In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
Reverse-engineering Beastie Boys songs has long been a mini-education in popular music. It’s not that you need to know, for instance, which song by The Jam was used in “And What You Give Is What You Get” (although the title is a dead giveaway) or even which ubiquitous Led Zeppelin beat forms the backbone of “Rhymin’ & Stealin’” (although, come on, how could you not know that). In particular, the Beasties’ 1989 album Paul’s Boutique is an overabundant garden of samples—and one of its best is the faithful appropriation of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Loose Booty” on “Shadrach.”
Not that “Loose Booty” needs Paul’s Boutique to validate it. Even though the song appears on the final album made by Sly Stone’s original Family Stone, 1974’s Small Talk, it has all the potency and warp-drive funkiness of the group’s masterpiece 1971 There’s A Riot Goin’ On. By ’74, Stone had shed much of the seething murk of that album and was feeling the pull of his first love: the dance floor. “Loose Booty” obliges. A call to arms—or rather, butts—that compels the listener to “Find yourself some roots to let it all hang out / Get into some dancing, do what it’s all about,” the song’s stuttering strut brooks no argument. And its refrain of “Shadrach, Meshack, Abednego,” a non-sequitur chant that the Beasties based its track around, adds Biblical authority (or at least a fat hook) to the marching orders.
There’s a dark undertone to the song, though. Due to a combination of substance abuse and professional pressures, Stone’s life had begun to unravel by the time Small Talk was made. It’s reflected in “Loose Booty” lyrics like, “When you’re trying to flee from any faking grin,” and, “Life can be confusing, any given day.” It’s as though, spurred by his own song, Stone was trying to outrun—or out-dance—his demons. Ultimately, he hasn’t. But he’s made some of the most enduring, envelope-pushing, and, yes, sample-ripe R&B in history, as captured in the recently released Sly & The Family Stone box set, Higher! (that includes “Loose Booty,” among many other singles, album cuts, and rarities). When it comes to Sly Stone, you can never get enough of an education.