Sgt. Pepper Pantheon – Review of “Check Your Head – The Beastie Boys”

Like a lot of people of a certain age, The Beastie Boys in 1986 were one of those silly things that you ended up loving. You played the cassette until it became all muddied and eventually snapped. Their first album, “Licensed To ‘Ill” became the thing that changed rap from this vewy scawy thing that nice suburban kids shouldn’t listen to something, if not loved, at least “acceptable”.They were a cultural phenomenon, but then just as quickly as they came, they seemed to disappear. By the time this album came out, I think a lot of the “kids” that liked them no longer admitted they *ever* liked them. They thought the BBoys were posers, some sort of manufactured pop-creation like a boy band. Their second album didn’t do so well (even though many years later I got it and wow… very good).But this album was amazing. This was one of the first rap albums I remember coming out after the age of “sample whomever you want for free” ended. Prior to that, rap was all about sampling a beat or a hook and rapping over it, and after that, you were frowned upon for sampling (Vanilla Ice, for example) and had to start paying royalties.

The BBoys were originally a punk band, and they really took rap and hip-hop seriously. This album had them playing all their instruments and inventing their own hooks, and many of the tracks didn’t do their staple hand-off where each one said part of a verse. Some tracks only used one of them, or two of them.

They also put some (new I think) punk tracks onto the album, and did some very cool little instrumental interludes.

And that’s why it is in the pantheon – the tracks seemed to flow together really well, and the little instrumentals were both nice breaks and things to look forward to. One of the best tracks, “Stand Together”, has a 30 second lead-in called “The Blue Nun”, which is like, an ad for wine that goes well with the chicken – “delicious again, Peter”. Then there’s “Live at PJs”, which invokes an R&B dance club in the late 70’s or early 80’s. And “Professor Booty” which has three verses, each done by a single Beastie, all different, but all amazing – especially MCA’s (may he rest in peace).

But the most amazing thing is – you just have to put the whole album on and listen to it straight through. Any track by itself might be good, but together it is amazing.


True story #1: I saw the Beasties with a friend of mine when they opened for Public Enemy in 1986. A 16 year old and a 15 year old going to downtown Detroit in the mid-80s to see a rap concert. Two kids that were whiter than white and very scrawny down in the mosh pit of a rap concert. It…was…awesome, until my 15 year old friend got punched out by some guys who looked like they didn’t care much for scrawny white boys being there.

True story #2: As I said at the top, by the time this album came out, I had, like a lot of people my age, turned away from the Beasties (“who, the Beastie Boys? Naw, they’re a joke”). I heard the first track of this album (Jimmy James) while some friends of mine and I went down to San Francisco. I was in my second internship at Intel at the time. Where in SF do four single 22 year old males go in SF when they aren’t from California? If you said “the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art”, then you don’t know 22 year old males very well. If you said “the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theater to see strippers”, then you are right on the mark. I have three memories of that experience: (a) spending all my money, (b) apologizing to a transvestite outside the theater who thought we were making fun of her (we weren’t – we were just a bunch of stupid boys giggling about seeing “nekked girls”) and (c) saying “wow, that new Beastie Boys song sounds really good!” God I love San Francisco.

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The Sergeant Pepper’s Pantheon of Awesome Albums

Late last night as I was about to drift off to sleep, my brain decided to screw me over, and said to me: “You know what you need to do? You need to make a list of all the albums you like that are in the pantheon of all the greatest albums ever, and you can’t put Sgt. Pepper’s in that list, because that’s like putting ‘The Godfather’ in a list of all-time greatest movies.”

I told my brain to shut up, because i needed sleep, but it wouldn’t listen. “You should call this list the “Sgt. Pepper Pantheon” so that you acknowledge the awesomeness of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And then, over the course of the next few weeks, you should occasionally list why you like them, as if you were a record reviewer.

Unable to shut my brain off, I started compiling a list in my head. And then did more at lunch.

(For you young’uns who only know listening to music as an iTunes one-click experience… albums are collections of songs that used to be laid down on plastic. The limits of the plastic limited how many songs you could put on a single album, unless you went “double album”, and then you had to fill two of those things. Some artists used to look at albums like a project, to either tell a story or explore a theme, or where creative energy just burst out of them. Before the age of CDs, people like me would have to listen to the whole album just to get to one particular song, and so developed a taste for specific albums where the songs, while not singles, were amazing nonetheless. An album full of hits is not necessarily a “great” album and a great album may not have many (or any) hits.)

So, without further ado, here is my list (in alphabetical order). Some of these you may know/like, others not. I will give little mini-reviews over time, because you people love reading my brain droppings.

The Sgt. Pepper Pantheon of Awesome Albums (alphabetically)

  • The Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
  • The Beatles – Revolver
  • Billy Idol – Cyberpunk
  • Cake – Motorcade of Generosity
  • The Clash – London Calling
  • The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
  • De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising
  • Erasure – Chorus
  • Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
  • George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice, Volume 1
  • Green Day – American Idiot
  • Ice T – O.G. Original Gangster
  • Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV
  • Lenny Kravitz – Let Love Rule
  • Living Colour – Time’s Up
  • Max Q – Max Q
  • Midnight Oil – 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1
  • Morrissey – Your Arsenal
  • Nick Drake – Pink Moon
  • Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
  • Paul Simon – Graceland
  • Pete Townsend – White City: A Novel
  • Phish – Billy Breathes
  • Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon *and* Wish You Were Here
  • Public Image Ltd. – Second Edition
  • R.E.M. – Life’s Rich Pageant
  • Radiohead – OK Computer
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik
  • Rush – 2112
  • Seal – Seal
  • Smashing Pumpkins – Gish
  • Steve Winwood – Back in the High Life
  • The The – Mind Bomb
  • U2 – The Joshua Tree *and* All That You Can’t Leave Behind
  • Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
  • Weezer – Weezer (first album)
  • 24-7 Spyz – Harder than You