hit/album wonders. There was this feeling that Licensed to Ill (released in 1986) was a bit jokey and the trio were not born for great success – a few of the songs were sexist and there was homophobic content (it was clear they needed to make changes and retune their vocabulary at the very least!). The intrepid threesome of Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond (vocals, drums), Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch (vocals, bass) and Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz (vocals, guitar), perhaps, created one of the most dramatic about-faces in musical history. In terms of the leap of ambition from their debut to their second album, there have been few other artists who have done something like this. There were hints of samples and ambitious threads of Licensed to Ill - but Paul’s Boutique is such a different beast. Even though Licensed to Ill is one of the lesser-celebrated albums in the Beasties’ back catalogue, sales were good and they were buoyed with some chart success – singles such as (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!) and No Sleep till Brooklyn were class cuts.

At the time of Paul’s Boutique’s release, it was not met with much celebration. Who can imagine that, on 25th July, 1989 that there would be so little celebration and love for an album that changed the face of Hip-Hop?! Maybe it was the thick samples and the complexity of the music; perhaps the vast difference between their debut and Paul’s Boutique threw fans and critics. I shall not quote some of the meaner reviews of 1989 but it is safe to say some critics were lining up to kick the Beastie Boys and an album that, to them, was strange, scattered and stupid. Soon enough, Paul’s Boutique would be regarded as a classic; some saw it as the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of Hip-Hop; others marvelled in its cross-pollinating sounds and bold lyrical jumps. I shall talk about (the album’s legacy) and the reviews for Paul’s Boutique shortly but, in terms of the sound of this album, The Dust Brothers are the unsung heroes. The production team were, at first, charged with making a hit album but they took Beastie Boys in a new direction. A much bolder and experimental album, over one-hundred samples are deployed through the album. Contrary to belief, most of the samples used on Paul’s Boutique were cleared amiably and easily; consider how hard it would be to do that today – a sign that we have taken a step back when it comes to encouraging art and sampling through music. The lack of litigious delay meant that The Dust Brothers and Beastie Boys could create this masterpiece.

The fact that The Dust Brothers had a lot of music sorted before they met with the Beastie Boys, coupled with the relatively low-cost samples, meant that there was this harmony and excitement in camp. The lyrical fire and confidence throughout is brilliant but, to me, it is those samples that take Paul’s Boutique from great to a stone-cold classic! The stunning Shake Your Rump is a standout of the album but it fuses Harvey Scales, Foxy and James Brown in the same song. I think Johnny Ryall’s mix of Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Kurtis Blow provides the most arresting and risky combination but, when you hear the song, it all works! I have posted a video of the samples used on Paul’s Boutique…but look at this article and they provide more details. Hey Ladies is crammed with samples and the closing wonder of B-Boy Bouillabaisse goes into hyperdrive with its collages and invention! We live in a time when artists are struggling to get sample clearance because of laws and copyright; the fact samples are expensive means many are going without or facing lawsuits if they negate the traditional clearance paths. Some of the finest albums ever have been ripe with samples and I do think it is a shame that we will never see anything quite as fulfilling and vast as Paul’s Boutique – can you see an album with so many samples today making its way to the market without lawyers and estates hounding the artists for royalties/money?!  

In this review, The A.V. Club explained the beauty of the samples and the fluidity of Paul’s Boutique:

So why would anyone buy this exquisitely redundant version of a stone-cold classic? Perhaps because it’s just about perfect, an essential product of a golden age of creative freedom where inspired crate-diggers like Boutique producers The Dust Brothers could get away with sampling anyone and everything, from The Beatles to Johnny Cash, without paying prohibitively expensive licensing fees. Boutique flows together like a single cohesive track: It takes such a trippy, kaleidoscopic, immersive ride through its creators’ pop-culture-warped minds that it’s hard to believe the journey lasts a mere 53 minutes. Those who don’t own Boutique should by all means pick it up. They might also want to pick up Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Thriller while they’re at it, and consider moving out of that cave. Then again, unlike with the recent Thriller botch (is anything improved by the addition of Will.I.Am?) the Boys know better than to mess with perfection”.

That comparison to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band might walk perilously close to blasphemy and hyperbole but consider how The Beatles tore up the rulebook in 1967 and then, twenty-two years later, the Beastie Boys did it with an equally kaleidoscopic, colourful and rich album. The Beastie Boys’ masterpiece is not just full of diverse sounds that see artists conversing with one another but the tracks flow effortless and supremely.

