64. Beastie Boys - Sabotage

With the fuzzed out, distorted bass line that opens "Sabotage," the Beastie Boys took their music further in a direction that they'd started with their Check Your Head album. "Sabotage" was the first single from their fourth album, Ill Communication, and the Beastie Boys continued with their revolutionary musical stance (at least for rap music). They played their own instruments. Mike D wailing on drums, MCA actually playing lead on bass and Adrock ripping on the guitar.

Once they had mastered the art of sampling and layering all of those disparate samples (as they did on Paul's Boutique), they didn't rest on their laurels. They went back to their punk roots and started playing their instruments again. They introduced it on 1992's Check Your Head, and haven't stopped since. But with "Sabotage," they put together a kick-ass rock record where the lyrics are screamed, rather than sung. Then again, many would argue that all of punk rock and heavy metal are screamed, rather than sung.

Like many great songs, "Sabotage" was a song that just barely made the album that it was on. They had Ill Communication all set to go, but had this great instrumental that they had come up with to go on top of a bass line that MCA had brought to the table. They realized they needed vocals on top of it, so Adrock put some lyrics together and just belted them out into a crummy 8 track recorder and presented them to the band. When it all came together, they knew that they had something special. So on to Ill Communication it went.

It begins with that amazingly distorted bass, with those punctuated gunshot snare drums. There's a punchy layer of guitars on top of that before they just tear it loose with Adrock's ear-piercing lyrics. You wouldn't think that a guy with that whiny a voice could pull something like this off. But what he may lack in a bass timbre in his voice, he more than makes up for with pure volume. I would think that after performing this live, Adrock would need some serious tea with honey.

Mike D's pounding drums are exclamation points throughout the song. They keep pushing the song forward, propelling with sheer force. It reminds me a lot of how Keith Moon would play the drums, like they'd slept with his Mom and he was gonna lay on a beatin'. And then they all just stop. Gotta catch my breath. After that pause in the song that my friend Todd B. loves so much, MCA gets another chance to show off that great bass line and then Adrock just lets go vocally with a drawn out scream of "Whyyyyyyyyy?"

Lyrically, it's all about frustration and subversion. When you have someone who is undermining what you're doing, that frustration level can reach epic proportions. So Adrock's vocals mirror the sentiment of the lyrics:

I can't stand it, I know you planned it
But I'm gonna set it straight this Watergate
But I can't stand rockin' when I'm in this place
Because I feel disgrace because you're all in my face

And it ends like it began, thunder in, thunder out. Except at the end, there's just a bit of noise at the end, reminding me of the light that just barely escapes after you've slammed a door. This entire song is a slammed door, over and over. It's when you're frustration is so high that you slam it, then open it back up just so you can slam it again. The whole feel of the song hinges on getting the theme of frustration across. And "Sabotage" does it again and again, never letting us rest, even with that cool pause in it to catch our breath. It's not even three minutes long, but so much is crammed into it that it's bursting at the seams. Who could take five minutes of this? I think Adrock would have a coronary if he had to sing that long. But that's where "Sabotage"s genius lies. It tears off at a breakneck pace and ends just when we think we can't take anymore. And that's the sign of a great song.

Okay, I promised myself that I would have to make the case for this song without mentioning the video, since this isn't the 100 Greatest Music Videos of My Life. Because if it was, "Sabotage" just may be #1. Some call the video for "Sabotage" a parody of 70's cop shows like Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco and Starsky and Hutch, and it is. But it's more of a tribute parody, much like the movie Galaxy Quest was a loving parody of the Star Trek universe. The video, directed by Spike Jonez, who went on to direct brilliant movies like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, has each of the band members plays a different role, running and jumping and kicking ass the whole time. They never play for the laugh, and that's why I find myself laughing over and over.

It starts with the names for their characters: MCA is Sir Stewart Wallace who plays himself. MCA also portrays Nathan Wind who plays Cochese. Adrock stars as Vic Colfari, who is "The Rookie" Bobby. Mike D is Alasondro Alegre, who's "The Chief." Classic names, all of 'em. The video has that editing style of a movie trailer, with lots of action and smash cuts. It also has all of the 70's cop show standards: the bust in a sleazy motel, cops running down alleys, cops chasing perps through backyards, cops going undercover for a collar, police brutality, cops sliding across the hood of a car, cops in car chases, and most importantly, cops eating donuts. It's got them all. I've probably seen the video fifty times, and I can still punch it up on the computer another couple of times without getting bored.

So enjoy a great song, and perhaps the greatest music video:

Just in case you think I'm overstating things, here are some comments from YouTube from just the last couple of days:

holy f*ck that is awesome, Spike Jonze is a f*cking beast..

This music video is the greatest achievement of all mankind

Así quisiera ver los milícos en Uruguay.

For that last one, not being fluent in Spanish, I had to get someone to translate it for me. It translates as, "Just wanted to see the soldiers in Uraguay." Um, okay. Well I guess you can't get any bigger of an endorsement than that.

(Fun Quote #45: This is a great one from Adrock: The ideal Beastie fan is a 92-year-old woman with buckteeth. They slam dance a lot, and obviously we reduce the rate for OAPs. We don’t want to alienate our hardcore fans. [OAP is an acronym for the government program, Old Age Pension. I swear it's true. Old Age Pensioners!])
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