Would you look at this video? Here we have the original line-up of the Beastie Boys (when they had a fourth, female member, Kate Schellenbach) playing a Christmas-time gig in 1983. And you just wanna scream: LOOK HOW YOUNG THEY ARE! Adam Yauch is probably 17 at the time, Michael Diamond younger, and Adam Horowitz is younger still, and they are plainly enjoying themselves while also being a bit nervous and unsure. (Ad-Rock blanches when he has to brag about the size of his member, while Adam Yauch shows he had flow very early on.) I doubt anybody in the audience was thinking these white kids would go on to be one of the greatest rap groups of all time. Some were wondering what happened to the hardcore punk music they usually played. And some were just having a blast.
The track they’re performing is "Cooky Puss," their very first attempt at rap and, as it happens, their very first 12” single release. To their surprise the record started getting played in clubs.
For those who picked up the delightful, thorough, and very heavy Beastie Boys Book--we told you about it just recently--the origin of “Cookie Puss” is outlined in detail. A friend of a friend got the young band a chance to record in a studio usually reserved for commercial jingles for two days. The first day the band played a selection of originals and covers, but on playback “we realized they were pretty bad,” writes Ad-Rock. “They weren’t hardcore songs, they were oddly Goth-ish and just sort of, well...pretty bad.”
With a second day at their disposal they returned, and based on a beat from Schellenbach, “Cooky Puss” was born, along with another original, “Beastie Revolution.” The centerpiece of the studio version is a prank phone call between Ad-Rock, a telephone operator, and a worker at Carvel ice cream, which the adult Horowitz now cringes in memory over. (“Can I formally apologize right here and now? I’m sorry.”)
The Beastie Boys had started as a hardcore band, featuring Schellenbach on drums, and had recorded an e.p., Pollywog Stew which finally got released, along with the Cooky Puss e.p. in 1994 as Some Old Bullshit. But rap was everywhere and, as Horowitz tells it, Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals” was the record that put hip hop on the map. “Cooky Puss” was their affectionate parody of that track. (Schellenbach, by the way, went on to form Luscious Jackson)
As for the actual Cooky Puss, it was a weird ice cream cake sold by Carvel (with its own character and backstory), and promoted on local TV with a set of ads featuring the voice of owner Tom Carvel himself. Check out the wonder of the Cooky Puss and its plush toy companion. Call now…they honor most major credit cards.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.