I’ve Been Watching You by The Southside Movement is exactly the sort of record that could have even the most conservative of Sunday drivers pick up the pace to an even 32 mph and cruise the streets while Detroit leaning like a Fedora’d pimp in heat-hazed Harlem. Its mid 70s groove, a head-nodding amalgamation of on-the-one funk bass lines and metronomic kick drums is tailor-made for the job. One look at the band responsible for putting such a groove together should give you an idea of what it’s like, should you be lucky enough to be listening to the track for the first time.
The Southside Movement – I’ve Been Watching You
The mid-paced care-free groove belies that fact that underneath the funk there’s a mildly stalkerish theme going on, essentially the tale of a married man watching unseen as the (married) woman of his desires goes about numerous clandestine affairs. Spy and the Family Stone, if you will.
Its four-to-the-floor funkiness wasn’t at all lost on the Beastie Boys. Where other rap acts take a huge chunk of something groovy and loop it forever in the foreground, I’ve Been Watching You was ‘bitten’ (the band’s term for underhandedly borrowing a desirable part of a record that could be played by the band themselves) and used as the basis for So What’cha Want, one of the Beastie Boys’ greatest tracks.
Starting with the sound of the Southside Movement’s bass drum spinning in full effect on an old Technics turntable, Ad Rock jumped on board, adding extra kicks and snares and building layer upon layer of that huge dunk, kack, da-dunk, kack… rhythm. It’s Trampled Underfoot While The Levee Breaks, the sound of John Bonham playing loudly in a cave. Slightly sloppy but very massive.
Beastie Boys – So What’cha Want
Once the beat was in place, Ad Rock looped it ad infinitum and called his Beastie bandmates in to hear what he’d done with the sample. The vocals came quickly, the trio weaving in and out in trademark fashion, their voices distorted by happy accident through the cheap karaoke mics they were using in place of the more sophisticated microphones normally found in a recording studio. When the track began taking shape, Adam Yauch suggested the band throw away the sample and play the whole thing themselves, which they ultimately did.
So, not quite sampled then (there’s no writing credit at any rate, which wasn’t uncommon in 1991), but if you strip away the layers of noise on top, disregard the whacked-out distorted vocals, dismantle the incessant guitar riff, the squeaky Hammond and the cinematic atmospheric fade-ins, the genesis of the whole record breaks down to that simple kick drum beat. Kick it!, as someone once said.
From the album Check Your Head, So What’cha Want is the product of the band’s relocation to LA, where they built a studio and furnished it with vintage equipment. Such was the era, the studio-based musicians of the day favoured more portable keyboards and digital equipment over bulky, fragile and unreliable vinatge gear from the 70s. The Beasties were eagle-eyed scanners of the classified ads and would be first to react when any listing for Fender Rhodes or Moog synth jumped out at them – a sad irony they said, as the musicians selling the equipment were usually doing so because they’d ‘failed’ to ‘make it’. Here were the Beastie Boys though; forward-thinking, vintage-loving musical magpies.
There’s a terrific Beastie Boys Book out just now, a chronological telling of the band’s history through eye-witness accounts, whacked-out recipes and mix-tape suggestions. Packed full of brilliant candid shots of the band plus associates (and NYC), it goes without saying you should have it on your Christmas list. Expect more Beastie-related stuff in the coming weeks as I work my way through it.