Song 124: Beastie Boys, “Sabotage” (1994)

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Now that I’m past the one-third mark (!), I’m starting to relax a little bit: I might revisit some artists (which I haven’t done yet) and I’ll definitely start writing about some songs that are among my all-time favorites (which I’ve only done a little bit). “Sabotage” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and its video is among my all-time favorite videos.

Ill Communication was the Beastie Boys’ fourth record, after Licensed to Ill, Paul’s Boutique, and Check Your Head. That’s an amazing run of albums right there. In fact, if you’ll allow my blasphemy, Ill Communication, is the best they ever did. Many people would cite Paul’s Boutique as their masterpiece, and I disagree. That’s a great (and undoubtedly influential) record, but on a song-by-song basis, I’ll take Ill Communication. It’s a ragged record, full of hardcore toss-offs and funky instrumentals, but that’s what I love about it. It’s a big fat collage of an album, and the shaggier moments are balanced with tight, immaculately produced tracks like “Sure Shot,” “Root Down,” and, of course, “Sabotage.”

Oh man, this song. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played it when I needed a quick wake-up (especially in Lilly’s infant days), a jogging boost, or a good driving song. It’s the first song I think of when I need a shot of energy or fun, when I need something to pick me up. It’s one of the best songs there is. It’s not as reference-dense as many other Beasties songs (despite the great line “I’m Buddy Rich when I fly off the handle”), but it’s effective. Is there a better description of taking care of business than “I’ma set it straight, this Watergate”?

And the video. Oh, the video. What’s left to be said about it? Wikipedia describes it as “an homage and parody of 1970s cop drama television series,” but I actually don’t think there’s much parody to it. Those things are already funny, and the Beastie Boys are clearly in love with the images of authority that they grew up with. It’s hard to argue with musatchioed men busting down doors being The Guys In Charge, especially with names like Cochese (vividly portrayed, as we all remember, by Nathan Wind).

For this and many other reasons, bless you, Spike Jonze. Bless you.

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