In the liner notes to the Beastie Boys anthology, Adam "MCA" Yauch explains that the song began as a "goof" on dumb rock songs. They cut the vocals as a joke, then went on tour. Producer Rick Rubin added the loud drums and guitar track. Continuing with the joke, the Beasties made a video where they played along with the drunken party boy image that this song had created. Soon the Beasties were superstars, thanks to their new fanbase of frat boys they set out to parody. According to MCA, they played into their new roles until they realized that they had become their own joke.
Mike "D" Diamond (from Q magazine April 2008): "Rick Rubin deserves part of the credit for Licensed To Ill. He turned us on to stuff like AC/DC."
This was the song that got the Beastie Boys on MTV and exposed them to a huge audience, but they felt it was a novelty song not indicative of their work. They stopped performing it in 1987.
The video was directed by Ric Menello and Adam Dubin, who were roommates. Menello was the overnight desk clerk at the Weinstein Hall dormitory in New York University (NYU), where Rick Rubin lived while also starting up Def Jam Records. Most video directors at the time had a background in commercials, which Rubin wanted no part of, so he asked Menello, who was a huge film buff to do it. When Menello refused, Rubin talked him into it by allowing Dubin, a recent graduate of NYU Film School, to co-direct so they could share the blame if it flopped.
Menello based the video on the party scene from the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's, where a bunch of crazy characters cause all kinds of mayhem (the guy with an eye patch was copped from the scene). Rubin gave them two days and $20,000. They shot it in the apartment of Sunny Bak, a female friend of the Beasties who took one of the photographs that was used in the album art. They recruited their friends to play the revelers and staged a food fight, complete with Three Stooges-like pie throwing.
Rubin and Menello make the case that the characters in the video became slapstick icons, so popular that the band spent the rest of their career fighting the image. According to Menello, there was a method to his madness. He said in the book I Want My MTV: "The idea of the video was infantile rebellion. Some people, like frat boys, didn't see the satire of it. It's not so much satire as a kind of blanket, cartoonish rejection of anything adult."
Tabitha Soren, who was a reporter for MTV, appeared in the video with her hair dyed blonde. She says that the whipped cream for the pies quickly turned rancid, and the set smelled like rotten eggs.
Considering that the group disowned this song, it's not surprising that it wasn't taken seriously in the rap community. Any outrage over appropriation was tempered by the fact that Beastie Boys were signed to Def Jam Records, the label co-owned by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons that was also home to LL Cool J and number of up-and-coming rap acts.
When the Beastie Boys sued the label over unpaid royalties, Simmons took credit for their success in the black community. "They had talent, but they came across as the worst sort of blackface band," he told Spin in 1989. "It was like they were making fun of black people. A lot of people thought they were racist, that they were putting down black culture. I taught them how to f--king walk and how to f--king talk; I convinced the black community that they were real."
The group left Def Jam and signed with Capitol in 1989. Without Simmons or Rick Rubin behind them, their good standing in the hip-hop community was uncertain, but their first Capitol album, Paul's Boutique, set them on a course to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The album didn't sell nearly as well as Licensed To Ill, but it got them away from the gimmicky "Fight for Your Right (to Party)" and established the Beastie Boys as hip-hop trendsetters.
Here's where we connect Stephen Bishop, who had hits in the '70s with "On and On
" and "Save It For A Rainy Day
," with this song. In the film Animal House
, Bishop plays a sensitive guitar player serenading some girls with a sweet tune, only to have his guitar smashed by John Belushi's character, Bluto. In the "Fight for Your Right (to Party)" video, MCA (Adam Yauch) smashes a guitar in homage to this scene.
The song was a radio hit before the video was made. MTV knew it would appeal to their core audience of young males, so they held a spot in hot rotation while the video was being made. When the clip hit MTV, the song surged in popularity.
The German rap group NYCC scored a #14 hit on the UK singles chart in 1998 with their cover of the tune.
The track was performed by Finn Hudson and Noah "Puck" Puckerman for the 2013 Glee episode "Sweet Dreams." It proved to be the last song that Cory Monteith, (who played Finn) recorded before his death.
In 1987 Q magazine got the parents' perspective on this song, asking MCA's father about it. "I could play the outraged parent, but I really find the Beastie Boys whole put-on terrifically amusing," he replied.