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.
Andy - Arlington, VA
This is the song that got the Beastie Boys on MTV and exposed them to a huge audience. It rose to #7 in America on March 7, 1987, which is the same date the Licensed To Ill
album hit #1, becoming the first rap album to top the chart. Beastie Boys would go down in history as one of the most successful and transgressive hip-hop acts of all time, but rap purists who knew them from this song were horrified. In the summer of 1987, the group went on what was billed as a co-headlining tour
with the far more accomplished and credible Run-D.M.C. (In 1985, Run-D.M.C. played Live Aid around the same time the Beastie Boys were opening for Madonna). While Run-D.M.C. extolled education and sobriety, Beastie Boys doubled down on their reckless party image, using cage dancers on stage and dousing crowds with beer. There was unprecedented security at these shows, but the tour came off without incident. Beastie Boys shifted their focus to the studio; they didn't tour again until 1992.
Beastie Boys producer Rick Rubin had a lot to do with this song, injecting a rock sound into it. Rubin was the first to mash-up a major rap act with a rock superstar when he teamed Run-D.M.C. with Aerosmith for the updated "Walk This Way
" earlier in 1986. Rubin is credit as a co-writer on "Fight for Your Right" along with the three Beastie Boys.
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."
After this song took off, Beastie Boys got more and more outrageous in their stage antics and in interviews. They were like professional wrestlers playing up a gimmick but also becoming the character, and it started to wear thin. "Fight for Your Right (to Party)" could have easily defined the group, but they had the good sense to disown it as a novelty and move forward in a more mature (but still mischievous) direction. They stopped performing the song when they finished touring in 1987.
Considering the group disowned this song, it's not surprising 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 a 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.
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.
The song was a radio hit before the video appeared. 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.
When they played this live, Beastie Boys made it really raunchy and offensive, often altering the lyrics with lines like:
"Livin' at home you're such a fag"
"Your teacher's sucking d--k like you're some kind of jerk"
And, they had a visual aid: a 20-foot inflatable penis that engorged during the song.
After they played Columbus, Georgia, on February 28, 1987, officials in that city passed an anti-lewdness law
that threatened acts with arrest if they fell afoul. LL Cool J and Bobby Brown were both arrested under the ordinance for simulating sex acts; Gene Simmons got a misdemeanor for pulling his pants down when performing with Kiss.
The German rap group NYCC scored a #14 hit on the UK singles chart in 1998 with their cover of the tune.
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.
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.
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.