The Beastie Boys’s “Rock Hard”

The Beastie Boys’ “Rock Hard/The Party’s Getting Rough/Beastie Groove” was the second of Def Jam’s independent releases and the third recording by the Beastie Boys. Hard-core punk rockers from the time they were in junior high school, the Beasties – featuring Adam “MCA” Yauch and Michael “Mike D” Diamond – released a seven-inch EP entitled “Polly Wog Stew” on Rat Cage Records in January of 1982. In August of 1983, by which time Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz had joined the band, they issued “Cookie Puss.” A funny little record that split the difference between rock and rap, “Cookie Puss” turned out to be difficult for the guys to perform onstage, so they added Rick Rubin – a/k/a/ DJ Double R – to their line-up.

By the middle of 1984, Rick was not only deejaying for the Beasties, he was producing records for the Def Jam label. Before they all went into the studio to make “Rock Hard,” Rick persuaded the other Beasties to make a full commitment to rap. Accordingly, the guys stopped playing instruments and singing, and started rapping. Their rockishness survived, however, in the sample Rick choose for Beasties to rap over on “Rock Hard,” a crushing guitar riff from AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”

Released in December of 1984, “Rock Hard” was reviewed twice in the January 21, 1985 issue of the Rockpool Newsletter. The first review was by Andy Dunkley, a transplanted English club deejay who was then working as the manager and house deejay of New York’s Irving Plaza. Dubbed “the human jukebox” by the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau, Dunkley was distinctly unimpressed by the Beastie Boys. The second review was written by one of Dunkley’s crosstown rivals, Richard Sweret, who deejayed at Danceteria before moving on to the Palladium. Sweret liked “Rock Hard,” describing it—in contrast to “Cookie Puss” -- as “a legit, playable record… AC/DC meets Run-DMC with a teenage wit.”

The CMJ New Music Report (below) was a weekly trade publication best known for its playlists of the music airing on college and other non-commercial radio stations. (Its acronym stood for College Music Journal.) Having undoubtedly reviewed “Cookie Puss” in 1983, they now turned their attention to “Rock Hard.” According to the unsigned review, the record was evidence that the crew had “manifested themselves into the first legitimate rap group of Caucasoid origin.”

Glenn O’Brien’s review for Interview in May of 1985 was entirely consistent with much of the work he’d been doing for years, both in print and as the host of “TV Party” for Manhattan cable TV. In this case, he’s so enthusiastic as to appear slightly unhinged.

Beasties Tour with Madonna

The Beastie Boys spent the spring of 1985 as the opening act on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” tour, her first. How did a band with such a slim resume land such a juicy gig? Mostly because of Russell Simmons. Russ got a phone call from Madonna’s manager, Freddie DeMann, who wondered if Run-DMC might be interested in joining Madonna’s tour. Given that Run-DMC had already headlined the all-rap Fresh Fest, Russell replied that they were too big to open for another act—but maybe Freddie would consider booking another of his acts, the Beastie Boys. As it turned out, Madonna knew the Beasties at least passingly well from the days when they were all gigging at downtown clubs like The Funhouse. The Beasties got the nod.

To the right is the press release encapsulating events for the first month of the tour. Reviews of the Beasties performance had been notably rough…not a big surprise given how mismatched the acts were. Madonna was pure pop. The Beasties were pure punk. Luckily, all involved had a sense of humor.

That humor remained in effect in Ad-Rock’s naughty wisecrack to Rolling Stone. Years later, he felt nothing but gratitude towards Madonna, as captured in the following quote from Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label: “Her manager wanted us gone, but she was into it and saw the humor and how it worked to her benefit. I personally feel like we owe so much to Madonna.”

As “the first lady of rock journalism,” Lisa Robinson was an important early supporter of rap. She wrote the short piece shown here during her long tenure as the rock music columnist for the New York Post. In it she shines a light on the guys in advance of their forthcoming New York appearances with Madonna at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden.

One of the Radio City shows was reviewed for Melody Maker, the English music weekly, by David Fricke, a New York-based music journalist who is better known for his long association with Rolling Stone. Though many of his colleagues were still writing off the Beasties at this point, Fricke preferred their performance to Madonna’s.

On the last night of the tour, the Beasties surprised Madonna by jumping onstage during her set and squirting her with water pistols. The great photo of that moment, reproduced in Tiger Beak Rock, was shot by Ron Galella, the most notorious celebrity photographer in history.

Later that night, after the show, photographer Chase Roe captured the scene above in the Beastie Boys’s dressing room backstage. The gent with the towel on his head is Rick Rubin, who deejayed onstage that night—a gig from which he’d shortly retire. The black man is Mr. Nelson George, an eminent music journalist and critic—he was then writing a weekly column for the Village Voice—and an old friend of Russell.

The Hip Hop Hit List put the Beasties on the cover of their July 30 issue and ran a full-page interview inside. It was still very early days for the group. The interviewer, who apparently couldn’t distinguish one Beastie from the other, simply ascribed all of their replies to a Beastie. Although the text is a minefield of typos, the diligent reader learns, among other things, that opening for Madonna had been the most exciting thing to have happened in their career to date.

Hear Rick and Russell reminisce about the early years of the Beastie Boys.

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