When the Beastie Boys Celebrated Christmas With ‘Country Mike’s Greatest Hits’
Most people can number some fine friends among their social circle — and most of us can point to at least one incredible present we've received during the holidays. But in the late '90s, the Beastie Boys took yuletide gift-giving to a new level by putting together a limited-edition album of new music for hundreds of their best pals.
Because it was never officially released and has only been obliquely referred to by the Beasties in public, it's difficult to determine exactly when the album went out — although according to the discography outlined at the Beastiemania fan site, a test pressing was first made in 1999. What we do know is that it wasn't really a Beasties record at all, at least in terms of genre; instead, they adopted a tongue-in-cheek Nashville sound for the 13-song set, which they dubbed Country Mike's Greatest Hits.
The members of the group had (seemingly sarcastically) floated the idea of making a Christmas album a handful of times in the late '90s, but no one had any reason to believe they were serious — and when a pair of tracks from the Country Mike's sessions popped up on the 1999 Sounds of Science Beasties compilation, there wasn't any reason to think they were anything other than goofball unreleased cuts tossed in to add something extra to the mix. In fact, the Science booklet chalked them up to an injury to Mike D earlier in the decade.
"At some point after Ill Communication came out, Mike got hit in the head by a large foreign object and lost all of his memory," reads a passage in the Sounds of Science liner notes. "As it started coming back he believed that he was a country singer named Country Mike. The psychologists told us that if we didn’t play along with Mike’s fantasy, he could be in grave danger. Finally he came back to his senses."
Eventually, copies of Country Mike's Greatest Hits started circulating on the aftermarket, where original vinyl pressings of the record still fetch commanding sums. Fortunately, thanks to the magic of YouTube, what was once a collector's item is now freely available for all to hear — and like the decade's other great country detour played for laughs, Ween's 1996 12 Golden Country Greats LP, it can be downright charming if you're in the mood for a light-hearted left turn. And as for Country Mike himself? Well, once that head injury cleared up, it looks like he moseyed off into the sunset, a little worse for wear.
"Country Mike is not doing so well right now," Mike D shared in a 2007 interview. "I’ve heard he’s a homeless man and can be found around truck stops sometimes. And he went to rehab as an option over jail."