The top 10 best Beastie Boys songs with classic rock samples

A photograph of Beastie Boys spraying each other with beer, taken in 1987
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Smart-ass musical magpies with an encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz, funk, metal and classic rock, New York-born hardcore kids Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond, Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch and Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz were initially attracted to hip-hop for the genre’s irreverent, anything-goes attitude and became the scene’s great white hopes in the mid-‘80s as much by accident as design. Here are ten occasions where the trio’s fondness for re-purposing classic rock riffs and beats paid rich dividends.

10) The Sounds Of Science

If you’re going to steal, you might as well steal from the best. For their ground-breaking second album Paul’s Boutique, the Beasties collaborated with inventive LA producers The Dust Brothers to piece together a complex sonic patchwork, spending around $250,000 on licensing samples. The Sounds Of Science grew out of a two chord riff ‘borrowed’ from The Beatles’ The End set against Ringo Starr’s drumbeat from the reprise of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, before The Dust Brothers slowing down the beat from When I’m 64 for the song’s main theme.

9) I’m Down

Not everyone appreciated the trio’s freewheeling approach to sampling. For their debut album, 1986’s Licensed To Ill, the Beastie Boys used The Beatles’ I’m Down as the template for a radically re-worked version of the song, but were refused permission to use the track by Michael Jackson, who had acquired The Beatles’ Northern Songs publishing company. Jackson couldn’t stop bootleg versions of the song appearing however.

8) Shadrach

Cult Southern rockers Black Oak Arkansas are arguably best known in classic rock circles for the debt Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth owed to singer Jim Dandy, but (alongside samples from James Brown, the Sugarhill Gang and Trouble Funk) Hot And Nasty from their self-titled 1971 debut album provided the bass and drums pattern underpinning this deep cut from Paul’s Boutique.

7) High Plains Drifter

It’s not often that the Eagles and Ramones sit cheek-to-jowl, but it’s a measure of the Beastie Boys’ imagination and eclecticism that they were able to set a sample from the Californian band’s Those Shoes (from 1979’s The Long Run album) alongside a snatch of Da Bruddas’ Suzy Is A Headbanger in this rolling cut from Paul’s Boutique.

6) What Comes Around

Rick Rubin can take much of the credit for introducing the Beastie Boys to Led Zeppelin, but the New Yorkers continued to draw inspiration from John Bonham’s beats and Jimmy Page’s riffs long after parting ways with their former mentor. What Comes Around is introduced by Bonham’s instantly recognisably break from Moby Dick, and also features a snatch of guitar from Alice Cooper’s It’s Hot Tonight from 1977’s Lace And Whiskey.

5) She’s Crafty

The second track on the Beasties’ debut album Licensed To Ill found Mike D bragging ‘If I played guitar I’d be Jimmy Page’, and the band’s love of Led Zeppelin was made even more explicit on the following track, She’s Crafty, which is centred around a transparent steal of Page’s riff from The Ocean.

4) Jimmy James

Originally denied permission by Jimi Hendrix’s estate to use a variety of samples from the guitarist’s catalogue, including snippets of Foxy Lady, Still Raining, Still Dreaming and EXP, on this tribute track on Check Your Head, the Beasties’ improvised by crafting sound-a-like riffs in the studio. Once the samples were officially cleared, they were restored in the version of the song released as a single in 1992. Incidentally, the album version of the song is prefaced with Cheap Trick’s live intro to Surrender from …at Budokan.

3) Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun

One of the heaviest tracks in the Beastie Boys’ catalogue, referencing both A Clockwork Orange and serial killer Son of Sam, this hard-riffing fan favourite incorporates both a guitar sample from Mountain’s classic Mississippi Queen and a single, repeating piano chord from Pink Floyd’s masterful Time.

2) Rock Hard

Nothing subtle about this one. The Beastie Boys’ 1984 Def Jam single featured the unmistakeable riff from Back In Black, used without the band’s permission. Despite Mike D personally phoning Malcolm Young to ask for clearance for the sample, AC/DC refused to sanction it, forcing the band to drop it from their The Sounds Of Science anthology, though it later emerged as a Def Jam single in Europe.

1) Rhymin’ & Stealin’

Ever wonder Black Sabbath might have sounded like with John Bonham on drums? Here the Beastie Boys have done the work for you, with this single from Licensed To Ill featuring not only Bonham’s iconic and widely-sampled drum beat from When The Levee Breaks and Tony Iommi’s guitar riff from Sweat Leaf but also a snatch of The Clash’s cover of I Fought The Law for good measure.

The 10 best Beastie Boys songs, chosen by Cancer Bats' Liam Cormier

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Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.