Over the past few years, The Beastie Boys have released retrospectives in several different forms. Following the far too soon passing of Adam Yauch in 2012, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz have released a book, a documentary and now a Greatest Hits package, Beastie Boys Music. The non-chronological single disc takes in highlights from their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill through last studio album Hot Sauce Committee Part Two released in 2011.
Eschewing the “Jimmy James” announcement of “this is the first song on our new album” from 1993’s Check Your Head, instead “So What’cha Want?” opens BBM with its distorted vocals and stomping beat as the band marries rap, alternative rock, and punk in one go. Check Your Head saw the group move in a new direction by using more instrumentation and yielded two more classics in “Pass the Mic” and the aforementioned “Jimmy James”. “Pass the Mic” is one of the groups finest vocal performances as all three turn in memorable verses over a heavy percussion beat.
Most fans introduction to the group was through the frat boy schtick of the debut which contained seven singles and is certified diamond having sold over 10 million copies. Five of those singles appear here, including “(You Gotta Fight) For Your Right (To Party!)” and “Brass Monkey”. Next to the full sound of “So What’cha Want?”, 1986’s classic “Paul Revere” sounds a bit thin in comparison though it’s hard not to get caught up in the classic story as the track continues. One of the few stumbling moments on the album is the segue from “Paul Revere” into late period single “Make Some Noise”. An OK track but here it feels shoehorned in. Much better is the segue from massive 90s club track “Intergalatic” to the energetic “Ch-Check It Out” from To the 5 Boroughs. The horn introduction “Don’t Play No Game I Can’t Win” turns into a dub reggae delight with added vocals from Santigold. By the time “Play No Game…” appears, the disc is still only half way through.
Widely considered one of the best videos of all time from Spike Jonze, the actual audio of “Sabotage” still sounds like a bomb going off. The funky “Root Down” appears along with one of the surprise inclusions of the Q-Tip aided, “Get It Together”, a highlight of 1994’s Ill Communication. Upon release in 1988, it wasn’t long before the blue tape versions of Paul’s Boutique ended up in the bargain bins at local record stores. With only two singles and sales way down from the debut, it took several years before the album was rightly regarded as a landmark 80s rap release that is represented here by “Shadrach” and the disco funk of “Hey Ladies”.
After leaving the listener breathless for well over an hour, the metal guitar of “No Sleep to Brooklyn” closes things out. While most fans will have a few favourites left off (“The New Style”, “Shake Your Rump”, “Gratitude”, etc), it’s hard to argue with what is included. The non-chronological order of songs allows it to jump from era to era, classic to classic with minimal energy let down. In the end, Beastie Boys Music does what a greatest hits album should do – it reminds the listener of the consistency and greatness that MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D achieved over their three-decade recording career and provides a sampling of some of their best moments.