The tragic death of Adam Yauch on May 4th sent shockwaves around the musical community, not to mention a sense of loss and grief from millions of fans everywhere who grew up with The Beastie Boys and got down with their bad selves to the sonic fury and fervor of that storied hip hop group. Mike D, Ad Rock, and Yauch, known as MCA, who arguably was the best of the trio, with rhymes that flowed like wine from Napa Valley, smooth and intense, soulful and with a sheen that blared out first from boom boxes then CD players, and now MP3 players everywhere.
Yauch will be missed, as with his death comes a loss of that oft used term “innocence” for a generation who came of age in the early 1980s that I was a part of, and maybe you were also. In an American 1980’s society then choked by Reaganomics, The Beastie Boys, with their loose wild, Animal House, juvee style, was like spray painting a mustache on the Lincoln Memorial and then blowing it up with dynamite. They had plenty of great songs throughout their career and they also had a nice propensity for throwing sharp and smart pop culture references in some of their songs, especially the lead off track from their cool as ice Ill Communication album, “Sure Shot.” From 1994. That song has lyrics that are easy to flow along in a hip (hop) karaoke style when one listens to it, but it’s also laden with pop cultural references that may be off many peopleâ€™s radars. Now, as a public service to our faithful Geeks Of Doom readers, I, Stoogeypedia, the Underdog of all and everything pop cultural, break down the references in “Sure Shot.”
Note, not all the lyrics are here, just the ones that illustrate a pop culture reference. The “flute loop” that we hear throughout the track comes from Jeremy Steigâ€™s “Howling For Judy” originally released in 1969. This original track is incredible swinging jazz music, led by the great punctuation of Steig’s wind instrument. Steigâ€™s dad, by the way, is William Steig, best known for writing the Shrek books.
“Iâ€™ve got the brand new doo-doo guaranteed like Yoo-Hoo”
Of course, those that were born and raised on the East Coast need no explanation what a “Yoo-Hoo” is. Itâ€™s a chocolate beverage which was invented by a gentleman by the name of Natale Oliveri in the 1920â€™s in New Jersey. Oliveri sold other drinks as well at the time, but when he came upon how to make a chocolate drink that wouldnâ€™t spoil in the bottle, he knew he also captured lightning in that bottle. The drink became a smash hit in New York City, especially when the Yankees used it as a main catalyst for their advertising in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, the drink is sold all over America. But nothing beats drinking and getting a Yoo-Hoo from the Tri-State Area (New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut).
“Iâ€™m on like Dr. John, yeah with the ZuZu”
Dr. John is an American musician who has produced a musical jambalaya quilt of genres consisting of blues, jazz, zydeco, boogie woogie, and old fashioned rock and roll. Heâ€™s been around for over 5 decades, has played with everyone under the musical sun, from The Rolling Stones to The Meters and The Band, Carly Simon, and Neil Diamond, John spreads genres like Jif on toast. And heâ€™s the Dr. ZuZu the Beasties are referring to in the lyric. Hereâ€™s the song it comes from, called “Zu Zu Mamou,” from his dark, muddy, mosquito-filled swamp in the midnight bayou album, The Sun, The Moon & Herbs from 1971.
“Iâ€™m a Newlywed, Iâ€™m not a divorcee, and everything I do is funky like Lee Dorsey”
Lee Dorsey was a late R&B pop singer best remembered for his catchy, nonsensical top 10 song “Ya-Ya” and he also had a hit with the oft-remembered “Working in the Coal Mine,” and like Dr. John above, he also crossed paths with The Meters, who were his backup band on most hits. His songs and his persona were so cool, John Lennon later covered “Ya-Ya” and Dorsey even opened for The Clash on their U.S. tour in 1980. Here he is, doing “Ya-Ya”. Funky indeed.
“Well itâ€™s The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3”
Some know The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 as a wrongheaded, disappointing, Tony Scott-directed remake released a handful of years ago with Denzel Washington as a milquetoast dispatcher/transit cop and John Travolta as a baldheaded nutjob terrorist who hijacks a New York City subway train. The title, however, and the Beastiesâ€™ reference here, speaks to the original 1974 classic, a great crackerjack film starring Walter Matthau as the transit cop and Robert Shaw (best remembered as Quint from Jaws) as the terrorist. The storyline is the same, but the film sports one of the funkiest, coolest theme songs in 70’s movie lore, has a great cynically funny New York City-style script, and contains heart-stopping action akin to being caught in a pressure cooker. Four men hijack a subway train and demand $1 million in cash or they will kill each one of the 18 hostages for each minute the city is late in getting them the money. The movie plays that sequence almost out in real time, which creates amazing tension throughout, punctuated by an always amazingly reliable performance by the workmanlike Matthau. The ending is a memorable scream as well. Hereâ€™s the trailer for it below.
“I strap on my ear goggles and Iâ€™m ready to go, cause at the boards is the man they call the Mario”
“Mario” is Mario Caldato Jr., who produced “Sure Shot” and the entire Ill Communication album. He also engineered their critically acclaimed yet commercially ignored Paulâ€™s Boutique. Hailing from Brazil, Caldato also produced many artists in his homeland also. Hereâ€™s a pic of the man who always was thinking of the master plan, at right.
“Pull up at the function and you know I Kojak, to all the party people that are on my bozak.”
