White House — The Unreleased Beastie Boys Album

In 1987 the Beastie Boys were Mike D, MCA and Adrock — aka Michael Diamond, Adam Yauch and Adam Horowitz. The group had just released Licensed To Ill on Def Jam in 1986, and it had blown everyone’s expectations reaching #1 on the Billboard 200 charts in May 1987 and staying there for seven consecutive weeks. After touring the highly successful album the group became unenthused with what the label wanted from them, namely Licensed To Ill Part II, and the Beastie Boys left Def Jam, signed with Capitol and in 1989 released their second album Paul’s Boutique.

While Paul’s Boutique has gone on to be recognised as one of Hip Hop’s greatest albums, at the time the album flopped. Fans perhaps wanted more of Fight For Your Right To Party and weren’t quite ready for Shadrach, and if Def Jam had had their way that was exactly what fans would have got. As the Beastie Boys were finishing Paul’s Boutique Def Jam began hinting to the press that they had their own Beastie Boys album coming soon called White House. So what happened?

Together Forever

After the Licensed To Ill Tour ended in 1987 the Beastie Boys wanted to move away from their frat boy drunken image they had created, with Adam Yauch moving on and starting a new band Brooklyn. Sean “The Captain” Carasov who was the bands tour manager at the time told Spin:

When all the touring was done, Russell wanted to throw them back in the studio straightaway and have them make an album. They were just not ready for it. Russell didn’t really see it ’cause he hadn’t been there. He was insisting, and that’s when the lawsuits against Def Jam and Rush Management began.

The Beastie Boys sued Def Jam for unpaid royalties which began a back and forth fued between both parties. The Beastie Boys meanwhile had signed with Capital Records and began work on their next album which Def Jam took issue with and threatened to release their own album of unreleased Beastie Boys songs.

Spin wrote about the Def Jam album in their October 1989 issue. Citing an earlier report from Billboard they claimed the album was to be called White House and would be made up of “bits and pieces of raps left over from Licensed To Ill.” But was there enough for an album?

A number of tracks were recorded and left off Licensed To Ill, and on top of this there are alternative versions of many of the albums songs which include minor differences in the raps. These alternative versions have found their way to fans through bootlegs such as Original Ill and feature everything from minor mixing changes to extra rap verses. But outside of these alternative mixes the following tracks were also available to fill up the White House album.

White House — Speculative Tracklisting

The Beastie Boys first release on Def Jam, and Def Jam’s second release, Rock Hard came out in December 1984 and started earning reviews through 1985.

Reveiewed by John Leyland in the June 1985 issue of Spin, he claimed “no one has a beat this big and this wet. While the platter delivers ample boasts for the buck, the Beasties never take themselves or their genre too seriously.” Rock Hard and it’s clever sampling of AC/DC’s Back In Black was later listed in Spin’s Greatest Guitar Moments from their April 1989 issue, beating out Jimi Hendricks and The Kinks.

In 1985 the Beastie Boys included the song as part of their setlist while touring with Madonna, Yauch would later explain to Spin Magazine:

At the time, we had “Slow and Low,” “Beastie Groove,” and “Rock Hard.” We went into the studio and recorded “She’s on It” so we’d have another song to perform live. We were doing a cover of T La Rock and Jazzy Jay’s “It’s Yours” because we didn’t have enough of our own songs.

Ultimately Rock Hard was witheld from the album due to the AC/DC sample never being cleared by Def Jam (and AC/DC refusing them permission to do so) and the 12" was withdrawn from sale in 1985. The Beastie Boys tried again to clear the sample so it could feature on their Anthology compilation but were unsuccesful.

Adrock described Rock Hard as “a terrible song” in 2018’s Beastie Boys Book, and continued:

…we loved rap music and wanted to be rappers so bad, we wanted to be Run-DMC so bad. We really liked it at the time, but listening to it now it sounds like child actors trying desperately to make the words we were saying sound believable.

Beastie Groove and Party’s Getting Rough were the B-sides for Rock Hard, and there was also an instrumental version of Beastie Groove on some copies.

