Mika Bomb – “The Fake Fake Sound of Mikabomb” (2001)

Better change your underpants,
Cuz you might need an ambulance.
— “Contact Tokyo”

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I have a thing for Japanese punk.  I can’t fully explain it, but one aspect is that Japanese musicians are definitely “all in” – it’s a lifestyle.  So that being said I’m always on the lookout for this kind of thing when I’m digging, and that’s how I pulled a copy of Mika Bomb’s The Fake Fake Sound of Mikabomb out of a box at a Seattle record show recently.  A quick check online revealed that prior to this album Mika Bomb had been signed to the Beastie Boys’ label Grand Royal, and if they’re good enough for the Beasties they’re good enough for me.

Mika Bomb is that perfect combination of pop punk and garage, consisting of an intentional rawness and strong pop aesthetic.  The vocals are all in English and Mika’s signing is almost flawless – you could easily assume that she’s a native English speaker, and that makes the record all that much more approachable.  The Fake Fake Sound of Mikabomb is probably at the top of my list of favorite Japanese punk albums at the moment, definitely the one I’d reach to first if someone was looking to explore the genre.

Beastie Boys – “Paul’s Boutique” (1989)

paulsboutiqueIf you’ve read more than a handful of posts on Life in the Vinyl Lane, you’ve probably noticed that when I write about a specific album that the focus is either on the album itself, or some personal experience of mine that is somehow connected to it.  This post about Paul’s Boutique will definitely be the latter.  It’s not like I’m going to tell you something about this album that is in any way new or fresh.  I mean, hell, KEXP radio did a 12 hour show that broke down the entire thing and played, in full, every single song sampled on it (which you can listen to HERE, broken out into a number of different segments).  There have been multiple books written about it.  It’s been dissected and pored over and broken down countless times.

So I can’t bring anything to the table in that regard.

What I can do is reflect on what a brilliant album it is and how pivotal it was to me and my group of friends when it came out.

In October of 1987 the stars aligned and for some reason a group of five high school juniors went from being casual acquaintances to inseparable life-long friends.  We thought of ourselves as a unit, so much so that we even referred to ourselves collectively as “the posse,” (♠) which probably sounds ridiculous if you’re not one of us, but nevertheless is still how we refer to group today.  We got into petty trouble together, partied together, have traveled together… we’ve supported each other through break-ups, and we’ve been best men at each other’s weddings.  While we’re spread out over four different states today, there’s still a sort of cosmic connection that will always in some way tie us together.

Ridin’ around
King of the town
Always got my windows
Rolled down.
Ready to throw,
You know I’m the egg man.

Now that I’ve waxed poetic, what does any of this have to do with Paul’s Boutique?  Well, it came out in the summer of 1989, that magical summer after we graduated from high school but hadn’t yet started college and/or the military.  A time of minimal responsibility as we balanced on the precipice between being kids and adults.  When whether to throw the frisbee in the park or take the ferry to Whidbey Island was the biggest decision you had to make for the day.  No bills to pay, just basketball and video games (♣) and skateboarding (♥) and music.

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I actually reached out to the posse to get their individual recollections about Paul’s Boutique.  I had my memories around it, but I know that memory is a fickle thing.  I was fortunate enough in college to take a course on cognitive psychology by arguably the most  well-known expert on the psychology of memory, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, and if there’s one thing I came away from that class with it was the understanding that our memories are highly inaccurate and in fact can change significantly over time.  So I wanted to test my recollections of this album with those of my closest friends, people I experienced it with when it first came out.

I’m like Sam the Butcher
Bringin’ Alice the meat,
Like Fred Flinstone
Drivin’ round on bald feet.

Somehow we knew the day that Paul’s Boutique was scheduled to drop.  That sounds like a ridiculous statement on the surface, but remember kids, this was before the internet was an actual thing.  We probably read about it in Rolling Stone, because most of the local radio stations sure as hell weren’t playing the Beastie Boys, and chances are better than average that we also saw it on the “Coming Releases” wall at the Tower Records in Bellevue.  I remember Mike and I going to Tower that day to buy our copies – mine on CD (which I still have) and his on cassette, then going back to his house and shooting hoops in the driveway while playing it on his boom box.  Brent may have been there with us at Tower… or he may not… while Brent remembers the surprise of discovering that his copy of the tape was red while Mike’s was gray, it’s tough to say exactly when this happened.  Was it that day, or later?

What I do remember is this – I didn’t particularly care for Paul’s Boutique when it first came out.

