Top 10 Beastie Boys Songs

Beastie Boys Songs

Photo: By bakameh (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Our Top 10 Beastie Boys songs list looks at the legendary hip hop/rap rock group from New York City, formed in 1981. Although two other people (John Berry and Kate Schellenbach) were part of the project at one point, the band is best known as a three-piece made up of Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz.

The band began as a post-hardcore group, supporting bands like The Misfits, Reagan Youth, and the Dead Kennedys but, following the release of their first EP, Cooky Puss, became most famous for their rap stylings. After meeting a young DJ, Rick Rubin, the band was soon signed to his record label, Def Jam. Before the release of their debut studio album, Licensed to Ill (1986), the band supported Madonna and Public Image Ltd, John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols project. The album was a huge success, becoming the first rap album – ever – to reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart, becoming the best-selling rap album of the decade.

In 1989, the band released Paul’s Boutique after leaving Def Jam to join Capitol Records. This album was more developed and mature than its predecessor and remains critically acclaimed to this day despite not selling so well. Their next album, Check Your Head (1992), saw the band playing their instruments, though it only peaked at number ten in the US. Thankfully, the next album, Ill Communication (1994), saw them return to the top of the charts.

Hello Nasty (1998) was an eclectic album that topped charts worldwide and won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album. After the September 11th attacks, the band became increasingly political, eventually releasing In A World Gone Mad (2003) in protest of the war in Iraq.

To the 5 Boroughs was released in 2004, generating minor controversy thanks to (incorrect) allegations that its CD installed spyware onto fan computers. This was followed by The Mix-Up in 2007, which, despite winning the band another Grammy award, was their lowest charting album to date.

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two was released in 2011 after its unreleased first part was delayed and canceled due to Yauch’s cancer diagnosis. Sadly, he would die a year later, aged 47, with the surviving members agreeing to end the band out of respect for their bandmate.

Although their star was starting to wane in the group’s later years, the Beastie Boys were a groundbreaking band, bringing rap to the masses in a way never done before. The Beastie Boys songs on this list are part of an impressive discography with innumerable highlights

# 10 – Brass Monkey

Opening up our top 10 Beastie Boys songs list is the song “Brass Monkey.” The song was a highlight of Licensed to Ill and a funky ode to the alcoholic drink of the same name. The classic cocktail consists of rum, vodka, and orange juice, and it is thought the band was inspired by the pre-mixed Heublein variety, which saw a spike in popularity following the release of this track.

The song features a sample of the primary instrumental hook from Wild Sugar’s “Bring It Here,” a jittery, brass-infused sound. The sample is paired with what, to modern ears, sounds like a rather uninspired 80s drum beat. Still, like the mixture of the titular cocktail, this works surprisingly well with the relatively low-key beat, allowing the brilliantly unpredictable, somehow unhinged sample to take center stage.

The lyrics of the song, particularly those of the chorus, are rather simplistic, using an obvious and predictable rhyming pattern. Again, this actually works in the song’s favor, and it’s easy to imagine New York bars in the late 1980s full of drunken revelers getting lost in the addictive hook.

The Beastie Boys song “Brass Monkey” teaches how an exciting sample can turn an average song into something spectacular, elevating it into something unique and exciting. Just like the cocktail of the same name, this track is intoxicating and will leave you thirsty for more.

# 9 – Paul Revere

This oddity of a track comes from Licensed to Ill and, despite its name, has nothing to do with the American Revolutionary of the same name. Paul Revere is the name of Adrock’s horse in the bizarre fictional origin story presented in the track. The song’s lyrics suggest that the Beastie Boys met in the desert, with Adrock pursued by a sheriff for some unknown (though not hard to imagine) transgression against his daughter. After meeting MCA, the two men ride to a bar where they come across Mike D, who they learn is planning to rob the place. The three join together to commit this crime and then escape with beer and girls.

The lyrics are a humorous and surreal affair, which rewards multiple listens. Despite the silly narrative, the song is notable for its extraordinary instrumental. The Roland TR-808 drum machine had existed for a few years before the song’s recording, but the band stumbled across something revolutionary when Adam Yauch suggested playing the 808 track backward. This resulted in the messed up and compelling backmask-like drum beat, which makes up almost the entirety of the song’s instrumental, which still sounds fresh and exciting over 20 years later. Despite its throwaway lyrics, “Paul Revere” deserves to be remembered as a track that—pre-digital sampling—contained a genuinely cutting-edge instrumental.

