5. Isobel Campbell – Runnin’ Down a Dream (Song): When the first round of COVID hit in March of this year, it was not uncommon to see streams of people walking down our otherwise quiet street. I joined the walkers, as I always do, and this track was a main listening experience at that time. The great Tom Petty song gets redone with a hovering synth that sounds like a drone and Isobel’s barely above a whisper vocals.
4. Alice Boman – Don’t Forget About Me (Song): My favourite track of the year that was actually released in 2019. It likely popped up on an Apple playlist early in the new year and was instantly slotted in as a constant listen. The two beat percussion that appears a handful of times is a subtle highlight but it’s the lyrics that really hit. “I don’t want to ruin this illusion/by saying something wrong/so I say nothing at all” – Devastating.
3. Bjork – Debut (Album): At some point in the 90s I owned Bjork’s Debut album. And at some point in the 90s I sold it just to buy it back in the last year. I didn’t really get it all those years ago and it took a lot of listens to get it now. But when I did, it stuck. The dreamier second half which is what I ended up listening to the most. A great album by an extraordinary artist.
2. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (Album): For the last two years in a row I’ve listened to Van Morrison on bitterly cold winter walks in January. The expert folk, rock and jazz musical bed creates a hazy world where Morrison speaks to you and tries to tell you his dreams. It’s an otherworldly listen that is breathtaking each time. “You breathe in/you breathe out”
1. The Beastie Boys – Beastie Boys Music (Album) – The Beastie Boys released this single disc greatest hits in late October of 2020. For some, this music has always been with us. Hearing “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” on a cheap ghetto blaster as an 11 year old in hockey dressing rooms, “Sabotage” at Lollapalooza in the early 90s, “Intergalatic” banging out of club speakers in the late 90s, and back to “Paul Revere” in a Vegas lounge side room to a small handful of partygoers. The Beastie Boys have never been too far from the stereo over the years but hearing this collection of songs brought their greatness back to the forefront. A must have for all 40 year old rock, rap, and alternative music fans.
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.