In the February 8 1985 issue of CMJ New Music Report Rock Hard was breifly reviewed, but Beastie Groove was the song that earn’t the highest praise with the reviewer insiting that “The better choice here is “Beastie Groove,” a bonus beat buster that shows just how well they can rhyme. The scratch by DJ Double R also must be heard.”

After Rock Hard was withdrawn these tracks only appeared on bootlegs until 2007 when it was re-released by Def Jam as part of their Def Jam Classics series.

The Beastie Boys second Def Jam release, She’s On It was released in 1985 with Slow and Low as the B-Side. A video was created for the song to promote the single, but while Slow and Low would feature on Licensed To Ill, She’s On It was left off the album and therefore was unlikely heard by many fans of the group. Mike D later referred to the song as “one of the most embarassing moments we’ve got to live with”.

Featuring a sample of The Beatles 1965 song I’m Down, the song remains unreleased as, just like with Rock Hard, Def Jam were unable to clear the samples. In 1985 Michael Jackson had purchased The Beatles catalogue allowing him to control the songs copyrights, and when Def Jam tried to clear I’m Down he refused.

Mike D became quite vocal in his frustrations with Michael Jackson, telling East Coast Rocker in 1987:

There have been a couple of songs that we haven’t been able to put out, and a couple of radio spots we made that haven’t been aired, things like that. But I gotta say this — if I ever see Michael Jackson, I’m gonna light his Jeri curls on fire. I’m gonna sneak up on him with a can of lighter and go to work. I think if they had a 3-D movie in Disneyworld of Adrock punching Michael Jackson’s face, they’d get a good draw.

Jackson reportedly hated the song as well as The Beastie Boys at the time and the song has remained unreleased.

Reportedly intended as a B-side, the song was turned down when Def Jam’s partners CBS heard it and thought the lyrics were too graphic. The lyrics feature the Beastie Boys repeating the same verse across the entire 5 minute track and it’s not suprising it was left unreleased:

Well, chilling on the corner this one time
Cooling at the party, I’m running them lines
Smoking that crack, saying them rhymes
Counting my bank just to pass the time
Met a young girl throwing that base
Boyfriend beefed, he was on my case
Took her to the place, threw the mattress in her face
Shot homeboy in his motherfucking face

The song did feature in the 1990 film Pump Up The Volume where Christian Slater’s character plays it on his radio show with the introduction “a song that was so controversial they couldn’t put it on their first album”, and also raps over the top of it.

Featuring samples from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Soundtrack, this was another song left unreleased, though in the May 1987 issue of Creem it was reported as appearing in the upcoming film Tougher Than Leather. It did appear in the film, but not on the soundtrack and so an official version remains unreleased.

Of the unreleased copies, there are two versions of Desperado that have found there way to the public, the first is a studio demo and the second is a recording from the 1988 film Tougher Than Leather where the Beastie Boys perform the song on stage. This second version is much better quality, but unfortunately also features dialogue from the film which is frustrating if all you want to hear is the music.

This isn’t a Beastie Boys song, but actually a song by MCA (Adam Yauch) and Burzootie which was released on Def Jam in 1985. Due to not having many of their own songs as the time, the Beastie Boys included it in their early setlists while touring with Madonna in 1985. The song is actually a remix of sorts of a Jay Burnett (aka Burzootie) solo track released in 1982 which was also called Drum Machine. The Beastie Boys sampled 1982’s Drum Machine on their Beastie Groove song and Burzootie worked as an engineer on the Rock Hard 12", recieving a mention on Beastie Groove.

MCA’s lyrics advertise the amazing features of drum machines:

Now there’s a thing called the drum machine
You don’t need good rhythm to sound real mean
Quantize a beat through the tempo control
To make good music the inevitable goal
With a VCO and a VCA
You might add on some digital delay
In the mix
Use tricks
And if it don’t sound good it can still be fixed

Drum Machine was rumoured to be considered for inclusion on White House to fill out the tracklisting according to Dan LeRoy’s The Greatest Music Never Sold book.

While not part of the Beastie Boys’ Def Jam sessions, in Dan LeRoy’s The Greatest Music Never Sold book he suggests the label may have considered licensing the Beastie Boys early recordings as a means to provide further filler for their White House album. Spin Magazine were fans of Cookie Puss calling it “an obnoxious send-up of the rap/scratch vibe that was as funny as it was hateful.” Whether it would actually have appeared on White House is unknown.