Anyone can put loads of samples together but will the songs move and flow naturally? Will we hear something cohesive and original? With The Dust Brothers by their sides, the Beastie Boys helped to create one of the defining albums of the 1980s – just as the decade was sort of coming to a close. To mark thirty years of Paul’s Boutique, the Beastie Boys are releasing some rarities – as NME explain:

Six new EPs, including remixes and B-sides, will arrive over the next month

Beastie Boys‘ classic record ‘Paul’s Boutique’ celebrates its 30th birthday next week (July 25), and the band are lining up a host of special releases to mark the occasion.

Six new digital EPs will be released over the course of the next month, featuring 21 rare remixes and B-sides that will be digitally released for the first time.

Three EPs, ‘An Exciting Evening At Home With Shadrach’, ‘Meshach And Abednego’ and ‘Love American Style EP’ are released today (July 19), while remix EPs of the singles ‘Hey Ladies’ and ‘Shadrach’ will come out a week today (July 26)”.

Make sure you snap those up but, on Thursday, it will be thirty years since Paul’s Boutique landed. It remains one of the finest Hip-Hop albums ever but, if it were not for some keen critics and some sharp ears, it could have been commercial suicide for the trio.

The relative lack of hoopla Paul’s Boutique received in 1989 is shocking but, as the album is so dense and epic, perhaps it took a while for many to see its true value. The samples are magnificent but one cannot overlook the performances of the Beasties themselves! Pitchfork, when reviewing a twentieth anniversary edition of the album highlighted the boys’ evolution and standouts:

And, of course, there’s Ad-Rock and MCA and Mike D themselves. Where the aesthetic of Licensed to Ill could have permanently placed them in the crass dirtbag-shtick company of “Married With Children” and Andrew Dice Clay if they’d kept it up, Paul’s Boutique pushed them into a new direction as renaissance men of punchline lyricism. They were still happily at home affecting low-class behaviors: hucking eggs at people on “Egg Man”; going on cross-country crime sprees on “High Plains Drifter”; smackin’ girlies on the booty with something called a “plank bee” in “Car Thief”; claiming to have been “makin’ records when you were suckin’ your mother’s dick” on “3-Minute Rule.” But they’d also mastered quick-witted acrobatic rhymes to augment their countless pop-culture references and adolescent hijinks. “Long distance from my girl and I’m talkin’ on the cellular/She said that she was sorry and I said ‘Yeah, the hell you were’”—we’re a long way from “Cookie Puss” here.

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!

This article adds to the argument the Beastie Boys upped their game and changed the dialogue:

Lyrically the Beasties had also flipped the script. Their raps were as hilarious as ever, but this time they were witty. Even the notoriously brusque critic Robert Christgau gave them props for “bearing down on the cleverest rhymes in the biz” adding “the Beasties concentrate on tall tales rather than boasting or dissing. In their irresponsible, exemplary way they make fun of drug misuse, racism, assault, and other real vices fools might accuse them of.”

Paul’s Boutique gave the Beastie Boys the critical acclaim they desperately desired. Rolling Stone manoeuvred a U-turn and brazenly called it, “the Pet Sounds / The Dark Side of the Moon of hip hop.” But more importantly, it also earned the group respect with their peers and idols. Miles Davis claimed he never got tired of listening to it, and Public Enemy’s Chuck D even said, ‘The dirty secret among the Black hip hop community at the time of the release was that Paul’s Boutique had the best beats.” ‘Nuff said”.

I am about to write an article on another huge album celebrating a big anniversary this year – The Beatles’ Abbey Road turns fifty in September – but I think a lot of attention should go the way of Paul’s Boutique on 25th July. Even if you were not around to experience the album the first time around, picking it up now is almost like stepping into a new universe; a world created by the Beastie Boys that is full of clashing sounds, slick jokes and supreme confidence. The fact the album lasts under an hour bellies the scope and magnificence of the songs. The drama that unfolds; the addictiveness of the songs and the feeling one gets from listening to Paul’s Boutique – everything is present and very much correct! Many argue as to which album was the best of Hip Hop’s golden era (1986/1987-1991/1992) but, to me, Paul’s Boutique would be right near the top; perhaps slightly overshadowed by De La Soul’s debut, 3 Feet High and Rising. Whether you prefer Egg Man, 3-Minute Rule or Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun (my favourite from the album), one has to accept that the completeness, unity and eclecticism of Paul’s Boutique is what makes it…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A truly biblical record.