I admit, my music tastes weren't real cool in 1989. It was the start of senior year in high school, and "edgy" for me was Depeche Mode. One of my big thrills my senior year was going to a Billy Joel concert. I bought a T-shirt. Heck, I still have a soft spot for "We Didn't Start The Fire" today, but these days my music radar is a bit broader than it used to be. In 1989, I had no clue that I missed out on two of the seminal albums of my time – The Pixies' roaring manifesto Doolittle, and the Beastie Boys' psychedelic mix tape Paul's Boutique.
I actually got The Pixies' Doolittle by mistake in 1990 as part of a record club I was in … didn't know quite what to make of this clattering, screeching CD, and it took me a few years to get into it. Paul's Boutique I didn't discover until the mid-1990s, when the Beastie Boys finally lost the frat-boy image after hip-hop blasts like Check Your Head and Ill Communication. Now, both of these two very different albums are high up in my list of Desert Island CDs.
So hats off to Continuum Books' fab 33 1/3 music-criticism series, which examines the Pixies' and the Beasties' 1989 slabs of sound in two new books. Each slim 100-page-or-so book in the series dissects a particular CD, like liner notes on steroids. The Pixies book by Ben Sisario and the Beastie Boys book by Dan LeRoy are both swingin' samples of the series' rock-geek eye for minutiae and big-picture grasp of the trends and visions that go into the albums we love.
LeRoy's Paul's Boutique volume will hit the spot for Beasties fans, many of whom still consider the Beastie Boys' madcap second CD their best. LeRoy establishes the revolutionary sophomore record Boutique was. The Beasties made their name with loud, thrashing proto rap-rock like "Fight For Your Right To Party," but the leering goons in the early videos weren't really who they wanted to be. Paul's Boutique was the response to those who thought they'd pegged the Beasties as one-hit wonders – a still-remarkable collage of samples, slick multi-referential rhymes and an ever-shifting soundscape. A tune like "Sound of Science," built almost entirely of riffs by none other than the Beatles, still kicks it today.