Brass Monkey

Album: Licensed To Ill (1986)
Charted: 48

Songfacts®:

  • This song is about an alcoholic beverage. Brass Monkey is rum, vodka, and orange juice mixed over ice. Very popular with college kids trying to get drunk. The Beasties are not limited to just this cocktail, however, as the song explores various alcohol-related activities and beverages, apparently financed by their producer, Rick Rubin ("Double R. foots the bill most definitely"). Also showing up in the song: martinis, Moet champagne, and Chivas Regal whiskey.
  • In some circles, a Brass Monkey is mixture of malt liquor and orange juice, typically made by adding OJ to a 40-ounce bottle of Olde English. That's not what the Beastie Boys had in mind though. As Mike D confirmed, they were referring to a premixed cocktail served in a can. Made by the Heublein Company, it was sold in the '70s and '80s. The company wasn't specific about the ingredients, claiming it was made from "a secret combination of liquors."
  • Licensed To Ill was the first rap album to go #1 in the US. It is the best-selling rap album of the '80s.
  • The term "Brass Monkey" comes from the figure of speech, "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." An actual brass monkey was thought to be a naval contraption - here's the story we heard:

    Back in the day of naval wars being fought with the old fashioned cannons, they would stack the cannonballs in a pyramid. This conserved space and made it easy to load them. However, they would roll around the deck if there weren't something to hold them in place. To solve this problem, they used a large metal plate with indents in which to place the bottom rows of cannonballs. They found that if they used iron, when it got wet the cannonballs would rust, so they used brass and called it a brass monkey. Brass tends to really expand and contract with the weather, and when it got really cold the indents would get smaller, causing the cannonballs to be dislodged, hence the saying, "It's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey."

    However, a pyramid of round objects will topple if it rocks more than 30 degrees - not to mention any sudden forceful shock to the stack - which would rank the pyramid shape among the worst shapes to use on a boat, seeing how there is an abundance of rocking and shocking to be had at sea. In addition, the coefficient of expansion of brass is 0.000019; that of iron is 0.000012. Long story short, if the base of the pyramid was one meter long, the change in temperature needed to shrink the brass 1 millimeter with relation to the cannonballs would have to be close to 100 degrees Celsius... so a little less than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The track for this song was based on a sample of "Bring It Here" by Wild Sugar. By 1988, sampling had become commonplace on many hit songs and there was still no legal precedent for clearing the samples. This song almost became the test case, as Wild Sugar came after The Beasties for compensation, but the case went away, most likely settled out of court. It was in the best interest of the Beastie Boys and their label Columbia Records to keep the big test case out of court so they could continue rhymin' and stealin', which they did for a few more years. It wasn't until 1991 that the big lawsuit happened: Gilbert O'Sullivan suing Biz Markie for sampling his song "Alone Again (Naturally)." This is when the law came down that all samples had to be cleared.
  • Licensed To Ill eventually sold over 10 million copies, but at the time, the only Beastie Boys song casual listeners knew was "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)," a novelty that went into hot rotation on MTV.

    "Brass Monkey" carried more credibility in the hip-hop community, and the group performed (meaning lip-synched) the song when they appeared on Soul Train in 1987.

Comments: 18

  • Dee from PhiladelphiaRob is the winner, OE & orange juice. Rachel, no the article is correct Biz was first. Randy, one of the members Adam Yauch passed from cancer (it's actually the 5th anniversary of his death tomorrow), and i'm sure they realized that 2 Beasties didn't make sense.
  • Randy from Fayettevile, ArI'm not gonna waste time talking about alcoholic drinks, so I'll stick to the Beastie Boys. They hit it big way before I was born, but I caught their songs on alternative FM radio in the 2000's. "Brass Monkey" got played a lot too, but I never liked it that much. Just a little. My uncle "Horneigh" said that way back in 1986 when he & my Dad were in University of Kansas that the Beastie Boys were BIG at KU & he recalled "Brass Monkey" but he preferred other songs by the Beastie Boys over it. Are the Beastie Boys ever gonna come back - or are they too old now?
  • Rachel from Nashville, TnI thought the big history-changing lawsuit was Rick James vs MC Hammer for his sampling/blatantly stealing "Super Freak."
  • Rant Casey from Zionsville, InThe Brass Monkey liquor did NOT get its name from a device to maintain a pyramid stack of cannonballs. That device is completely fictional. The name comes from ancient forms of the cannon, referred to as Monkeys, Drakes, or Dogs. An inventory published in 1650 makes note of "Short Brasse Munkeys alias Dogs." The handle used to aim the cannon was called the "Monkey's Tail." The Beastie Boys wrote a song and named it after booze that was in turn named after a large gun.
  • David from Woburn, MaMike and Cynthia, that might be a real Brass Monkey, but college kids (like me) usually can't get our hands on anything good, so we rely on what we can get: cheap rum, cheap vodka, and whatever they're selling at the dining hall.
  • Cynthia from Conawy, ArI agree with Rob.
    A brass monkey is a 40 with orange juice!
  • Olivia from Columbia, ScAh man, me & my friend LOVE this song!!!
    Everytime we go to drink something, whether it be milk or coke or water or anything, we say "YOU PUT YOUR LEFT LEG DOWN, YOUR RIGHT LEG UP! TILT YOUR HEAD BACK & FINISH THE CUP!!!" and we do all the motions & everyone laughs at us. One of the best songs ever!!!
  • Rob from Hollywood, Cayou guys are all wrong. Brass monkey olde english 40oz consumed down to the label, then add orange juice. da ya research!
  • Pippin from Rhye, CaMy friend tells me that her little 6-year old sister thinks this is her favorite dancing song. Obviously, she doesn't know what it is really about.
  • Joseph from Alabama, AlJohn i bet i like them better than you. if you want we can play poker at my hotel in the Burmuda Triangle while i rape a wildebeast and then we can go skinny dipping with ur mother.
  • John from Cape Coral, FlThe Beasties are one of my favorite bands easily but i definitely think this song is way overrated. The albums pretty good but Paul's Boutique and Check your head are way better
  • Ralph from Costa Mesa, United StatesCannon balls were not stored on rolling ship decks. They were stored below to keep them away from the corrosive salty water which would impair their performance. Having round cannon balls on deck would be a space use and safety impairment. Brass is an expensive and heavy material to use compared to wood.
  • Jeremy from Warren , RiMmmm it does go well with the chicken! Delicious again Peter.
  • Kel from Milwaukee, WiIt's also a ghetto fabulous cocktail comprised of 3 parts malt liquor, 1 part Sunny Delight...you drink the required portion out of your 40-oz and then top it off with Sunny D
  • Meg from Brooklyn, NyIve found that a bottle of Brass Monkey is best when served at 80 degrees, a good handbag-warm treat if you ask me. I also prefer to drink my brass monkey on subway trains. YEA B MONKEY!
  • Kieran from Harlow, United Statesdrink responsibly..............
  • Jon from Dallas, TxI drank a bottle of Brass Monkey about 10 years ago and that was one hell of a blind drunk!! I woke up against a light pole 10 miles away in the median of a large road in Dallas. Had it not started to rain I might have slept there all day. I had to walk home. I still have no idea how I got there. I think I got in a van with some girls. I guess they tossed me off or ????
  • Nick from Detroit, MiIn actuality, ready service shot was kept on the gun or spar decks in shot racks (also known as shot garlands in the Royal Navy) which consisted of longitudinal wooden planks with holes bored into them, into which round shot (cannon balls) were inserted for ready use by the gun crew. The stacks of cannon balls we see these days on ships is a recent phenomenon.
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