The year was 1992. Half of the year was me finishing 10th grade and the other half, the start of 11th grade. A critical time in any teenager’s life, as you transition to an upperclassman in high school. Music, of course, was still a huge part of my life as I started to branch out into new genres, including punk and hardcore music.
The new releases that meant the most to me that year (in the moment) were the Beastie Boys' Check Your Head, Smeared by Sloan, Predator by Ice Cube, Sweet Oblivion by Screaming Trees, and Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut. Shortly after, other 1992 releases like Sugar’s Copper Blue, Jawbreaker’s Bivouac, Farside’s Rochambeau, Shudder to Think’s Get Your Goat, and Sonic Youth’s self-titled album would be added to the list. It was certainly a good and diverse/creative year for music.
Picking this issue’s focus was a challenge! I narrowed it down by selecting two “in the moment” albums: Check Your Head and Rage Against the Machine. From the “later” records, I would pick Copper Blue and Rochambeau – maybe even Bivouac. To compromise, I decided to focus on Check Your Head, but I will also comment on the three “later” albums, since they ended up being pretty crucial in the grand scheme of my life.
The Beastie Boys are the group that combined the genres that have impacted my life the most: hip hop, punk, and hardcore. (As well as some other genres I came to like: funk, jazz, soul, etc.) In fact, Check Your Head was the first album where they connected all of these styles and influences to create a collection of songs that would ultimately define the group for the remainder of their careers. They played instruments on many songs, weaved in a political/social consciousness, and did it all unapologetically as only the Beastie Boys can do. They proved they could do anything. This album might not get the cult attention of Paul’s Boutique or the massive hits of Ill Communication, but Check Your Head is just as important for this fact alone: you could tell they were finally exactly who they wanted to be as musicians.
Do what I do professionally.
To tell the truth I am exactly what I want to be.
Let’s dig in to my highlights!
A funky, upbeat opening to the album (as well as the third single.) The song is a perfect opening to show off what the Beastie Boys were going to unleash with Check Your Head.
[MCA] This is a type of kinda like a formal dedication [MD] Givin' out a shout [AD] for much inspiration [MD] All I ever really want to do is get nice Get loose and goof a little slice of life [MCA] Sendin' out love to all corners of the land [AD] I jump up on the stage and take the mic in my hand [MD] I'm not playin' the role [AD] Just being who I am [MCA] And if you try to dis me, I couldn't give a damn
- “Surrender“ by Cheap Trick, from the album, Cheap Trick at Budokhan
- “Happy Birthday“ by Jimi Hendrix, from the album, My Best Friend
- “Foxy Lady" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, from the album, Are You Experienced
- “I’m Chief Kamanawanalea” by the Turtles, from the album, The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands
Originally an instrumental groove, Jimmy James was said to be a tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
Not much to this song, but to a teenager working their first low paying jobs, some with questionable bosses, it was enough.
- “Funky Worm“ by Ohio Players, from the album, Pleasure
- “Under Mi Sensi“ by Barrington Levy, from the single, "Under Mi Sensi”
- “Bicentennial Nigger“ by Richard Pryor, from the album, Bicentennial Nigger
Pass the Mic
A Beastie Boys classic and the first single off Check Your Head. One of my all-time favorites.
Well I’m on 'til the crack of dawn Mowing down emcees like I’m mowing a lawn I go off like nothing can faze me You think we'll ever meet Stevie? one of these days, D But I can stand my ground and I am down To wax an emcee who acts like a clown But for now, I’d like to ask you how You like the feel of the bass in your face in the crowd?
- Ron Carter
- “The Black Prince Has Arrived“ by Jimmie Walker
- “Big Take Over“ by Bad Brains, from the album, Bad Brains
- “So What Cha Sayin’“ by EPMD, from the album, Unfinished Business
- “Big Sur Suite“ by Johnny "Hammond” Smith
- “I Walk on Guilded Splinters“ by Dr. John, from the album, Gris-Gris
- “I Wanna Know If It’s Good to You“ by Funkadelic
- “Choir” by James Newton, from the album, Axum
The fourth single off the album with it’s instantly recognizable fuzzed-out bass guitar line. Another of my favorites. Pretty sure I got my wah pedal because of this song too.
Good times gone, but you feed it Hate's grown strong, you feel you need it Just one thing, do you know you What you think? That the world owes you? What's gonna’ set you free Look inside and you'll see When you've got so much to say It's called gratitude, and that's right
Another song the Beasties played live as a band, with it’s funk, soul and African musical influences. Good stuff.
