In 1992, the Beastie Boys were at a crossroads. Their last album, Paul’s Boutique, was a commercial failure. Their experimentation with wall-to-wall samples and sounds weren’t for everyone, and it showed. It was disappointing to fans, as coming off of their first album License to Ill, their sophomore album was highly anticipated.
While critics loved the record, fans were on the fence. Years later, Paul’s Boutique is considered a classic (almost like that hiccup never happened). When Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA returned to the studio for their follow-up record, a lot was riding on what they were going to do next.
If their next album was a bust, we might’ve never had the Beastie Boys we all remember, and they could’ve become nothing more than a “one-hit album” group. Fortunately, the band decided to pick back up their instruments, lean back on their punk rock origins, and do away with a lot of the samples. Furthermore, this marked the first time the band picked up their instruments since their early EPs.
When recording started, the band just jammed for the first year or so and didn’t worry about vocals. This turned into a plus, as some really great instrumental tracks on the album such as Namaste, In 3’s, and Lighten Up, showed a new funky jam side to the Beasties. If you dig these instrumental gems, I also highly recommend The In Sound From Way Out, which is a collection of all instrumentals by the Beasties.
When the album was released, fans knew this was a different band, as the cover shows them sitting on a curb with their instrument cases. As a fan, I was looking forward to hear what was next for The Beastie Boys. Twenty-five years later and revisiting the album on vinyl, I realize how groundbreaking Check Your Head truly was.
Opener Jimmy James gets this awesomeness started. Interestingly enough, the Beasties originally conceived the album as an instrumental. However, MCA decided to be the first to step up and add a rap to this one from an idea he had about Jimi Hendrix. Once Mike D and Ad-Rock saw what MCA was doing, they got back on the rapping train and were off.
Pass the Mic is another great mix of samples, instruments, and DJ scratching. All combined, these parts could have become a mess with the tempo changes and everything else involved. Despite this, The Beastie Boys never miss a beat as they continue to trade verses. Pass the Mic showed what the band was made of and is a classic.
When the distorted guitar riff hits, Gratitude shows a different side of The Beastie Boys. This is the band showing us their true punk rock roots. This space rocker is just killer, as the fuzzy rock sounds make this one of the best tracks on the album.
For me, though, my favorite track on this album is So What’cha Want. I still remember hearing this one for the first time and just totally loving it. This was a song of the summer for me in ’92. I still listen to this regularly as even now, it’s still my favorite Beastie Boys track. It’s the perfect mix of their hip-hop and rock that just gets you grooving.
The Sly and the Family Stone cover of Time for Livin’ is the punk rock Beastie Boys before License to Ill made them hip-hop stars. If you’re a punk fan, there’s nothing better than this kick to the head.
Something’s Got To Give is another instrumental track that highlights the pure genius of the Beastie Boys. The band shows no need for rapping over their beats and instrumental jams, making this psychedelic goodie a chilled bliss to experience.
Stand Together is totally out there with a cool bass line and drunk sounding horns that get us ready for some killer rhymes. If you don’t listen to this and start moving your head and body, then you have no love for The Beastie Boys.
POW is 70s funk through and through and keeps the head bopping going. One of the most underrated parts of The Beastie Boys’ music is their instrumentals. They were so good at just jamming out in various styles and always keeping the funk going. POW is a perfect example.
The Maestro brings back that funky, fuzzy rock jam. By this point in the album, you realize how ahead of their time The Beastie Boys were in 1992. Their mix of all these genres is common today, but in 1992, no one had a clue what was going on here.
Live at PJ’s brings in the infamous cowbell and you know you can always use more cowbell. The song is really showcases the unofficial fourth member of the band, keyboardist Money Mark, whose organ work here is insane. Money Mark would go on to play with The Beastie Boys for the rest of their career.
Professor Booty is a total throwback to the License to Ill Beastie Boys. You get other hints of that style in a few other songs like The Maestro and Stand Together, but I think it’s most prevalent here.
Listening to the album straight through for the first time in a couple of years really made me realize how much and I love this album. For me, it’s The Beastie Boys’ best album, and really stands the test of time. In fact, if they released this today, I think it would be a bigger hit than it was back then.
In 1992, many people didn’t know what to make of this album because as a whole, it was so eclectic and out there. Nowadays, the album is considered a classic by many and also looked at as the start of what would eventually become the rap/rock movement. A movement that resulted in the popular 2000s nu-metal movement.
Check Your Head changed the band's fan base to include hip-hop and rock fans and everything in between. It also afforded the band to not be “just another hip-hop act,” and changed their careers forever, as they continued their storied career for another two decades until Adam Yauch passed away.
They continued to evolve, creating amazing records that got them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and rightfully so, as they’d become true legends. The Beastie Boys were always trailblazers and their legacy will forever remain intact. My suggestion is to go out and grab Check Your Head on vinyl, as the turntable adds to the sound of the album.
Put on some headphones and just zone out to the beats of this classic and celebrate twenty-five years of this amazing record, because as they say in Professor Booty, “Life ain’t nothing but a good groove, a good mixtape to put you in the right mood.”
For more Beastie Boys, check out License to Ill as it was my Vinyl of the Week some time ago. I also professed my love for all things Beastie Boys back on the eve of their 30th anniversary, which is definitely a fun read for fellow fans.