Beastie Boys:"Paul's Boutique" (1989)

Such was the power of Licensed to Ill that everybody, from fans to critics, thought that not only could the Beastie Boys not top the record, but that they were destined to be a one-shot wonder. These feelings were only amplified by their messy, litigious departure from Def Jam and their flight from their beloved New York to Los Angeles, since it appeared that the Beasties had completely lost the plot. Many critics in fact thought that Paul's Boutique was a muddled mess upon its summer release in 1989, but that's the nature of the record -- it's so dense, it's bewildering at first, revealing its considerable charms with each play. To put it mildly, it's a considerable change from the hard rock of Licensed to Ill, shifting to layers of samples and beats so intertwined they move beyond psychedelic; it's a painting with sound. Paul's Boutique is a record that only could have been made in a specific time and place. Like the Rolling Stones in 1972, the Beastie Boys were in exile and pining for their home, so they made a love letter to downtown New York -- which they could not have done without the Dust Brothers, a Los Angeles-based production duo who helped redefine what sampling could be with this record. Sadly, after Paul's Boutique sampling on the level of what's heard here would disappear; due to a series of lawsuits, most notably Gilbert O'Sullivan's suit against Biz Markie, the entire enterprise too cost-prohibitive and risky to perform on such a grand scale. Which is really a shame, because if ever a record could be used as incontrovertible proof that sampling is its own art form, it's Paul's Boutique. Snatches of familiar music are scattered throughout the record -- anything from Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" and Sly Stone's "Loose Booty" to Loggins & Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance" and the Ramones' "Suzy Is a Headbanger" -- but never once are they presented in lazy, predictable ways. the Dust Brothers and Beasties weave a crazy-quilt of samples, beats, loops, and tricks, which creates a hyper-surreal alternate reality -- a romanticized, funhouse reflection of New York where all pop music and culture exist on the same strata, feeding off each other, mocking each other, evolving into a wholly unique record, unlike anything that came before or after. It very well could be that its density is what alienated listeners and critics at the time; there is so much information in the music and words that it can seem impenetrable at first, but upon repeated spins it opens up slowly, assuredly, revealing more every listen. Musically, few hip-hop records have ever been so rich; it's not just the recontextulations of familiar music via samples, it's the flow of each song and the album as a whole, culminating in the widescreen suite that closes the record. Lyrically, the Beasties have never been better -- not just because their jokes are razor-sharp, but because they construct full-bodied narratives and evocative portraits of characters and places. Few pop records offer this much to savor, and if Paul's Boutique only made a modest impact upon its initial release, over time its influence could be heard through pop and rap, yet no matter how its influence was felt, it stands alone as a record of stunning vision, maturity, and accomplishment. Plus, it's a hell of a lot of fun, no matter how many times you've heard it.

Woody Allen:"Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask" (1972)

Woody Allen's in-name-only adaptation of the once notorious sexual reference guide by Dr. David Reuben contains seven episodes based on "helpful" questions answered in the book. In "Do Aphrodisiacs Work?", Allen appears as a court jester who uses a love potion to spark the erotic interests of the Queen (Lynn Redgrave). "What Is Sodomy?" stars Gene Wilder as a doctor who throws away his marriage, career, and position in the community when he falls madly in love with an Armenian sheep named Daisy. "Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?" is a parody of stylish Italian films of the '60s in which a slick playboy (Woody Allen) discovers his wife (Louise Lasser) can climax only when they make love in public places. In "Are Transvestites Homosexuals?," Sam (Lou Jacobi) has his little secret revealed at a most inopportune moment. "What Are Sex Researchers Actually Accomplishing?" features John Carradine in a great parody of his mad-scientist roles as Dr. Bernardo, whose research into human sexuality has led to a fearsome mutation -- a 50-foot tall female breast! "What Are Sexual Perversions?" takes us to a broadcast of the popular game show What's My Perversion?, in which Jack Barry leads a panel of celebrities (including Regis Philbin and Robert Q. Lewis) in guessing the erotic obsessions of their guests. And "What Happens During Ejaculation?" takes the audience inside the body of a man in the throes of passion; The Brain (Tony Randall) guides the body's functions, with the help of his assistant (Burt Reynolds), while Allen plays a nervous sperm cell not sure if he can make the big jump. While the quality of the episodes is uneven, the best rank with the funniest moments of Allen's career, especially Gene Wilder's touching romance with the sheep ("I think we can make this work, Daisy") and the final sequence inside the male body ("What if he's only masturbating? I'll end up on the ceiling somewhere!").

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