Since its emergence as a musical phenomenon and studio technique, sampling has been the central element of hit records and legal disputes. Like remixing, sampling has become a method for the genes of the counterculture to replicate and mutate from generation to generation and from one form to another.
Some argue that the roots of sampling go back as far as jazz musicians borrowing each other's riffs, while others point to the development of early devices such as the Mellotron and Chamberlain that generated their sounds from tapes of pre-recorded sources. In cultural terms, there's no denying that sampling exploded with the birth of Hip Hop and the coming of more affordable and accessible digital technology such as the Akai S900, but there is also undeniable lineage to dub reggae's recording pioneers. We take a look at ten examples of the early groundbreaking use of sampling in songs.
Lee 'Scratch' Perry - 'Disco Devil'
Whether this is a remix of a song or a new song that directly samples Max Romeo and Lee 'Scratch' Perry's 'ChaseThe Devil' is a matter for another day. 1977's 'Disco Devil' illustrates perfectly the techniques that Perry employed to isolate and manipulate elements of an existing song, adding the signature echo and exaggerated bass effects of dub. Dub reggae often utilised instrumental versions of songs originally intended as backing for MCs. The resulting sub-genre has gone on to influence everything from punk to drum n bass.
CAN - 'Animal Waves'
One of the most influential bands of the last 50 years, often included in our playlists by musicians who cite their brilliance. Pioneers of avant garde music, CAN are often regarded as one of the trailblazers of sampling, often sampling their own jamming in the studio and editing the resulting recordings together into finished compositions. 'Animal Waves' also samples a vocal from 'Ho-Mai-Nhi (The Boat Woman Song)' by Technical Space Composer's Crew.
Afrika Bambaataa and Subsonic Force - 'Planet Rock'
One of the earliest and most famous cross genre uses of sampling. 1982's 'Planet Rock' sampled two Kraftwerk songs, 'Trans-Europe Express' and 'Numbers', among its key ingredients. Alongside the unmistakable sound of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, the template for electro-funk and early hip hop was set.
Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five - 'The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel'
A track that perfectly melds together several direct samples into one song including the seamless flow of basslines between Blondie's 'Rapture', Queen's 'Another One Bites The Dust' and Chic's 'Good Times'. 'The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel' was recorded as a live mix made by Grandmaster Flash using three turntables.
Big Audio Dynamite - 'E=MC2'
Counting Mick Jones and Don Letts among its members, BAD are often overlooked in the history of sampling. 'E=MC2' took inspiration from the films of Nicolas Roeg, including his 1970 film 'Performance'. The song samples Mick Jagger and James Fox's dialogue from 'Performance' directly, as well as many of its lyrics referring to characters from other Roeg films. Sampling from cultural sources other than existing songs may seem commonplace in today's cut 'n' paste musical landscape but in 1986 'E=MC2' was something of a rarity.
M/A/R/R/S - 'Pump Up The Volume'
A record that proved a turning point for house music in the UK, 'Pump Up The Volume' was initially conceived as part of a collaboration between Colourbox and AR Kane, both signed to 4AD at the time. The aim was to create a commercially credible UK dance track taking cues from the style of American house music that was starting to be picked in the UK. 'Pump Up The Volume' was the more popular song on the double A side single that resulted from the collaboration, and quickly gained traction in the clubs and charts. The song's main use of sampling is the direct take of the lyric from Eric B. & Rakim that gave the track its name. A legal headache and newspaper headlines followed Stock Aitken & Waterman's complaint about the inclusion of a sample their song 'Roadblock', which was removed from most versions of the track. The song also samples Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, Run DMC, The Bar-Kays and James Brown among its many elements.
De La Soul - 'Eye Know'
With their peace-sign loving take on late '80s hip hop, De La Soul stormed the charts on both sides of the Atlantic when they released their debut '3 Feet High And Rising' in 1989. Turning what was by then the established hip hop techniques of sampling to their purpose 'Eye Know' uses Whistling from Otis Redding's '(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay' and drums from Sly & The Family Stone's 'Sing A Simple Song', as well as the more surprising choice of guitar, keyboard and vocal samples from Steely Dan's 'Peg'.
Public Enemy - 'Fight The Power'
The more political side of hip hop in 1989, Public Enemy sampled a 1967 speech by activist Thomas N. Todd referring to AWOL soldiers that had objected to the draft and the Vietnam War on moral grounds, alongside more standard hip hop samples including James Brown's frequently borrowed 'Funky Drummer'.
Salt-N-Pepa 'Push It'
Sampling Coal Kitchen's 'Keep on Pushin' to produce its signature "push it" motif Salt-N-Pepa also appropriated lyrics from The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' in the form of "Boy, you really got me goin' - You got me so I don't know what I'm doin". The 1986 b-side became a hit in its own right a year after its initial release. In a continuation of spirit 'Push It' was in turn sampled in the 2005 Gorillaz song 'Kids With Guns'.
Moby - 'Go'
Another song that was originally a b-side, but became one of the biggest songs of the early '90s. Moby's 'Go' included interpolated samples from David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti's 'Laura Palmer's Theme' from the television series Twin Peaks. The song marked the beginning of Moby's commercial success which ultimately led up to his later worldwide dominance of popular electronica in the late 1990s. Moby's hugely successful 'Play' and '18' albums both made heavy use of samples, giving them their distinct contemporary gospel blues vocals.