“Hey Ladies” was the first single off of Paul’s Boutique, the Beastie Boys’ 1989 follow-up to their massive debut, License to Ill. At the time, the ambitious Paul’s Boutique was considered somewhat of a conceptual mess, a reach for a group that had previously specialized in frat-boy anthems about one’s right to party and drink malt liquor mixed with orange juice. “Hey Ladies” was consequently the album’s only charting single, hitting #36 on the Billboard Hot 100. But it is also the first single in history to chart in the Top 20 of both the Billboard Hot Rap Singles and Modern Rock Tracks charts. It’s the song’s lyrically and sonically dense eclecticism that allowed for that kind of crossover appeal and which eventually led the entire album to be re-appraised as a classic. The video for “Hey Ladies” perfectly captures that eclecticism as a merry, messy pop-culture collage of evolving tastes from evolving artists. And it’s pretty much everything I love about these guys condensed into three minutes and forty-nine seconds.
0:08: The video’s opening tableaux definitely feels like it was shot on the outskirts of Los Angeles somewhere. It looks like it’s right next door to the motel at the end of L.A. Confidential. Paul’s Boutique was in fact recorded in Los Angeles. Listening to it now, I don’t hear anything particularly Southern Californian. Beastie Boys music always feels like it’s from New York even when it’s not. Nevertheless, the lone oil-derrick looks a little L.A. noir, especially coupled with the first appearance of MCA at his scruffiest, walking towards the car, anachronistically dressed as a fisherman.
Raymond Chandler said this about the private eye hero at the center of his noir stories: “He has a sense of character or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly, and no man’s insolence without due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be sorry you ever saw him. He talks as a man of his age talks — that is, with a rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness
0:13: The type of beard MCA is rocking is called a Hollywoodian so now I’m really thinking there is something to this Los Angeles connection. This is a good time to mention the amazing collection of surrealistic alter-egos MCA adopted, most famously that of aggrieved Swiss film director Nathanial Hornblower. MCA as Hornblower rushing the stage at the MTV Music Video Awards to interrupt a Michael Stipe acceptance speech and complain about Spike Jonze not winning for “Sabotage,” (also adding that he “had all the good ideas for ‘Star Wars’ and everything”) is as good a piece of live television as you will ever see.
0:22-0:24: Mike D blow dries his hair followed by the first appearance of the disco party. There’s some definite overtures towards the 1977 classic film Saturday Night Fever, in which John Travolta plays wannabe disco king Tony Manero and which is in actuality a pretty heavy movie, all about rape and death and yearning to escape one’s life. The movie is set in Brooklyn, where all three of the Beastie Boys grew up. Jesus, they look young here. How is it that MCA is old enough to die? What kind of crazy world do we live in where MCA dies?
0:28: The sushi chef is wearing what looks to be an amazing, giant, gold-plated squid around his neck. Squid, by the way, are usually cigar shaped with two lateral fins. The head has well-developed eyes and beak-like jaws. Around the mouth is a ring of eight arms lined with suckers, and two others that are highly extensible tentacles with suckers only on their ends. These extensible arms are shot out to seize the prey. Most squid swim backwards, using jets of water squirted from the siphon just beneath the head. The powerhouse for the jets is the mantle cavity on the underside of the body, which is lined with powerful muscles. The giant squid may have given rise to the Norwegian myth of a many-armed sea monster, the kraken. In 2003 a “colossal squid” was picked up by fishermen near the surface in Antarctic waters. It was about two-thirds of its potential full size but even so its mantle measured 8 ft (!!!), and when stretched out its arms and tentacles measured 16–19 ft (!!!!!!!!), so potentially this species could be even larger than the giant squid. It has the largest eyes of any animal and is reported to be extremely aggressive.
0:29: “Ive got more hits than Sadaharu Oh” references the famous, Japanese baseball player. Oh was a five-time batting champion, led all Japanese players in home runs fifteen times and won the Central League Most Valuable Player award nine times, playing his entire 22-year professional career with the Yomiuri Giants. The Beasties would continue to endear themselves to me by memorializing old baseball players, notably in 1994′s “Sure Shot” with the line, “I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew,” and in “What Comes Around,” with “Bum cheese on rye with ham and prosciutto, got more Louie than Phil Rizzuto.”
0:36: MCA and the King Ad-Rock put on a Foghat 8-track. Hard to say whether it was 1975′s Fool For The City, which of course featured their iconic hit “Slow Ride,” or 1977′s Foghat Live, which was their best-selling album ever, at more than 2,000,000 copies. This, from a 1977 article about Foghat in Circus Magazine: “‘We bypass trends,’ insists Dave (Peverette, lead singer and guitarist). ‘We don’t want any of this sweet, melodic nonsense,’ adds Rod (Price, guitarist)”
0:54: Mike D is slipping into some serious platform shoes here. Apparently, platform shoes were first developed in ancient Greece, used to raise the height of important characters in theatre. The shoes come with this line in the song, “Talking to a girl telling her I’m all knowing…I’m telling her every lie that you know that I never did.”
