American Bandstand was an institution for decades that everybody wanted to play. It was at the forefront of the rock ‘n’ roll scene throughout the 1960s and ’70s, but by the time The Beastie Boys arrived, the programme had lost its way.
Admittedly, when The Beastie Boys made their debut on the programme, the power of American Bandstand had faded. It was no longer the powerhouse it was in the era of The Beatles, and MTV had overtaken it as the primary televisual gatekeeper. Therefore, The Beastie Boys weren’t prepared to bend over to the producers and firmly decided to play to their own rules.
Bandstand was an American institution which always attempted to move with the times, but by 1987, it had stopped leading from the front when it came to cultural change. Instead, it was a watered-down representation of contemporary culture for a mainstream audience.
The programme had let the zeitgeist drift away from its grasp, but The Beastie Boys represented a progressive booking that suggested change was coming. However, proceedings didn’t go to plan, and in the end, they became the first act to be censored by Bandstand.
Their decision to book The Beastie Boys was brave and could have ushered the programme into new territory. While it was a historical episode, from Bandstand’s perspective, the rap group’s performance was history-making for all the wrong reasons.
Problems started when The Beastie Boys arrived on set and were informed they would have to lip-sync. Understandably, Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D were furious at being told the news about their performance. Despite their best attempts to dissuade the producers, the Beasties had no choice but to perform ‘(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’ to a backing track.
“We had to [perform] to a tape,” Ad-Rock later remembered to Morning Call. “We couldn’t play it live, so we threw our mikes on the ground and wrecked them.”
The Beastie Boys stuck to their promise and decided to make Bandstand rue their mistakes. Although they couldn’t perform the song live, they could still deliberately sabotage the programme by delivering the most woeful performance imaginable.
At one stage during the performance, Ad-Rock took things too far for the producers and explicitly grabbed his crotch, edited from the television programme. While it didn’t go according to plan, The Beastie Boys successfully fought for their right to party and left American Bandstand redfaced.