# 8 – Sure Shot

Continuing our top 10 Beastie Boys songs list, we turn to the excellent track “Sure Shot.” The third single released from Ill Communication, “Sure Shot,” is a prime example of the band’s trademark form of duetting. The three Beastie Boys had similar voices, though each was distinct enough to stand independently. This allowed them to take turns spitting bars in a way that worked to significant effect. In the “Sure Shot” chorus, the band alternates vocals within a single repeated line. This technique works well, sounding like an echo bouncing around, underlining the lyric’s message of unstoppable progress.

The instrumental of the song is typically unusual, opening with the sound of a whimpering dog – for some reason – which is thought to be sampled from a pizza shop commercial. The song’s central musical hook is a swirling jazz flute chord sampled from jazz musician Jeremy Steig’s song Howlin’ for Judy. This sample has aged nicely, and you can easily imagine someone like Kanye West doing something similar in 2017. Despite innumerable repetitions throughout the track, the sample never gets old and works well with this Beastie Boys song’s themes.

The final verse, where the vocals are given a distorted echoing effect, is perhaps a bit much, making the lyrics hard to decipher. However, at the song’s crescendo, the band just about gets away with it. “Sure Shot is an essential Beastie Boys cut, providing yet another example of their slick production.

# 7 – Make Some Noise

In some ways, Make Some Noise, the third single from Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011), is the spiritual successor to (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!). Released 25 years after the latter, the music video for this track is a sequel to Fight for Your Right featuring innumerable celebrity cameos, including Elijah Wood, Amy Poehler, and Steve Buscemi.

Of course, while the 1986 classic is mainly made up of rock elements – including some filthy guitar riffs – this is one of those contemporary Beastie Boys songs that focuses more on recreating a classical 80’s hip-hop sound. The instrumental features toe-tapping cowbells, with a wet and funky electronic riff snaking throughout the track.

The song also features some lyrical references to its predecessor, with the chorus asserting that rather than fight for our right to party, we have to party for our right to fight. This throwback is a great way to reference the band’s best-known song, perhaps to thank their hardcore fans for sticking with them for so long. The vocoder voice, which speaks the title hook during the chorus, is another beautiful way of forging the 80’s sound the band aimed to recreate.

Make Some Noise was the band’s highest-charting track since Ch-Check It Out, seven years before, meaning the band achieved success in four different decades. This is an impressive achievement accomplished by a great song.

# 6 – Sabotage

Another Beastie Boys song that leans more towards rock than hip hop, Sabotage, comes from Ill Communication and has a traditional rock instrumental, which features the band playing guitar (Adrock), bass (MCA), and drums (Mike D). The track begins like a regular rock song, with crunchy, distorted guitars, and it’s not until the vocals start that it becomes apparent that it’s so much more.

The turntable scratches and digital effects help mark this song as a rapcore classic, accompanied by chugging, swirling guitars, and a constant drum beat. At around the halfway mark, the music fades out, and that wonderfully fuzzy bass is allowed to take center stage, though it’s not long until the frantic and aggressive vocals return. The lyrics are free of the band’s usual mix of funny rhymes, but this slightly more serious take suits the song’s brutal instrumental.

The track is undoubtedly one of the band’s best-known songs, featuring everything from The Simpsons to How I Met Your Mother and appearing in the 2009 Star Trek film. There’s a lot of goodwill towards the song, perhaps because of its memorable Spike Jonze-directed music video, an affectionate parody of 1970s crime dramas.

Sabotage is an exciting riot of a track that will get your blood pumping. It’s an essential part of the Beastie Boys canon.

# 5 – Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win (feat. Santigold)

Anyone born in the mid-80s can tell you just how incredible the Beastie Boys were, but how could the band ingratiate themselves with the millennial audience? After all, by the release of Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the band’s youngest member was in his mid-40s. The group’s solution? To team up with one of indie’s most remarkable new wave, reggae-fusion artists, Santigold.

In many ways, the song is more of a Santigold track than a Beastie Boys song, featuring her reggae beats and recognizable world-music-inspired samples (which here take the form of some almost traffic-like horn effects). Of course, the Beasties make sure to put their stamp on the track, delivering their trademark rapping style with the addition of some dreamy and psychedelic effects.

In an age where artists like Kanye West, M.I.A., and Santigold have stretched and skewed rap to its very limits, this blend of old and new is a rather refreshing way of looking, not just at how far the medium has come but also at its roots; celebrating the path forged by groups like the Beastie Boys.

This was the band’s last single before Adam Yauch’s untimely death, but thankfully, the delightfully odd track allowed the band to go out on a memorable high.

# 4 – No Sleep Till Brooklyn

The sixth single from the band’s debut album, No Sleep Till Brooklyn, continues the hard rock influence found on many of the album’s tracks. The song is a pastiche of the wild activities that glam rock and heavy metal acts engage in on tour, with lyrics that gently mock the over-the-top boasts of stereotypical rock musicians.