The cop knocked on my window and said,
“Boy, where’s the fire?
You got a mailbox on your bumper
And a bald front tire!”

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Paul’s Boutique is an odd album in a lot of ways, but what I find most strange is that while it’s widely praised today as being groundbreaking and incredibly important, it was far from being the most popular release by the Beasties.  Consider this.  Their first album, License to Ill, went 4X platinum (four million copies sold) in the US in the first 12 months of it’s release… but it took Paul’s Boutique six years to sell it’s first million copies.  In fact, the two albums that followed it, Check Your Head and Ill Communication, both made it to platinum before Paul’s Boutique.  Of the band’s first five seminal albums, it remains one of the two biggest commercial disappointments from a sales perspective.  Yet everyone seems to agree it’s their most important album.

But back to our story.

John recalls recognizing the greatness of the album right away.  Norberto insists that Brent did as well, yet Brent remembers not being particularly impressed with it.  Mike liked it, but I didn’t care for it much.  We were all over the place with it, at least initially.  The bottom line is it was a major deviation from License to Ill, which I think threw all of us off.  It’s hard to comprehend just how game-changing this album was at the time, with it’s massive use of sampling and seemingly disparate yet somehow connected songs.  It’s easy to see that now, but I won’t pretend I was able to understand it’s genius until a number of years later.

I got more rhymes
Than Jamaica’s got mangos.

I left for college about a month after the album came out (♦), and the rest of the posse came together over it during some late summer parties after my departure.  It was at one of these gatherings when John’s older brother Dave, who we all looked up to because (1) he was older than us, (2) he had great taste in music, and (3) he could do way better tricks on the half pipe than we could, surprised everyone by coming into John’s room, asking what everyone was listening to, and giving it the Dave seal of approval.  A couple of times the posse even ran tape in John’s bedroom during parties and sent the recordings to me, which was sort of like being in the room with them and helped me cope a little with the fact that I was about 3,000 miles away from every single person I knew.  I suspect they never knew how important those tapes were to me, with each of them sitting down next to the recorder at various points and talking directly to me.

Brent and Norberto continued to listen to Paul’s Boutique in their shared dorm room, but it was quickly replaced by Straight Outta Compton, which actually came out the year before.  Much like me, Norberto put Boutique on the shelf and more or less forgot about it for a number of years.  And again, like me, discovered when he re-listened to it that in fact it was a completely brilliant album.  I don’t know why it took us so long to recognize that, but it did.  It was the first album he and I played when we drove down to Portland last year to visit Brent, cranked up not he stereo with us going back and forth doing the vocals.

Don’t touch the mic, baby
Don’t come near it!

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I’m not sure what all of this means today, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all five of us still listen to this album today, and three of us put it in our “All Time Top 5” lists.  It makes sense given when it came out and that we all listened to it, though at the same time we only had a limited amount of time listening to it together.  Yet there it is, an anchor point in our collective memory, one of those things that has come to define our friendship experience.  Even though none of us quite remember it the same way, it’s there, and we all agree it was important.  Maybe that’s why I was so bummed when Adam Yauch passed away in 2012.  It was sort of like losing a piece of that last summer of freedom with my friends.

When I got back into vinyl, I told myself that I wasn’t going to start buying a bunch of stuff on wax that I already had on CD.  Despite that, on that very first re-introduction to vinyl shopping trip over at Easy Street Records’ Queen Anne story (RIP) one of the albums I bought on wax was Paul’s Boutique.  I just had to.  And I don’t regret it for a minute.

(♠)  We chose this term, of course, due to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s song “Posse On Broadway,” which was in heavy rotation in our bedrooms and cars.

(♣)  Mostly Ninja Gaiden, Contra, and Blades of Steel on the NES.  I kicked ass at Blades of Steel… though John was definitely the better fighter in that game.

(♥)  John’s mom moved overseas to take a job during our senior year, leaving him and his older brother living in the house.  The first thing they did was build a half pipe in the backyard.  It was awesome.

(♦)  Missing the two big Metallica shows at the Coliseum by days…

“On Wine” and the Beastie Boys

I suspect most of you will either love this post, or find it ridiculous.  Your mileage may vary.

With that out of the way, allow me to tell you how, and more importantly why, this record came into my hands.