Kojak was a 1970s American television New York City police dram that originally aired on CBS-TV from 1973 to 1978, and starred the irrepressible Telly Savalas as Lieutenant Theo Kojak. With his bald head, no nonsense approach, and dark wit, yet pussycat demeanor, Savalas became a major star on the program. Eschewing the standard cigarette or cigar most other TV show detectives sported, Kojakâ€™s stock in trade was sucking on Tootsie Pop lollipops. He was also known for the catchphrase, “Who loves you, baby?” Hereâ€™s a clip of the opening of the program, with its memorable theme song.
“I got more action than my man John Woo and I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew”
John Woo, of course, is the great action director of some of cinemas intense and stylized choreographed eye-popping classics like Hard Boiled and The Killer in his native Hong Kong and stateside heâ€™s known for helming films such as Hard Target, Face/Off, and Mission Impossible 2. He still remains a major player in the Hollywood circuit today. Rod Carew is a Hall of Fame baseball player who played almost 20 years on the Minnesota Twins and then the (then known as) California Angelsâ€™ baseball diamonds. Sporting a lifetime average of .328 and amassing over 3,000 hits lifetime, this Rookie of the Year, 1977 MVP, and 18 time All-Star did pretty much everything in his career save for winning a World Series. But he exemplifies to this day a classy athlete in a sea of money hungry, spoiled whiny ball players, who for them, itâ€™s the paycheck before the accomplishments. Carew walked and played with an air of “hard work pays off” superiority albeit in humble tones, and he was one of the last of his breed who got to his personal achievements through blood, sweat and tears.
Here’s a clip of Rod Carew selling his “batting trainer for kids”:
“Fresh like Doug E when I set my specs and, on the microphone I come correct.”
Doug E Fresh comes from that “golden age” of rap music, before the term hip hop was coined, and part of that same era that The Beastie Boys started their poetic license to ill. One of the first “beatboxers,” Fresh had a huge massive cult hit with “The Show,” which dominated block parties in urban areas from coast to coast, going even top ten in the UK in December 1985. Hereâ€™s “The Show” (with Slick Rick, another original “gangsta”) — talk about a tune caught in its zeitgeist for sure!
“Well Iâ€™m like Lee Perry, Iâ€™m very, on, rock the microphone and then Iâ€™m gone”
Lee “Scratch” Perry is one of the forerunners to reggae and dub music, and possibly one of the most influential figures of that early era of it. A musician and producer, he produced such notable figures in the genre as Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, The Heptones, and Max Romeo. He continues to work to this day as he just celebrated his 76th birthday back in March. Not only is he immortalized here in the lyrics of “Sure Shot,” but he also made an appearance on a later Beastie Boys album, 1998â€™s Hello Nasty, as a guest vocalist on the track “Dr Lee. PHD.” But to give you an idea what all his reggae hoopla was about and why the B-Boys were so turned on by his sounds, hereâ€™s his first single from way back in 1968, crudely recorded but still pumping with the reggae wavelengths to follow as it found its peak in the 1970s, “People Funny Boy”, which is historically one of the first records of any kind in musical history to have a “sample” included within, this one is simply a babies cry.
“Iâ€™m like Vaughn Bode, Iâ€™m a Cheech Wizard, never quitting, so wonâ€™t you listen”
The story of Vaughn Bode is as mysterious as the underground comic art he became famous for during that late 60s, early 70s era, when people like Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, and Art Spiegelman pioneered the genre. His comic, Cheech Wizard, ran in National Lampoon magazine from 1970 to 1975, and its main title character was a wizard who wore a big yellow hat decked out in black and red stars, completely covering him up to his legs and big red feet, sans arms. Heâ€™s constantly on the prowl for decadent existence, beer, women, and a smashing party are the only things on his life agenda. It was never revealed what the Cheech Wizard was under that hat. Bode also did some other illustrations and comic creations, one called “War Lizards” which looked at the then current Vietnam War by way of anthropomorphic reptiles instead of people. He died in 1975, only 33 years old, of autoerotic asphyxiation, the same masturbatory accidental type of death that also killed Inxsâ€™ Michael Hutchence and action star David Carradine. Hereâ€™s a pic of the “Cheech Wizard” at right.
“Ah yes indeed itâ€™s fun time, fun time”
This part of the song comes at a slight break. Itâ€™s a sample from an old Moms Mabley comedy record. Mabley was a forerunner of the black stand up raunchy comedy school, ala what Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, and Whoopi Goldberg were doing after her. Born in the 1894, she had a long career, even having a second successful career in her autumn years as she passed middle age, playing and becoming a star on television in the 1960s and 1970s and discovered by white audiences for the first time. She covered Dionâ€™s version of “Abraham, Martin and John” as a novelty 45 single released in 1969, and became the oldest person ever to have a U.S. Top 40 hit, (the record reached #35 on the charts) at 75 years old. She died 6 years later, in 1975. Hereâ€™s a pic of Moms at right:
“To send my rhymes out to all the nations, like Ma Bell, I got the ill communication.”
Ma Bell was the down home, folksy colloquial nickname for the Bell telephone company, which is of course named for the inventor of the telephone (remember those physically big devices?), Alexander Graham Bell.
So there are some references. Now you know. Itâ€™ll make listening to “Sure Shot” a lot more possibly non-puzzling to most of you. The entire Ill Communication album is chock full of references. Maybe we will explore some other songs further down the road. But for now, letâ€™s end this fun presentation with the song itself, because breaking down a song is never as good as listening to it in its entirety, and certainly one that now has extra meaning for having the late, great Adam “MCA” Yauch in its grooves. Turn it up for Adam, yâ€™all. And grab a Yoo-Hoo, watch an old clip of Kojak on You Tube, get The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 on Blu-Ray, and search out old copies of National Lampoon to marvel at the “Cheech Wizard.”