Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Best Album Covers: Licensed to Ill


This is the next entry in Best Album Covers, a series begun right here. The first successful long-playing microgroove record for the phonograph was introduced by Columbia Records back in June of 1948. Yet, album covers (the paper board packaging that held them) didn’t come into their own graphically till decades later. Eventually becoming the cultural stamp on the music of the time. Catching the eyes of potential record-buyers and later their ears and minds. Melding the musical experience with the artist into a unique visual form.

Why Compact Disc versions of album art don’t exactly raise the same reaction these days was looked at in this post. Although, music label artistry continues to be noticed and discussed among the material published today. The bits and bytes are looking over their shoulder, though, because vinyl hasn’t entirely gone the way of the dinosaur. Online or at the record shops still out there. Cover art hasn’t lost purpose, either for old and new. Mostly, it’s my contention while digital reigns supreme, its vigor among fans lacks the tactile passion of the past LPs.

Hence the reason for this series. Some register more with me musically than others, though. Yet, the artwork will always take center stage, at least here. Let’s continue shall we?


Even though I’m not a regular fan of the genre, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, writing for Allmusic, put this album in place and context for its impact on youth of the time (and anyone in the auditory vicinity):

“Perhaps Licensed to Ill was inevitable — a white group blending rock and rap, giving them the first number one album in hip-hop history. But that reading of the album’s history gives short shrift to the Beastie Boys; producer Rick Rubin, and his label, Def Jam, and this remarkable record, since mixing metal and hip-hop isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. Just sampling and scratching Sabbath and Zeppelin to hip-hop beats does not make for an automatically good record, though there is a visceral thrill to hearing those muscular riffs put into overdrive with scratching.”

Even for those of us not necessarily into the unique mix of hard rock, grunge, and hip-hop, this album certainly knew how to make a statement. Certified platinum in early ’87, no doubt that one of the chief reasons. Loud and proud, geared to a driving beat you could feel, let alone hear, even if sealed in another vehicle. “…with the engine idling, the a.c. jacked to meat locker…”, as Robert Crais would say. The rare one I’d actually crack a window to better gather in.

Its album cover one of the most iconic of the ’80s. Cleverly titled1 as a play on James Bond’s security authorization and not on the last stint of Ruth’s favorite actor in the role, which wouldn’t arrive till almost three years later. Art director Stephen Byram used the cover art by David Gamble, AKA World B. Omes, to epitomize the group’s subversive nature care of the distinct colorful painting glorifying its gatefold jacket (which included a printed inner sleeve).

The backend of a Boeing 727 on clear display, with the Beastie Boys emblem on its tail, made enough of an impression on its own. Striking, but like other works of art, really an opening for further interpretation. The reveal that the plane has crashed into a mountain, a declaration of rock’s excesses2, offered up other visual meanings. Like an extinguished joint or an erect phallus failing to penetrate, all in keeping with this unruly trio as much as its rebellious tail number “3MTA3”3.

Artist: The Beastie Boys
Title: Licensed to Ill
Date: 1986
Label: Def JamColumbia
Track Listing (and yes, turn that record over):

Side one

  1. “Rhymin’ & Stealin’”
  2. “The New Style”
  3. “She’s Crafty”
  4. “Posse In Effect”
  5. “Slow Ride”
  6. “Girls”
  7. “Fight For Your Right”

Side two

  1. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”
  2. “Paul Revere”
  3. “Hold It Now, Hit It”
  4. “Brass Monkey”
  5. “Slow And Low”
  6. “Time To Get Ill”

The entire series can be found here.

  1. “The group originally wanted to title the album Don’t Be a Faggot, but Columbia Records refused to release the album under this title – arguing that it was homophobic – and pressured Russell Simmons, the Beastie Boys’ manager and head of Def Jam Recordings at the time, into forcing them to choose another name.” ~ Wikipedia 
  2.  “At the time, I had just read Hammer of the Gods, a wild biography about Led Zeppelin‘s rock excesses. In the book there is a photograph of the Led Zeppelin private jet and the idea of this cover came from that. The Beastie Boys were just a bunch of little guys and I wanted us to have a Beastie Boys’ jet. I wanted to embrace and somehow distinguish, in a sarcastic way, the larger than life rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.” ~ Producer Rick Rubin, Diffuser article 
  3. The tail number spells “EATME” when viewed in a mirror. 

13 Responses to “Best Album Covers: Licensed to Ill”

    • le0pard13

      Yeah, by ’86 many were. There was a gatefold LP, but we know where the trend was on going on this, didn’t we? Thanks so much, Bruce. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. ruth

    Thanks for the link Michael! LOVE the cover, very clever and memorable. I’m actually not that familiar w/ Beastie Boys music however, but this cover is awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul S

    I actually bought this album on cassette back in 1986, great cover and great tunes! I still enjoy it when I hear “Fight For Your Right” and it’s appropriate that “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” features on the soundtrack of “Out to Kill.”
    Happy days!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tangled Up In Music (by Ovidiu Boar)

    Good album, but a bit too juvenile and gimmicky compared to the Beastie’s next releases.

    Liked by 1 person


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