Dropping Names, Cutting Tapes: Beastie Boys – “Hey Ladies”

On “Hey Ladies”, the Beastie Boys prove that their hip-hop collage approach to making tunes is applicable to the four-minute single format, resulting in a track that is both technically accomplished and danceable.

Beastie Boys

Paul's Boutique

US Release: 1989-07-25
UK Release: Import
Label: Capitol

“Hey Ladies” is the most famous track from Paul’s Boutique, the one most widely known by the general public, even by those who are not Beastie Boys enthusiasts. It only reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but was notable as the first single to chart in the top 20 of both the Hot Rap Singles and Modern Rock Tracks. Its disco-era inspired music video, complete with a cowbell-playing hand popping out of the ceiling, became a 1980s cultural touchstone, a campy, fun, retro-infused promo that solidified the Beasties’ reputation as rap music’s greatest jokesters. On “Hey Ladies”, the Beastie Boys prove that their hip-hop collage approach to making tunes is applicable to the four-minute single format, and can yield a track that is both technically accomplished and danceable.

From the beginning, we notice how self-assured and “absolute” the groove is. With samples from the likes of the Commodores, Kool and the Gang, and Cameo, “Hey Ladies” might have the funkiest feel on Paul’s Boutique. Unlike several other tracks from the record, this one doesn’t vary that much rhythmically or incorporate asymmetrical, abrupt shifts in tempo (see “The Sounds of Science”, for example). Even as the sonic texture changes—during the famous “cowbell solo”, for instance—the relentless beat goes on. It’s not surprising that “Hey Ladies” was chosen as the record’s lead single, for its consistency makes it especially danceable.

Just because the tempo and groove of “Hey Ladies” hold steady doesn’t mean that it’s not a song of great complexity. The Beasties are dropping names and cutting up tapes just as much as ever. Bits of lyrics from “Funky President” by James Brown, “War” by Edwin Starr, and “Hush” by Deep Purple, among others, are dropped precisely into the track to contribute (sometimes ironically) to the song’s meaning. The shaky, goofy-sounding line “She thinks she’s the passionate one” from Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” serves as a self-deprecating reminder that the Beasties aren’t taking their own bravado too seriously.

In fact, given that as the lead single “Hey Ladies” formed the first impression many had of Paul’s Boutique and the post-Licensed to Ill Beastie Boys, it’s important to note how much irony is present in the track as a whole. Sure, the overall message of the tune (like so many of the Beasties’ songs from this era) seems to be that the boys are really, really good with the ladies. Every woman the boys see are a potential sexual conquest waiting to happen (“I’ll bring you back to the place and your dress I’m peeling”). They’re ridiculously confident in their own abilities and physical appearance (“Me in the corner with a good looking daughter / I dropped my drawers and it was welcome back, Kotter”). They have the ability to sweet-talk anyone (“The gift of gab is the gift I have”), especially those women who aren’t especially intelligent (“Educated? No. Stupid? Yes”). However, their machismo is apparently based on falsehoods (“I’m telling her every lie that you know that I never did”). We get the impression that we’re listening to the tales not of experienced travelers who have been around the block a time or two, but rather goofy adolescents who make up crazy stories in the locker room.

In a way, the faux-masculinity motif that has been ubiquitous more recently in pop culture (see Flight of the Conchords songs like “Crying” and “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)” and Saturday Night Live digital short “Dick in a Box”, for example) stems from the Beasties’ mock-heroic tunes of hyperbolic sexual exploits. The line “There’s more to me than you’ll ever know” seems prescient, given that the influence of “Hey Ladies” and other songs like it has reached further than anyone could have predicted in 1989.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.