How the Beatles and ‘Abbey Road’ Influenced Beastie Boys
When Beastie Boys burst onto the worldwide stage in the mid ‘80s, they brought with them a new and brash sound not heard in mainstream music.
By combining hip-hop flows with a punk-rock foundation, the group pushed the limits of conventional genres. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that one of Beastie Boys' biggest influences was another trailblazing band, the Beatles. Throughout the Beasties' illustrious career, the trio would pay homage to the Fab Four in a variety of ways, including samples, covers and musical motifs.
The iconic Liverpool mop-tops resonated with Beastie Boys from an early age. Adam Yauch, aka MCA, was played Beatles records by his parents throughout childhood. Similarly, Adam Horovitz, aka Ad-Rock, claims “something from Sgt. Pepper” would have to be the first song he remembers hearing. “My dad used to play that [album] and I would literally scream along with it. That and Rubber Soul. I used to listen to that album every single day. The Beatles are great for everybody – they write the songs that made the whole world sing.”
The Beatles fandom continued as the Beasties grew from boys to men. In the band's autobiography Beastie Boys Book, Mike D revealed that, “for one of Adam Horovitz’s teenage birthdays, Yauch gave him every Beatles studio album because he only owned Rubber Soul at the time.”
Beastie Boys had originally planned to include a Beatles cover on their 1986 debut album, License to Ill. The New York trio recorded a version of “I’m Down,” the 1965 B-side to “Help!,” with the intention to include it on the LP. The track was pulled at the last minute by Michael Jackson, the pop singer who’d purchased publishing rights to the Beatles catalog in 1985.
Though the cover would not be released, a Beastie Boys promotional photo known as the “Charles Street Shuffle,” featuring the band paying homage to the famous Abbey Road album artwork, was widely circulated.
Listen to Beastie Boys' 'I'm Down'
License to Ill would go on to be a breakout success, instantly making Beastie Boys one of the biggest bands on Earth. Hits like “Fight for Your Right,” “No Sleep till Brooklyn,” “Girls” and “Brass Monkey” had made them the ultimate ‘80s party soundtrack. It was a role the group initially embraced, with wild shenanigans, frat-guy attitude and MTV antics being par for the course. However, that lifestyle quickly became exhausting for the group, often leading to infighting among its members.
As Beastie Boys approached their second album, they left Def Jam Records to sign with Capitol and relocated to Los Angeles. There they joined forces with production team the Dust Brothers and began crafting the layers that would become Paul’s Boutique. “Ninety-five percent of the record was sampled,” studio engineer Mario Caldato would later admit, estimating that the group spent over $250,000 on licensing costs.
When Beastie Boys released Paul’s Boutique in 1989, it changed the world of hip-hop. Though not initially a commercial success, the album is now regarded as a turning point in popular music, thanks largely to its sample-heavy production that was well ahead of its time.
Through 15 tracks, Beastie Boys wove together clips from a wide array of other artists, an influential method that would be virtually impossible today due to legal issues. When a fan listened to Paul’s Boutique, they weren’t just hearing the three MCs from New York; they heard Kool & the Gang, James Brown, the Ramones, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Sly Stone and many more artists who influenced the Beastie Boys' work. The biggest name on the list of those sampled was none other than the Beatles.
The track “The Sounds of Science” would sample several of the Fab Four's tunes, including "When I'm Sixty-Four," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and, most notably, the Abbey Road classic “The End.” The latter's famous guitar riff kicked-in approximately two minutes into the Beastie Boys’ track, providing a driving rhythm for the trio’s vocal flow.
Listen to Beastie Boys' 'Sounds of Science'
Elsewhere, Paul McCartney’s 1970 solo song “Momma Miss America” was sampled on the track “Johnny Ryall.”
Paul's Boutique’s closing song, “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” featured snippets of nine songs assembled together over one, evolving, 12-and-a-half minute piece. Though the track didn’t include a Beatles sample, the band’s fingerprints were all over it. “We wanted to make our psychedelic rap manifesto inspired by listening to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper,” Ad-Rock revealed in Beastie Boys Book.
Listen to Beastie Boys' 'B-Boy Bouillabaisse'
Though Paul’s Boutique was arguably the most Beatles-influenced LP in the Beastie Boys catalog, it was not the only intersection between the two groups.
In 1997, Beastie Boys returned to New York after about a decade in Los Angeles. Since the band no longer had a studio, they put feelers out among their musician friends, searching for a place to make music. To their surprise, the Beasties received an offer from Sean Lennon, son of John, who had a previous connection to the group having signed to their Grand Royal Records label imprint. The Beatle offspring let the rappers use a practice space that had belonged to his father.
“Not only was it incredibly nice of him, the space was fucking awesome,” Ad-Rock recalled in Beastie Boys Book. The MC described the setting as “a big soundproof room in SoHo that we could all walk to and make a ton of noise in at night.” It even had gear and instruments still bearing labels that read “John Lennon.” “It’s pretty amazing to think that while I was using a big plastic label maker to make red labels on my bicycle and stuff so my brother and sister wouldn’t mess with them, John Lennon was doing the same thing to his stuff.”
The songs created in the Lennon space would go on to be part of Hello Nasty, the Beastie Boys' Grammy Award-winning 1998 LP.
Sean Lennon stayed friendly with the rap trio and was one of the many stars to express their condolences after Yauch’s death in 2012. The surviving members have maintained that no new material will be recorded under the Beastie Boys moniker, but Mike D and Ad-Rock have collaborated on the occasional project. Once such instance was the 2013 experimental track “Bad Dancer,” which saw the musicians joining forces with John's widow, Yoko Ono.
Listen to Yoko Ono's 'Bad Dancer'