The Beastie Boys’ song’s title presumably references Motörhead’s No Sleep ’til Hammersmith album, relocating the record to the Beastie Boys’ precious New York. Another rock reference is within the track, which features an incredible guitar riff that sounds remarkably like AC/DC’s TNT. The guitar on the track, courtesy of Slayer’s Kerry King, is something to behold, and even the biggest rap-rock naysayer would have to admit it’s terrific.

The original song featured some lyrics about women, which are pretty shocking to a contemporary “woke” listener. It seemed the band were ahead of their time here, as, in later performances, they replaced these problematic lines with fun and silly rhymes.

With tracks like “Brass Monkey” and “Fight for Your Right,” it’s easy to see why the band built such a large fan base early in their career. No Sleep Till Brooklyn is a thunderous sing-along track featuring jagged guitars that fizz with unbridled energy. This is one of those Beastie Boys songs that is just utterly impossible to ignore.

# 3 – (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)

What a lot of people don’t realize about this utterly classic mid-80s track is that it’s intended as a pastiche. Fight For Your Right was written as an ironic take on frat-like party anthems, something which was lost on the vast majority of listeners, not least the type of people the song is subtly mocking, who adopted it as a kind of theme tune, that iconic “kick it” intro announcing the beginning of innumerable all-night ragers.

Of course, the song became so immensely popular because it’s an absolute banger. From start to finish, the track is an impassioned fist-pumping call to arms, bursting with thick, chunky guitar riffs and a simple, addictive rhyming structure that makes it a treat to join in with. This says nothing of that genius hook in the chorus, which is virtually impossible to resist joining in with.

The song seems to have always been particularly popular in the UK, where it has been featured on countless “best songs of all time” lists. Perhaps this is because British drinking culture is even more extreme than that of US fraternities.

Despite its original intention being lost (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!), it is one of those Beastie Boys songs that doesn’t seem to age. It’s easy to imagine that this thumper of a track will remain relevant until the end of the world when the very last party is finally over.

# 2 – Intergalactic

This vocoder-fueled track displays the Beastie’s fascinating talent for choosing obscure samples and making them into something completely new. Intergalactic, from Hello Nasty, features samples from 80’s films The Toxic Avenger and From Beyond, the latter a classical piece and the former a sci-fi sound effect. The band’s ability to produce such a great song from such diverse elements perfectly illustrates their ridiculous, often underrated, musical talent. They even get meta and sample their track The New Style in the song’s final third.

The vocoder on the chorus is a great way to create the space-age vibe the song aims for, practically forcing listeners to bust out their best version of “The Robot.” This atmosphere is further heightened by the classical sample that plays during the song’s verses: a version of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor, which has an oddly creepy, somehow otherworldly sound.

The song was a great success for the band, reaching number 28 in the US and number 5 in the UK (the band’s highest-charting song). It even won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance. It’s easy to see why the song did so well; it’s got an unusual and exciting instrumental, sharply spat vocals, and a chorus that never seems to get old. Some Beastie Boys songs haven’t aged as well as others, but Intergalactic still manages to sound extremely current.

# 1 – Ch-Check It Out

This track from the band’s sixth album To the 5 Boroughs, is a brilliant alternative hip-hop track and undoubtedly the band’s most significant musical achievement. The song’s central musical hook is a sample from Peggy Lee’s version of (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, which, despite coming from a sensitive soul song, sounds every inch like a slamming 80’s or 90’s hip hop effect.

The bars on this song are tightly performed, arguably showcasing the band at its best. Released in 2004, two decades after the band formed, it’s no surprise that Ch-Check It Out sees the band at its prime. The song’s lyrics are as clever and humorous as you’d expect. Beginning with an address to TV addicts, the band states its intent to snap them out of this fugue state with its sick rhymes.

As usual, the rest of the lyrics are made up of the band’s over-the-top brags and boasts about how great they are. This is commonplace in rap, but the Beastie Boys manage to get away with it, not just because they have the skills to back up their claims but also because they always do so with a wink and tongue-in-cheek way.

Ch-Check It Out is a masterclass in alternative hip hop, featuring an inspired instrumental and some sharp vocals. Many Beastie Boys songs could have topped this list, but this mid-naughties rap classic is most worthy of first place.

Over their decade-spanning career, the Beastie Boys created many memorable and ingenious tracks. Their early mix of rock and hip-hop was like nothing the world had ever heard, and their sound only got slicked with time. Though the band finished under tragic circumstances, all the Beastie Boys songs on this list are must-listen and are bound to make your day brighter.

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