Classic Albums – Ill Communication by Beastie Boys (1994)

The Beastie Boys burst onto the UK music scene with their 1986 hit single, (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).  The single was a commercial hit on both sides of the Atlantic and their debut album Licensed To Ill was released later the same year to critical acclaim.

The album sat firmly in the hip hop camp but the Beastie Boys had started life in 1981 as a hardcore punk thrash band.  The original line-up included Adam Yauch (MCA) and Michael Diamond (Mike D), along with John Berry and Kate Schellenbach (who later became a member of Luscious Jackson).  They supported the likes of Bad Brains and Dead Kennedys and released a debut EP Pollywog Stew.  But in 1983 John Berry had left to be replaced by Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) and they released a second EP, Cooky Puss which saw the band change music direction from thrash punk to an experimental punk hip-hop.

Following License To Ill they released the critically acclaimed second album Paul’s Boutique (1988) though the album wasn’t as commerciallyl successful as their debut and with no hit singles from either this or their third album, Check Your Head (1992) any mention of the Beastie Boys and most people would remember three young arrogant American brats in a video for Fight For Your Right wearing baseball caps with VW signs hanging around their necks.

The Beastie Boys third album, Ill Communication was released in 1994.  Before hearing the album I remember watching an amazing performance at Glastonbury in the pouring rain to a small but dedicated crowd.  The TV performance started with the opening track from the album, Sure Shot. A great groove complete with a flute loop and MCA, Ad-Rock & Mike D taking turns rapping; a great opening track that has all the power of their earlier hip hop complimented by a maturity in both sound and delivery.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhqyZeUlE8U&feature=related

But what makes Ill Communication a classic album is its depth and scope of music.  Without a breath-taking gap between tracks, as Sure Shot fades the opening thrash guitar of Tough Guy bursts from the speakers. Beastie Boys not only return to their punk thrash roots but they play it as well as they play hip hop! And less than one minute later we swiftly move onto the third track, B-Boys Makin With The Freak Freak (“Shit, if this is gonna be that kinda party, I’m gonna stick my dick in the mash potato!”) a dub infested jazz grooving hip hop tune with distorted rapping giving the track a garage feel.

Bobo On The Corner is a percussion-heavy funky instrumental. Four tracks into Ill Communication and the listener has been pulled every which way through an audible jungle of sounds including rap, hip hop, jazz, funk and punk hardcore thrash. And the reason it works is that every musical direction I am pulled, the Beastie Boys nail perfectly.  I don’t know of any other album that does this so well.

Root Down offers more funky jazz complete with Hammond organ, and all this is followed by the awesome Sabotage which has the three Beasties playing guitar, bass and drums and merging hard throbbing rock with DJ scratching to deliver what is possibly their most perfect track to this day.

Get It Together is a welcome relief from the heavy vibe of Sabotage and takes us back to square one with another funky beat and the three rapping over a more traditional sounding hip hop track.

While other hip hop artists were busy sampling ‘genre standards’ like James Brown grooves and Led Zeppelin beats the Beastie Boys have always shown the scope of their influences.  Here they use the likes of Jimmy Smith, Kurtis Blow, Lee Scratch Perry, Doug E Fresh and The World Famous Supreme Team.

And there’s more… the instrumental Sabrosa with its lazy funky Latin style, the return of hardcore thrash with Heart Attack Man and another groovy beat and flute loop in a similar vein to Sure Shot, with the wonderful yet short and sweet, Flute Loop.

The album jumps all over the place with so many genres and styles that it’s hard to understand why it works.  But the reason it does is down to the sincerity and perfection of the Beastie Boys; and if not for any other reason, that alone in my opinion is enough to consider Ill Communication as a classic album.  An album that sees the Beastie Boys, in many ways one of the most underrated groups of all time, at the peak of their powers.

Ill Communication has 20 songs that stand alone as great tracks and collectively become a pick-n-mix assortment worthy of any Woolworth’s sweet counter.

And if that’s not enough, Spike Jonz directed one of the best music promo videos ever for the single, Sabotage.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5rRZdiu1UE

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Station To Station released as CD & Vinyl Special Editions

Station To Station released as a 3-CD Special Edition and 5-CD, DVD and heavyweight vinyl Deluxe Edition
Station To Station released as a 3-CD Special Edition and 5-CD, DVD and heavyweight vinyl Deluxe Edition

Some people don’t like David Bowie, but those that do tend to have a favourite period as much as a favourite album.  My older brother likes the early 1970’s era when Bowie was still collaborating with Mick Ronson citing albums like Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars, Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane; all very good albums in my opinion.  But as a young teenager I was first introduced to David Bowie through my sister who was more switched on to his mid-seventies flirt with American funk and soul like Young Americans and, for me, his best album, Station To Station.

I still love the slow build up of the opening title track.  Like a slow steam train pulling into a station and that great first line….the return of the thin white duke!

Station To Station builds into a great funky driving pop song and is topped off with the superb lead guitar of Carlos Alomar.  And even though it’s 10 minutes long, I still sigh when the track eventually fades out.

On its original release the album was preceded by the hit single and second track on the album, Golden Years. One of his most perfect pop songs, it is a nod to his previous album, Young Americans and his adoration of mid-seventies American soul.  Bowie appeared miming to Golden Years on Soul Train.  At the time, I remember this being big news as he was the first white artist to appear on the hip, trendy black American TV music show.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8gPA1UiOdo

The album changes direction with Word On A Wing, a slow, smooth soulful pop song that apparently Bowie has said was a cry for help.  His addiction to cocaine at the time of recording this album has since been well documented.  The next two tracks are probably Bowie at his most funk-driven. TVC15 perfectly demonstrates how he merged black soul and funk influences with his own white rock and pop music styles to create something edgy and new sounding for the time; while Stay, a great track which once again showcases the superb guitar of Carlos Alomar.  The only thing I would say is that once I heard the live version of Stay (which was available as an extra track on a previous Station To Station CD release) it makes the studio version sound somewhat subdued.

