‘Paul’s Boutique’ Turns 30

The commercial flop and sample-based masterpiece could have easily never happened.

Let’s not take the Beastie Boys for granted. It’s possible they were destined for the amazing run of albums they had, but considering how tenuous things were after the Licensed to Ill tour, it’s a marvel they weren’t one album wonders.

After growing weary of their own frat boy personas and having been screwed by Def Jam, they had essentially disbanded by the end of 1987.  Adrock moved to Los Angeles to work on a movie, Yauch was playing bass with his band Brooklyn, and Mike D, as he hysterically told the audience on the band’s recent book tour, was “experimenting with drugs.” 

Thank god Adrock got that movie part, otherwise he wouldn’t have been in L.A. to attend the party where he bumped into Matt Dike, who was about to start the label Delicious Vinyl. Out by the pool, Dike introduced Adrock to a couple guys he’d been making music with who called themselves The Dust Brothers. They were playing a cassette of some instrumentals they were working on. Adrock was so impressed that he convinced Mike D and MCA to come out to west to hear it.

Those instrumentals were the catalyst that got the band back into the studio together. The result was the commercial flop Paul’s Boutique, which turns 30 today.

Initially ignored by the powers that be, Beastie Boys’ second album has come to be known as a landmark masterpiece, a stunning display of just how far sampled-based music can go. Soon after its release, copyright lawyers made sure nothing like it would ever be made again, and so it remains perhaps the greatest collection of musical references on any single album.

But Paul’s isn’t the complete 180 from Licensed to Ill that people often describe it as. “Sounds of Science,” “High Plains Drifter” and “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” all could have worked on the first album, and lines like “Rapunzel let down your hair so I can climb up and get into your underwear” are copy and pasted from the early Beastie rhymebook.

But this is the album where the band began to forge a new identify that was their very own, and it would ultimately carry them for another 23 years, ending only with the untimely passing of Adam Yauch in 2012.

Happy birthday, Paul’s Boutique. Three decades later these funky-to-death instrumentals, with the Boys’ wild, pass-the-mic performances on top, still sound amazingly free and fun.