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.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.