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Music

Hear the isolated bass on Beastie Boys' song 'Sabotage'

The Beastie Boys might have become famous as rap-rock party animals, but that was only a brief stop-off in the early stages of their diverse 30-year career. What Licensed to Ill doesn’t show you is that the Beastie Boys started off as punk rockers who played their own instruments. In fact, when the group decided to revisit their roots as an electric rock band during the 1990s, fans were surprised to see the group plugging in and making their own sounds that weren’t Led Zeppelin drum loops.

At the centre of the switch was Adam Yauch, also known by his stage name MCA. As the oldest and most enlightened member of the Beastie Boys, Yauch was often the one who pulled the Beasties into new sonic territories. Whether that was the sample-crazy sounds of Paul’s Boutique or the back-to-basics thump of Ill Communication, Yauch was steadily moving the band towards increasing experimentation and reconnection with their electric origins.

It didn’t hurt that Yauch was a monster bass player in his own right. It wasn’t just when he was guesting on Spinal Tap’s ‘Big Bottom’ either: Yauch laid down upright bass and electric bass on all of the Beastie Boys’ post-’80s albums. It was during the recording of Ill Communication that Yauch simply picked up his bass, cranked the fuzz effects, and began looping a line that immediately got the other members’ attention. 

That fuzzy bass riff would go on to become the central hook for ‘Sabotage’, the band’s mega-popular MTV hit. When hearing just the bass itself throughout the song, the simplicity of the line is what stands out the most. ‘Sabotage’ is mostly a one-chord vamp, and the fact that the one chord mostly comes from just the bass is enough to make it one of the oddest rock staples out there. Yauch only occasionally varies the pattern that he’s playing, sticking to the chugging chord-based riff for almost the entire song.

The only time where Yauch throws in a bit of flash is after the brief breakdown. While coming back in with his signature bass line, Yauch ends the phrase with a short ascending run that catapults right into the screamed climax of the track. It’s a subtle but genius bit of arranging: keep things static until the one moment where variety would have the most impact. While the rest of the world was expecting a white-boy frat-rap clown show, Yauch and the Beasties were more interested in creating indelible rock music of the future.

Listen to the isolated bass on ‘Sabotage’ down below.