Finger Lickin' Good
The group returns to it’s more classic hip hop sound, though the did also play their instruments on the backing track.
Well they call me Mike D with the mad man style I put the mic up to my lips and I can scream for a while Created a sound at which many were shocked at I’ve got a million ideas that I ain't even rocked yet I’ve got the light bulb flashing on the top of my head Never wake up on the wrong side of the bed
- “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues“ by Bob Dylan, from the album, Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
- “Breakout“ by Johnny "Hammond” Smith, from the album, Breakout (1971)
- “Three for the Festival“ by Rashaan Roland Kirk, from the album, We Free Kings (1961)
- “Dance to the Music“ by Sly & the Family Stone, from the single, "Dance to the Music/Sing a Simple Song” (1979)
An interesting aside on that Dylan sample:
Interviewed for a piece in Boston Rock, Mike D shed some light on clearing the Dylan sample: “Seven hundred bucks, but he asked for two thousand dollars. I thought it was kind of fly that he asked for $2000.00, and I bartered Bob Dylan down. That’s my proudest sampling deal.”
So What’Cha Want
Another classic track and the second single off Check Your Head.
Y'all suckers write me checks and then they bounce So I reach into my pocket for the fresh amount See, I'm the long leaner Victor the Cleaner I'm the illest motherfucker from here to Gardena
- “I’ve Been Watching You“ by Southside Movement from their self-titled debut album (1973)
- “Just Rhymin' with Biz“ by Big Daddy Kane from the album Long Live the Kane (1988)
Time for Livin'
The story behind this hardcore influenced track:
The music is by a really great but unknown, and I believe unreleased, early ‘80s New York hardcore band called Front Line. Yauch was particularly fond of this one song by them and had asked Miles Kelly, Front Line’s guitar player, to show it to him. I kind of remember Yauch would just play it on his bass every now and then when we would be messing around. One day after playing it a bit with Yauch showing me the arrangement, we decided [to] put it on tape. As usual for the time, Mario C. was ready to roll. I think we did a few takes, and then we had it.
Something’s Got to Give
This mellow song has serious dub influences. From Ad Rock:
“Something’s Got to Give” is one of my all time favorites ‘cause of all the elements inside; mixing live music with samples of our live music, live vocals with samples of our vocals, the lyrics and their sentiment, and the fucked-up bass.
Some skronk-y funk. Not sure if that’s even a word! I can picture this on a soundtrack for a 70s blaxploitation film.
Yeah, you motherfuckers, I'm all that I see you lookin' at me sayin' How can he be so skinny and live so phat? You know why, cause I'm the maestro
Richard Arnold “Groove” Holmes was an American organist who performed in the genres of hard bop and soul jazz. His most notable recording is “Misty” (1965). With virtuoso groove and technique evident in “rapid, punctuating, and pulsating basslines,” Holmes’ work is regarded as antecedent of acid jazz. One year following his death, Beastie Boys paid tribute to Holmes on this track.
Live at PJs
Another super funky live-band-backed track with Ad Rock on vocals.
Well! Back to the back to the beat, y'all Down with the sound so sweet, y'all Just how fresh can you get, y'all? Those that are blessed say yes y'all
The fifth single off Check Your Head. Samples include:
- “Give It Up“ by Kool & the Gang, from the album, Kool & the Gang (1969)
- “Loose Booty“ by Willie Henderson, from the album, Dance With the Master (1974)
- “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Babe“ by Jimmy Smith, from the album, Blacksmith (1974)
Interestingly enough, for being a single the song was only performed live twice.
An instrumental, but a good one.
A smooth instrumental with MCA"s poetry over top.
To my mind I brought the image of light And I expanded out of it My fear was just a shadow And then a voice spoke in my head And she said, Dark is not the opposite of light It's the absence of light And I thought to myself She knows what she's talking about And for a moment I knew what it was all about
Listen to the whole record on Apple Music:
Beyond the music, the Beastie Boys were a big part of my friendship group, including road trips to see them at Lollapalooza in Saratoga in 1994 and later (1998) in Barrie, ON. We played in a very Beasties-like band in college called the Butter Cream Gang (named after we found this movie during a late night trip to Blockbuster) and jammed many times after that with my newly purchased wah pedal. Honestly, after probably Fugazi (more on them in a future issue!) and Run DMC, the Beastie Boys were one of the most influential bands in my life.