I wasn’t much of a fan of the Beastie Boys when they first burst onto the scene with Licensed to Ill, but a number of my friends were.  A lot of people were talking about their second album, Paul’s Boutique, when it came out in 1989, as it generated a lot of controversy and debate through it’s heavy use of sampling – many musicians (and rights owners) didn’t appreciate short clips of their songs being used by the Boys.  I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so my buddy Mike and I both went out and bought it on cassette, went back to his house, and listened to it while we shot hoops in his driveway.  While I still wasn’t a major fan, it was way different than anything else I’d ever heard and I liked it enough to pick up 1992’s Check Your Head (on CD).

The Beasties had a flair for short tracks, and one on Check Your Head that I found funny was the 32 second “The Blue Nun”, which is basically some brief, horribly stilted conversation about wine and food with some funk beats thrown in for good measure.

Our evening began in Peter Sichel’s comfortable study in his
New York townhouse, where the candle light was just right,
the hi-fi was in the background, and the wine was delicious.

The dialog is very Leave it to Beaver-esque and that campiness is what makes it funny.  My favorite part was the end with the clanking glasses and the “Mmm, it does go well with the chicken”.  So great!  The Beasties broke up what became two sections of conversation with there own funk party beat – I guess they weren’t digging the music being played on Peter’s hi-fi.

I’ve sort of wondered over the years where that dialog came from, just as I wondered about many of the cuts used by the Beasties, though I never really made any effort to look into it.  I mean, before the internet where would you even start?  This wasn’t an option at all when these albums were new.  A while back I looked up another clip, the infamous, “Shit, if this is gonna be that kind of party, I’m gonna stick my dick in the mashed potatoes!”, and found the info and background online, which I thought was interesting (because I’m a nerd like that). But I never bothered with the rest.

So… last week I was visiting my friend Tristen in Minneapolis, and we spent part of a day record shopping.  One of my favorite spots there is Cheapo Records which is both enormous and, as the store’s name indicates, cheap.  The vinyl selection is huge – the new arrivals were broken out by the day of the week the records came in, and there were three full bins per day, a full 21 bins of new arrivals over the last week.  Crate digging heaven!

I ran across On Wine in one of the last new arrivals bins, and I chuckled at it.  A record about how to select and serve wine???  Even though the wine geek in me (my first job out of college was with a wine wholesaler) found the whole idea funny, I didn’t have any real interest quickly moved on.  But before I even finished that bin I stopped and went back.  For some reason the idea of a record like On Wine made me think of “The Blue Nun” and I wondered if it could be the album that song sampled.  I showed it to Tristen and told him about the song, even giving him one of the lines:  “Delicious again, Peter.”

Then I flipped it over and saw Peter Sichel’s name and photo on the reverse.  This was too much to be a coincidence!  And for $3.60, I was willing to take a chance.  I promised myself I wouldn’t look into it at all until I played the record for the first time, but of course I caved and discovered that this album indeed was the source of those infamous samples.

I didn’t have to wait long to get to those segments when I dropped the needle onto side A of On Wine tonight – the entire Beastie Boys track is pulled from three separate segments of conversation that fall within the first couple of minutes.  The story goes that MCA knew Peter Sichel’s daughter, she played the record for him one day, and later the band contacted Sichel and asked for the rights to use portions of it, to which he agreed.  In an interview with The Huffington Post Sichel explained the story and noted, “I think I got more famous through that Beastie Boy thing than anything else I’ve ever done”, which is perhaps saying something since he’s also a member of the Wine Writers Hall of Fame (wait, the what?  They have one of those??)

As for On Wine itself, side A is a sort of play involving Sichel and a couple (played by Warren Moran and Kay Lande) who want to learn more about wine, so they go to Peter’s apartment to tap his knowledge (and obviously his classy style as well).  They ask him questions and in response he explains things like the different kinds of wines, how to pair them with food, glassware, you name it.  I have to admit the entire concept of this record seems bizarre to me, but this kind of “educational” album was sort of common in the 1960s and into the 70s.  Of course, I don’t know exactly when On Wine was released, since there isn’t a copyright date to be found anywhere on matrix coding, labels or the jacket.  Go figure.

Side B is actually comprised entirely of music, music that I suppose was deemed appropriate to play during your grown-up wine party.  It includes some waltzes, classical songs, and “Wine, Women and Song” by Sammy Kaye.  Um, not really my cup of tea musically… but I’m sure those would set some kind of mood, or induce your guests to fall into comas.

I won’t claim to have solved the mystery of “The Blue Nun”, since the info is certainly available online at your fingertips, but I enjoyed the whole process of figuring it out for myself in a completely random and accidental way.  Well worth the $3.60!