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Like fudge and caramel, they’re not the same

Close up of four chunks of fudge

Image: Taylor Gregory via Unsplash

  • Track: Just a Test
  • Artist: Beastie Boys
  • Album: Hello Nasty
  • Year: 1998

It’s landmark time. Here’s the track that brings us our 100th simile. At the end of this post you’ll find a quick look at some of the themes that are emerging already. But don’t skip ahead, because this tune is a little gem that (spoilers) gets a spot pretty high up the simile leader board.

That’s partly because it crams all its similes into just two minutes and 13 seconds. It’s a short enough track that it could easily wash over you, especially in the context of the full album (1998’s Hello Nasty). I doubt it’s at the top of any Beastie Boys fan’s favourite song list, but it’s near the top of mine. Mainly because it has a high simile ratio.

Lyrically speaking, it’s largely nonsense. It’s pseudo-deep, Sixth Form anguish stuff. It’s a bit throwaway, although that might be due to its place in the running order: fifth on an album of 22 mostly excellent tracks.

But even if slightly suspect in the lyrics department, it’s still a lovely little tune. Try not to bob your head along to that beat. Unless you’re in a neck brace, you will not be able to resist. I hope you are not in a neck brace.

If one was to defend the lyrics, one would probably say they are…poetic. One would be clutching at straws. The Beastie Boys aren’t at they’re best when they’re trying to be cryptic. As such, perhaps there’s little point analysing the lyrics. Naturally, that’s exactly what I’m going to try to do.

One problem for the discerning simile collector is to work out what two things are being compared in most of the track’s similes. Is one the ‘the test’ mentioned in the title? Something unspecified? If it’s the latter, are these technically semi-similes? Ah, solving these questions bring the priest and the doctor in their long coats running over the fields. (Now that’s poetry.)

I’m not enough of a Beasties aficionado to tell you who’s rapping each word. The three MCs rap over each other and finish each other’s sentences like a long-married couple. So I’m attributing all these similes to the Beastie Boys collectively. It’ll be easier in the long run.

According to the album’s sleeve notes, this track contains a sample from The Pair Extraordinaire‘s self-titled 1966 album. This is a terrific name for a two-piece. If there were three of them, they’d presumably be called the Trio Miraculeux. And as that is without a doubt the best joke I will ever write, I might as well stop here and get on with looking at the similes.

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on Genius.com.

It’s like a flag at half-mast as frames click fast
Not a thing will last as past is past

Aaah, a track that opens with a simile is as refreshing as being slapped in the face with a flannel soaked in cold cider.

Flags are flown at half-mast when someone has died. According to the Genius contributor, this started in the 17th Century as a way to make room for ‘the invisible flag of death, signifying death’s presence, power, and prominence’. What a cheery thought.

And frames clicking fast is presumably meant to invoke people taking lots of photographs. I’ve no idea how this relates to the half-mast flag. Let’s roll with it, because poetry.

It’s like stacks of thoughts that got played and worn
And used over and over till they were tired and torn

Hmmmm, poetic. It’s true that ideas that get used over and over get tired. Like repeating a joke, hammering it home until it’s gone beyond funny, if it ever was in the first place. A bit like starting a blog about something incredibly specific that’s only of interest to one person on the entire planet.

And like a broken clock that can’t tell time

So poetic. Although as we all know, a broken clock still tells the right time twice a day. Unless it’s a digital clock. Depending on what’s wrong with it, and if it’s set to 12 or 24 hour time.

And like a thick ass book that’s filled with wack rhymes

It’s at this point you’d be forgiven for worrying that the track is about to turn into a rap version of Ironic by Alanis Morrissette. Fortunately, it’s far less painful than that.

Like a scorching blaze that burned the sand

Ta-daaa! And here it is, the 100th simile I’ve catalogued in my humble database. I was hoping for something a bit more special, maybe a negative simile or something, but this will have to do.

Unfortunately, our centennial simile is factually inaccurate. Can sand burn? The short answer is no, although it can melt. And when lightning strikes a beach it sometimes creates cool mineral formations. But ‘melted the sand’ wouldn’t scan properly so we’ll have to let the Beastie Boys off on this one.

And like a band that planned and planned and planned
And flew down like a raven in the dark of night
And snatched up the worm helpless to fight

It might have been more fitting if one of these was the 100th simile, because the Beastie Boys nest two similes into one line (what we experts call ‘Russian similes’).

It still doesn’t make much sense though. And ravens roost at night so again I’m going to have to dock points for inaccuracy. Although it is accurate to say that worms lack the ability to fend off a raven. That is undoubtedly true.

And brought it back to the nest, singing microphone check
One two one two, this is just a test
One two one two, this is just a test
One two one two, this is just a test

So is it the band, the worm or the raven that’s meant to be singing? I prefer to imagine it’s the worm. I don’t suppose it matters.

It’s like sand in one hand you can’t hold for long
And like scheming on a plan that goes all wrong

Well, someone likes sand-based similes. 

Was the plan to hold onto some sand? Because I can’t understand what that would achieve. You’d have to be pretty bad at gripping to not be able to hold a fistful of sand for a few minutes. Or is it that you can’t hold on to the sand because it’s burning (even if we accept that sand can burn, which it can’t)?

It’s like fudge and caramel, they’re not the same
And it’s a shame, all you talk is game

At least we can’t accuse the Beastie Boys of inaccuracy with this simile. Fudge and caramel are definitely not the same. In fact, there are exactly three differences between them:

  • fudge has milk in it
  • caramel is runny
  • only one of them is employed as a euphemism for ‘fuck’ when children are in the room

You act like a diamond waiting to be set
In a gold ring
, as if, I bet

I wasn’t too impressed by this simile until I read the Genius annotation. The contributor says that as diamonds are actually quite common, and 24-carat gold very rare, then this is talking about someone who thinks themselves more important than they are. I like that interpretation, even though you’d have to be quite pathetic to spend your time analysing lyrical similes to that depth.

That’s the 11th and final simile in this track. For such a short, snappy tune, the Beasties do manage to fit in a lot of introspection. I think so, anyway. I really can’t make head nor tail of it all.

As time goes by in this give and take
As long as I learn I will make mistakes
Now, what do I want? What do I need?
Why do I want it? What’s in it for me?
It’s the imagery of technology
Is what you get is what you see
Don’t worry your mind
When you give it your best
One two one two this is just a test
One two one two, this is just a test
One two one two, this is just a test

And there we have it. A short run-time, low word count and high simile rate put Just a Test in second place on the simile leader board, just behind Herbaliser and DOOM. Great stuff, even if half of it makes no sense at all.

The stats

Similes:11
Words:277
Words per simile:25.18
Length:2m 13s
Similes per minute:4.96
Differences between fudge and caramel:Three

100 simile bonus section

As we’ve reached a landmark in this important project, I thought it would be interesting to look back at all the tags so far to see if any themes have emerged.

Some certainly have. What else my analysis has shown is that my approach to tagging taxonomy leaves a lot to be desired. It’s haphazard at best, and sloppily inconsistent. I’d make a terrible librarian.

At some point I might revisit the whole lot and try to improve this (maybe when I hit 1 million?). You know you’re in trouble when you decide ‘metaphysical concepts’ would make a good category.

Here are the top ten tags so far:

TagSimile count
music17
musicians12
celebrities9
food and drink9
film8
religion7
actors6
everyday things6
fictional characters5
Christianity, drugs, medicine, soul [music], TV4

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