'Copper Blue by Sugar (Listen)
The first album from Sugar and Bob Mould’s first band (non solo work) after Husker Du. It’s an amazing collection of power pop breakup songs that only Bob Mould can write. It was one of those albums I fell in love with the first time I heard it from Chris Fritton on the bus ride to high school. Highlights include: “Changes”, “Hoover Dam”, “Fortune Teller”, and “A Good Idea”.
Funny enough, Husker Du had an influence on Nirvana, which in turn had an influence on Bob Mould and Sugar:
The popularity of Nevermind and its grunge sound had a profound impact on Mould. In an interview with NPR, Mould said: "When Nevermind came out, that album changed the way people listen to music. A lot of the songs that I had been writing in 1991 led up to my next group, Sugar — and had it not been for Nevermind, I don't know if Sugar's Copper Blue would have stood a chance in '92.
Rochambeau by Farside (Listen)
Farside’s debut full length. At the time, this record broke every assumption of what a “hardcore” band could be with acoustic guitar parts and well sung, emotional and thought provoking lyrics. At the time they were essentially an alternative band with former hardcore band members (even Zach de la Rocha was in the band early on!), which automatically put them in the hardcore scene. For me personally, this made for an excellent gateway into the classic record label, Revelation Records, and an entire music scene. Farside went on to release two more classic albums, Rigged and The Monroe Doctrine – both of which are must listens. They are one of my favorite all time bands, for sure.
Bivouac by Jawbreaker (Listen)
This was one of the first albums I bought based on a zine, more specifically Maximum Rock and Roll. I got it on cassette at the mall record store of all places. Jawbreaker is a top 10 band for me and this was the starting place. I started liking Jawbreaker because they were punk as fuck, but they weren’t stereotypical punks. They liked poetry and wrote music that wasn’t regular punk music - it was noisy, fast, aggressive, and poppy. Other releases to check out (all crucial in their own way): Unfun, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, Dear You.
With this issue’s focus on 1992, I put together a playlist of some great songs from that year. Listen on Apple Music.
Here are some new releases I’ve been listening to and enjoying:
- True Love by Hovvdy (Listen)
- Wayfinder by Boy Scouts (Listen)
- Piecework by Kowloon Walled City (Listen)
- Half God by Wiki (Listen)
- Distant Populations by Quicksand (Listen)
- The Color Blu(e) by Blu (Listen)
- This Place You Know by One Step Closer (Listen)
- Where I'm at Now by S. Raekwon (Listen)
- Puppies Forever by BLACKSTARKIDS (Listen)
- I Don't Live Here Anymore by The War on Drugs (Listen)
- Radical by Every Time I Die (Listen)
- Fun House by Hand Habits (Listen)
And some older releases that have made it back into regular rotation:
- American Nervoso by Botch (Listen)
- We are Romans by Botch (Listen)
- In Place of Real Insight by Karate (Listen)
- s/t by Karate (Listen)
- Like Nirvana by Cub Sport (Listen)
- Being There by Wilco (Listen)
- Closer Still by Change (Listen)
- Mirrorland by Earthgang (Listen)
- Trial by Verbal Assault (Listen)
- The Pace is Glacial by Seam (Listen)
Follow me on Last.fm to see more.
Musical Moving Pictures
More live music! This time it was Hop Along at Mohawk Place in Buffalo, NY. The band and crowd were amazing. We need more shows like this so musicians leave our town and encourage others to visit. Too many touring musicians skip over Buffalo for no good reason.
🔗 Michelle Zauner (AKA Japanese Breakfast) on Sable’s Wistful Soundtrack
In her own words, Michelle Zauner, aka indie-pop artist Japanese Breakfast, didn’t grow up in a household of high culture. She wasn’t shown fine art, foreign directors, or classic literature by her parents in Oregon during the 1990s. What Zauner had was video games, first on a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and then on a PlayStation.
🔗 The 200 Best Albums of the Last 25 Years, According to Pitchfork Readers
A pretty solid list and ranking, in fact I own 20 of these on vinyl. A few albums that shockingly aren’t listed: Being There by Wilco, Black on Both Sides by Mos Def, 100 Broken Windows by Idlewild, Relationship of Command by At The Drive-in, Mass Romantic by The New Pornographers, The Argument by Fugazi, Fantastic Damage by El-P, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko Case for example.
Thanks for reading this issue of One Last Wish! Next issue we’ll see you in 1993.