Which leaves us with the following album (here’s a YouTube playlist so you can listen along):

  1. Rock Hard
  2. Party’s Getting Rough
  3. Beastie Groove
  4. She’s On It
  5. I’m Down
  6. Scenario
  7. Desperado
  8. Drum Machine
  9. Cookie Puss

Let’s Remix It

So you have seven Beastie Boys tracks that can pass as a new album, with possibly more if you include Drum Machine and Cookie Puss, or even more if you include instrumentals or create some remixes with the cut vocal recordings from the alternative versions of Licensed To Ill’s demos. Def Jam could have easily released this as it was, but they planned to go one step further and bring in a new producer to clean up the recordings and remix the tracks. Enter Public Enemy’s Chuck D and The Bomb Squad.

Public Enemy were riding high from their recent It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back album which was released by Def Jam in 1988. The previous year they had joined the Beastie Boys on the Licensed To Ill tour around America, and in 1989 were in the midst of recording their next album Fear of a Black Planet.

Def Jam asked Chuck D to go through the Beastie Boys’ demos and create new instrumentals with his production group The Bomb Squad. While bringing in Chuck D was a stroke of genius in terms of the potential hightened production value, it would also mean the downfall of the album as when Chuck heard Paul’s Boutique he decided to step away from White House and thus the album never saw release. Chuck explained to Dan Leroy in his book The Greatest Music Never Sold:

We didn’t know the Beasties were coming out with anything, so we thought it’d be a wise idea to get into those old tracks and make something. But that didn’t happen…We didn’t realize that the Beasties were so adamant against it. That’s kinda why it didn’t go any further. In the end, it was nothin’ but a thought.

While Chuck may remember the album as nothing but a thought, that hasn’t stopped rumours of its existance from swirling, and the album has often been misreported as consisting of house remixes of Licensed To Ill, with the intention to embarrass the Beastie Boys and ruin their public image. Oddly this rumour was started and carried by the Beastie Boys themselves, with Mike D initially reporting it to Spin in October 1989. At the time Spin assured readers that Mike D was mistaken and had simply misunderstood the meaning of the White House title. But the rumour has persisted, and the Beastie Boys discussed them further with LA Weekly in 1989:

WEEKLY: Have you heard White House?

MIKE D: No-one’s heard it.

MCA: The only reason he’s doing it is to hassle us.

AD-ROCK: It’s garbage, it’s trash.

MCA: They’re talking about using vocal tracks sampled into House music, and apart from the fact that we’re not fond of House music … it’s just weak to have … I can’t even figure out what he’s using … all he has is a couple of lines or some shit.

MIKE D: It’s not like he has huge vaults filled with master tapes of us. It’s just every musician’s nightmare. Not only your past coming back to haunt you but your past in songs you know you won’t like.

The rumours continued through to 2018 when in the Beastie Boys own book Adrock brought it up again:

Allegedly, Russell threatened to put a record of unreleased songs of ours [and] call it White House and have somebody remix them to theme of this hot new sound called House music.

At the end of the day writer Dan LeRoy was likely correct when he descibed the White House album as “a threat, not a promise.” Whether it was going to be an album containing B-sides and demos, Chuck D remixes, or even a house remix album, at the end of the day nothing was released.

While the Beastie Boys had initially sued Def Jam over unpaid royalties relating to Licensed To Ill, and Def Jam then sued the Beastie Boys and Capitol Records for breach of contract, it appears that the parties agreed for the group not to pursue the royalties in exchange for release from their Def Jam commitments, leading to Def Jam agreeing not to release the album. This is also likley why no unreleased tracks have been officially made available in the intervening years.

Further Reading

The Greatest Music Never Sold, by Dan LeRoy (2007)

Spin - An Oral History of the Beastie Boys: “The Story of Yo” (1998)

Def Jam at 30 — Rock Hard(2014)

An Australian writer with a passion for research. In 2020 he published Making Psyence Fiction, a book on the creation of UNKLE’s debut album. www.jamesgaunt.com

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