Tag Archives: Amen break

Paul’s Boutique – Amen, Brother

My local independent radio station, KEXP, is doing a neat thing tomorrow: they’re going to be playing the 1989 Beastie Boys album Paul’s Boutique in its entirety, and then playing every identified song which is sampled on the album. Throughout, they’ll be talking with the producers, the Dust Brothers. It will last 12 hours , from 6 AM to 6 PM PST (with a brief break for an unrelated in-studio live session), and it will be awesome.

I have to admit that I haven’t given that album enough listens over the years, but I’m sure this approach will give me a new appreciation. Though I won’t listen to the whole 12 hours, I love this as an academic exercise. This isn’t the most sample-heavy album of all time (I can’t seem to find it through a cursory search, but I’m guessing Girl Talk holds that honor); it’s not the most infamous sample; and since sampling had already been around for decades, it certainly isn’t the earliest use. But the album may be one of the most cohesive, well-crafted, and iconic end-products of sampled music.

Hearing about KEXP’s show got me thinking about “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons. The B-side to their hit “Color Him Father”, “Amen, Brother” became arguably the most sampled song ever. It’s the origin of a drum break, now known as the “Amen break“, which spawned entire subgenres of music and dance. It’s immediately recognizable and  it’s everywhere. I highly recommend spending 20 minutes listening to Nate Harrison’s history & usage of the sample.

So – does Paul’s Boutique contain a direct sample of “Amen, Brother”? As far as I can tell, no. The funny thing about the Amen break is that it has become such an ingrained part of our musical lexicon that some of the samples on the album contain imitations or samples of the break. For example, “Shake Your Rump” has a sample from “Super Mellow” by drummers Louis Bellson, Shelly Manne, Willie Bobo and Paul Humphrey (and their backing band). The sampled section imitates “Amen, Brother”. One can appreciate how difficult it would be to map the reach of the Amen Break – as Nate Harrison says in his mini-lecture, that drum fill has basically become part of the public domain.


KEXP’s show on Paul’s Boutique will be available to stream from their website for two weeks after it airs. After that, it will come down – they (understandably!) can’t afford to license the album and all 100+ of the sampled songs. EDIT (Feb 2016): They must have secured the proper licensing, because it now appears that the whole show is available in segments on their blog. Yay!