The first time I heard Licensed To Ill was on a crappy portable tape machine at lunchtime in 1987, my friend Andrew Norman told me 2 minutes into ‘Rhymin and Stealin’, that they could rap properly, but they weren’t trying on purpose. In the grips of a major Pink Floyd and Queen obsession where virtuosity was the only virtue worth aspiring to, this was a bombshell – ‘they weren’t trying’; it wasn’t that they weren’t great, they just wanted to sound like they weren’t. Suddenly whole new worlds and ways of listening opened up to me, sloppy chic was in. Andrew also told me that the reason Led Zeppelin had sued them was because they were about to reform. Well, half right then.
I wasn’t a total stranger to their music, I’d already invested in ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)’ (to give it all its proper brackets) the day it came out, more by accident than incipient coolness. I’d already listened to Run DMC’s Raising Hell, and so I was partially acclimatised to strange words and phrases I couldn’t interpret, dry drum machine noises and RAWK guitars. This was a whole different game though and I realized that as soon as I heard ‘Rhymin’ and Stealin’ for the first time, this was evil, this was bad, they were nasty. They’d smash your glasses (‘The new Style’), rob bars (‘Paul Revere’), drink irresponsibly (‘…Party’), perform unmentionable acts with ho’s (‘No Sleep Til’ Brooklyn’), strapping a teacher with a ruler (‘Slow Ride’) and condemn women to a lifetime of domestic drudgery (‘Girls’). The Beasties didn’t want to save the world, or the rainforests and I never once heard them mention Nelson Mandela and, although I believed whole-heartedly in all those causes, it was kinda cool to listen to them and pretend I didn’t either. In fact it was pretty damn cool to listen to it, pretend I was a member of the coolest posse in school and that all the girls were on my dick – never quite deciphered this latter one, but it sounded like a desirable outcome t me. All the British tabloid nonsense – Pop stars Jeer at Dying Kids, the Liverpool show just added to all this exponentially. Before this the evilest I could find was all the swearing on Sex Pistol’s ‘Frigging in the rigging’.
We worked out that the taped copy I had was 7th generation and so clarity wasn’t really crystal clear, but it sort of worked out for the music. I only bought my LP copy in September 1989 at the stately age of 17, possible the first time I went back to fill in gaps in my record collection. far from killing music, this home-taping fuelled a Beastie Boy obsession which still burns bright today.
What pushed this over the line into obsession for me were two things, the numerous rock elements – I still reach for the air guitar when I hear ‘..Fight’ and ‘..Brooklyn’ today (frozen metal thanks to Kerry King, indeed) and stealing (stealin’ ?) the Zep drums on ‘…Rhymin” was also a stroke of genius; and the sampling – I loved ‘Time to Ill’ which was the B-side to ‘Fight’ and the last track on the LP. In fact discovering the Beasties early in my life was great, years and years later I’d be listening to something for the first time and would get a Eureka! moment as I placed the sample – Paul’s Boutique would accelerate this process into hyper-speed later on.
I must have listened to this LP so many times that I just internalised it completely, even today listening to it all the way through for the first time in about 5 years I knew every beat, every sneer, every reference to girlies, sheriffs and getting smacked with a ruler. It still makes me smile, still makes me turn off all my feminist sensibilities (I remember the outrage on the girls’ faces when we played ‘Girls’ on a school trip once, pathetic though it was, it felt like an obscure victory at the time) and I have even been known to rap along with their funny triangular rhymes if alone in the house. Okay, so bits of the second side lose some quality but I love this LP still for what it meant and the fun it gave me. it still sounds damn good too.
On a similar tip (see I got the lingo) the 12″ of She’s On It, which I picked up in 2002 has to be the worst-value-for-money 12″ ever. No extended mix, just 1 B-side album track (‘Slow and low’ – not a particularly good one anyway) and that’s your lot, just a full-frontal picture of the Beasties on some deck chairs. The title track is brilliant though and would have improved Licensed To Ill if it had been included, there is an extended version out there somewhere which is a bit ruder, but I’m not sure if it ever got a proper release.
I do love these records though, its just all that snotty teenageriness captured in amber forever, more than that though, its all my snotty teenageriness that I was too well-behaved and social conscience-stricken to ever articulate, made flesh, I was able to do it all vicariously through Mike D, MCA and Ad Rock – just as later on I took drugs and descended into urban paranoia through Axl Rose, flaunted my manliness in a loincloth through Manowar, lived in a futuristic dystopia through Tubeway Army, wooed sophisticated ladies through Bryan Ferry and with Soft Cell … STOP THIS BLOG!