In the 1990s, from certain corners of the indie music landscape writ large, there cropped up a strange little genre we’ll just call “shitty country”: country music done without really the slightest attempt to carry it off properly, executed of course with a good dose of irony and, yes, condescension.
In 1996, for instance, Ween unexpectedly put out an album called 12 Golden Country Greats (which of course had 10 tracks on it). Ween went to the trouble of hiring a bunch of experienced Nashville session musicians to lay down the tracks, without ever telling them that the album was a bit of a put-on—my understanding is that the session guys got all pissed off when they heard the final product, which from the Ween fans’ perspective makes the whole escapade all the better. That album is both a put-on and an honest showcase of outstanding country musicianship.
Four years later, the Beastie Boys spent an afternoon in the studio (I’m guessing) and emerged with a Christmas present for a few hundred of their closest friends. For the recording it was necessary to create a quasi-fictional character known as “Country Mike,” a signal that Mike D. would be handling most of the vocals. The album was called Country Mike’s Greatest Hits, and it featured a baker’s dozen of half-assed and wildly entertaining country ditties.
Every recipient of the album also got this Christmas card
The initial pressing probably numbered about a thousand copies—if that many. Recipients received a Christmas card in a rustic style. Because of the private nature of the enterprise, scoring copies for regular fans has become difficult indeed. An original black vinyl pressing will run you $250 on Discogs, and the red vinyl pressing is available for $400. The situation at Amazon is similar. Fortunately, there’s an unofficial British release from last year which is priced in the same range as any other new LP.
The songs on the album are certainly adequate—although at times the vocals seem intentionally off-key. I wouldn’t want to be standing near a passionate country music fan while it was playing, but aside from that it’s okay. The third track, “We Can Do This,” sounds like an outtake off of Beck’s One Foot in the Grave. The album features steel guitar work from Bucky Baxter, who recorded tons of stuff with Dylan and Steve Earle, as well as some ghostly whistling from Bill McMullen, who designed some of the Beasties’ cover art around that era.
The most interesting song on the album is probably “Country Delight,” which incorporates the baseline from the Sugarhill Gang‘s deathless classic “Rapper’s Delight.” Title similarities aside, a friend pointed out that even Country Mike’s very name might well be a shout-out to SHG honcho Wonder Mike.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Beastie Boy Mike D designed some wallpaper
Beastie Boys and the Butthole Surfers, live on NYC cable access TV, 1984