1:13: “To a mariachi, once a musician plays all of the notes in a song, he has only played half of the music. Style and musicality are truly just as important as notes, and so these are taught in conjunction with, at the same time as the notes — and this is what I believe perpetuates the style. When one learns from listening, the way that something is played seems just as important as the notes.”
1:19: Mike D walks by a woman holding a “Vote for Bella Abzug” sign. Abzug represented the West Side of Manhattan for three Congressional terms in the 1970s. She was an early feminist leader, opposed the Vietnam War, and was one of the first to call for the impeachment of President Nixon. Meanwhile the Beasties were more than happy to be the snot-nosed misogynists in their early days. The Licensed to Ill tour was famous for featuring woman dancing in cages and a giant, inflatable dick. But the Abzug shout-out is an early sign of a maturity that would culminate with MCA’s clunky but pretty heartfelt line, “To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends, I want to offer my love and respect to the end,” on “Sure Shot.” And this transformation is a nice microcosm of the bigger arc that the group had, from crudely hilarious, underground rap-rock punks to these superhuman role models of altruism and enlightenment and swag.
1:58: We’re now into a random sex scene between Mike D and an anonymous blonde girl. The narrative of all three Beasties convening at the disco seems to have wandered off but that too is a signature of a Beastie Boys music video. Their videos always seem to be both super high-concept, some elaborate spoof of ’70s-era cop shows or monster movies or whatever bubble-gum, neon-lit fever dream has infected their collective psyche, but also always simple and sloppy, just a bunch of dudes running around playing dress-up. It’s one of their great charms.
2:28: The words “Free James Brown” flash across the screen. In 1988, Brown was arrested following an alleged high-speed car chase on Interstate 20 near the Georgia-South Carolina state border. He was convicted of carrying an unlicensed pistol and assaulting a police officer, along with various drug-related and driving offenses. Although he was sentenced to six years in prison, he was eventually released in 1991 after serving only three years of his sentence. Brown claimed that the high-speed chase did not occur as reported by the police, and that local police shot at his car several times and assaulted him after his arrest.
2:36: Famed post-Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh appears at the disco club, coinciding with the line “Break up with your girl, it ended in tears/Vincent Van Gogh and mail that ear.” Van Gogh cut off his ear in December of 1888. Interestingly, the source of Van Gogh’s despair seems to be his broken relationship with his once very close friend Paul Gauguin.
2:41: MCA appears as the club’s DJ, wearing a sweater vest and a giant, black afro. Here’s a list of the songs that were sampled from to create “Hey Ladies”: “The Ballroom Blitz” by Sweet, “Party Time” by Kurtis Blow, “Holy Ghost” by the Bar-Kays, “Shake Your Pants” and “I Just Want to Be” by Cameo, “Pumpin’ It Up” by P-Funk All Stars, “Jungle Boogie” by Kool & the Gang, “Machine Gun” by The Commodores, “Jazzy Sensation” by Afrika Bambaataa, “Change Le Beat” by Fab 5 Freddy featuring Beeside, “Come Let Me Love You” by Jeanette “Lady” Day, “So Ruff, So Tuff” by Zapp & Roger, “Ain’t It Funky Now” and “Funky President” by James Brown, “Hey DJ” by Malcolm McLaren and the World Famous Supreme Team, “High Power Rap” by Crash Crew, and “Hush” by Deep Purple.
3:05: I think they’re doing the Hustle, which was invented in 1975 following the release of the Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony’s song, “The Hustle.” It was also featured prominently in Saturday Night Fever. Another interesting note about Saturday Night Fever is that it was Gene Siskel’s favorite movie. Roger Ebert wrote, “…I suspect that Saturday Night Fever had another kind of appeal to Siskel, one that reflects the way the movies sometimes complete the unfinished corners of our lives. In a way, Tony Manero represented the kind of adolescence Gene didn’t have…The most lasting images are its joyous ones, of Tony strutting down a sidewalk, dressing for the evening and dominating the disco floor in a solo dance that audiences often applaud. There’s a lot in the movie that’s sad and painful, but after a few years what you remember is John Travolta on the dance floor in that classic white disco suit, and the Bee Gees on the soundtrack.”
3:38: MCA and his companions return to the noirish outskirts of L.A.. He’s still dressed as the DJ from the disco club and not as the fisherman, for all you conspiracy theorists out there. He takes the keys out of the ignition, throws them into the bushes and walks off into the sunset.
About the Author: Dylan Southard is the co-Artistic Director of needtheater and previously served as their resident dramaturg and literary manager. Production dramaturgy credits for needtheater include: Fatboy, Mercury Fur, Scarcity, tempOdyssey, and The Web. He also directed needtheater's world premiere production of Guided Consideration of a Lamentable Deed. He is the resident dramaturg for The Robey Theatre Company at the Los Angeles Theater Center, where he runs the advanced playwrights lab and helps to oversee new play development. He is also an associate artist with the international, new script development group LoNyLa, and works as a script consultant for theaters, including The Center Theatre Group, The Geffen Playhouse, The Theatre @ Boston Court, and Native Voices at the Autry. He trained for two years under a dramaturgy fellowship at Centerstage in Baltimore and is a graduate of Wesleyan University.