When the Criterion Collection released their DVD collection of Beastie Boys music videos back in 2000, it was one of the earliest significant breaks in the then-pretty-crusty boutique label’s home-video format, raising a few eyebrows. Dreyer, Buñuel, Bergman…and Ad-Rock? Sure, “Sabotage” had already been canonized as one of the greats, the clips from 1998’s Hello Nasty were taken as part of an overall renaissance for the only partially reformed punks, and their alignment with Spike Jonze looked pretty good in the immediate aftermath of Being John Malkovich. But are their videos art? Who cares? At their best, Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock’s videos are giddy snatches of raw id, audio-visual counterbalances to their still-flowering lyrical focus on freeing Tibet, atoning for earlier homophobia, and booting George W. Bush from the White House. They must think so too, because in its full version, their clip for “Make Some Noise” (the first single from their new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two) recruits pretty much everyone in Hollywood to revisit “Fight for Your Right,” a gleefully regressive move that ultimately winds up in a literal pissing match somewhere along Stuyvesant. In that spirit, here are 10 of the best moments in the Beasties’ MTV careers.
10. “Triple Trouble.” Kanye West: “I did not realize there were Sasquatch.” Oh, there are. And if you’re a b-balling deviled/fried egg, don’t even try to front. The hairy paw will slap your game away like a dried up piece of Jimmy Dean sausage.
9. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” “Fight for Your Right” works both as an endorsement and a pisstake, and is weakened by its own versatility. With “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” there can be no doubt as to how the Beasties feel about hair metal’s teased and coiffed version of ’tude.
8. “Netty’s Girl.” It’s not so much the “How’s your girl, Mike?” It’s not just the response: “Kick, pop, POW!” It’s the reaction it gets from the guy playing keys in the next paddleboat over. If Harmony Korine remade Three Coins in a Fountain, it would go a little something like this.
7. “So What Cha Want.” Of all the videos the Beastie Boys taped, lip-syncing to their lyrics at double speed and then slowing the footage down, this one yields the best performances. Or at least the one where the backing track’s laissez-faire groove seems the closest match.
6. “Body Movin’.” Judged against the monster-movie madness of “Intergalactic,” this riff on oversaturated Italian spy movies is a superior pastiche. Would have ranked even higher if they hadn’t tracked it to the Fatboy Slim remix over the amyl nitrate-laced album version. Like everything Norman Cook touched, it hasn’t aged well.
5. “Hey Ladies.” One of their earliest (and best) concept vids, “Hey Ladies” is a quizzical tribute…to the disco era? Platform heels, rainbow-lit dance floors, teased pompadours, kung-fu kicks, and a ceiling that sprouts hands just to play a cowbell lick. As they’d explicitly say later on in their careers, these are some funky-ass Jews.
4. “Three MC’s and One DJ.” A love letter to turntablism. More than that, it’s an admission of the DJ’s 50-50 role in their game. The Beastie Boys may as well be frozen in time until their mix master arrives with his proton pack-cum-crate of deep cuts.
3. “Sabotage.” They cut the middle man and deliver the sweaty goods. The difference between the floppy cop antics of “Sabotage” and the similarly puckish costume partying of “Ch-Check It Out” is the difference between living and breathing old-school flava and simply providing a taxonomy of retro signposts. Of course, the Beasties can do both pretty well.
2. “Shadrach.” The driving disco backbeat of this Paul’s Boutique gem gets an equally colorful visual accompaniment, as a live performance clip gets blown into the stratosphere with swirling animated lines.
1. “Root Down.” No apologies to the clips dedicated To the 5 Boroughs. “Right Right Now Now” has the bullet-time panache, and “An Open Letter to NYC” is monochromatically steely. But they don’t hold a candle to this one for overall realness. B-boy breaks, graffiti, subway maps. No Beasties vid goes deeper into the trio’s New York self-identity.