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Beastie Boys' masterpiece turns 25

The Beastie Boys' classic Paul's Boutique turns 25 this summer
The Beastie Boys' classic Paul's Boutique turns 25 this summer
Joshua Palmes

The Beastie Boys' July 1989 release Paul's Boutique was the follow-up to what at the time was the best-selling rap album ever, Licensed To Ill. That was a title that Boutique didn't come close to threatening that summer. The Dust Brothers-produced album, built on hundreds of densely-packed samples, provided no easy point of entry for fans expecting "Fight For Your Right (To Party) II."

Critics were immediately blown away by the audacity of Boutique. The public said "Hmm. Sounds interesting" - then went out and bought Prince's Batman.

How things change - today nobody would argue that the sort-of soundtrack is Prince's most negligible Eighties album, while Boutique has now caught up to it in sales.

Its reversal of fortunes began in the early Nineties when the albums Check Your Head and Ill Communication were embraced by alt-rock fans who then gave Boutique a second listen.

Seeing how many sample sources you recognize - "Mississippi Queen"! "Moby Dick"! "Ballroom Blitz"! - is part of the fun and challenge of listening, though determining all of them is considerably easier today when you can just look it up on your phone than it was twenty-five years ago.

The record was also one of the last of its kind since a series of court rulings in the quarter-century since have made it all but impossible to commercially release an album like Boutique without paying hefty sample clearance fees. Listening to it today is a little like watching one of the more risque movies of the 1920s before the Motion Picture Production Code cracked down on portrayals of sex and vice on film.

Even so, few artists before or since have used samples with the dexterity displayed on Boutique, or have had the Beasties' verbal cleverness to match it. Just check out the twelve-minute closer "B-Boy Bouillabaisse", an homage to the closing medley on the Beatles' Abbey Road (which of course is sampled on the album as well).

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