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The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique (33 1/3) Paperback – March 1, 2006
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'The idea was simple: to ask a group of authors to each write a book about a classic album. What emerged became Continuum's 33 1/3 series. Without guidelines or rules, each author embraced their own favourite album and chose exactly how they wanted to write about it.As a result, each book is by turn anecdotal, obsessive, technical and personal, but always passionate.' (Swell Music, December 2006)
"...recognized as acultish, kaleidoscopic classic...a frequently illuminating and entertainingtale..."- Stevie Chick, Mojo (Mojo)
"Just how the hell did three snot-nosed party boys from Brooklyn go from fighting for the right to party to creating 1989's hip-hop masterpiece Paul's Boutique? The album, with its thousands of samples, is an aural encyclopedia of musical landmarks, served up in a funk stew of arrogance, attitude, and ultimately, adoration for the components from which it comes. LeRoy has done a great job capturing the surroundings, the people involved, and the reaction then. The insights as to how the record was constructed, from the mighty foot of John Bonham to the scratchy guitar of '70s funk, are illuminating. Fire up Paul's on the iPod, crack the spine of this little tome, and "Shake Your Rump."—The Big Takeover (James Mann, author of About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton)
“…recognized as acultish, kaleidoscopic classic…a frequently illuminating and entertainingtale…”- Stevie Chick, Mojo (Sanford Lakoff)
"Just how the hell did three snot-nosed party boys from Brooklyn go from fighting for the right to party to creating 1989's hip-hop masterpiece Paul's Boutique? The album, with its thousands of samples, is an aural encyclopedia of musical landmarks, served up in a funk stew of arrogance, attitude, and ultimately, adoration for the components from which it comes. LeRoy has done a great job capturing the surroundings, the people involved, and the reaction then. The insights as to how the record was constructed, from the mighty foot of John Bonham to the scratchy guitar of '70s funk, are illuminating. Fire up Paul's on the iPod, crack the spine of this little tome, and "Shake Your Rump."—The Big Takeover (Sanford Lakoff)
About the Author
Dan LeRoy is the Director of Literary Arts at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, PA. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Vibe, The Village Voice, National Review Online and Alternative Press. Mr. LeRoy is the co-author (with Michael Lipton) of 20 Years of Mountain Stage, a history of the National Public Radio show, and his book The Greatest Music Never Sold will be published by Backbeat in autumn 2007. He is also a contributor to But Prince Don't Moonwalk, an anthology of music writing to be published in 2008 by Crown/Random House.
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The record itself is a collection of various other records, through the then-standard-but-not-quite-legal art of sampling. Exploring each track in terms of its riffs and their possible sourcing (a task which is hard even for the creative team behind the album to decipher), the author does an admirable job of tracking down various sources and explaining some of the process in the selection of those samples and their meaning within the context of the songs. He also delves into the story of the album itself, and how the Beasties made it almost as a rejection of their success with their debut album (License to Ill) and of their former record label (they moved from Def Jam to Capitol). The album, quite well-reviewed at the time of its release, struggled to find any kind of audience due to the label's insistence on hit singles (hard to do with an album that almost fit together like the old-school concept albums of the Sixties and Seventies) and by the band's unwillingness or inability to tour in support of it. But the album would not be denied, and the final part surveys the growing sense of appreciation for what the Beasties (and Matt Dike, and the Dust Brothers) managed to achieve with this, their one and only collaboration together.
The writing is informing and engaging throughout, and while this won't serve as a definitive history of the group, it is a definitive and tantalizing history of "Paul's Boutique."
Dan LeRoy does a fantastic job delving into the Beastie's most underrated album. Written like a long magazine article, the short book is entertaining throughout, taking you from the end of touring for Licensed to Ill, the Beastie's utter dislike of the album that made them famous, the falling out with their old label, and the turmoil surrounding the production of what would become Paul's Boutique.
Having grown up just a bit late for the Beastie Boy fandom, I was still a fan, but, admittedly, had never listened to Paul's Boutique. After reading this and giving it a good listen, it's my favorite.
Even if you aren't a fan of The Beastie Boy's but are interested in the creative process and a behind the scenes look at how works of creativity get made, this is worth a quick read.
LeRoy is a regular contributor to the New York Times and Rolling Stone, so you get a good piece of rock journalism here. He covers a lot of ground, interviewing almost everyone involved in the music, the bands' friends from that time, like Donovan Leitch and Ione Skye, and even Mike D. (Though not interviewing MCA and Ad-Rock were major misses.) A good chunk is devoted to the origins of the music, probably because there were so many people involved. Rap albums seem to be unusually dependent on producers, who often craft many of the beats and samples underneath the rap. Paul's Boutique was no exception.
LeRoy goes back to the mid 80's and the beginnings of the California DJ scene where Matt Dike and The Dust Brothers, the producers of the album, got their starts. He follows them through their discovery of sampling and the evolution of it as an art form for clubs and parties. The Beastie Boys got hooked into this scene when they flew out to California in 1988 to get away from the protracted legal battle with their first label, Def Jam. (A battle that LeRoy sheds some juicy nuggets about through the Capitol A&R guy who had run-ins with Russell Simmons over the matter) The guys were literally just hanging out at Matt Dike's apartment when they heard for the first time the music that would eventually end up on the album. Mike D offered to buy Dike's work on the spot. The first quarter of the book is so devoted to Dike and the Dust Brothers that one could be forgiven for wondering what the Beasties themselves actually did other than buy the music.
Thankfully the book gets to that, and it's here where we come to understand why the Beasties are the stars. The book, which will be slow going at first for anyone who isn't a fan of Matt Dike and the Dust Brothers, bursts forth with life once they jump onto the stage. LeRoy shows us their childish pranks and rock star lifestyles, their antagonism towards their record executives, and we remember why we loved them so much.
What LeRoy does best though is to show us what a risk Paul's Boutique really was. Everyone (I raise my hand meekly) expected more of the metal-rap that had made the band famous. Instead, The Boys, like all great artists do after a success, went another direction. They went back to their favorite music of the 70's, (not Zeppelin this time though) tore the songs apart, and put them back together into a musical stew centered on the work of their three unknown producers. It was a recipe for commercial disaster, but they were having fun, which was all they wanted to do. A particularly scary moment in the book for fans of the bands later work is when Mike D shares that the band really thought their careers could be undone by the album and wondered what they would do next.
Though the album got some great early critical reviews, the shock people got when they heard the work, the 70's aesthetic the Beasties prominently displayed in the first video, and the lack of a tour all ensured that Paul's Boutique would be a commercial flop. Luckily, time often renders great art great. Once the Beasties put out two more great albums, (Check You Head and Ill Communication) and once the times caught up with its own 70's nostalgia, Paul's Boutique finally got the credit it deserved.
This is one of the better installments of the 33 1/3 series. If you're a Beastie Boys fan, you'll want to pick this up.