Beastie Boys’ Sabotage: Another classic song, thanks to frustration

Now that the Beastie Boys’ new book is coming out, so are all the stories behind their songs and videos.

Turns out, there’s a pretty good one behind “Sabotage,” arguably one of their best-known tunes and best-loved videos.

And is it any surprise the song was inspired by frustration?

“We were totally indecisive about what, when, why and how to complete songs,” Ad-Rock explains in the book, which was published Oct. 30. They were working with an engineer named Mario Caldato, Jr., on Ill Communication, and Mario was “getting frustrated. That’s a really calm way of saying that he would blow a fuse and get pissed off at us and scream that we just needed to finish something, anything, a song. He would push awful instrumental tracks we made just to have something moving toward completion.”

“Sabotage” was the album’s final track, written in part to kind of rub Mario’s face in it.

Ad-Rock thought it would be fun to “write a song about how Mario was holding us all down, how he was trying to mess it all up, sabotaging our great works of art.”

And with that, a classic was born.

Then there’s the iconic video for the song, with the Beasties running around in ’70s-style cop uniforms and super awesome bad fake ‘staches.

“They wanted a spoof video with a low budget tinge, a style of another time and Dodge chases. The director would have kept to the budget if he hadn’t spilled water on the first rented camera, which he used to film underwater with only a sealed plastic bag to protect it. It would have still been OK, but he smashed the second camera during high-speed filming, which made the initial budget three times bigger (amount in words: $80,000),” according to Medium.

The whole video was pretty spontaneous: have concept, will film.

Take it from Radiohead and the Beastie Boys — sometimes things created from snark, frustration and sarcasm become things of beauty.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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