Like Golden Years, Stay is rich with Bowie’s American soul and funk influences of the time. Funky bass and guitar backed with solid drums and filled with Latin percussion.

Station To Station only has six songs and is complete with a cover version of Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington’s Wild Is The Wind.  Bowie has been quoted as liking Nina Simone’s version.  Similar to Word On A Wing it’s another ballad and slows the pace and errs towards soul while giving Bowie a perfect vehicle for his unique voice.

Station To Station was originally released in 1976 sandwiched between Young Americans (1975) and the three albums starting with Low (1977) that he recorded with Brain Eno in Berlin which had Bowie moving on to musical influences of krautrock and electronic experimental music. With hindsight, it is apparent why I like Station To Station as much as I do as I think it has one foot in the doors to both Young Americans and Low; a transition period that creates something new from various shapes and sounds. Something that Bowie has done so well throughout his career.

Station To Station was David Bowie’s 10th studio album and has just been released as a 3-CD Special Edition and 5-CD, DVD and heavyweight vinyl Deluxe Edition.

Both the Special and Deluxe Editions come with the original album – taken straight off the analogue master and previously unreleased Live Nassau Coliseum ‘76.  Additionally, the Special Edition includes a 16-page booklet & 3 postcards.

The individually numbered Deluxe Edition is the ultimate fan’s experience, featuring extensive additional content including a 24-page booklet and the following:

  • CD: Station To Station – RCA CD Master
  • CD: 5-track Singles Versions E.P. incl. previously unreleased version of Station To     Station, and for first the time on CD, Word On A Wing
  • 3 x 12” heavyweight vinyl
  • DVD
  • 6 panel folded poster – Steve Schapiro photo
  • Onstage folder
  • Replica Backstage pass
  • Replica Biog
  • Individually numbered Replica Ticket
  • 3 x 10 x 8” press shots
  • Replica Fan Club folder
  • Replica Fan Club Membership card
  • Replica Fan Club certificate
  • 2 small Collectors cards
  • 2 photo prints
  • Replica biography
  • 2 Badges

*Along with the 5-CDs all housed in a foam-packed box.

The 3-CD set is also available as a Digital Download, with an exclusive bonus track.
Special Edition & Digital Download
CD 1: Station To Station (original analogue master)
1. Station To Station (10.11)
2. Golden Years (4.02)
3. Word On A Wing (6.01)
4. TVC15 (5.31)
5. Stay (6.12)
6. Wild Is The Wind (6.02)

CD 2:  Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 – PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
(Recorded live at the Nassau Coliseum Uniondale, NY, USA March 23, 1976):
1. Station To Station (11.53)
2. Suffragette City (3.31)
3. Fame (4.02)
4. Word On A Wing (6.06)
5. Stay (7.25)
6. Waiting For The Man (6.20)
7. Queen Bitch (3.12)

CD 3: Nassau Coliseum concert continued… PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
1. Life On Mars? (2.13)
2. Five Years (5.03)
3. Panic In Detroit (6.03)
4. Changes (4.11)
5. TVC15 (4.58)
6. Diamond Dogs (6.38)
7. Rebel Rebel (4.07)
8. The Jean Genie (7.28)

Super Deluxe Limited Edition
ICPN 50999-647601-2-4
UK Catalogue no. BOWSTSD 2010

CD 1: Station To Station (original analogue master) – tracklisting same as above.

CD 2: Station To Station (1985 RCA CD master) – tracklisting same as above.

CD 3:  Singles Versions E.P.
1. Golden Years
2. TVC15
3. Stay
4. Word On A Wing (first time on CD)
5. Station To Station (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED VERSION)

CD 4:  Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 – PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED (tracklisting same as above)
CD 5: Nassau Coliseum concert continued… PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED

DVD: Audio only:

Station To Station (original analogue master, 48/24 LPCM stereo)
Station To Station – (new Harry Maslin 5.1 surround sound DTS 48/24 and Dolby digital)
Station To Station (new stereo mix 48/24 LPCM stereo)

LP 1: Station To Station (original analogue master)
Side 1:
1. Station To Station (10.11)
2. Golden Years (4.02)
3. Word On A Wing (6.01)

Side 2:
1. TVC15 (5.31)
2. Stay (6.12)
3. Wild Is The Wind (6.02)

LP 2:  Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
(Recorded live at the Nassau Coliseum Uniondale, NY, USA March 23, 1976)
Side 1:
1. Station To Station (11.53)
2. Suffragette City (3.31)
3. Fame (4.02)

Side 2:
1. Word On A Wing (6.06)
2. Stay (7.25)
3. Waiting For The Man (6.20)
4. Queen Bitch (3.12)

LP 3:  Nassau Coliseum concert continued… PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED

Side 3:
1. Life On Mars? (2.13)
2. Five Years (5.03)
3. Panic In Detroit (6.03)
4. Changes (4.11)
5. TVC15 (4.58)

Side 4:
1. Diamond Dogs (6.38)
2. Rebel Rebel (4.07)
3. The Jean Genie (7.28)

David Bowie’s Station To Station 3-CD Special Edition and 5-CD, DVD and heavyweight vinyl Deluxe Edition are now all available on Virgin/EMI.