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May 12

The Beastie Boys: “The Sounds of Science”

Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch, 1964-2012

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Wow, little did I know I would be setting aside Cover Friday for this: Adam Yauch, aka “MCA” of the Beastie Boys, has died at the far-too-young age of 47, apparently after a battle with cancer that he fought very privately.

Within the span of just a few years, The Beastie Boys evolved from their early incarnation circa 1982 as bratty punks (on the Polly Wog Stew EP), to their first crack at hip hop, “Cookie Puss,” to the still-bratty (and first significant white) rappers of Licensed to Ill. Over the course of their albums beyond that, they traded the early, sometimes misogynistic wisecracks for more insightful (yet still wisecracking) subject matter, building songs of greater sonic depth in the process. MCA usually came across as the most introspective of the trio, eventually turning to Buddhism and such activities as organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concert. On the Beasties’ albums, his raspy vocals were the perfect foil to the whinier, more nasal vocals of Mike D and Ad-Rock.

The Beastie Boys -- Paul's Boutique

There’s no such thing as a bad Beastie Boys album, if you like their music at all — even the weaker one or two albums in their discography have many strengths to recommend them. But if I had to pick just one to claim as my favorite, the Desert Island Beastie Boys album, it would have to be 1989’s Paul’s Boutique. From beginning to end it’s simply an amazing album, an incredible assemblage of samples from a huge spectrum of sources layered into nothing less than a hip-hop masterpiece. It was the album, in fact, that was the final straw for that degree of sampling, since lawsuits too expensive for labels and artists to afford followed in its wake.

As many great songs as there are on Paul’s Boutique, the one that always springs to my mind first is “The Sounds of Science,” which strings together several Beatles samples into a marvelous whole. Among them: “When I’m 64” to begin the song, followed by the intro drums from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise),” and the guitar raveup from “The End.” When the song hits the 1:40 mark, the “Sgt. Pepper” drums start pounding, the boys’ rapping kicks into overdrive, and they bring the house down. Prophetically, toward the end of the song, Yauch raps:

I’m gonna die gonna die one day
Cause I’m goin and goin and goin this way
[. . .]
I’m going out first class not going out coach.

As surprising as it may have been to discover after early impressions of the Beastie Boys, Adam Yauch/MCA was indeed a class act, and went out that way — much too early. His presence in the music world will be missed.

2 Comments

  1. zot says:

    Nice post. “Paul’s Boutique” is my favorite too. Since we both love the Beatles, no surprise that “The Sounds of Science” is also the song I like best on the record.

    1. Thanks — too bad the “Paul’s Boutique” discussion couldn’t have come under better circumstances.

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