Music

Dropping Names, Cutting Tapes: Beastie Boys – “5-Piece..."/"Looking Down the Barrel..."

The Beastie Boys give us “5-Piece Chicken Dinner”, a brief, bright roll in the hay, only to juxtapose it with “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun”, one of the darkest, dirtiest tracks on Paul’s Boutique--and also one of the best.

Beastie Boys

Paul's Boutique

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

Side two of Paul’s Boutique begins with “5-Piece Chicken Dinner”, a 23-second, straightforward bluegrass number that samples “Shuckin’ the Corn”, a tune by Eric Weissberg of “Dueling Banjos” fame. It’s fast and celebratory, prominently featuring the fiddle and banjo. On top of this instrumental we hear whooping noises and downhome utterances like “Get away from the barbecue pit”. What an odd song to include on an otherwise relentlessly urban record.

Of course, the Beastie Boys know exactly what they’re up to. The name of the game is often “irony” with this group. They give us “5-Piece Chicken Dinner”, a brief, bright roll in the hay, only to juxtapose it with “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun”, one of the darkest, dirtiest tracks on Paul’s Boutique, and also one of the best.

Any discussion of “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” has to start with its unique sound. The track features a mid-tempo, muddy groove that samples Ocean, Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band, and Pink Floyd. The Beasties also play some of the instrumentation live, so the bass and guitar especially have an immediate, in-your-face quality. This is the Paul’s Boutique track that is most reminiscent of the band’s quasi-hardcore origins. The live electric guitars give it a punch and a sonic violence that are somewhat uncharacteristic to the record as a whole.

Lyrically, the Beasties are going to a darker place as well. We’re not talking about girls covered in honey or dropping eggs out of hotel windows here. The references to the Anthony Burgess novel and Stanley Kurbrick film A Clockwork Orange seem apt, since the boys are giving us some of the “old ultraviolence”. The speaker says that he “Seen him get stabbed / I watched the blood spill out”. The repetition of the line “It’s gonna get you / It’s gonna get you” gives off a creepy, horror-movie vibe, especially when coupled with the large amount of reverb the vocals are drowned in.

The song includes one of the most chilling, memorable moments in the entire Beastie Boys catalog. At the song’s approximate halfway mark, the boys chant this line in unison: “Looking down the barrel of a gun / Son of a gun / Son of a bitch / Getting paid / Getting rich”. There’s a perfect poetic symmetry to this lyric, and it rolls off the tongue like few other lines in the Beastie Boys oeuvre. The word-association game with “gun”, “son”, and “bitch” is simultaneously clever and creepy. The song’s rhythm abruptly stops at the end of this phrase and the word “rich” reverberates through the breakdown. The boys then come back in with the line “ultraviolence be running through my head”, with the violence of the lyric reflected in the abruptness of the breakdown that just occurred.

It’s moments like these that make me return to Paul’s Boutique again and again. Through all the complex sampling and cultural allusions, the Beastie Boys manage to keep the fundamental principles of good songwriting and musicianship at the forefront. “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” has become one of the more culturally ubiquitous songs on the record, for good reason. There’s the “surf” music video that accompanied it, the Anthrax cover for the Beavis and Butt-Head Experience in the early '90s, and the reference to the final line (“Get hip don’t slip knuckle heads / Racism is schism on the serious tip”) in the Sublime song “Don’t Push”. There must be some autobiography going on in the line “I’m mad at my desk and I’m writing all curse words / Expressing my aggressions through my schizophrenic verse words”. These eloquent aggressions have stood the test of time.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image